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Sports analogies are perennially useful. Consider, for example, the phraseologies of football. For anyone who needs to sell in order to eat, football announcers offer a rich vocabulary focused on the goal line � on getting close to the real payoff, and then focusing mightily on making the score. An analogy pertinent to the art and science of new business generation is the “red zone,” which refers to the final 20 yards the team must traverse before the goal line. Here, the key players deploy their most exacting and customized plays to hit their target. Preparation of the red-zone playbook begins with a thorough study of the other side’s instinctive tendencies and habitual responses. Overall success is measured by how many times a team can score in the red zone compared to how many opportunities it gets to do so. Without a red-zone strategy, any other offensive pyrotechnics are academic. Casual fans may think that every play is designed to score. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some observers believe that overwhelming the defense in a particular sector � often by sending three receivers into the same area � is smart offense. In fact, three receivers in the same area usually trip over each other. These metaphors apply to business in general and business development in particular. From there it’s just a short punt over to the professional services and the elusive art of selling legal skills and expertise. It’s well known that lawyers are ineffective closers. One often hears comments like, “It’s their personalities. Lawyers are really afraid to actually ask for the business.” That may be true, but red-zone angst derives from something deeper and more fundamental than that. Most law firms lack a coherent red-zone strategy. They’ve been dragged, kicking and screaming, into professional marketing, which is all about getting found. The next step of getting chosen eludes them, in large part because they lack the framework to support those critical, penultimate efforts. For example, as the goal line nears, so many attorneys get sent into the fray as part of presentation teams that the client receives no clear message or, worse, multiple contradictory messages. Lack of training exacerbates their incapacitation. They have no time lines to close deals, no tracking systems to prod the “sellers” into updating the status of their prospects. Associates either are strictly prohibited from red-zone participation (and then denied partnership because they haven’t developed new business) or else not tangibly rewarded for contributing to this stage of the game. Some law firms have taken a more active approach within the red zone, yet their returns are still disappointing. A firm might be actively engaged in the red zone, but converting only one in 10 new engagements. This firm seems to be doing most things right � talking to the clients about their real needs; assembling, rehearsing and debriefing presentation teams; refining marketplace intelligence; and monitoring relevant media coverage. For all that, cost of sales is fast overtaking new revenue. What is the firm doing wrong? What is it missing? The answer lies with the very people to whom the firm is trying to sell. In-house counsel � wisely, from their perspective � have tightened up their red-zone defense. Their defenses were permeable upfield, and why not? All that marketing the firm did to get to the red zone was, as it should have been, rich in information of direct value to the buyer. So the target was more than happy to let the seller advance by 10 and 15 yards at a time. But now the potential client has to make a decision that can either help or hurt it. As much as the decision-makers may appreciate all those substantive newsletters and seminars, now they are going to make the law firm struggle for every inch gain within their 20-yard line. From inside the huddle Here are some verbatim comments from in-house counsel. They reflect the attitudes of general counsel and chief executives representing a range of Fortune 500 companies. Their commentary can be grouped in four categories: First, hidden decision-making. • “I’m going to start hiring plaintiffs’ attorneys who are successful against large companies like ours. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are oriented to winning.” • “I want people who win, whether selling our products or beating our competitors in court.” (This from a chief executive officer.) • “Decision-makers are really the [associate general counsel] in charge of each practice area or business group. I need to keep myself separate from the decision-making process, in case the problem goes south.” This from a corporate general counsel, discussing his delegation of responsibility for hires. • “I have control of all units. Even my most trusted [assistant general counsel] must get my clearance for retaining firms or adding work to current agreements. But they are not to indicate this to the outside firms.” • “We don’t have any significant litigation. At least that’s what we tell firms so we won’t need to meet with anyone.” To overcome hidden decision-making, a law firm’s red-zone strategy must include a systematic approach to finding out what the decision-makers won’t reveal on their own. Who is the real buyer of the service the law firm is selling? Who is its real user? When are the decision-maker and the person the company sent to the sales meeting the same person? The second category involves relationships and retention. • “Our law firms are spoiled and dull. We need to shake them up.” • “The outside firms I am partial to will just have to find their own way, or be replaced.” • “We have our own group of law firms and, as long as they meet our requirements, we’re not interested in spending time looking at new firms.” • “Find me a firm skilled in litigation public relations. None of ours can help.” • “I want to be romanced for a long time. Someone who doesn’t stick with it doesn’t have a chance.” Here, the red-zone strategy must be informed by a really in-depth study of a company’s past selections � how they were made, problems that may have occurred afterward, any legal-trade press or other media coverage of the relationship or the cases and transactions involved. On the one hand, this research will set the seller’s expectations and, therefore, affect its strategy. On the other hand, the research will reveal holes in prior or current relationships, which will suggest natural opportunities for the seller to differentiate itself. For example, what if a firm knew or could infer the demand for litigation public relations referred to above? Providing that resource will get the firm’s foot planted firmly on the goal line, if only regarding a discrete project. However, limited engagements are always a sound red-zone objective. Small successes position the seller for big ones. In this context, in various surveys during the past two to three years a significant number of in-house counsel indicated their intention to fire at least one of their outside firms. See, e.g., The BTI Consulting Group, The Survey of Client Service Performance for Law Firms, 2005, at 12 (“Clients, 52.2[%] of whom have fired their primary law firm in the past 2 years.”) There is no reason to believe that that number was any lower in January 2007. Such findings continue to underscore ongoing opportunity amid the churn of legal services providers, and to justify firms seeking as much information about corporate retention patterns as due diligence can provide. Personal considerations The third criterion involves the potential client’s personal concerns. • “I’ve misjudged the damages potential of this case and the CEO is coming to the hearing. Help!” • There is widespread “fear of the turnover of so many CEOs and how it will impact the turnover of GCs.” • “We believe the turnover rate for GCs is about 20% per year.” • “We fear pursuing plaintiffs in court.” Red-zone strategies demand not just the objective data on organizational retention patterns described above, but also maximum personal and subjective sensitivity to the man or woman across the table. What are their individual hopes and fears, and how can the firm play to those, for the client’s benefit as well as the firm’s? In the current market, job anxiety among in-house counsel is greater than ever before. The news pages have been full of stories about general counsel who were fired because they missed or ignored the backdating of stock options, for example. Beyond that, in-house counsel feel beleaguered keeping up with their Sarbanes-Oxley Act obligations and, as a result, simply are not enjoying their work anymore. For the red-zone strategist, there are two alternatives. The first, if politically feasible, is simply to divert efforts to close the deal. The general counsel may no longer be the final decision-maker if his or her position has been undermined by these pressures. Firms therefore should seek more in-person time with executives outside the law department. Alternatively, the firm may want to do the opposite and focus more on the general counsel, either directly or by more subtly communicating an “I’m on your side” message. Especially if the services offered could ameliorate his or her burdens, the firm can present itself as an ally-in-waiting. It’s important to emphasize the collaborative possibilities to enlist the buyer as a partner whose vital interests are in total synch with those of the firm. There’s a third possibility as well: Do both. The firm could seek another sales target within the organization while helping the general counsel to, well, find another job. The firm could wind up with two new clients. The fourth criterion is “selection.” • “I always want one of my outside counsel sitting in our [request for proposal] process for major case selection. They often have a different perspective on the competing firms.” • “I have an absolute belief in diversity….See who’s with the program and who is offering lip service.” • “[I'm concerned about] the arrogance of my former firm assuming they would land the majority of work now that I am in-house.” • “I’m more impressed with money spent to support causes and programs [like scholarships or clinic equipment, etc.] than sponsoring conferences or advertising.” • “I want to be marketed to; it is the only way I have to keep up with changes.” These comments provide invaluable specificity for the red-zone strategist in a number of areas. The comment about the general counsel’s former firm is extremely instructive, as it should encourage firms to compete in situations in which they might otherwise assume that the competition has an insurmountable advantage. If a potential competitor is scheduled to sit in on the meeting, the firm has a golden opportunity to elevate the level of candor in its relationship with the buyer. For example, it might want to remind the general counsel that it intends to discuss case strategy and that much of what will transpire during the meeting is therefore likely to be confidential. The firm could simply ask the buyer how he or she would like to handle this problem. Doing so achieves extra yardage in the red zone, because the firm is inviting a more substantive discussion � and showing that it intends to really get down to business, to talk strategy and not merely promote itself. Right away, the buyer has the expectation that the meeting will produce value for him or her irrespective of which firm is eventually hired. At the same time, the very expectation of value creates a dynamic that’s optimally conducive to closing. It’s the decisive moment. Firms attempting to sell their services are well advised to make the most of it. Allan Colman is managing director of the Closers Group, which specializes in helping law firms develop new business. He collected the anonymous quotations cited in this article during his years working at both consulting and law firms. He may be reached at [email protected].

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