What's in a word.jpg

What is the difference between “business development” and “sales,” and does it matter?

Lawyers routinely use these terms interchangeably, but there’s a meaningful difference between them.  I discovered a succinct explanation in Victor Wong’s blog for entrepreneurs, I Am Victorious.  He offers this distinction:

The difference is simple really: in business development, you’re convincing people to make a decision they don’t have to make while in sales, you’re convincing people to make a decision they have to make.
— Victor Wong, "I Am Victorious"

Replace “convincing” with “helping” or “facilitating” and I’m in full agreement.

So, how does this play out for lawyers in the competitive world they face today?  It relates to what we call the Cost of Doing Nothing.

When lawyers meet with prospective- or existing clients to try to get a slice of legal work that the client has bought for some time, they’re trying to convince (or help) the client make a decision that the prospect or client doesn’t have to make.  If I already have lawyers doing that work, no matter how great you might be, I don’t really have to do anything. That means that you’ve got to have a really compelling case for the upside of doing business with you.  The Cost of Doing Nothing is low.

Conversely, if your legal service solves an active or imminent problem that has high impact, that’s a decision I have to make, i.e., my Cost of Doing Nothing is high.  The question is whether or not I’m fully aware of that CoDN.  If not, your investigation focuses on eliciting my expert knowledge about the problem and its impact.  You get me to articulate what I know, but maybe haven’t been thinking of consciously, or in a useful way.  If I’m aware of the CoDN, and realize that I must take action, your investigation focuses on obstacles, i.e., what has prevented me from taking action so far.

The distinction between BD and Sales isn’t inherently important, particularly for smaller firms or solos. What is important is that lawyers grasp the different lenses through which buyers view your discussion and activity.

Mike O'Horo

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