Can You Really Afford to Avoid Business Development?
If last week came and went with nary a business development opportunity completed, it’s time to clarify the value of each new client or matter.
Sure, on the face of it, it sounds ludicrous to suggest you don’t know the value of a new client. And yet, if you’re not making business development a top priority, most likely it’s because you haven’t stopped to calculate the actual dollar value of a new matter.
Getting clear on the value of each new matter automatically makes business development more important.
Of course, I don’t know the exact value of a new client for you. This depends on the amount a typical new matter brings in and how likely any given client is to bring repeat business. But I can say this with absolute confidence:
It’s got to be a lot.
So, the next time you’re tempted to skip a business development task–whether it’s lunch with a potential referral source or a visit to a client’s office when you’re in town–answer these questions:
- If you were to get work from this client or referral source, how much revenue would it likely produce?
- How would this extra revenue translate into additional compensation for you?
- How likely will having this particular client on your client roster enhance your reputation and credibility with others?
- How likely will handling this new matter provide experience that you can leverage in future marketing efforts?
- How likely will a new client bring in additional matters over the course of the relationship?
- If the client does send additional matters, how much revenue would likely be produced?
- What is the probability that a new client will refer you to someone who needs your services?
- If the client does refer you to another new client, what impact would *that* have on your revenue and reputation?
I know you’re thinking, “It’s not that simple. Not every lunch results in new business.” I agree.
But certainly there is some probability that lunch will produce new business. What if there is a 10 percent to 15 percent chance that going to a lunch will lead to new business? Multiply the value of the answers to the questions above by 10 percent, and my guess is that the resulting number is still pretty impressive.
The next time the temptation arises to prioritize something else over business development (whether it’s a lunch date or adding a personal note to a holiday card), use these eight questions to calculate the potential impact to your bottom line. Then decide whether the time investment is worth it.
Instead of asking yourself how you can afford the time to go to that lunch, you’re likely to find the real question is; Can you afford not to?
Treat Your Existing Clients Like Gold
Most lawyers get the vast majority of their new business from existing and past clients. These clients can be a source of new business both by sending new matters and by sending referrals.
Successful rainmakers know this and treat their current and former clients like the crown jewels of their practices. They recognize that existing clients are the most important people in their marketing mix.
Yet sometimes lawyers focus their marketing efforts on cultivating new relationships with people they have never done business with before. They ask these “strangers” to lunch. They invite them to their firm seminars. They call and e-mail. Meanwhile, their most valuable assets, their existing clients, are being neglected. It’s easy to take your best clients for granted, just like it’s easy to neglect your best friend.
I was reminded of this recently while working with a new client. We began our work by looking at her list of clients, past and present. My client said, “We don’t need to focus on this list; my clients are already a steady source of business. I know if they have a matter, they will send it to me.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. A study found that the #1 reason that clients leave their professional service providers is “perceived indifference.” To avoid the perception of indifference, successful rainmakers nurture their relationships with clients even when they are not doing work for them.
Here are some ways to nurture your existing client relationships:
- Provide outstanding, not just good, service.
- Stay in touch on a regular basis.
- Ask for feedback about how you are doing, and act on the feedback you receive.
- Celebrate their success. Send a gift recognizing a promotion. Send a handwritten note with any article that gets written about them. Ask your librarian to keep an eye out for articles about them or their companies. On a personal level, host a wedding or baby shower.
- Host a client appreciation event.
- Take them out to lunch to thank them for their business.
- Make them look good to their bosses or clients.
- Be responsive (as they, not you, define responsiveness). Ask them what they would like in terms of your responsiveness.
- Listen, really listen, to what they have to say. No multitasking while talking to a client.
- Provide advice off the meter.
- Learn about their businesses. Read their websites, and ask about their companies, their products, and their challenges.
- Keep them informed about the status of their matters.
- Support their favorite charities with your time or money.
- Help them. One of my clients sponsored her client for an organization that required a referral from an existing member.
- If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and make a point of remedying it.
By making your clients the focus of your marketing efforts, instead of devoting most of your time to “strangers,” you’ll find marketing more enjoyable and more rewarding.
Your clients are the crown jewels of your practice. Schedule time this week to recognize that and treat them accordingly.
Put It Into Practice:
- Think about what you have done for your best clients recently. You might ask yourself when you last called to check in with them, invited them to join you for lunch, or visited them at work.
- Next, consider what you can do to make an existing client feel special today. Do that thing.
Do You Need a Marketing Buddy?
Maintaining marketing focus and momentum is a challenge that most lawyers face. Client matters and other responsibilities find a way of taking precedence on your “to-do” list. Sometimes this is inevitable, but if it is happening to you on a regular basis, it may be time to find a “marketing buddy.”
If you’re like me, you tend to honor the commitments you make to other people more consistently than you honor the ones you make to yourself. So, rather than fighting this propensity, use it to your advantage.
Enlist someone to keep you on track with your marketing. I call this person your “marketing buddy.”
An ideal marketing buddy is someone who is as interested in keeping the momentum going with their marketing as you are with yours. Look for a person who needs someone to hold them accountable to market regularly, just as you do. Your marketing buddy can be another lawyer in your firm or a lawyer in another firm.
Your marketing buddy doesn’t even have to be a lawyer. You can choose someone who is a professional service provider who markets to clients similar to yours, such as an accountant or an environmental consultant. Working with someone who isn’t a lawyer can be especially helpful since their perspective may be more client-like and they may be more marketing savvy than you are.
You and your buddy should meet on a regular basis–either in person or on the phone. Schedule your meetings far enough apart so that you will have time to make meaningful progress, but frequently enough to keep you on track. Aim for at least monthly meetings; every two weeks is ideal.
You must treat your commitment to meet very seriously–like a client meeting or a court date. It’s the momentum thing.
During your meetings, set an agenda to discuss what you have accomplished since you last met, celebrate your successes, discuss the obstacles you have run into, brainstorm your next steps, and, most importantly, commit to what you will do before your next meeting.
This concept works. Many of my clients are simply too busy to work on their marketing every day. But, the day before their appointment with me, most make a Herculean effort to create time to market their practices. Not wanting to admit to me that they’ve done nothing, they often engage in a whirlwind of marketing activity right before our meeting. The same concept applies to meeting with your marketing buddy.
Accountability is the surest way to taking consistent action, and nothing ensures results from your marketing efforts like consistency. That’s true even if that consistency only comes in twice-a-month flurries of activity.
If you can’t think of a suitable marketing buddy, you may want to consider hiring one. A marketing coach can keep you on track, recommend smart marketing strategies, and offer guidance on evaluating your progress. For some people, the financial investment serves to deepen their commitment (much like paying a personal trainer at the gym).
Regardless of who your marketing buddy is, knowing that someone will be asking about the marketing you’ve accomplished will keep your marketing motivation and momentum high. Put this simple strategy to work this week by enlisting a “marketing buddy.”
Do You Have the Necessary Confidence for Business Development Success?
I’ve just finished reading Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s book, Confidence. The basic premise of the book boils down to: Winning begets winning, and losing begets losing, because of their respective impact on confidence.
For me, this drove home the importance of developing confidence in your business development acumen in order to have business development success.
Women who are confident in their business development skills are more likely to put forth the necessary effort to succeed at business development. Colleagues who sense your confidence are more likely to refer business to you. Clients who sense your confidence are more likely to hire you.
In contrast, women who lack confidence in their business development skills shy away from marketing opportunities. Others sense this lack of confidence and act accordingly.
Observing this phenomenon begs the questions of how to develop confidence if you aren’t as confident as you’d like. This is a complex area; let’s explore a few tips that have worked for my clients:
- Get clear about your personal business development strengths.
Do you have a great network, marketing support, the ability to easily develop relationships, a roster of loyal and appreciative clients, a niche practice, or well-developed listening skills?Focus your business development efforts on your strengths. It will take less effort and return greater rewards. Business development doesn’t have to be painful!
- Develop a network of support.
Kanter identifies collaboration as one of the cornerstones of confidence building.In my Women Rainmakers Roundtables, groups of women partners come together to build their books of business. At these meetings, hearing others share similar challenges and how they have overcome them energizes and builds confidence for participants.
Developing a similar support system for your marketing can help build your confidence.
- Keep track of your successes–whether small or large.
Keep a file of positive feedback you have received from clients over the years–thank-you notes, appreciative e-mails, referrals, etc. When your confidence begins to wane, pull out your file and read through the positive feedback you’ve garnered.
- Start small.
Most big marketing successes are made up of lots of little marketing successes–following up with someone you met at a networking meeting, sending consistent e-mails to an existing client, or sending an article that may interest a prospect.Set a small, realistic goal for yourself. Make it something you can do consistently. Meeting your goal will demonstrate that it’s not that hard to market yourself. Start small and keep at it.
- Be patient.
Building relationships that lead to getting hired takes time. Don’t be unrealistic in your expectations for any given marketing effort.Research shows that, to develop a significant book of business, a partner needs to invest 300 to 400 hours per year over a four- to six-year period of time. I don’t share that to discourage you, but rather to suggest just how much patience is needed.
It’s unlikely that someone you meet at a seminar will hire you on the spot, but you could use a conversation at that seminar to establish the basis for a follow-up contact.
And remember that their learning more about your services or hiring you is probably much more important to you than it is to your prospects. If your calls or e-mails aren’t returned, it’s probably because they are dealing with matters that, from their perspective, are more pressing at the moment.
- Realize that people can buy from you only when they have a need for your services.
Buying legal services is not like buying a pair of shoes. People can’t hire you just because they like you. By understanding and accepting this, you will learn that not getting hired is much more about timing than rejection. Simply continue to follow-up until the time is right.
- Take advantage of business development mentoring.
Use the resources listed on the ClientFocus website [http://www.clientfocus.net/ ], ask a successful rainmaker to help you, or hire a marketing coach.Mentoring is a smart way to shorten the learning curve on business development skills. Knowing you have the support and guidance of a pro will make you feel much more comfortable putting your new skills into practice.
Confidence is a critical part of business development success. And, as you’ll have noticed in the tips above, one of the foundational elements of confidence is taking action. So, starting today, try one of these suggestions, and watch your confidence grow.
Do You Know How to Say No?
Psychologists say that women have a tough time saying no. This can be a real problem when it comes to business development.
If you are like most successful lawyers, your business development time is very limited. To make sure that you invest your marketing time where it is likely to have the greatest impact, you must be strategic about how you spend your time. And that means sometimes saying no to requests from others.
Because you are bright and capable, others are likely to ask you to serve on time-consuming firm committees, give speeches to non-targeted audiences, or participate in long- shot marketing pitches. These activities may make sense from the requester’s point of view, but that doesn’t mean that saying yes makes sense from yours.
Women lawyers seem to have a particularly difficult time balancing their needs (to invest their limited non-billable time in the ways most likely to grow their practices) versus the needs of others. Yet learning to say no is a necessary skill if you are going to protect your limited marketing time.
The challenge is to say no without being viewed as “not a team player” or as a poor firm citizen.
In her book, Civilized Assertiveness, Judith McClure offers suggestions about how to say no. I’ve adapted them to help you protect your valuable marketing time.
1. “No, because …
“I’d like to help you on the Recruiting Committee, but I’ve spent a lot of time developing a focused marketing plan, and I promised myself that this year I would use my non-billable time to execute it.”
By the way, one of my clients recently used this type of no with the managing partner of her firm when he invited her to join an administrative committee at her firm. His response? “I agree. Doing business development is a much better use of your time and energy than serving on the committee.”
2. The Partial No:
“I can’t chair the Summer Associates Committee, but I would be glad to have lunch with the committee members three times during the summer.”
“I can’t help you draft the RFP to Lonestar Associates, but I would be glad to review it and give you my comments once you have a draft.”
3. The Not Now No:
“No, I can’t give that speech to the local bar association this year, but please keep me in mind for next year, when my schedule may have eased up a bit.”
4. The Alternative No:
“No, I don’t have time to write the practice group description, but I think that would be an excellent developmental project for Sue Livingston. She has indicated an interest in getting more involved in business development, and I think that this would be a great opportunity for her to get her feet wet.”
5. The Just Plain No:
“I’m flattered that you considered me for the position as head of the Associate Evaluation Committee. At the moment, I just don’t have time to do it justice.”
If you want to be effective at business development, you need to learn to say no. Keep an index card with these five approaches to saying no in your desk drawer, and don’t be afraid to use one of them when the appropriate opportunity arises.
Not only will saying no help you to protect your valuable business development time; handled smartly, a no can also ratchet up your reputation as someone who has a clear sense of her priorities and someone committed to growing her practice.
Are Your Marketing Efforts Focused on High-Potential Opportunities?
One of the most common complaints I hear about marketing is that there is just not enough time to do it. Making the most of the available time becomes critical.
One of the best ways to maximize your limited marketing time is to focus your marketing efforts on those people who are most likely to need your services and are open to considering you as the provider of those services. These people are your “high-potential” opportunities.
How do you determine if people are “high-potential” opportunities for you? Here are 11 questions to ask.
- Do they need your services?
A privately held company probably doesn’t need your sophisticated securities expertise, or if the company contracts out the manufacturing of its product, your premises liability acumen is probably not a good fit.
- Is someone else currently meeting their needs?
One of the toughest sales is trying to lure satisfied clients away from their current providers. If they are satisfied, why would they suffer the upheaval of a change in counsel (educating the new counsel about the company, the legal department and their management style) and take a risk on an untested provider? If their sole dissatisfaction is price, you will likely find yourself defending your position against an even lower-cost service provider down the road. Bargain hunters are among the toughest clients to maintain loyal relationships with.
- Are they willing to change counsel?
Even dissatisfied clients may not be eager to change counsel. If they have already invested millions of dollars in bringing their lawyers up to speed on their insurance policies for the last 50 years, they may not be willing to change counsel even though they are not delighted with their current firm.
- Can you effectively market to them?
It’s just not possible to “market to the world.” Do you have a way to reach them? Do you know them or know someone who knows them and is willing to make an introduction? Cold calling is a colossal waste of time when selling something as complicated and intangible as legal services. How easy is it for you to get in front of them? Do they have trade publications that you can write for or industry conferences that you can attend or speak at?
- Can they make the decision to hire you or at least influence the hiring decision?
Hospital administrators are often delighted to attend seminars sponsored by lawyers to keep current on emerging laws, but they are seldom the people who actually hire lawyers. Hiring is done in the legal department or in the executive suite. Administrators may prove to be an attentive audience but may not be a high- potential marketing opportunity.
- Can they afford you?
Nothing is more frustrating than landing clients who don’t pay their bills.
- Is there a likelihood of a continuing relationship?
Landing new clients takes a lot of time and energy. It’s better to find clients who can become a continuing source of business (or of referrals) than ones who are likely to be one-shot engagements.
- Is their work a strategic fit for your practice?
Will representing them help you build credibility in an area in which you want to expand your practice? If you want to focus your practice on IP litigation, a commercial litigation client is not a great fit (unless, of course, you can get someone else to handle the matter, with you getting the credit!).
- Can you represent them without creating a conflict?
As obvious as this seems, I have had several clients who have invested a great deal of energy cultivating potential clients, only to realize they could not represent them because of either a real or a business conflict.
- Under your firm’s compensation system, will you be rewarded for getting them as clients?
Compensation systems vary from firm to firm. Some reward expanding existing client relationships (as they should), while others don’t. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest your precious marketing time developing potential clients for whom you will not receive some credit.
- Would you enjoy working with them?
Life is too short to be filled with difficult clients.
It’s unlikely that any prospect will produce “yeses” for all of these questions, but the more “yeses” you get, the more likely that prospect is worth your limited marketing time.
If you don’t know the answers to all of these questions (which isn’t unlikely), start by finding the answers. For many of these questions, that will mean going straight to the source and asking the potential client.
Gathering the answers to these 11 questions should precede any significant investment of your time in convincing someone to hire you.
Take the time to determine if you are focusing your efforts on “high-potential” opportunities before you start marketing. Your time will be rewarded in your results!
Do You Have a Niche? Should You?
My son broke his arm on the last day of school (while in math class–don’t ask!). I spent three hours on the phone trying to find an available orthopedic surgeon to put a cast on it, even though my son’s pediatrician told me that her physician’s assistant could easily handle it.
Why am I sharing this with you (other than to confirm the impression that I’m a neurotic mother)? Because it has a lot to say about whether you should have a “niche” for your practice.
When it comes to doctors, most people want to go to a specialist, not a generalist. Nobody trusts brain surgery to a general surgeon. Increasingly, clients feel the same way about their lawyers.
You may feel having a niche is a risky strategy because there may not be a large enough audience–which could translate into having too few clients or not being able to make enough money. Or you may feel that focusing your practice narrowly will be boring.
When I first suggest to clients that they have a niche, they often express similar concerns. But they soon find the advantages to having a niche far outweigh the possible disadvantages. Here are some advantages:
- You’ll face less price sensitivity. People pay for expertise. I’m sure I paid more for the orthopedist than I would have for the physician’s assistant’s services. This equates to potentially higher rates for you, which will more than make up for a smaller pool of potential clients.
- You’ll have less competition. Generalists have to compete with all the generalists and all the specialists out there. Specialists have far fewer people they are competing against in their specialty. Think of the difference between the number of general commercial litigators versus the number of litigators who specialize in litigation involving long-term health care facilities.
- Marketing becomes simpler. You’ll clearly see where to focus your efforts when you have a niche. Identifying the potential clients that might be interested in your services becomes much easier. You can easily determine what they read, the conferences they attend, and where they network. Also, your marketing message becomes much clearer, since you can picture the exact person to whom you are marketing and what that person’s needs and situation are and tailor your message accordingly. You’re no longer “marketing to the world,” but rather to a defined, relevant audience.
- You become an expert. The more of a particular type of matter you handle, the more you know. It increases clients’ confidence that you are the right person for the matter. As a related benefit, it also increases your confidence–which translates into more effective marketing. Finally, your increased expertise is likely to result in better results for your clients. This in turn leads to more satisfied clients, who are more likely to use you again or refer you to their colleagues.
- Prospects and referral sources remember what you do. One of the greatest challenges in marketing is maintaining what advertisers call “share of mind”–being remembered as a potential provider when a need arises. Think of how many general commercial litigators an inhouse counsel meets in a year. Now think of how many people they meet who focus their practice in a particular niche–be it premises liability litigation or water rights litigation, for example. Your specialty creates a clear (and, hopefully, lasting) picture in the minds of potential clients about what you do. If they need or hear of someone who needs what you do, you will stand out. You become the “go-to” person for particular types of matters.
Once you’re convinced of the advantages to developing a niche, there are several approaches to help you define your niche:
- You can focus on a specific substantive area of law: medical device product liability litigation, advertising law, consumer class actions, software licensing, outsourcing.
- You can focus on a particular industry segment: academic medical centers, the hospitality industry, automobile dealers, family-owned businesses.
- You can focus on a specific demographic: geographical location, gross revenues, size of workforce, or other business factors.
If the concept of niching your practice is scary, remember there are a number of ways you can protect yourself from being foreclosed from too many opportunities. You can have more than one niche, or you can do work outside your niche when times are slow. Having a niche is about where you focus your marketing, not about how you spend your day.
There are many benefits from having a clearly defined niche. Take some time to think about how you can refine the description of your practice more narrowly. It’s worth the risk.
Six Steps to Effective Cross-Selling
One of the greatest myths in law firm marketing is that your partners will be eager to cross-sell you just because they’re your “partners.” The fact is that they aren’t.
Whether because of inertia, fear of competition, concern that you will have a negative impact on their relationship with the client, or lack of incentives, your partners probably cross-sell less often than you might like.
When viewed from the client’s perspective (as all marketing should be), there are several reasons why cross-selling does not work as well as you might like, but that is a discussion for another time. (If you can’t wait, David Maister compellingly addresses the problems in the chapter on “Why Cross-Selling Hasn’t Worked” in his book True Professionalism.)
But before you can handle potential obstacles you may face in convincing a client to hire you, you must first convince your partners to cross-sell you. In order for that to happen, they need to:
- know you (while it doesn’t hurt if they like you, that’s not a requirement);
- know what you do and what you are capable of doing for their clients;
- trust that you will treat their clients well; and,
- feel that there is something in it for them.
Here’s a road map for successfully convincing your partners to cross-sell you:
- Start by identifying several (fewer than 5) partners who present good opportunities for you. Evaluate these partners based on the focus of their practices; their client base; and, most important, how willing they are to cross-sell. Some people are inclined to cross- sell; others aren’t. Life is too short to try to convert those who are strongly disinclined to cross- sell (whether you or others) into effective cross- sellers.
- Develop a relationship with each of these people. You need to get to know each other on a personal level– through chats in the hall, lunch, or working together on a client matter or committee.
- Educate them about what you do. You might assume that because they are your partners, they know what you do. Years of working with law firms has convinced me they don’t. You need to educate them about your expertise and experience.
- Educate them that you do it well. Let’s face it. Not all of your partners are equally talented, equally smart, equally client-oriented, and equally diligent. To convince your partners that they can entrust their clients to you, share your successes with them and let them know how delighted your clients are with the service you provide.
- Make your expectations clear. Don’t assume that they know to whom you want to be cross-sold and for what services. Explain the game plan to them: “I think there is an opportunity for your client ‘X’ to hire us to do ‘Y’ type of work, which I do. Can we sit down and develop a plan for how we might go about doing that?”
- Finally, don’t forget to determine what’s in it for them. Ultimately, most people are motivated by self- interest. To encourage them to act on your behalf, you want to make clear that this has benefits for them. Those benefits can vary depending on the situation: maybe it will strengthen the client relationship, maybe it will be viewed positively by the firm’s leadership, maybe you have agreed in advance to share the billing credit if the matter comes in.
If you want to be cross-sold, you must treat marketing to your partners with as much focus and commitment as marketing to potential clients. These six steps are the place to start that marketing campaign.