Over the past 20 years, I have sat in various sales/BD/marketing positions helping to coach consultants, auditors, and for the last 10 years, attorneys in developing their books of business. While many of the “normative behaviors” in the industry tend to mean well, there are numerous subtleties to business development and sales that are often overlooked — an issue inferred from numerous pitch selection, feedback and review processes. Below are nine ways you may be hindering your efforts to win new legal business, and a few ideas on how subtle improvements can maximize both success and overall win rates for firms and attorneys.
1. Failing to Conduct Preliminary Research
It’s amazing how many times I hear about attorneys coming to a meeting and expecting the client or prospect to open their kimono and provide information that is public and readily available to them. The point of an introductory conversation is to deepen the conversation from available information and ask probing questions that not only demonstrate the legal expertise of the attorney, but as importantly, their company and industry expertise so that the conversation accelerates into a needs assessment. This aligns the target/client and attorney on the same side of the table, and pivots the meeting to a workshop/brainstorm that can significantly improve future opportunities for engagement. Doing your homework is table stakes, and there are numerous analyst documents/social media sites and other sources of information to mine, especially in today’s digital world. (Hint: researching targets before attending conferences goes a long way.)
2. Bringing Materials to the First Meeting
While it seems like showing up with a comprehensive deck highlighting firm and individual accolades could make sense, this is rarely a good idea unless you have already been asked to present for a specific case, litigation or type of matter and can translate those features into why the client should care — the “so what?”. I often compare this tactic to a doctor writing a prescription based off an initial phone call. You may think you know the issue, but you want to check under the hood and ask probing questions based off initial research and industry-specific frameworks. The best part about waiting to follow up with customized materials is the opportunity to touch base with them a few days after the meeting, offer something of value (see below), translate the materials into what’s in it for them (benefits), and set up your next meeting with materials laser-focused on their needs. Get rid of the crutch, because I assure you, those “kitchen sink” pitches are going into the recycling bin.
3. Neglecting the Little Value-Adds
One of my old mentors taught me how to read the newspaper differently, consistently thinking who would benefit from the insight. To that end, my dad is great (and so cute) at clipping articles and sending them to family members for ideas of interest — a skillset that is important for sales folks like him to have. While it’s all so much easier now with links and emails, the thought process is the same — be tenacious about adding value to your clients and targets in small and consistent ways. The delivery mechanism doesn’t matter — it’s showing your clients that you are invested in their success, even before you are engaged. It will reap dividends, especially if you can tie it into the company’s future business objectives and what keeps them up at night.
4. Not Scaling Work for Business-Development Efforts
Attorney-client privilege notwithstanding, it’s important to leverage and scale the creativity and ideas developed in your billable work. If you’ve done something unique for a particular client, why not use it as a case study, or inroads to other similarly situated clients to demonstrate that you are ahead of the pack? Folks in consulting frequently use this tactic, bringing their industry and sector-specific risk analyses and solutions to bear for others in the hopes they will earn greater market share. Why not create a checklist, anonymized case study or other deliverable based off creative work you’ve already done, and use it as an initial reach out piece? It’s a great way to demonstrate value and get noticed — and all it takes is repackaging content you’ve already imagined.
5. Not Prepping for Individual or Group Presentations
We get it, attorneys are among the busiest people in the world; in fact, it’s the only industry that mines, sells, does work and collects. The fact that the job description of today’s law firm attorney needs to narrow is for another article entirely, but when it comes to new business, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Prospects see through the fact that a group of attorneys haven’t done dry runs, or, even worse, have just met five minutes before the client pitch. I have heard horror stories of clients seeing folks introducing themselves in the lobby and the like — not a good first impression. Even if you’re the best presenter who ever lived, you need to manage your team’s air time, give everybody a speaking role, have someone expediting questions, and give everyone a few run-throughs to iron the kinks.
6. Not Conducting Regular (at Least Annual) Reviews or Client Interviews
Conducting consistent feedback sessions after matters conclude or at regular intervals is good business practice to align and manage expectations, but it’s wise to use the opportunity to grow and expand the business through probing and aspirational lines of questioning. Done effectively, you can glean intelligence around upcoming strategic initiatives, areas of concern both inside and outside of the scope of work, and the like. It’s important to do it outside of the context of the normal matter, and in many cases, firms are leveraging the talents of key client service folks (marketing/business development and occasionally firm heads) to help to conduct these in a more holistic way and identify opportunities to subsequently broaden the scope of the relationship.
7. Failing to Pick a Niche/Industry
This hindrance is closely aligned with the common feedback from clients that “my attorney gives me the right answers legally, but without regard to context.” And it’s incredibly hard to understand every industry’s hot button issues; I’d venture to call it impossible. Clients have access to all types of information at their fingertips these days, and attorneys who try to be a jack of all trades end up as a master of none. So go all in on two or three industries that you either love and that compose a majority of your client base, and forge ahead in being the one who knows what’s coming around the corner. When you do that, your solutions will inevitably move from recitations of law and code to pragmatic solutions and options for success. That is how you become indispensable and elevate your brand.
8. Failing to Be a Thought Leader or Get Involved In Upstream Associations
Relatively connected to the above, becoming a thought leader is a lot easier once you have defined your target audience and niche. To that end, while local Bar Associations may be good for the referral here and there and perhaps honing your leadership and speaking skills, you want to be the only attorney in the room. And that can only be done by swimming upstream. For example, electrical patent lawyers should join integrated circuit board associations, and beverage lawyers should join beer clubs and restaurant associations. Swim to the open ocean and make your mark as the go-to person.
9. Failing to Follow Up/Take Notes/Be Organized
The only thing worse that being unprepared is lacking follow-up. It happens all the time, especially in a 24/7 world of client demands, where effective project management is key. You’ve got to do the same in business development — block off a time two times a week to start and take 30 minutes to go through your target and client lists to ensure you are top of mind, you are adding value, and that you are following up effectively. Use your time on the train or bus to scour LinkedIn and learn about your clients, and make a point of consistently doing the small things repeatedly over time. As the saying goes: Nobody said it was easy —if it were, everyone would be doing it.
“Every great story happened when someone decided not to give up.” — Spryte Loriano
Mike Mellor is the firmwide director of marketing and business development for Pryor Cashman, a 175-attorney midsize firm with offices in NYC, Miami and LA. In this role, he works to identify, develop and execute strategies to both drive new business for the firm and increase brand awareness. Mike’s 20-year career has spanned various marketing and BD roles throughout the professional services sector, including BD and pursuit roles at Paul Weiss, Deutsche Bank, Katten and KPMG.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.
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