Get Retained Before You Get RetainedMike White
Cultivating both relationships and opportunities is a game of quantity and quality. I encourage my law firm business development clients to focus on establishing many discussion threads with prospects, or at least suspected prospects. It’s hard to assume you’ve got a new engagement coming in the door when you have three or four active discussion threads; it’s a lot easier to be confident when you’ve got 12-15 active discussion threads. Active dialogue puts you in a position to be specific and link what you’re proposing to do for the prospect to a particular priority they have that falls outside of the job they might want you to do. “Let’s plan to have us work on the next deal that looks like xyz, and in the meantime I can help you put together a post-acquisition integration checklist along with your outside management consultant that is helping you absorb the businesses you acquire….”
Common challenges reliably emerge with lawyers who actually engage in a lot of relationship cultivating outreach, namely:
- They have difficulty establishing a sufficient number of early stage discussion threads. Ideally you should feel pretty overwhelmed with the number of early stage “first” or “second” meeting discussions you are getting calendared – if you’re not feeling overwhelmed with inbound front-of-the-funnel activity, then you’re probably not spending enough time populating your funnel. I give my clients credit for engaging in outreach to force multiplying “connectors” as well as suspected prospects – connectors lead to prospects!
- Many well developed discussion threads plateau and it’s not clear how to implement a “buying decision.”
Relative to item #2 above:
- The key to conversion with a reluctant prospect is getting the company to begin consuming some law firm service or insight before they want to “buy” a legal service. The timing here is important- by getting a prospect to consume anything of value from you at this stage means you have to be helping the prospect deal with a current “job to be done;” so… make sure you understand fully all of the “jobs to be done” (credit to Clay Christensen, the father of “disruptive innovation” methods) within the portfolio of your prospect. Examples: creating an after-action review process of litigation of a certain type to guide litigation-avoidance business operations training; developing a matter-specific legal project management worksheet to manage matters; building out a library of forms and templates – with companion training – to make the law department more self-sufficient and less reliant on outside lawyers.
- You need to understand the pain points and facts on the ground well enough to propose helping them at the earliest stage – if you’re going to persuade a suspect to begin consuming your legal services or insights before they are ready, you’d better be proffering an intensely bespoke/customized/personalized proposition reflecting their particulars. Once you learn about all of their “jobs to be done,” you are in a position to be helpful. PEOPLE BUY FROM PEOPLE!
- Getting prospects to consume any of your work product before a prospect actually wants to “buy” anything also requires you to make this initial experience very risk free. Of course, providing them with value-add “freeware” in hopes they will ultimately start paying can be a useful tactic but it doesn’t establish your pricing power. Alternatively, get them to validate the value you are conferring by requiring them to pay; give them “off-ramps” to stop consuming (and therefore stop paying) and keep them in control of the way they want to consume your wisdom/work product- prospects need to feel in control.
- Prospects will also bite if the “idea” you propose moves forward a clear near-term priority.
So, think about conversion and decision-implementation in the above terms – combining the back-end conversion strategies with the front-end discussion-thread creation strategies, and you will have a healthy funnel!
Cultivating Connectors from a “Standing Start”Mike White
Force multipliers or “connectors” are often easier to cultivate than are prospects. It can be easier to build a history and therefore trust because the relationship is not weighed down by the “heaviness” of a retention goal. At the same time, it can be hard to build trust if you are viewed to be merely a “transactor” who cobbles together as many conversations as possible to create as many introductions as possible. At a process level, of course, that is exactly what you want to accomplish – you just don’t want your business colleagues to feel they are party to that process.
The secret here lies in the concept of “incrementalism” – sequencing together a series of “yeses” to give the relationship necessary momentum. Most people are very open to helping you get smarter about certain issues, particularly when they are viewed as a domain expert. “You’re smart ([about a particular issue or area of content]. I’m dumb. I’d like you to help me be less dumb [about the particular subject] . . . ” This approach appeals to their ego, and unless they are crazy busy, they will let you pick their brain over a cup of coffee. On the strength of a warm introduction from another connector, you have a great chance of getting this meeting. Let’s call this the “thought partner step.”
You are now at the meeting and your business guest has addressed your knowledge deficit and enlightened you about an area of interesting content; she/he has been a true thought partner! Your next step is to enlist your business guest as a “mentor” – someone who will help you make your own commercial agenda or business development agenda even better: “Because you know so much about the virtual payments industry and why it’s interesting to me commercially, you have a sense for how I’m trying to find new virtual payments industry clients. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share with you my plans to use my emerging knowledge of the virtual payments industry to acquire more clients. You’ll no doubt be able to poke some holes in those plans and make them better . . . ” Let’s call this the “mentor step.”
Once your business colleague helps you author and craft your own plan, it’s not a big leap for her/him to serve as a connector. “Thank you for helping me bullet proof my go-to-market plan as it is a much-improved product. As you think about some of the types of people I should be meeting, do you know anyone who might be a good information source, connector or perhaps prospect in the ecosystem of virtual payments industry businesses?”
Voila! You now have cultivated a “connector“!
Edge Principal Mike White, an expert in the field of law firm growth, works with firms and practice groups in two primary areas: client experience innovation & differentiation, and strategic planning for growth. He also advises firms on business-development skills training/planning/coaching, law-firm succession planning, lateral-partner integration, and partner-compensation restructuring.