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Major League Baseball's post-season is a good prompt to take another look at your business development with an eye to making sure your efforts and investments are directed to solving the right problem. There are only two core causes of disappointing results:

  1. Too few hits (low batting average)
  2. Too few at-bats

Which of these constrains your practice growth more?

Too few hits: If you meet with a lot of prospective clients, i.e., go on a lot of sales calls, and don't have the results you want, you have a low batting average, i.e., you're converting too low a percentage of these opportunities into paying clients. That's the product of hearing "no" too often or not getting a decision at all. I'll bet that it's more of the latter. This means that you have a sales problem (vs. a marketing problem). The good news is that a sales problem is faster and simpler to solve.

Too many of the meetings lawyers go to are with people who are not legitimate prospects because

  1. There's no business problem or issue driving the conversation; you're just there to pitch your wares and beg for a share of the existing legal pie.
  2. If there is a problem or issue, it has insufficient impact (strategic, operational, economic, personal/emotional) to require those with a stake in it to have to make a decision about taking action. You don't even hear "no," because they don't have to decide either way. That means that you never had a chance to succeed.
  3. You're selling to the wrong person. Not necessarily "meeting with the wrong person," but trying to sell to someone who doesn't have the authority to decide. In such cases, you don't try to sell; instead you cultivate that person as a guide to the other stakeholders who, individually or collectively, can and must decide.

Too Few At-Bats: This is the problem faced by the overwhelming percentage of lawyers I've worked with over the past 20-odd years. When we first meet and I ask them about their pipeline, it's usually empty, or populated with false opportunities. They average about a dozen legitimate sales opportunities per year. Most of their BD time is consumed with "relationship-building," calls and meetings with contacts for whom they cannot identify a specific sales opportunity, but whom they continue to waste time cultivating in the vague hope that somehow, the resulting friendship will result in getting business. I call this "make lots of friends and hope for the best."

Far too many lawyers waste time hanging around the ABA or other organizations populated mostly by lawyers. When asked their expectations of such time commitment, few can offer a concrete answer. They just do it because so many of their forebears did it. It's like an institutional habit. The ABA must be thrilled, getting all this free labor. But what do you really get out of it? Have you ever measured the time you spend on it, and compared it against how much business you've actually gotten as a result? 

Recently, one lawyer and I did an analysis of how he spends his time. In many eyes, he's accomplished exactly what many lawyers aspire to re: the ABA. Over the years, he's earned his way to becoming a section head, and a committee chair. We did an analysis of time spent.

  • As section head, he prepares for, travels to, and attends quarterly meetings. He added it up and found a surprising 145 hours/year.
  • As committee chair, he estimated 3.5 hours/week. Doesn't sound like much until you annualize it, which is 210 hours/year.

He didn't realize that he spends a total of about 350 hours per year on his ABA roles. Worse, while 150 of those hours occupy evenings and off-hours, the other 200 occur during regular business hours. So, at his billing rate, he's donating about $140,000 worth of labor to the ABA each year. What has he gotten for all that? He doesn't know, but assumes his elevated profile has translated into perhaps a handful of cases referred over time. However, at a typical law firm profit margin (33%), he has to generate $420,000 worth of revenue/year from that just to break even. (If he was getting that much business, he'd know it.)

This isn't about the ABA, specifically. I only pick on them because so many lawyers waste time on them, but time investments in all organizations have to be categorized as either a) support for a worthwhile cause, which is psychic compensation; or b) business development. Don't kid yourself that a) equals b), or assume b) to be a natural offshoot of a). Take a hard look at such habitual time-sinks and measure what you're getting, and how much it's costing you to get it.

IMO, all of the foregoing are caused by not having defined a specific problem to associate yourself with, which precludes defining a specific market segment in which to invest time and attention, which in turn guarantees that you'll scatter your limited time and attention all over, with little meaningful impact.

The days of hanging around someplace and getting business are over. Now, you need a sharp focus and the discipline to sustain it.

Mike O'Horo

RainmakerVT offers a number of interactive online courses that will help you with the challenges listed above. They're in two buckets:

  • Getting Chosen section will help you solve the low-batting-average problem
  • Getting Found section will solve the too-few-at-bats problem