One Shift That Will Improve Business Development Results and Make Life Easier for Lawyers

by JD Supra Perspectives
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Business development needn’t be complicated, difficult, or distressing. However, for many lawyers it’s all of that. Most of that can be eliminated by a single shift in perspective.

Lawyers devote about 150-200 business development hours per year. In no particular order, their four most prevalent business development activities are:

  • Networking
  • Writing articles
  • Public speaking/presentations
  • Prospect meetings

Let’s look at how you go about those four activities, and the one shift that will make it all more effective, and simplify this part of your life.

Writing articles, blog posts, and LinkedIn posts takes time, and it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas. Too often, you’re met with silence. Too few people comment, respond, share, or follow you. 

Networking events take lots of time, and make you uncomfortable. You collect business cards, but get no business. What you get is a relationship-building burden that isn’t sustainable. (This article shows the cost of the relationship-building approach.)

Public speaking takes lots of prep time, and often requires travel. Bad weather and other forces beyond your control may prevent a large chunk of your registered audience from attending. Your remarks may produce little audience response, and while those who approach afterward compliment you, they don’t discuss how your topic affects their company (the bridge to a sales conversation).

Legitimate prospect meetings are hard to get. Your email doesn’t trigger an invitation to call. Voicemails don’t get returned. Calls get cancelled or postponed frequently. Even when they happen, the prospect goes dark afterward, triggering uncomfortable follow-up. So-called Prospects languish in your pipeline, requiring perpetual follow-up, but yield no results. 

Clients are no easier. You do great work, get high marks for client service, invest in relationships, yet too often learn about opportunities after the fact. Why?

Most lawyers have no focus

When asked who their market is, lawyers say, “I can help anyone.” True, but only after you’ve been found and chosen. You can’t market to “anyone.” 

With no specific market focus, you’re not relevant to anyone. Prospects are only interested in what’s relevant to their industry, company, department, and team, and their career advancement.

If you’re not relevant, you don’t exist

There’s no reason to engage with you, or even remember you. You’ll never have the right audience for your article, speech, or networking, because you have no selection criteria. If you don’t have the right audience, you have the wrong one, which guarantees that nobody will respond.

It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re doing the wrong things, applying methods that are guaranteed to fail. No amount of effort or skill can make the wrong things work.

Shift to Relevance

Whether or not you intend it, your communication is probably mostly about you. It’s focused on your experience, your expertise, your accomplishments, your firm. It’s not that people don’t believe your claims. It’s that they can’t afford to care because you haven’t made yourself relevant.

Lack of relevance is the source of your frustrations. Until your experience, expertise, accomplishments, and firm are relevant to your prospects’ world, those assets don’t exist. 

Consider the four-rung Impact Ladder:

  • Indispensable
  • Valuable
  • Useful
  • Relevant

The top rung, Indispensable, is the brass ring. It’s what most lawyers aspire to. However, the bottom rung, Relevance, is the only one you can directly influence. 

If you’re perceived as Relevant, people pay attention to what you say, read your articles, subscribe to your blog or email communications, and follow you on social media. They share your thoughts with others, becoming part of your idea-distribution team. They’ll move you up a rung by giving you a chance to be useful and help them.

If your help results in positive impact, you move up another rung, to Valuable. Over time, if you’re consistently Relevant, Useful, and Valuable, you might just become Indispensable.

Let’s revisit our BD challenges, this time through the lens of Relevance.

Networking: You’re now hunting, screening for people who have your demand- triggering problem, who want to be cultivated because you’re relevant to their world. 

Articles: You’re always writing a slightly different iteration of the same problem, simply by telling different stories about its impact, and painting different images of how things can be if the problem is addressed as you suggest. You’re not creating completely new content each time. 

Public speaking: It’s easier for people to recognize that they want to attend your session. Your remarks prove the need for them to consult with someone with your understanding of the problem and their world. Those who approach you want to discuss how your industry-specific problem affects their company. 

Associate yourself with a business problem that can’t be ignored

Relevance guarantees that you interact only with those who are most opportune for you.

Achieving relevance is straightforward. Associate yourself with a business problem that can’t be ignored, that requires a decision, action, and investment, thereby driving demand for your service. (Your “demand trigger” is also a door-opener, literally opening prospects’ doors to you.) 

Here’s a concrete example that revealed this concept and its power to me. 

A partner from the Banking practice asked to speak for a few minutes at the beginning of another group’s meeting to share what the Banking group was doing. He described his group’s initiatives, expecting his partners to respond with, “Oh, I should introduce you to Client X.” It didn’t happen. The Banking partner’s remarks were met with uncomfortable silence, like when a comedian bombs. I was sitting next to the Banking partner, and asked an innocent question. “I’m not a lawyer. How would I recognize who needs your group’s help?”

For my benefit, the Banking partner rattled off some situations that triggered demand for Banking services. The chatter started around the table. “Oh, I should introduce you to Client X, or Y!” His partners hadn’t heard their clients using Banking practice terminology. They had heard clients talking about the cost of capital, bridge financing while awaiting project approval, and converting debt to equity to preserve cash. The Banking lawyer’s first remarks weren’t relevant. His second most definitely were, and produced the desired response. 

One easy way to choose a Door-Opener is to examine the most gratifying client or matter that you’ve had in the past year or two. 

  • The matter that you found challenging, that made you bring your 'A' game.
  • Where your client paid in full, on time, without haggling.
  • Where the client showed appreciation for your skill, dedication, effort, and judgment.

Legal matters don’t spring up, whole, like mushrooms. They derive from situations, behaviors, decisions, attitudes, and interactions. Where did this matter originate? Reverse engineer your matter all the way back to the first behavioral domino in the causal chain. Unless that problem is an outlier, you may have found your Demand Trigger, and a reliable basis for relevance. To make this your best year ever, commit to Relevance.

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[Mike O'Horo is the co-founder of RainmakerVT and has trained 7,000 lawyers in firms of all sizes and types, in virtually every practice type. They attribute $1.5 billion in additional business to their collaboration. His latest innovation, Dezurve, reduces firms’ business development training investment risks by identifying which lawyers are serious about learning BD.]

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