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The original subject of this question was "consulting firm partners" in a Quora discussion. My take on it begins with observing that it's backward, i.e., it should be expressed, "How do clients find lawyers?"

For 20 years, during what The American Lawyer called The Golden Age of Law Firms, all professional service practitioners got clients pretty much the same way. Demand was so high that they just hung around the civic-, social- and business groups where the buyers hung out.

When everybody was buying, that worked pretty well. In the Internet era, where business isn't necessarily local, the "hanging around" is now virtual, and the nature of relationships is different. Previously, the proximity was local and physical, and relationships were based on what we call "social intimacy," i.e., getting to know you personally, and doing business with people we like.

Now, relationships are distaff and virtual, and depend on "professional intimacy," i.e., getting to know how you think, learning where you stand on issues of importance to me, and doing business with people whose thinking we like.

Social Intimacy vs. Professional Intimacy

Social- and Professional intimacy are different, but both begin and progress in similar ways for similar reasons. Here's how they progress, and how they correlate to the old and new market conditions:

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Now that the seller's market has ended, rainmaking requires a pretty straightforward process of getting "found" and getting "chosen":

  1. identify a high-impact business problem that you solve (what we call a Door-Opener),

  2. identify a vertical market (industry) where you have evidence that your D/O problem reliably occurs with great frequency, and

  3. via sustained conversation within that market, e.g., publishing and speaking, establish "thought leadership" around that problem so that when companies experience it, they already associate you with it and, as a result of your thought leadership, feel they know you.

A percentage of them will "find" you and discuss the problem with you. Then, it's up to your selling skill to get yourself "chosen." 

Obviously, there's a great deal of "how" involved in executing this process successfully, but this is pretty much the entirety of the "what."

What you can't do, however, is continue with the pitching behaviors of the high-demand seller's market. Those can't work now in a buyer's market.

Mike O'Horo

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