Many Australian law firms are currently failing to maximise their business development opportunities. Research shows 69 per cent of law firms with an ‘under developed’ marketing and business development function did not have a plan at all 1. Although they may be quick to blame a tightening market, the answer usually lies within the firm itself. By making just a few strategic changes, firms could dramatically improve their business development success.
Some examples of initiatives law firms are implementing to increase results include business development training, hiring business development specialists, implementing a firm-wide business development plan and strategy, and researching the companies/executives they’re trying to pursue.
However, many lawyers are still relying on old-school networking to gain business. Simple networking on its own isn’t the most efficient nor the most effective way to uncover and convert new business opportunities 2.
Here are eight key measures your law firm should take to ensure the success of its business development activities.
1. Don’t waste time
Spending time trying to convert prospects that are unlikely to become clients is a waste; it’s better to identify the lost causes sooner and move on. Once you’re aware that a business opportunity isn’t going to go any further, it’s important to avoid spending too much wasted time trying to convert them. Equally, spending time with a potential client and then neglecting to follow up appropriately makes it unlikely you’ll win the business.
2. Know your targets
Connecting with people makes it easier to understand their challenges so that you can offer solutions. Additionally, demonstrating a lack of knowledge about a prospect tells them that you don’t really know their business and are therefore unlikely to do a good job for them.
3. Plan strategically
Ad hoc business development can work if lawyers are already equipped with a strong business development acumen and an understanding of the types of clients the firm is trying to attract. Relying on ad hoc opportunities, however, is unlikely to deliver success in the long term. The most successful firms are those with a clearly-defined business development strategy that encompasses the types of problems they can solve for the types of organisations they want to work with. Getting everyone on the same page is essential; they can then be better equipped to go into networking opportunities with the information they need to target key opportunities.
It’s crucial to have a systematic approach in place for identifying prospects and nurturing them through the sales funnel, from initial identification until you close the deal. Otherwise opportunities can get lost in the billable hours, especially if working lawyers are also responsible for business development.
4. Consider hiring experts
A law firm’s clients hire the firm for its expertise in the law. Similarly, it can be worth hiring a business development expert to improve your sales results. A good business development expert can help identify saleable services from within your practice areas and even find ways to productise them for easier sales. They know how to create and pursue prospective client lead lists, tailoring sales pitches to appeal to potential clients’ commercial objectives. And they can devote time to writing effective proposals that win new clients. Importantly, they can pass many of those skills to your in-house team, making every employee a more effective sales person.
5. Be proactive
Since lawyers are in the business of solving other people’s problems, they are used to being approached by a client rather than the other way around. But by proactively identifying potential problems, along with solutions, they can prove indispensable to organisations that may not otherwise have thought to brief a law firm. Heading off problems before they affect the business is the hallmark of a great legal team. By encouraging lawyers to spend some time thinking about ways they can get proactive with existing or potential clients, firms will likely begin to see new opportunities where none previously existed.
Being proactive includes staying in touch with clients that have gone quiet. A quick note once a quarter or twice a year can let them know they’re still top of mind even if you’re not billing them. This can help maintain strong relationships so that, when the work starts flowing again, it flows to your firm.
6. Network effectively
Networking remains effective but only if lawyers are fully prepared to make the most of each opportunity.
Quick tips for more effective networking:
- Make a plan for each networking opportunity including key targets and conversation points.
- Talk less, listen more so you can uncover opportunities.
- Reconnect after the event with a thoughtful and prompt follow-up.
- Connect others where you can without expecting anything in return. This builds your reputation as a valuable resource and will increase the chances of contacts coming back to you in the future.
- Invest time in current and potential clients; don’t always bill them for every moment of your time. If a legal professional is networking purely for business development purposes, it’s highly unlikely they would bill for their time.
7. Ask for the business
Finally, one of the most common reasons lawyers fail to get the brief is that they don’t ask for the business. A simple phrase like “I can help you with that” or “Let’s work together” can turn a conversation into a sale. It’s amazing how easy it can be to turn a prospect into a client just by asking for the work.
8. Have a tailored proposal
It’s important law firms realise that each client is different. To win the work firms will need to adjust to each client’s preferences. Law firms will need to uncover the value factors the client sees as appealing and deliver a highly tailored proposal. Research and conversation are the main drivers to delivering a successful pitch.
It’s important law firms take the right steps to ensure they are maximising their chances of securing new business. A full audit of your new business strategy should be completed to make sure the above tips are included.