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If you find the idea of pursuing new business daunting, you’re not alone. Many lawyers do. There are so many voices out there telling you so many different things to do that the cumulative complexity of the advice can feel overwhelming. Here’s how to simplify everything.

The entire spectrum of marketing, sales, and client retention activity can be distilled into three organizing principles. Honor these consistently, and you’ll do just fine:

  1. Door-Opener

  2. Cost of Doing Nothing

  3. Stakeholder Alignment

1 Door-Opener

A Door-Opener is the underlying business problem or opportunity that drives demand for specific services (which is why I also call it the Demand Trigger). Door-Openers enable you to create and sustain a business conversation with the market, which earns you “idea relationships.” It’s the enabling vehicle to connect the business issue and your service solution.

Let’s look, for example, at the Door-Opener for Marcia, an attorney specializing in IP and trade secret litigation. Her Door-Opener is the problem of scarce technical talent moving between tech companies in Silicon Valley, unavoidably taking the intellectual property in their brains with them. With all the talent moving around, it's a certainty that some of the companies losing talent will be suspicious of any subsequent technical advances by competitors who hired their people, particularly if the product advances fall within the expertise of the workers recruited away from them.

At least some of those companies will attribute at least part of any market misfortunes they may experience to the knowledge inside their former engineers' heads that moved to the competitor.

All Marcia has to do is continually beat the drum about the talent war problem, its impact, and what software companies should do to avoid it, minimize it, or recover from it. Even if a software company who lost a key engineer and suffered market shrinkage somehow knows 20 IP lawyers, they don't see this as an “IP” problem, but as a “key software developer moving to a competitor” problem, and Marcia is the lawyer who “owns” those terms. This is the essence of branding and positioning.


This conversation assures relevance, which is the first standard that you have to honor. Nobody is interested in talking about your IP services or prowess, but a lot of people are obligated to care about talent- and knowledge movement.

Your Door-Opener answers the question, “Why should we talk?” It will save you from wasting a lot of time and effort cultivating relationships with people who will never hire you. No Door-Opener, no investment.

2 Cost of Doing Nothing

Just because someone acknowledges a problem, and is willing to talk about it with you, doesn't mean he’ll actually do anything about it and spend money. Until he proves to himself (and us) that he must take action, i.e., until he or she recognizes the full Cost of Doing Nothing and declares that cost to be unacceptable, the likelihood of anyone getting hired to solve it remains very low. There’s no sale to make.

Too often, we waste time trying to sell to people who could, should, or ought to take action to solve a problem. However, humans only do what they must do. “Must” is defined as “the consequences of not taking action are fully understood and deemed unacceptable.”

Your role, in your marketing communications and your personal sales efforts, is to draw out and quantify all of the likely consequences so the buyer can reach the “must do” conclusion on his own. You can’t simply declare, “Here’s what will happen if you don’t act.”

Done properly, the CoDN discipline results in the buyer attributing specific positive economic impact to the solution. This is where they recognize value, and you get pricing power. If the buyer concludes that solving the problem would produce $10 million of positive economic impact, and your fee estimate at your full rate is $100,000, that’s a powerful 100x ROI.

3 Stakeholder Alignment

It's rare for one person to make an important decision in a modern company, even if she's the founder and CEO. Many other people will have to live with whatever decision results from these deliberations, so they all have a legitimate stake in how it's made.

Most groups, however, don't know how to make group decisions. Your job now is to facilitate Stakeholder Alignment. Simply put, that means getting the group to align around any decision, beginning with whether or not to take action at all. Until they reach that point, it doesn't matter how attractive your solution may be. (If I have no reason to buy a truck, it doesn’t matter how great yours are.)

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Each of these three are disciplined processes that you’ll have to learn. But that’s only three things, not dozens and dozens of them.


  • Door-Opener: Why does it make sense for us to invest time with each other? Are we relevant to each other’s world? What problem justifies any time investment? If missing, walk away.

  • Cost of Doing Nothing: How important is this problem we’re discussing? Does it require a solution because not solving it would yield unacceptable consequences? If not, disinvest.

  • Stakeholder Alignment: Facilitate an eyes-open, well-informed decision that enables action and investment.

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