BD - The Big Opportunity
Pre-Covid – “We need a bigger budget to do business development properly.”
Since March – “It’s really difficult to do BD properly because there are no events to go to.”
Two common approaches in the legal sector. And to a large extent they both miss the point – and the opportunity.
In this blog, I’ll
- explain why
- show how the “New Norm” is having a transformational impact on the BD landscape by creating better opportunities for law firms to win business, and
- provide six practical tips on how to get the best results from the time you spend doing BD
The pre-Christmas workload seems to be as frantic as ever though, so I’ll keep this one short (and hopefully sharp).
First, let’s look at what BD actually involves.
The BD Process
Simply put it comprises
- Organisation and planning – strategic e.g. sectors, client types, value proposition, and operational e.g. client research, preparation for meetings.
- Marketing – profile raising, developing relationships e.g. networking events, seminars, articles.
- Selling – understanding / identifying needs, offering solutions, closing the deal e.g. follow-up contact, one-to-one sales discussions, team pitching presentations.
Why do the statements at the beginning of the blog miss the point?
If my consulting, coaching and training experiences over 19 years in the legal sector consistently demonstrate one trend it’s this – most lawyers and law firms do a disproportionate amount of Marketing.
To illustrate the point – if I’m doing a training workshop and I ask the group to shout out all their BD activities, then we categorise them into one of the three BD stages, usually at least 75% of the activities come under Marketing. Or if I’m coaching a lawyer who does, say, 300 hours of BD annually, it’s likely that 200-250 hours are Marketing.
It’s often a light bulb moment for the lawyers. Do more Organisation and Planning, less Marketing and more Selling – you’ll win more business, waste less time and energy, and get a far higher return on your BD investment.
The firms that are consistently strong at winning business perform well in all three stages.
What has happened ….and why do the changes present an opportunity?
As traditional marketing / networking events have disappeared since March and been replaced by virtual events, some other key changes have occurred.
- Client’s needs and expectations for communication have changed. They want to talk and they want more support when they’re working from home, so they’re often more receptive to wider ranging discussions.
- Lawyers have become more flexible with how they spend their working day – the distinction between focusing on billable work during core business hours and fitting in non-billable work like BD during lunchtimes, evenings and weekends has lessened.
- Both clients and lawyers tend to find it easier to have focused conversations while working remotely rather than in a busy office environment full of distractions.
Result - the potential for more frequent, focused and effective BD conversations with clients has increased.
You can see where I’m going with this!
The opportunity to move to a more balanced portfolio of BD activities – which is more cost effective and will win you more business – presents itself with the environment we are now working in. So, if you haven’t done it already, this may be the time to pivot (to use the current favourite word in business language) and think seriously about how you – firms, teams and individuals – approach and execute BD.
Clients ask themselves two fundamental questions, usually sub-consciously, when they’re selecting a law firm
- are they interested in us?
- can we work with these people?
The new environment gives you much more opportunity to pass these tests.
Here are my six tips for better BD performance in the New Norm:
- Balanced portfolio of BD activities. Recalibrate the time spent on BD activities so that you get a sensible balance amongst Organisation and Planning, Marketing and Selling. The value of good planning cannot be overstated, and you need to get the client into a purchasing mindset to sell to them (see Follow up below).
- Attitude and habit - the things that are mostly likely to hold you back!
- accept that BD does not need to be event related
- redefine in your mind what “work” means i.e. it’s everything you do in the work environment including BD, not just billables
- if you don’t already, start doing BD during core hours
- accept that planning and follow-up are essential.
- Involve your team. Everyone has a valuable part to play with a balanced portfolio approach. That includes paralegals, trainees, associates etc - and your Business Development/Marketing team, if you have one, who are often underutilised for areas such as strategic BD planning and creating your value proposition. Ironically the frequency and quality of team communication can be higher when it is virtual than when in the office (see my blog on Leadership) which enables a more productive team approach to BD.
- Prioritise your targets effectively. You’ve got a huge list of clients and potential clients to contact and you do it with a scattergun approach and get nowhere. As part of your planning prioritise, say, a top 10 target list – one method is to focus on the MAN i.e. the organisations and people who have the money, the authority and the need.
- Follow up! Remember, people rarely have a buying mindset when they’re attending marketing events (in person or virtually). Initially follow up by phone is best – emails are too easy to delete – and the selling conversation(s) should be face to face, virtually or in person, if possible. Follow up is the bit that most lawyers find tough and shy away from (“I attended the event, I’ve ticked the box, I’ll get back to my work now and do the follow up another time”). So…..
- ..... Ask don’t tell. Selling techniques are not the focus of this blog but this one is key. Clients want to talk with you, not be talked at by you! Using a questions-based approach rather than starting with the traditional summary of your firm and what it can offer, is very effective and makes it easier for you to follow up.
An opening question like “What are the objectives and challenges for the business with this project?” will:
- get the potential client immediately engaged
- make them feel that you’re interested
- give you information that you need to enable you to provide a solution
- take away the discomfort you might have of feeling like you are “selling.”
I hope that this blog has given you a different perspective on BD and some useful ideas to put into practice.
Enjoy the festive break when it eventually comes, and restart in 2021 with a new and refreshed BD mindset. You won’t sell anything without energy and enthusiasm!