What’s your problem?

We all face challenges in the business of a law practice. We were taught in law school that we have to ask the right questions in practice to get the necessary answers for our clients. (Litigators, you especially know what I mean!) But somehow, we forget what that means for our own practices.

I recently spoke with a lawyer who was looking for help in landing new business, who told me that she needed to improve the way she asked for business. That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked about her sales conversations. When we dug into it, I discovered that a very high percentage of would-be clients she met actually hired her. The diagnosis of her sales problem? None. She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones.

Another client once told me that he just didn’t have time to get everything done. After checking into his daily activities, I realized that lots of little tasks were eating up his time and he wasn’t effectively using the resources at his disposal. His problem wasn’t a lack of time. His problem was a lack of focus on his top priorities.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple from shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?” Or it can be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else – or perhaps even that you would prefer to practice a different kind of law or to do something else altogether.

What challenges are you facing right now? What have you told yourself about those problems? What are you missing? And, more specifically, who can help you see the truth of your challenges?

And if you’ve been trying to solve a problem, remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Just like it’s difficult to scratch your own back, it’s difficult to step outside a situation in which you’re intimately involved.  It’s critical to have a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a coach (ideally, a full “board of directors”) who can help you to examine your challenges so you know you’re working to answer the right questions.

Need another head to look at the obstacles ahead of you? I offer a limited number of complimentary consultations each month and would be happy to discuss whether I can help. Email my team to arrange an appointment.

Giving thanks and good reads

If you’re in the US, chances are that you’re either out of the office today or working hard to clear your desk so you can leave the office to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, I’ll be brief. Thank you for the opportunity to share ideas and information with you each week. Our in-boxes are all jammed these days, and I never take it for granted that you’ve allowed me entry into yours. 

Do you have questions or topics you would like me to cover in future issues of this newsletter? Just leave a comment on this post. Your responses go directly to me and I personally read each and every one.

In case you have business development on your mind this week (as I’d imagine many of you do, whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week or not), here are a few good articles I found and recommend for your review:

  • 10 Commandments for Better Networking I tend to be wary of articles that promise 10 easy steps to anything, but this one has 10 simple reminders for good networking. You probably won’t find anything earthshaking here, but at the article functions as a good pre-networking checklist. (Holiday parties, anyone?)
  • Linkedin Engagement on the Rise for Lawyers LinkedIn has long been a “must do” for lawyers, and as Kevin O’Keefe argues, the imperative just gets stronger. While supporting his case for increased engagement, O’Keefe offers some good suggestions for initiating engagement. LinkedIn is not a silver bullet, but especially if you take steps to move online relationships offline, you’ll find that it can be quite helpful. (Just please, please don’t make this mistake when you send a request to connect with someone new.)
  • Knock Down Theory Although this post discusses how to “prove we belong at the adult table,” its brief points are quite applicable to how we show up in a business development conversation. Arrogance is unattractive; contribution is appealing.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and to those of you elsewhere in the world, happy Thursday!

Holiday biz dev opportunities

I received my first holiday card this week. You know what that means: the beginning of the slippery slope that will have us all sliding into 2017 before we know it. But we still have some six weeks to go… Six weeks, and a heavy dose of holidays. 

What would you like to accomplish during the holiday season? If that strikes you as an odd question, you’re not alone. This is the time of year when many people begin to work on ensuring that outstanding bills are paid this calendar year, evaluating the results they’ve achieved (or not) since last January, and setting plans for next year. And that’s all important work, certainly, but I’d like to suggest a narrower question for your consideration this week.

What’s the professional benefit of the holidays for you? Three potential benefits to highlight are:

  • Developing and renewing relationships, which is often easier during the holidays thanks to holiday bonhomie. While it might be odd to call someone out of the blue in April, toward the end of the year it seems quite ordinary to get in contact. And meeting people often becomes much easier since the holidays are typically full of gatherings (professional and otherwise) where you might broaden your circle of connections.
  • Thanking your clients and contacts for their contributions to your year.  Gifts are always nice, assuming no organizational policy to the contrary, but look for opportunities for a face-to-face meeting and ensure that you make direct contact (if only by telephone) with your most important allies. Be sure that in addition to thanking your contacts for the ways they’ve helped you this year, you ask how you might help them. Better yet, come to the conversation with an idea or two.
  • Get yourself on your contacts’ radar screen. The holidays are a good time to reestablish contact, especially with your C list of contacts, whom you reach out to once or twice a year. Holiday cards are the classic, and for good reason. Think about how you might avoid being in the onslaught of December cards and e-cards. If everyone is trying to get noticed, no one will succeed. If you’re in the US, Thanksgiving cards are a good option — make a note for next year! You might also consider New Year’s cards, cards or e-cards that are unusually entertaining in some way, or, for a subset of your contacts, “lumpy mail” that encloses some sort of small item (a branded pad of sticky notes or an external battery pack, for example) as a way to get noticed.

The holidays are just around the corner, so take a few minutes today to set your plans. What are your top objectives, and what steps are you willing to commit to so that you are set to achieve them?

How do you choose biz dev strategy?

One of the best things about business development is also one of the worst: you have multiple strategies and tactics at your disposal to grow your practice. Sure, you can boil down all business development to just a few actions: get known for work in your area of practice, meet people who need your help or who know others who do, and communicate and, when and where and how appropriate, ask for business. But how do you get known? Who needs your help, and who is in a position to refer others who do? And how do you get into the kind of conversation that might actually lead to business?

If you answer each of these how questions, you will likely find that you have numerous potential routes to follow. For example, if you do family law, you might market directly to the clients who might hire you by speaking at community gatherings, writing a column in a local blog or newspaper, having a recurring segment on the radio or a podcast, etc. Or you might market to family therapists by sponsoring and speaking at their conferences, by attending events that they attend and building relationships through networking, or by offering useful information that therapists might pass on to their clients. And the list goes on and on and on. You will almost always be able to identify several groups of people who could hire you or refer business to you plus plentiful avenues to reach those groups.

How do you choose what to pursue and what to put on the “maybe later” list? If you have data about what has worked well for you in the past, that’s likely the best guidance. (If you own The Reluctant Rainmaker, check Chapter 5 for a method of collecting that data.) But if you don’t have that data, it’s a tougher decision.

Many lawyers, natural overachievers that we tend to be, try to pursue all or most of those options and end up diluting efforts with equally diluted results. And that tends to feed into the “I’m just not cut out to be a rainmaker” fear or the “I am too busy to do this stuff” resistance, both of which tend to lead to a drop-off in effort and a corresponding drop-off in results.

Instead, look critically at your options and ask these questions:

  • Where are your most natural opportunities? If you’re deciding whether to pursue clients in the aerospace or medical device industries, which most naturally matches your background? Which industry is easier to get into as an outsider? Where do you already have more contacts?
  • What offers the greatest continuity? As a general principle, if you’ve been successful in one area, you’d be wise to expand into related or similar areas rather than to do something completely different.
  • What sounds the most appealing to you? If you’d rather poke out your eyeballs than talk with accountants or if you don’t have the time or interest to follow up with people you meet in connection with a speaking opportunity, those are not your best bets. Choose something that interests you, that you’re willing to pursue. You don’t have to love it, but you have to be open.
  • Where is your competition? Years ago, I looked into joining a biotech-related industry group that offered an associate membership for those outside the industry. As I read through the list of representative members, it was like a directory of firms that competed directly with mine. That isn’t an absolute “no,” but it prompted me to check out other opportunities and to find one with less direct competition.
  • What offers the greatest likelihood of moving into a network that might lead to other opportunities? At the bottom, people are your greatest resource for new business. Look for routes that will allow you to develop a network of people who might hire you or refer business to you, who might introduce you to other opportunities and other groups, and who might function as your champion in some way. The easier that development, the more likely you’ll succeed in the process.

While you’ll want to consider other questions, these five will help you to narrow down the available opportunities. Once you’ve sorted through them in this way, choose one or two and focus on those for a period of six months, then evaluate your results. Sticking to a limited focus for a period gives you the best opportunity to concentrate your efforts and give it your best shot. If you see signs that you’re going down a path that will not be profitable, you can always draw back, but don’t get pulled into wondering if the other strategy you thought of would be even better until you’ve given the one you’re focusing on a fair trial. After six months (or less if you see signs of disaster), evaluate your results and decide how to shift your approach.

How to handle objections

Nobody wants to hear “no” in response to a request for business. Very often, unless you’re participating in a formal RFP process, instead of being told directly that you’re not getting the business, you’ll get either an objection or dead silence. Silence may feel less uncomfortable than an objection that is by definition negative feedback. Unlike silence, however, an objection means that you still have a chance of getting the work. 

Why? Simple: an objection is another step in conversation. Sometimes it’s the final step in closing the door on a business opportunity, but sometimes it’s possible to meet and negate the objection.

An objection might be something like “your fees are much higher than we were expecting” or “I just don’t think you have the experience we need for this.” In essence, an objection (or a surface-level objection that you probe and clarify until you’ve reached the crux of the objection) is a window into your prospective client’s thinking process. When you receive an objective, your goal isn’t necessarily to overcome it but to understand it fully and to respond as well as you can.

To gain insight into how to respond when you receive an objection, read 4 Steps to Overcoming Sales Objections, a quick tutorial in the stages of conversation that should follow an objection.  It’s a short, high-level description of the steps to follow, with the opportunity to download a white paper that goes further into How to Handle Sales Objections.

When you’re confident that you know how to address objections you receive, you’ll be much more prepared for the fundamental tasks of discussing a prospective representation and asking for the business.