usiness development needn’t be complicated, difficult or distressing. However, for many lawyers, it’s all of that. Most of that can be eliminated by a single shift in perspective.
Lawyers devote about 150 to 200 hours to business development each year. In no particular order, their four most prevalent business development activities are:
Public speaking and presentations
Let’s look at how you go about those four activities now, and the one shift that will make it all more effective — and simple.
Networking events take lots of time and make you uncomfortable. You collect business cards but get no business. What you get is a relationship-building burden that isn’t sustainable. (This article shows the cost of the relationship-building approach.)
Writing takes time, and it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas. Too often, your content is met with silence. Too few people respond, comment, share or follow you.
Public speaking takes lots of prep time and often requires travel. Bad weather and other forces beyond your control may prevent a chunk of your registered audience from attending. Your remarks may produce little audience response, and while those who approach afterward compliment you, they don’t discuss how your topic affects their company (the bridge to a sales conversation).
Legitimate prospect meetings are hard to get. Your email doesn’t trigger an invitation to call. Voicemails don’t get returned. Calls get canceled or postponed frequently. Even when they happen, the prospect goes dark afterward, triggering uncomfortable follow-up. So-called prospects languish in your pipeline, requiring perpetual follow-up but yielding no results.
Clients are no easier. You do great work, get high marks for client service, invest in relationships, yet too often learn about opportunities after the fact. Why?
Most Lawyers Have No Focus
When asked who their market is, lawyers say, “I can help anyone.” True, but only after you’ve been found and chosen. You can’t market to “anyone.”
You need a specific market focus to be relevant. Prospects are only interested in what’s relevant to their industry, company, department or team and their career advancement.
If You’re Not Relevant, You Don’t Exist
There’s no reason to engage with you or even remember you. You’ll never have the right audience for your article, speech or networking because you have no selection criteria. If you don’t have the right audience, you have the wrong one, which guarantees that nobody will respond.
It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re doing the wrong things, applying methods that are guaranteed to fail. No amount of effort or skill can make the wrong things work.
Shift to Relevance
Whether or not you intend it, your communication is probably mostly about you: your experience, your expertise, your accomplishments, your firm. It’s not that people don’t believe your claims. It’s that they can’t afford to care because you haven’t made yourself relevant.
Lack of relevance is the source of your frustrations. Until your experience, expertise, accomplishments and firm are relevant to your prospects’ world, those assets don’t exist.
Consider the four-rung “impact ladder:”
The top rung, indispensable, is the brass ring. It’s what most lawyers aspire to. Relevance, however, on the bottom rung, is the thing you can directly influence.
If you’re perceived as relevant, people pay attention to what you say. They read your articles, subscribe to your blog and follow you on social media. They share your thoughts with others, becoming part of your idea-distribution team.
They’ll move you up a rung by giving you a chance to be “useful” and help them.
If your help has a positive impact, you move up another rung, to valuable.
Over time, if you’re consistently relevant, useful and valuable, you might just become indispensable.
Let’s revisit business development challenges through the lens of relevance.
Networking. You’re now hunting. You are screening for people who have your demand-triggering problem, who want to be cultivated because you’re relevant to their world.
Articles. You’re always writing a slightly different iteration of the same problem, simply by telling different stories about its impact and painting different images of how things can be if the problem is addressed as you suggest. You’re not creating completely new content each time.
Public speaking. It’s easier for people to recognize that they want to attend your session. Your remarks prove the need for them to consult with someone with your understanding of the problem and their world. Those who approach you want to discuss how your industry-specific problem affects their company.
Relevance guarantees that you interact only with those who are most opportune for you.
Achieving relevance is straightforward. Associate yourself with a business problem that can’t be ignored, that requires a decision, action and investment, thereby driving demand for your services. (Your “demand trigger” is also a door-opener, literally opening prospects’ doors to you.)
Here’s an experience that revealed this concept and its power to me.
A Concrete Example
A partner from the banking practice group asked to speak for a few minutes at the beginning of another group’s meeting to share what the banking group was doing. He described his group’s initiatives, expecting his partners to respond with, “Oh, I should introduce you to client X.” It didn’t happen. The banking partner’s remarks were met with uncomfortable silence, like when a comedian bombs. I was sitting next to the banking partner and asked an innocent question: “I’m not a lawyer. How would I recognize who needs your group’s help?”
For my benefit, the banking partner rattled off some situations that triggered demand for banking services. The chatter started around the table. “Oh, I should introduce you to client X or Y!” His partners hadn’t heard their clients using banking practice terminology. They had heard clients talking about the cost of capital, bridge financing while awaiting project approval, and converting debt to equity to preserve cash. The banking lawyer’s first remarks weren’t relevant. His second most definitely were and produced the desired response.
One easy way to choose a door-opener is to examine the most gratifying client or matter that you’ve had in the past year or two:
The matter that you found challenging, that made you bring your “A” game
Where your client paid in full, on time, without haggling
Where the client showed appreciation for your skill, dedication, effort and judgment
Commit to Relevance
Legal matters don’t spring up, whole, like mushrooms. They derive from situations, behaviors, decisions, attitudes and interactions. Where did this matter originate? Reverse engineer your matter all the way back to the first behavioral domino in the causal chain. Unless that problem is an outlier, you may have found your demand trigger and a reliable basis for relevance.