In Part 1 of this 3 part series, we look at how business development tactics assist in attracting new clients, client retention and revenue growth. Also, how it is managed in firms that take a structured approach to business development. Part 2 and 3 discusses the tools that support business development.
Lawyers need business development skills to grow their practice. There is a lot of unnecessary mystique around business development; people think it's complex or difficult. However, business development is simply about relationships.
Marketing is about 'one-to-many' communications, eg. advertising, websites, social media, client newsletters, etc. Business development is about activities that develop 'one-to-one' relationships.
For the larger commercial law firms that have an army of business development professionals to support the legal teams, most of the information in this article will be familiar, if not 'business as usual'. Those without this assistance may find they are doing many of these things intuitively already. However, putting some structure around business development activities can prevent wasting resources on undirected endeavours.
How Does Business Development Work?
Business development works in two ways. Firstly, by making use of the firm's existing relationships. Secondly, by finding opportunities for staff to meet new contacts and build new relationships.
How is Business Development Managed in Firms with a Structured Approach?
When formulating strategies to obtain a greater share of wallet from existing clients, firms with a structured approach to business development will swap information between partners and practices in a formal and regular format.
This is generally achieved through meetings; usually practice meetings or cross-practice special interest groups. These groups may be arranged by industry or a topical issue, eg. local government, climate change, energy & resources, food & agribusiness, etc.
At these meetings, the agenda generally revolves around the following questions:
- What client organisations should be targeted?
- Who knows the key people at the organisation?
- What do our people know about the organisation?
- Can those who hold the relationship with the key people introduce others within the firm?
- What is the best way to accomplish this?
Before COVID-19, introductions of existing key clients to other members of the firm were done in standard ways over lunch or coffee, through invitations to entertainment hosted at external venues or internally on the firm premises, or via valued added events such as seminars or conferences. As restrictions begin to lift, these options will become available once again although firms may need to be more creative with people choosing to work more hours from home.
When looking to create opportunities to make an initial connection with potential clients as well as profile the firm's brand, firms with a business development plan will use a number of strategies.
Attending industry events, not just legal professional events, is crucial. Although your fellow lawyers can refer good quality work to you, the key decision makers at the organisations you are targeting can be found at events for their own industry, eg. mining conference, transport industry dinner, property awards, town planning breakfast, etc.
Sponsorships are worth considering. However, although corporate responsibility programs are great, the priority is sponsoring industry associations and their events for the same reason as above – that's where the key decision makers are. Also, ensure staff attend the events that your firm sponsors in order to network. It's not just a branding exercise.
Holding conferences does take significant resources, but they do introduce new contacts to the firm if you advertise the conference widely within the relevant industry. It's also another great opportunity to network with decision makers. The conference attendees also appreciate the chance to network with each other.
Seminars have similar benefits to conferences, but are easier to organise and run. If they have to be run virtually, it is still a good way to stay in touch with existing and potential clients.
Tendering is now much harder than it was ten years ago. Without the right contacts, it's impossible to get onto the invitation list and that's just the beginning. Other business development strategies support the firm's chances of making the right contacts.
Events that are a bit unusual or offer an experience are more likely to be successful in terms of getting the guests you want there to show up, so be creative. Interesting keynote speakers, hypotheticals with a celebrity presenter, French champagne or whiskey tastings – the possibilities are endless.