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Everyone has heard the expression, "random acts of golf and lunch," an apt description for most lawyers' traditional business development approach and activities. It refers to doing things just to be doing something, with no clear purpose or plan.

Let's get one old canard out of the way first. If you're in the habit of justifying any activity because it's "building a relationship," a practice that I've long considered misguided, you're planning on being very, very lucky, and you're accepting a very large relationship-maintenance burden without any evidence that the investment is justified. It's a pretty sure way to get discouraged, feeling like you've wasted your time and money, with very little return.

Which of you hasn't said, "I'm having lunch with..." or "I'm writing an article about..." or "I'm speaking at..." or "I'm going to this networking event" and considered that the end of it? Without being conscious of it, you're in the habit of activity for its own sake. If you don't think past the immediate activity, you're hoping that, by means unknown, this activity will somehow generate business. The key question for any of those planned activities is, "Then what?" What happens next? Most times, lawyers have no answer because they haven't thought about it.  

To-Do

Before engaging in any market activity, visualize and define a credible sequence of events that would reasonably lead to the outcome you seek. Here's an example.

"I'm going to the 2015 Design-Build Conference & Expo this November in Denver."

With the conference fee, travel expense, and four days out of the office, that's a pretty significant investment. First, what's your goal for the event?

"My goals are to associate myself with the problem of construction industry talent shortages, and to find six people who are willing to discuss the topic in more depth with me after the event."

What will you do between now and November to raise the odds of achieving those goals and justifying your investment?

"I'll email my construction contacts to see how many are attending, and try to arrange to see them at a specific time/place during the event. For those unable or unwilling to commit to that now, I'll exchange cell phone numbers and get permission to contact them during the event."

Then what?

"I'll develop a profile of the size and type of companies, and the key stakeholders within them, for whom my Door-Opener problem is likely important. Because I'm an Employment lawyer, that would be, 'With construction demand rising, it seems like one of your biggest challenges is the growing shortage of qualified workers – especially craft workers – to fill available positions.' I'll scan name badges looking for appropriate titles and appropriate companies; no match, no chat. I'm not networking; I'm hunting for prospects. After a minute or so of their response, I'll graciously say I don't want to monopolize their attention, and ask if it makes sense for us to continue the conversation after we return from the event."

Then what?

"When I get home, I'll send 'nice to have met you' emails, reminding them of our topical discussion and that they thought it made sense to pick up the thread this week, and ask when it would be convenient to do so."

Then what?

"During that discussion, after drilling down into the industry-specific topic, I'll transition to exploring their company-specific version of it. If they acknowledge having the problem, or likely being subject to it before too long, I'll learn the Cost of Doing Nothing. Assuming it's significant, I'll have confirmed that this is a legitimate sales opportunity. I'll then begin the stakeholder alignment process to identify the core decision group and logical internal champion."

That's what I mean by having thought the first action all the way through to the desired outcome. Will it play out like this? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly could play out exactly like this. The point is that you're no longer hoping for the best, but are now applying a considered strategy that requires only reasonably predictable responses to succeed. At a large multi-day event, you should easily be able to come home with six legitimate prospects -- which was your measurable goal.

The "then what" discipline isn't just for major events and investments like conferences or trade shows. You should do it for everything. "I'm going to have lunch with Alanis Rocco." Then what? Or, "I'm going to write an article for Engineering News." Ok, then what? Or, "We're meeting with IP counsel at XYZCo." Then what? If you can't envision a sequence that results in getting what you want, the odds of it happening are miniscule.

Mike O'Horo

This is the eighth in a Not-To-Do/To-Do series. Each of the links above directs you to a RainmakerVT course that teaches you how succeed at the actions described.

Next week's Not-To-Do: Take a "fogameer" approach to your sales pipeline