Secrets of the Masters: Top Business Development Techniques for 2013
November 2012 | Prepare Your 2013 Business Development Goals Now
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Secrets of the Masters: Top Business Development Techniques for 2013

By David H. Freeman


If you want to know what makes rainmakers successful, ask them – and ask the business development pros who have worked with them.  Here is a compilation of the advice of 28 legal marketing professionals and consultants who worked with me on a series of marketing webinars.

Finding and Developing Niches
In this highly competitive world, just being a good lawyer in no longer enough. To attract more sophisticated and higher-paying work, consider developing specific niches. Just as products are branded to serve very targeted consumer needs (think Volvo for safety, Apple for innovation, Coke for refreshment), you, too, can position yourself to satisfy certain needs in the minds of legal consumers.

Notice how each of these products adds value beyond the basic utility of what they offer – transportation, technology, beverage. As a lawyer, you also have a basic utility – delivering a favorable legal outcome – but you can bring much more to the table to attract potential clients. Your specific brand, your niche, and the additional value you bring can take many forms. You may be THE top expert in a specific area of the law. You may have a strong background in an industry. You may be a superb networker and constantly help people around you. Perhaps you are a leader in your religious community, civic organizations, or school. Or maybe you are a minority and build strong relationships within your community. Whatever the asset, you need to understand it, and communicate it clearly to the right audiences.

Growing Networks and Staying Memorable
All other things being equal, I’ll place my bets on the lawyer with a large network of good contacts. But size alone is not enough. You need to collect high-value people, people who can either give or refer work to you and your firm. This requires you to coldly assess the value of the people you know, and to figure out how to meet more of the “right” people.

Do a complete inventory of your contacts, and look at the types of contacts you have: Existing clients, former clients, referral sources, alumni (from schools, from your firm). Prioritize the people you know, and cluster similar types into categories, so that, for example, when you think of sending a copy of an article to Fred the accountant, you can also send it to the 43 other accountants you have in your well-organized database. This approach is a great way to stay top-of-mind with a larger group of people.

Once you have good lists, you must work them. Regularly stay in touch in ways that are valued and welcomed. The experts suggested using some of these highly effective techniques for reaching out to your best contacts:

  • Ask for feedback on your/your team’s performance and act on the feedback you receive.
  • Offer in-house presentations.
  • Offer to review documents or policies.
  • Invite a target to be a co-presenter or co-author.
  • Invite contacts to meals and social events.
  • Offer to join them at their industry conferences.

Getting Meetings and Maximizing your Effectiveness During Meetings
Studies have shown the most effective way to develop new work is to arrange meetings with clients and prospects. While this is not an earth-shattering observation, very few lawyers actually plan and measure the number of meetings they have. The solution – simply increase the number of meetings you have with the right people.

Once you have decided who to contact, you need a good context, a solid reason why they would want to meet with you. You need an idea, an approach that is valuable enough for them to find value in investing their time to get together. Our panelists suggested some of the following:

  • Current events: “I noticed you are planning to open a new facility, and I wonder what you are doing about permitting and getting tax incentives?”
  • Review: “I was wondering when you last updated your employee manual. If you would like, we are happy to review it for you.”
  • Practice based: “There are new regulations relating to your industry, and I was wondering how you are planning to deal with them?”
  • Matter management: “We just finished working on a matter similar to yours, and we developed some novel ways to deal with the issues. Would you be interested in hearing a presentation on the lessons learned?”
  • Goals: “Now that we’re coming up on year-end, it would be a good time to review the work we’ve done for you, and plan out your anticipated legal needs for the coming year.”
  • Colleague: “I am putting together a presentation on the topic of X, and I’d like to invite you as a panelist.”
  • Service: “Would you be interested in receiving a free IP audit from one of our intellectual property partners?”

One you have scheduled a meeting, develop a plan to maximize your chances of success. First, assess whether the meeting is truly worthwhile – is this someone who can feed me or guide me to new work? Next, do your homework. I’ve seen clients who hired a lawyer because they uncovered important facts that impressed those clients. Anticipate the needs of the client. Remember, while you want the work, you’ll get it only if you offer something they truly need. The needs could be an alternative fee arrangement, specific expertise in a certain area, better responsiveness, geographic capability, or perhaps diverse counsel.

The most important part of any meeting is asking probing, open-ended questions. Get the client to do most of the talking, and listen carefully for their needs. Also, since most clients don’t give you work in the first meeting (did you get married on your first date?), you’ll need reasons to follow up after the meeting. During your preparation, think about what a logical next interaction might be – an offer to review a document, an introduction to someone of value, an in-house presentation, and at the right time during the meeting, if you have truly identified a need, ask if they’d like to take that next step.

After the meeting, conduct a debriefing session with someone else. Develop a follow-up plan, and determine how to stay in touch while adding value to the relationship.

Delivering Extraordinary Levels of Client Service
The experts were very clear that client service cannot be mass-produced – each client has his or her own definition of what great service looks like. Rather than make assumptions, ask questions like:

  • “What does client service mean to you?”
  • “How would you like me to communicate with you?”
  • “What does responsive mean to you?”
  • “What do you expect from a law firm?”

Great service usually breaks down into five major areas:

  • Know the Client’s Business – Most clients have many choices of lawyers. To stand out, add value by showing how deeply you understand the intricacies of their industry and issues.
  • Be HIGHLY Responsive – Every lawyer and their brother think they are responsive, and it is just not true. Under-promise and over-deliver to exceed expectations.
  • Add Value – Think carefully about what a client needs, especially outside the delivery of a legal result. Wow them with something unexpected. Would they like introductions to people you know? Do they need reports written in ways they can easily deliver to their superiors? Come up with ways to be the Disney and Ritz Carlton of the legal profession.
  • Be Proactive – While we are generally a reactive profession, our clients would love our proactive advice. Offer preventive services, and anticipate their needs before they arise.
  • Manage the Relationship – Relationships are about understanding and meeting expectations. At the beginning of a matter, learn how to best work with them. During a matter, check in to make sure everything is going as planned. And at the end of a matter, get feedback to learn if they had any issues and how to do better next time.

Making Business Development Sustainable
Much of the advice in this article may not be all that new to you. As we all know, the real challenge is consistently acting on your best business development opportunities. The following are some of the favorite suggestions from our panelists:

  • Buddy System – Find someone who is energetic and similarly focused on business development, and schedule regular meetings with them.
  • Accountability Groups – Same as the buddy system, but with more people. This could be a practice group, office, or a networking group.
  • Schedule Personal Time – Carve out a set time every week, place it on your calendar, and do everything in your power to not let it slip away. Maybe it’s Monday mornings from 7:30- 8:30, or Sunday before the kids wake up – just find a time that works for you.
  • Secretaries – Many lawyers use their personal assistants to help them organize their contacts, plan their weeks, and even schedule business development lunches.

One of my favorite sayings, shared by a law firm chief marketing officer, is “business development is a contact sport.” Get out of your office, make good impressions on a lot of targeted people, and find ways to stay top-of-mind with them over time. Those who effectively play this game will build significant, satisfying books of business over their careers.

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About the Author

David H. Freeman is a former lawyer and CEO of David Freeman Consulting Group, a law firm business development consulting firm. He can be reached at 949.715.0819 or dfreeman@davidfreemanconsulting.com.


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