For those who have to do BD but don’t like it (or don’t do it well), here are seven steps to help you do it better.
Some of my coaching with lawyers is around business development techniques, which is essentially “selling”. Many lawyers hate that word and the concept generally, but most admit that it’s a required part of their job. So they agree to attend an event, or take someone to lunch. But that’s not selling. BD isn’t an action – it’s a skill. And like most skills, it needs to be understood, learned and practiced in order to be effective.
If you can find a master class on this area, take it. Failing that, read this blog and commit to practising these seven relatively easy-to-do actions on a regular basis:
- Know what legal services you and the firm can provide to the degree that you can describe them meaningfully: Few lawyers are capable of succinctly describing their services in a compelling way. In other words, here’s what I do and the value for my clients. Develop your elevator pitch – there are lots of tools for this on the internet. Fewer still know enough about the other services in their firms to be able to effectively cross sell those services. Don’t just read your own website. Take your fellow lawyers out to lunch and ask them to describe their service offerings, their client base, their value proposition, and their experience base. Now you’ll be in a position to help sell them.
- Understand your fee structure (and alternatives available): If you’ve been practising for over five years, you should know darn well what it costs to do different types of work. Put caveats around it if necessary, but when a professional can’t tell me roughly what an action will cost I assume they are either protecting their right to gouge me, or they are clueless as to their own business. Either way, I’m not buying. Get clear with your costs, your caveats, and the variables. Get clear on your firm’s alternative billing structures and the approval process. Don’t fudge this important part of the conversation. It separates the experienced from the dabblers.
- Be a good communicator: Throughout the sales process, be clear and precise with your communications. This requires that you know what you are talking about, and might even require some practice so you don’t stumble over your own words. Respond to voice mails and emails promptly (same day), no excuses. Even if it’s to say “I got your message and I’ll have an answer for you tomorrow/next week”. Responsiveness is a critical judging factor in the sales process: most lawyers forget or don’t believe this. Get ahead of your competition by realizing it’s true.
- Know how long it will take to deliver each piece of work: Again, a professional should know approximately how long something will take. And don’t process out loud. I actual heard a lawyer say something like “well……you know it’s really hard to say. I mean what if the other side does (x) and we have to do (y)? And then it might take the land title office a while to get back to us. And then….” You get the idea. This instills very little confidence on the part of the client. Identify caveats and variables. Give a time range. But show yourself for the seasoned professional you are by providing a timeline of sorts.
- Understand the Canadian legal system and culture – from your client’s perspective: For those assisting foreign businesses or new Canadians, be aware that not only are they probably unfamiliar with Canadian law and customs, but that in their home country the opposite actions might be very appropriate. Take the time to think about the cultural differences that you must navigate them through, and carefully and sensitively do so.
- Understand you client’s business and industry: Yes, you can work on a partnership agreement to form a company for development of a software product. But unless you take the time to get to know the company and their industry at least a bit, you probably won’t be able to create the ideal agreement in that circumstance. Also, your chances of getting more work from that company and industry increase to the degree that you become known as someone who “gets” that industry. Take some time to learn more about your client and their business environment. It’s worth it!
- Ensure you can deliver on their business goals through your legal work: Legal work is more valuable to a client when in addition to solving a legal need it also forwards their business objectives. This doesn’t automatically occur. Take the time to ask the client/prospect two questions: what are your business goals for this project you’ve asked me to assist with; and how does this project fit in with your overall business objectives for the company this year. The answers might shape the way you respond legally, and could open the door for more legal work.
If you believe you are already doing these things, and you are under-hours or low on originating credits, then evidence suggests you are not doing them well. There are all very doable for a lawyer at any stage of their career. I encourage you to challenge yourself to become an expert in these seven areas. Trust me, the work will follow!