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Around 2008 or so, when things started getting testy in the legal world, "business development" replaced "marketing" as the law firm zeitgeist. The language change did little to change lawyers' hopes, namely, that the rechristened business development department would do some magic wand stuff to generate business without triggering lawyers' sales phobia.

"Business development" was readily embraced.

What a great expression. It sounds much closer to getting clients than "marketing," yet avoids using the frightening "selling."

Help from three experts

I'll draw on two entrepreneurs and a revered management guru to define "business development" and remind us of the purpose of a business. 

Biz Dev Is A Clever Name For Dirty Work is a an old article in by Christopher Steiner, co-founder at Aisle50, and a former senior writer at Forbes magazine.

"Making a startup succeed is a mission that’s indefinable and, invariably, involves lots of that ambiguous thing called hustle."

Also in, this from Scott Pollack's post, What Does a Biz Dev Person Actually Do?

  • Customers: Find new ones and extract more value from current ones.

  • Markets: Figure out where new customers “live” (both geographically and in terms of “buying mindset“) and find a way to reach them.

  • Relationships: Build and leverage relationships founded on trust and integrity to facilitate opportunities.

Finally, the late business guru Peter Drucker observed:

"Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs."

What does this have to do with lawyers?

Lawyers are fond of describing their firms as "entrepreneurial." So, last week, I posted 10 Questions to ask about your law practice: Think like a startup. Because the legal business is changing so fundamentally, and so many lawyers must reinvent their practices in response to much more competitive conditions, I think they'd be well served to insert themselves into the startup media conversation and learn what it really takes to compete. 

That, and the fact that entrepreneurs are where the emerging client base of the future will be found. It can't hurt to understand how they think.

As these entrepreneurs make clear, debunking fanciful BD notions, there's nothing glamorous about business development. It's hard, down-in-the-trenches, get-your-hands-dirty work, day after day.

Oh, and there's no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny.

Mike O'Horo

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