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Language matters. Not simply because language precision is the currency of the realm for lawyers, but because the words we use to describe or refer to business functions influence our expectations. 

In my blog post, "Biz Dev" is a clever name for dirty work, I observed that around 2008 or so, "business development" replaced "marketing" as lawyers' terminology of choice. It sounds much closer to getting clients than "marketing," and sidesteps the dreaded "selling."

Lawyers tend to use terms like "marketing," "sales," and "business development" interchangeably, probably because few know, understand, or think there's any reason to care about, the distinction. This monolithic perception creates a blind spot that results in their unintentionally over-investing in one half of the solution and under-investing in the other.

What do lawyers want? That's easy: They want clients who need and will pay for their expertise, experience, and (hopefully) wisdom.

Here's how sloppy language causes a clash between lawyers' expectations and their revenue-generation investments. 

At the 2013 Legal Marketing Association annual conference, I walked through the exhibit hall during a quiet period, perusing the various marketing solutions on display. Take a quick look at the sponsor list. (There were dozens more booth sponsors besides those listed, but they're more of the same.) They're all selling one form or another of lead-generation:

  • Website design, web marketing
  • CRM (manage marketing data)
  • Publishers (advertising)
  • Marketing communications
  • PR
  • Events
  • Lawyer guides, rating/ranking services
  • Webcasting
  • Market Intelligence
  • Social media marketing

All these marketing services and solutions are necessary, but not sufficient.

Why? Because lawyers who make marketing investments do so expecting that they'll get business, but they won't, and they can't. Here's a brief conversation that I had with dozens of exhibitors.

Me: "Your solution looks really cool; quite innovative, in fact. Let's assume that it delivers exactly what you promise. Then what?"

Ex: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Then what? What do your clients get after your solution works the way it's supposed to work?"

The answer will always be some form of "the firm/lawyer gets found by somebody they should be able to help." In other words, the lawyers don't get a client, they get a lead, i.e., an opportunity to sell to a prospective client. Unfortunately, lawyers don't know this.

What do lawyers want? "Clients."

What's missing that makes these solutions necessary but not sufficient? The lawyer's ability to convert that lead or opportunity into a client. That requires the effective combination of lead-generation and lead-conversion. (Imagine if cars and transmissions were sold separately, and you didn't know a) what a transmission was; b) that you need one; and c) that cars don't come with them.)

Lawyers are over-invested in lead-generation and under-invested in lead-conversion. There are two primary reasons for this:

  1. Ignorance of the difference between marketing [lead-generation], selling [lead-conversion] and business development [channel/distributor relationships], which results in buying incomplete solutions because they don't know they're incomplete. 
  2. Sales-avoidance. Lawyers don't want to sell. They'll invest in almost anything that gives them the chance to avoid selling.

In your pursuit of solutions and help to get clients and business, make sure to ask, "Then what?" Keep your end game in mind, and ask whomever is selling you "marketing tools" or "biz dev solutions" to play it out as far as they can.  Can you visualize a logical path to getting a client without your having to perform the sales conversion yourself?  

Now that you understand that a sales role is unavoidable and absolutely necessary, and that it will have to come from you, get yourself trained to be good enough at it. Otherwise, you're wasting your marketing money on a car with no transmission. You can't get where you want to go.

Mike O'Horo

You know you have to improve your business development skills to get the business you need. But most of the training you see offered feels more like a degree program with a someday/maybe payoff rather than the specific help you need right now.

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