On a recent LinkedIn group, where I had posted last week's ResultsMailVT, Make business development simple: Focus on relevance, a consultant commented, "Agree, Mike, that relevance is important. But, a relationship is the most important component of law firm marketing in my experience."

"It's about relationships" is the mantra in professional services generally, and law specifically. In the abstract, that's inarguable. However, unless you're relevant, who wants to invest time developing a relationship with you? After all, the root word in "relationship" is "relate."

To test this, try to schedule a lunch during the business week with a good friend, "just to catch up." See how long it takes to get on their calendar, and how often it gets rescheduled. They love you, and would thoroughly enjoy spending time with you catching up. However, they can't justify it. The tyranny of the business calendar requires us to reserve our time and attention during the business day for those persons and topics that relate to what we have to accomplish.

IMO, too often the "relationship" mantra translates into "personal relationship," what we call "social intimacy." It suggests that a personal relationship enables the business relationship. I don't agree that that's true anymore. It's a vestige of a bygone era when business was local and business relationships grew out of white men's familiarity with each other due to being in the same social circles.

Today, it's the other way around, i.e., your business relevance enables a business relationship which, over time, may enable a personal relationship.

If you demonstrate that you're relevant to someone's success, they'll make time for you. I prove this every day when I call strangers and leave voice mail saying, "You don't know me, but I'm calling about [Big Idea X], which 150 other law firm leaders tell me is innovative and compelling. I'd appreciate 20 minutes by phone to share it with you and see if you agree with your peers. If you do, we'll explore it. If not, I'll get out of your hair. In either case, as your peers will attest, the 20 minutes won't be wasted."

Yes, they call me back. It's not about me. It's about the power of the idea. 

I refer you to the Harvard Business Review article, "In a downturn, provoke your customers." Your thinking has to move the needle, or there's no reason for people to make time for you.

Mike O'Horo

The downturn of 2008, and the resulting reset that's being referred to as The New Normal, means that lawyers' sales-avoidance hopes must now give way to reality. There are no businesses on the planet where sales isn't a mission-critical function.

Read "You'll Have to Sell Your Way Out of This."