Writing in The New Yorker immediately after the 2016 Iowa caucuses, John Cassidy shared an observation that lawyers hoping to be reliable business generators should pay close attention to. Set aside your personal politics and notice the central point.

Speaking on CNN as it got late, David Axelrod, President Obama’s former campaign manager, made an acute point:

“One of Hillary’s problems is that her campaign is largely about her — her experience, her electability, and her toughness. Sanders, on the other hand, rarely mentions himself in his speeches. His campaign is all about his message of taking America back from the billionaires. And, as Axelrod pointed out, it is often easier to inspire people, particularly young people, with an uplifting theme than with a résumé.”

I wouldn't imagine you've ever equated business development to presidential politics, but the principles that determine how people relate to you are the same no matter who you're trying to connect with or influence. It's all about relevance -- to the audience.

If the conversation is about you, you're not relevant to the listener, prospect, or client. If it's about the other person's circumstances, challenges, opportunities, and aspirations, you are relevant. It's as simple (and reliable) as that. Whether or not you agree with Senator Sanders' politics, his approach has produced a surprising result so far.

So, how do you make sure you have enough relevant things to say, pose, or discuss?

You have to become a student of your clients’ and prospects’ world. You have to immerse yourself in it, which means hang out where they hang out, read what they read, participate in the conversations they participate in, be seen as one of them. It’s not just about being able to contribute to their conversations, but to understand them, to know enough to be able to extrapolate and interpolate from what you read or hear, and relate to--and synthesize useful conclusions from--the flow of information that you’re exposed to every day.

In the paragraph above, “world” is intentionally singular, making the point that it’s not possible for anyone to study and understand the number of worlds found in the random mix of different industries and types of businesses typical of most lawyers’ practices. You must develop a singular focus, almost always an industry focus. The days of forming relationships with anyone and everyone you encounter, and hoping for the best, have to be put behind you. It’s just not sustainable.

Even if this all makes sense to you, it still may feel alien, and provoke uncomfortable questions about “how do I do that.” Fortunately, the process is simple and straightforward. There’s nothing exotic about it, and any credible business development coach should be able to guide you through it. It’s also reliable. When you learn it, you’ll understand why it’s the closest thing there is to foolproof.

Mike O’Horo

If you’re thinking, “He talks a good game, but can he deliver,” try me. Schedule a complimentary 30-minute call to discuss a concrete, immediate challenge you face, or just to get a more thorough explanation of the process I refer to above.