The Art of Business Development (with a few How-Tos …)

Times are tough.

“No s*** Sherlock.”

Every day you are driven to work harder and harder to make a $/£ or two.

And still the targets keep going sky-ward, despite such euphemisms as being ‘realistic’ about target setting.

Being excellent, in delivering technical work, is taken for granted, despite the fact that you are expected to keep up with a slew of cases, primary and secondary legislation and any number of pseudo-legal pronouncements.

And, of course, that doesn’t take account of the market intelligence that you are supposed to gather relating to your clients’ sector(s).

Stop and focus.

Business development is no five-minute-a-day occupation.

It is serious business.

Thinking (mistakenly) that you can slot it in when it suits you is folly.

You have to be focused, organised and think carefully about what it is that you are trying to achieve.

If you want to get good at business development then it has to become a habit. It literally has to become part of you. There is no point being driven to do ‘it’ for the sake of it, any more than someone continually telling you that you need to go on a diet or lose weight.

We all know that that doesn’t work!

Of course, the shock or threat approach is real – your job is on the line – but it is never the best motivator in the world. It is resentful motivation. Instead the motivation has to be intrinsic.

But for now, here are a few How-Tos that you might like to consider:

The How-Tos

1. Be Yourself

Don’t blithely copy others.

Find your thing and keep at it.

You may think that just because your nearest and dearest partner has bagged a few Big Elephants makes them King of the Business Development stakes, but, in my experience, and without wishing to appear arrogant, you need to keep faith in your abilities and focus on what you are good at.

2. Focus on service delivery … at the end

Lawyers get bored once they have secured a new client. The hunter mentality kicks in: “Where’s the next one?”

It is very likely that the new client has instructed the firm because of you, and if you merely pass the baton over to someone else, particularly towards the end of the job, then the client may feel that you don’t care enough about them, and drop you faster than the proverbial stone.

3. Seek regular feedback

And I don’t mean the daft, ambiguous client survey. I mean go ask your client what they think, ideally as the job is ongoing. The questions shouldn’t be couched in language that is defensive, but rather that you are open to change.

4. Get better

I have written about this many times. But if you truly want to improve your strike rate, you could do worse than to sign up for a sales or marketing course (at your expense!). Continually falling back on the “I was trained as a lawyer” just looks so lame.

5. Go hang out where your clients hang out

Networking events are pretty dull. And, let’s face it, really busy owners, managers or directors are unlikely, if they are running a successful business, to have much time to go hunting. Instead they are likely to grace their presence at industry sponsored or CPD type events. Go do your research and find out more about your clients’ sector. You will be amazed once you start digging around how many opportunities exist.

6. Learn to ask for referrals

If you have super-pleased your client, don’t be shy to ask for a referral or two. Don’t make the mistake of asking the bland question: “Do you know anyone else who might be interested in my firm’s service.” That is just too big a landscape for them to narrow down their purview. Instead, try to recall their hobbies or interests and ask something related to who they might hang out with or associate with.

7. Say No!

Don’t take on every piece of work going. If there is someone better qualified, even outside of the firm, don’t be afraid to refer it to them.

8. Think more like your client and less like a lawyer

Stand in your client’s shoes a little more often. What do you sound like to yourself? How much attention do you give your client? How much do you really care?

9. Stay in contact

Perhaps this should be number one. Think ahead, and make sure you stay connected to your client, even when the file is closed. You will be surprised how valuable it will prove in the long run.

10. Go to lunch XFX style

No I don’t mean those long, afternoon siesta style lunches where you just know that you are done for the day. I mean go do cross-functional lunches where you regularly – at least once a week – go out with a colleague in another department. And don’t just go for the obvious candidates who, to date, have referred work to you. Look for the least obvious.

As we know business development is no easy ‘trip’. Yes, in part, it is a numbers game – kissing Frogs and all that – but play it smart. Think about  the 20% effort that will produce 80% of the results.

If you are derailed by dint of the work, make sure you have scheduled some catch up time to pick up where you left off. Or better still, let those people know, who you have promised to do something for, that you may be a bit delayed. They will be understanding.

But try not to step off the gas completely, as you may just find that the whole trail has gone dead by the time you come back to things again.

Good luck.

Happy hunting.