Lawyers tell me that business development sometimes feels like a constant struggle, with sustained forward motion being elusive. They take a productive BD step today, then do nothing for a few days or a few weeks. Their feeling is accurate. If you’re not moving forward continuously, you’re falling behind. Here's how to keep things moving even when you're really busy.
The biggest business development obstacle lawyers face is time -- more accurately, the lack of it. That severely limits the number of legitimate sales opportunities you can generate, and the amount of selling you can do. But, what if you had dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people selling for you?
You’ve heard the adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know." That reflected the relationship-centric nature of doing business in a Seller’s market. Now that you’ll face a Buyer’s market for the remainder of your career, it’s past time to upend that longstanding belief. Today it's, "It's not what you know. It's not who you know. It's what knowledge people associate you with."
Why do such a small percentage of lawyers participate in business development? Despite the constant drumbeat since 2008 about declining demand, price pressure, new forms of competition, and a clear pattern of income shifting from those who don’t to those who do, why do so many lawyers effectively remain on the sidelines?
Part of the answer lies in their preferred terminology: “business development,” which is the preferred euphemism for “marketing” and “sales.” Well, actually, they’re OK with “marketing” but “sales” still produces clammy skin and twitching eyelids. Two weeks ago, in The bright line between marketing and sales, I addressed the issue of euphemistic language as an avoidance mechanism.
Take a look at the activity spectrum below. The two comfort-zone triangles converge where Marketing shifts to Selling. Notice that neither Marketers nor lawyers are comfortable there. Lawyers are all in favor of the first three categories -- Planning, Awareness, and Lead-Gen -- because that’s somebody else’s job. They’re OK with Client Development because they think of that as relationship-building. Selling? Yikes! No thanks.
I suspect that much of lawyers’ Sales reticence is based on the outdated belief that selling means engaging in behaviors that they and many of us have experienced as consumers and consider repugnant, or at the very least beneath a lawyer. If sales success actually required you to be pushy, coercive, marginally honest, or any of the other sales stereotypes, lawyers’ reluctance would make perfect sense.
Another factor is the fear of closing. The risk that the big Moment of Truth will result in a “no,” and all their effort will be for naught, and they’ll feel rejected.
However, the good news is that none of those feared things is necessary.
The better news is that buyers prefer an approach that looks very similar to how you interact with your clients, where you’re trying to help them make good decisions that align well with their business needs and career interests:
- Ask astute questions to understand the business problem that’s causing them to need a lawyer
- Elicit from them the strategic-, operational-, and economic impacts of that problem
- Help them decide if any action at all is required (sometimes doing nothing is optimal)
- Develop a picture of the desired outcome
- Explain their solution options and the ramifications of each
- Begin exploring how best to implement the chosen solution
Helping someone figure out what to do. Doesn’t that sound a lot like how you’ve practiced law so successfully all these years? You’re already good at that. That’s your comfort zone. The only comfort zone you have to abandon is the one that has you clinging to outdated beliefs that produce such anxiety.
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Unless you’re helping a prospect inform and make a specific decision about a specific offer, you’re not selling, you’re still marketing. It’s only when you progress to the point where the entire focus is on deciding whether or not to buy that you’re selling. Everything else is marketing. If it’s about your products or services, it’s marketing. You may have some overlap, i.e., where you have to do some ongoing solution discussion during the sale, but the important point is recognizing that if you’re not talking about a decision, you’re not selling yet, which means you’re not getting closer to getting business.
There’s nothing more frustrating than learning that a prospect or client who knows you well has hired someone else for work that’s in your sweet spot. Or, you see a conference promotion where others are speaking about a topic about which you’re known to be an acknowledged expert. How does this happen?
Many lawyers are uncomfortable with the idea of selling because their perceptions of salespeople are colored by lifelong exposure to the undesirable behaviors and attitudes of amateurs they encounter as consumers of various products and services.
Here are four key differences between the amateur salesperson and the professional:
For many lawyers, the thought of business development is the very bane of their existence. Even the most "gifted" rainmakers occasionally experience a sense of "Oh, my gosh, another year, another mountain to climb." As the legal business becomes more fiercely competitive, it can be daunting--and darn right discouraging--to face the challenge of meeting and exceeding 2017's business goals.
There's hope, provided you're realistic.
About this time each year, law industry publications are rife with advice about “holiday marketing.” The advice tends to be about gift-giving protocols and using social events to network and create relationships.
However, today’s legal environment requires more substantial analysis and strategy, a “Holiday Marketing 2.0” if you will. Everyone knows that the legal service market is more competitive than ever. In the past, simply showing up and sending a holiday gift was adequate “holiday marketing.” However, the 20-year seller’s market, in which there were 150 cases for 100 lawyers, is over. It’s time to shift from a product-centric focus to a client-centric focus, and do it well.
Here’s my simple guideline for how to get business during the social season: Don’t do it. Don’t attempt to get new business during the holiday season at all.
Think about yourself and your personal appetite for someone marketing or selling to you during the hectic holiday season. Think about the chaotic composition of your final three weeks of the year:
- completing work in progress before the end of year deadline;
- taking care of any end-of-year issues with your own practice;
- social obligations to clients;
- social obligations to family and friends; and
- travel for all of the above.
How different do you think the comparable lists are for those with whom you do business, or wish to? How receptive are they likely to be to your marketing or sales overtures? Setting aside concrete business obligations, market contact during the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve is predominantly social. And most people prefer it that way.
This doesn’t mean that you ignore business development then, only that you apply a different perspective and align your expectations to reality, and reality is that, barring someone you know well approaching you for help with a serendipitous burning platform, you’re extremely unlikely to get actual new business in December. December is for teeing up calls and meetings for January.
Make December A Reliable Client Accelerator for the New Year
Here’s how to make December a reliable new business accelerator for January without creating discomfort for anyone:
- Begin converting social relationships into business relationships without jeopardizing the friendship. Your instincts tell you that anything resembling a pitch will put a friendship at risk, and it should. The root of “relationship” is “relate.” Your social relationship is based on relating to each other’s lives. Similarly, a business relationship is based on related to someone’s business life. As you learned when you are very young, to be interesting, be interested.
- Position yourself with referral sources by associating yourself with business issues that your contacts’ jobs require them to care about. Your sources want to help you, but you make it hard by using language that disconnects you from their contacts’ conversations. Relevance is key to any conversation and relationship. Whether the context is social or business, if what you discuss isn’t relevant to me, I will tune you out. Commit now to raising your awareness of what’s happening in the business world generally, and in your prospects’ industries particularly. Your referral sources will rarely hear their contacts using your practice group terminology (M&A, Employment, Litigation) and when they do, it is usually too late in the decision cycle to introduce a stranger. What they will hear is those contacts discussing business situations, problems, challenges and opportunities. If they associate you with those topics, when they hear them you’ll come to mind and trigger their intent to introduce you.
- Begin conversations that can’t (or shouldn’t) be completed in a social setting. This makes it natural to suggest continuing the discussion in a January lunch, meeting, or phone call. No matter how fascinating your topic, nobody wants to hear everything you know in a social setting. As the public-speaking axiom goes, “It’s better to leave them begging for more than begging for mercy.” Tee up an interesting topic, stay with it just long enough for the other person to demonstrate real interest, then graciously suggest that you don’t want to monopolize their attention and ask if it makes sense to connect by phone later.
At this juncture, you’re forgiven if you’re feeling frustrated at reading so much about what you should do and so little about how. “The devil is in the detail (and the detail is the ‘how’).” To learn how to do what I urge, you have to invest a little time and money on training, and the holiday season can be a great time to do that.
RainmakerVT is online business development training technology that delivers inexpensive on-demand, just-in-time training that gives lawyers the discrete business development skills they need during holiday events to effectively and confidently address immediate challenges, and to turn the holiday season into a reliable client accelerator for the New Year.
The past eight years have been tough on lots of lawyers and those who support them. The recession strained finances and kicked off a sea change in client expectations. New categories of competition emerge almost daily. Clients' BigData investments mean they often know much more about your performance than you do. It can feel like a struggle. If you’re feeling lost at sea, here are a few navigation aids that can help you find your course and get back to enjoying your career and your life.