One of the great things about the rise of social media is that it gives you instant access to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I am a firm believer that the world is all about opinions and we can only ever progress if we consider and, where relevant/applicable, appropriate the new opinions we come across.
However the flip-side is social media also gives people the opportunity to overlook that potential and shout you down and while I genuinely crave new ideas, I am also firmly agree with re-rising pop star Liam Gallagher’s recent comments in an interview with Radio X:
“I never slag anything off but I do have strong opinions and I’ll stand by those opinions.”
I also have some sympathy with the answer the late, great Brian Clough gave the BBC when asked what he did when someone disagreed with him:
“Well that’s fine; if someone disagrees we’ll sit down and talk about it for 10 minutes then decide I was right.”
Both of these quotes came flying back to me the other night when I found myself in the middle of an exchange on Twitter that basically boiled down to my opinion (lawyers are more than capable of managing their own BD with the right support) and my correspondent’s point of view (the future can only lie with law firms employing armies of professional salespeople … no surprises here as the correspondent is a sales trainer and I’d never expect a butcher to talk me into vegetarianism).
Again I have no issue with someone disagreeing with me but as the in-coming tweets became a little more pointed, I started to take issue with some of the content. However as a) 140 characters aren’t enough to really put a point across to a closed mind and b) my favourite comedy show, The Apprentice, was about to start, I thought my column here would be a better vehicle to address some of the points raised and, in Liam’s words, explain why my opinions are strong and why I’ll continue to stand by them:
1 Be led by clients
My opinions aren’t my own; they have been informed by the clients we have met and interviewed as part of independent client research programmes.
We are repeatedly told they want direct access to their solicitors, they want to see the people who do their work at functions and events and they want to spend social time with ‘their lawyer’ to chat about their world. They also say they base their decision on who to instruct on who they know, like and trust and how can that bond be created if the initial contact is made by a salesperson?
Also, if you had a choice between someone who – and this is of course exaggeration for effect – can’t drag themselves away from their desk and require a valet introducer to broker a conversation versus someone who’s willing to take the time out to meet and get to know their public, which would you place your trust in?
2 BD isn’t all about new business
Regular readers will know this is something of a soap box for me. All of the language in the tweets was about the need to “target brand new prospects” and implement “client sourcing projects” whereas current client development and professional relationships (whether they are with fellow professionals like accountants, patent attorneys, IFAs or banks or with key industry or local figures) are much more productive and require no cold calling.
There are a number of lawyers who definitely can do the traditional cold selling (and the vital follow up required to turn that into results) but for many, farming current contacts is much more comfortable so provides a perfect raining ground in which to build confidence.
3 Fee earners aren’t willing to do BD
In our experience any unwillingness is simply down to the fact that not all fee earners know what types of BD they could be doing and which would suit them best. Again, just as BD isn’t all about new business, BD is not all about working the room at networking events or conferences.
You can write content for your blog or website or for the local or trade press that supports your primary target markets.
You can speak at the events your clients and targets go to or run webinars or seminars for your client, contact and target lists.
Or you can make just as valuable a contribution by doing the desk research required to make sure your networkers know where to network, your speakers know where to speak and your writers know what to write about.
I can call upon an endless list of lawyers we have worked with who were written off in BD terms because they didn’t like formal networking but turned out to be some of the most active and productive business developers their firm had once they aligned their plans with their comfort-zones.
4 Fee earners won’t/don’t do BD properly
Again to me it’s a question of making sure the activities a fee earner is tasked with are activities they are comfortable doing. If you can match an individual’s objectives to their skillset and make practical suggestions that will help achieve a likely outcome, lawyers deliver.
Moreover, as they are most often able to answer technical questions there and then, the results (i.e. a further conversation or a new introduction) are often quicker than they would be if questions are being posted back via an intermediary.
5 Even if they have the skills/aptitude/inclination to do BD, fee earners don’t have capacity
Another entrant into the exchange suggested lawyers won’t be able to make the most of their own BD unless the way time is recorded changes. I have some sympathy here and have long championed ‘BD hours’ being included within the billable week but at the same time, we’ve also long championed the mantra of ‘little and often’.
If you do one thing per week and do it well and it won’t impinge too much on your time (especially as you’ll be in touch with clients/contact naturally during the working week through the live matters you have on, and your marketing department will be managing your external comms which also help you stay visible).
If you multiply that out across your entire fee earning community, that’s an awful lot of focussed BD taking place every week!
That was my correspondent’s sign off; an insinuation that I’m chasing mythical beasts. The reality is somewhat different. I can cite more projects than I care to remember which have produced hugely productive sector teams, networking (and follow up) dervishes, brilliant bloggers, fantastically engaging speakers, hugely enjoyable nights out with the right people, initiative sporting and social events and empathetic and highly efficient client relationship managers (to name but a few) … all of which have been managed magnificently by lawyers.
My bemusement, however, hit its peak when I read:
“Why make a trained lawyer do BD? Like getting your sales team to be your general council.”
To me this sums up the pitfalls in my correspondent’s argument quite perfectly (although I was left musing whether this means BD was below a lawyers’ station or above a lawyers’ skillset) but as I said earlier, the views above aren’t mine. They are based on direct and repeated client feedback.
Clients want to know the people doing their work rather than being handed off to an intermediary, and given there are 3 possible audiences and 4 ways to approach them depending on where you’re most comfortable, the leap to suggesting a fantasy job swap seemed to suggest some pretty flimsy straws were being grasped at.
Personally I have complete faith that lawyers are more than capable of handling their own BD as long as they’re shown how best to do it and have the support and encouragement required to sustain and maximise their efforts.
I am very privileged to be in a position where every day I see at least one superb example of a solicitor, barrister, clerk or IP attorney successfully taking personal responsibility for implementing a new initiative that has led to a new conversation or a new opportunity. Better still I am in a position where I can see each success motivating them to try out something new to keep the ball rolling.
Lawyers can most definitely ‘do’ their own BD and, with the right support, they do it very well and that’s a world I want to see develop as the legal world becomes more competitive and personal profile and personal networks become even more critical to a lawyer’s success.
I am confident I can make an effective business developer out of any lawyer (and save your MP or FD a load of extra cost into the bargain) and if you’d like to discuss how you (or your team) can develop a more productive personal BD plan, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a time to speak.