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Many lawyers today see business development as a mysterious process. But getting and “growing” clients is actually a simple and logical process. Business development is about developing relationships with decision-makers, understanding their business needs and then seeking ways to add value to the clients’ businesses by providing solutions to those needs. If you keep those principles in mind, you’ll develop plenty of business. Conversely, when lawyers make mistakes in the area of business development, it’s almost always because they fail to heed those basic principles. Mistake No. 1: Reliance on “old standards” rather than developing relationships with decision-makers The most fundamental principle of business development is that you need to develop relationships with people who can hire you, a.k.a. “decision-makers.” Yet much so-called “business development activity” in law firms doesn’t build relationships that lead to business. For example, one lawyer writes a law review article every year and calls that “business development activity.” However, he’d be hard pressed to point to a single piece of business that actually comes from those articles. Many lawyers that write articles, give CLE presentations and participate in bar activities have the same problem. That’s because they’re not leveraging those activities to develop relationships with people who can hire them. The best business developers do everything with an eye toward getting in front of business owners, general counsels, in-house lawyers and referral sources. If they’re going to give a speech, these business developers invite decision-makers to attend and then follow up with telephone calls seeking meetings. At these meetings, they seek to understand the clients’ businesses. The bottom line is that you just won’t ever develop business reliably unless you start to connect with people who can hire you. Mistake No. 2: Failure to put the “selling” in “cross-selling” The reason most lawyers fail to “cross-sell” effectively is that they fail to understand that the key to “cross-selling” is the word, “selling.” And selling won’t happen unless you connect with decision-makers, seek to understand needs and attempt to add business value. Most lawyers would be much better cross-sellers if they just followed one of the two basic “cross-selling” strategies. Note that both involve seeking ways to connect with decision-makers. � Cross-Selling Strategy No. 1 Pick 15 firm clients and meet with the relationship partners. There is a patent lawyer who, at the beginning of every year, simply picks the top 15 firm clients (that he’s not doing work with currently) and arranges meetings with the clients’ relationship partners. Together they discuss how the patent lawyer can add value to the clients’ businesses. If they determine that there’s a potential fit, they go together and meet with the key decision-makers at the client’s offices. � Cross-Selling Strategy No. 2 Select three to five areas in which to grow an existing client and meet with decision-makers concerning those areas. An existing client usually won’t give you a new area of work unless you show interest in it and give a sense of how you can add value in that new area. A relationship partner at a major Atlanta firm grew a very large corporate client by carefully targeting growth areas within the client’s offices. For example, he knew that his firm could provide patent, ERISA and labor work in addition to the existing real estate work that was already being provided. The partner sought meetings with the key decision-makers to discuss the new areas. Then, he brought in his own partners to suggest ways the firm could be helpful. Mistake No. 3: Failure to listen to clients’ needs The best way to make a sale is to hear a client express a need and then suggest a solution. But many novice business developers spend so much time talking about themselves that they never give the client the chance to express that need. One general counsel told us that she won’t even consider a lawyer for her “stable of resources” unless she is a good listener and expresses interest in “understanding what I value in a lawyer.” Business development is about developing relationships with key decision-makers. The best way to get that relationship going is to be a good listener. Mistake No. 4: Failure to work as a team on a complex client Businesses will hire you if they believe that you understand their business needs and can add value. But most law firms with complex clients fail to pool their collective knowledge about their big (or potentially big) clients. As a result they miss huge opportunities to create value for the client. As an example of how to pool knowledge, one firm has created a “think tank” around its firm’s biggest client. The think tank meets monthly to discuss the client and consider ways of adding value to the client. The team leader then helps to arrange meetings between the firm’s lawyers and in-house personnel at the client offices to discuss the ways of adding value. The firm’s relationship partner allows his partners plenty of leeway to do the legal work without micromanaging specific legal matters. Mistake No. 5: Failure to focus on a limited market Getting to know decision-makers and adding business value is a lot easier when you focus on a limited market. For example, one general litigator focuses his business development efforts on media companies. He networks with and seeks meetings with decision-makers at newspapers, radio stations and television stations. As a result, he has learned a lot about media businesses and brings a lot of industry knowledge to those meetings. How you define your market can vary. One corporate lawyer focuses on auto dealers. Another litigator focuses on the affordable housing market. An estate-planning lawyer focuses on providing legal help to charitable foundations. Focus your market and you’ll increase your business development effectiveness. Business development isn’t a mysterious process. It’s a process founded on the simple principles of connecting with decision-makers, understanding business needs and providing solutions. The best business developers focus all their activities on those simple principles. Joey Asher is the founder of Speechworks, a training firm specializing in sales and communicaton skills. Asher is the author of “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers.”

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