Archive for January, 2013
Lessons from a judicial rock star: How business development is like preparing for a Supreme Court argumentAuthor: Debra Baker
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor officially has reached rock star status with the crowds she is attracting for her book tour around the release of her memoir, My Beloved Life. I had the privilege of listening to her speak Sunday night at the University of San Diego, where she offered the perfect mix of wit, wisdom and inspiration to a standing-room only crowd.
She spoke for about 20 minutes but spent much of the time answering audience questions, one of which was about preparing for arguments before the Supreme Court. Her advice: “Engage us in a conversation.”
She explained to the crowd that when a case goes before the Supreme Court, the justices are prepared. They have read every piece of paper relating to the case and they understand the arguments. So to go before the court and engage in argument is not effective. Instead, the key is to listen to the judges and try to understand why they are asking the question that they have posed. Then, draw upon the arguments that you have made in the papers to address that concern. Have a conversation with them.
This advice bleeds into business development as well. Clients don’t want to know how smart you are or how successful you’ve been. They want you to listen to what they are saying and provide insight that will help them address their concerns. In doing so, you will demonstrate all of your other qualities. It is conversation, not validation, that prospective clients want from you.
Take it from a judicial rock star.
Referrals are the primary source of business, but a strong network and the ability to build great relationships will not be enough to build your book in the coming years. The buying behavior of those who purchase legal services has changed and the way lawyers pursue new business must change too.
For any lawyer that has had formal training in business development, the concept of “solution selling” should be familiar. Lawyers are solution sellers. They don’t sell products; they solve real problems. The key to successful solution selling is the ability to develop a rapport, ask the right questions, and listen; so you can then go back and find a unique “solution” that fits the specific needs they have identified.
For decades, this approach has been the hallmark of law firm business development, but that has changed if the findings of the Corporate Executive Board’s research on the sales process holds true. The book based on the CEB research, “The Challenger Sale,” debunks the myth that the most successful sales approach is based on relationship building. In the book they compare five types of sales representatives (yes, lawyers do act in the capacity of a sales rep.): Relationship Builders, Lone Wolves, Challengers, Hard Workers, Reactive Problem Solvers. The findings? When it comes to high performers in complex sales, only 7 percent of them are relationships sellers.
Hard data to swallow for a profession where likability, trust and knowledge are fundamental to providing the highest level of representation. But when you consider the changes taking place in the market — particularly since the financial collapse in 2008 — the data makes sense when it comes to the purchase of complex legal services. Here are three reasons why:
- Time: Who has it? It takes time for relationship builders to find out all the information they need to know in order to provide a solution to fit their clients’ needs. This time is precious to the buyer and they don’t want to spend it educating their lawyers. If in-house counsel or the c-level suite are going to invest their time, they should be the ones getting the value. Tell them something about their business that they do not know.
- Complexity of Doing Business: The traditional solution selling model makes a significant presumption — that buyers know what they need. That is not always the case. The increasingly complex regulatory environment, the need for enhanced due diligence, and sheer volume of potential legal issues facing businesses today is daunting. In many cases, corporate buyers of legal services don’t need lawyers to fill an existing need; they need lawyers to tell them what they need.
- Risk Adversity: With the issues facing companies, buyers are increasingly risk adverse. Legal solutions are typically complex, time consuming and expensive. Decision-makers no longer are willing to make a unilateral decision about who to hire. The decisions are more consensus driven than ever before. The larger the organization, the more people involved in the decision-making process.
Do you have what it takes to provide clients what they need to be successful in the coming year?
Do you have what it takes to build a $1 million law practice?
As law firms become more business focused in response to economic, technological and other market forces impacting the practice of law, the ability to generate business is increasingly important.
Whether it’s $1 million, $10 million, or $250,000, most of us have a number that signifies success. Many lawyers don’t achieve this number because they lack the tools to do so or mistake financial return for purpose.
Numbers are important. They make goals tangible and provide metrics for measuring progress. But numbers alone are not good enough. There must be a business vision and a defined plan behind the number to achieve success.
Why do you do what you do?
A number is a great metric, but it is not your business purpose. Understanding why you do what you do provides the vision, values and motivation for reaching your goals.
Many people – including myself at one time – have underestimated the value of defining their purpose. They have mistaken their number for their why, making their quest for money passionless at best and unsustainable at worse.
The most successful lawyers have a defined reason for choosing the law as a profession and are able to use that motivation to achieve financial rewards.
What will you do to you achieve your business purpose?
To achieve your business purpose you need a means to do so. At a very tactical level, your “what” is the legal work you do in exchange for money. But there are strategic considerations as well.
From an internal standpoint, you need to determine what you need to do to reach your revenue goals:
- How many matters do you need?
- How many clients do you need?
- What resources and processes do you need to provide these services?
From an external standpoint, you need be able to identify and leverage business opportunities. This requires an understanding of a number of factors:
- How much demand exists for what you do?
- Who needs these services?
- How much are these services worth?
- Who else provides these services and how are you different?
The analysis will depend on the environment in which you work. There are different issues depending on whether you are a senior partner, a mid-level associate, or a solo practitioner. Yet armed with the right insight, you can realistically assess whether your number is attainable and, if not, adjust accordingly.
How will you do it?
This is the roadmap for achieving your purpose. The roadmap includes systems and processes that will allow you accomplish your “what” in an efficient and profitable way. Internally, you need an organizational plan that will allow you to provide your services efficiently and profitably. Externally, you need a marketing and business development plan that will drive business to you.
And then you have to take action. This is the hard part, but when you understand why and know exactly what you need to do, reaching your number not only becomes possible, it is achievable.