November 2012 | Prepare Your 2013 Business Development Goals Now
2013 – No Time to Run and Hide
Last February, the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole, looked around, and snuggled back into his den until springtime. He saw the continuing down economy, recession, housing bust, unemployment, and election uncertainty, and hunkered down into his comfort level. When he finally came back to life, it was to pick the “low hanging fruit.” Alas, that fruit had been eaten by others while he basked in the glory of business-as-usual.
Don’t be the law firm version of Punxsutawney Phil. Growth in a free market is there to be gained, even in a down economy. But for firms to pursue legal business development, two questions need to be answered: First, how can your firm exploit the current marketplace? And second, what long-term strategic and pragmatic business development lessons can you learn, firm size notwithstanding, from the knowledge that has driven legal services purchasing during the past four to five years?
“Tag – You’re It.”
Business development is rarely simple or easy. But marketplace fluctuations raise problems for clients as well as for law firms. Those who prepared contingency plans, or learned from the past four years, are now prospering. They are the “it” as in hide and seek’s “tag, you’re it.” (Except in our version, of course, you want to be “it.”) They are out from behind the trees and actively pursuing new business, and 2013 will be no exception for them.
“Ready or Not, Here I Come.”
Your firm is ready to get a head start for 2013. By answering the previous two questions, and understanding where you really are and where you want to go, you have established an entry point. But before focusing on a range of actions that contribute to business growth, let’s take a quick look at statistics that may pose unexpected obstacles to your growth efforts.
According to BTI Consulting, in-house counsel terminating an average of two long-term firms each year. Our firm’s recent U.S./Canada Client Retention survey indicated that one of the top reasons for this is lack of communication. And 35 percent of our respondents indicated they lost up to 14 long-term clients in the past three years.
Another obstacle to business development efforts comes from a recent Harvard Business Review article, which states that four contacts are the minimum needed before closing a sale. More typically, it’s eight to 10 contacts. Your experienced business developers know this. Getting the folks out from behind those trees and in front of prospects will become more of an ongoing effort. To further confirm this obstacle, Chet Holmes in his “Business Breakthroughs” indicated that only 3 percent of your current prospects are ready to buy.
“Marco.” “Polo.” “Marco.” “Polo.”
Newer partners, senior associates and even younger associates have been given their marching orders – seek out new opportunities, pursue leads, get in front of prospects and close those deals. As Marco says, start popping up whenever and wherever there are prospects.
A few of the basic business development tools that are simplest to implement are discussed below. They are designed for firm leadership, which must take a strong role in making it happen and ensuring follow up.
Think business generation and value. If the new project involves work in a fledgling practice area your firm would like to promote, use warm relations with your client to persuade them to take a chance on your firm. Sweeten the deal and negotiate a lower fee for a set time period – perhaps three to six months – so the client can gain confidence in your firm’s ability to handle the project.
No Place to Hide
Your attitude toward and adoption of these sales principles can make the difference between entering 2013 discouraged about business development efforts and stressed about the future, or energized about potential new deals and optimistic about your firm’s growth. While every law firm can and should excel at business development and legal sales, only a few will actually exert and invest in the creativity, thought leadership and training to dynamically move their firms forward next year.
Some firms will continue to struggle as the economy reboots, while others will “own the closing zone.”
Which one will you be?
Allan Colman is CEO of the Closers Group, a business development consulting firm. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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