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  • Ruth Napier

How BD fit is your law firm? - The 7 key zones for improving bd performance

Neon sign depicting a well known trainer outline in red and white on a black background

As the football season closed for the summer team coaches and trainers were not jetting off for a few weeks break in the sun. The good ones had their eyes trained across their squad, assessing their weak areas and are laying the groundwork now to kick off the next season on the right foot.

How BD fit is your law firm?

Skills are one aspect of the mix but so is fitness. When the two come together across a team then magic can happen on the pitch. And in business.

We need to look at our business developers in the same way as a football coach – not everyone will fall into the usual ‘rainmaker’ ideal but they can certainly make a meaningful contribution. If you’re managing a team you want a mix of attack, midfield and defence players: relying on just one star can be a risky strategy. We’ve all seen what a disaster can ensure in a match when a core player is injured or sent off and the whole team doesn’t perform as well.

So if I were your BD coach, where would I be focusing on to make sure you are match fit for next season? I have identified 7 key zones for BD performance and the key ways to assess how and where your team might benefit from a bit of coaching.

7 key zones for improving bd performance

1. Key accounts

For major institutional client relationships you need a mix of players in the BD team.

Do you have the right team in place? If not who can you train up and how quickly?

When did you last have some fresh perspectives in the team – has it been the same for a while? The more challenging the client, the greater need for care when introducing new players but many clients will welcome this as a visible sign you are investing in the relationship.

Who should be working on this account who isn’t at the moment? It’s time to ask them/their manager’s permission to get involved. When looking at your team don’t make the mistake of thinking the only people who can help are lawyers: your PAs, EAs, paralegals, bd professionals, LPMs all contribute.

When did your managing/senior partner last spend time with them? Many clients see this as the endorsement of their relationship’s importance and will be flattered to meet them.

Socials and getting to know-events. These are important to roster on a regular basis. If the relationship partner is too busy to organise, then this can be a good area for a young professional or someone supporting the client to take ownership of

How well do they feel listened to? Getting feedback and ensuring things get resolved quickly when mistakes are made form two sides of the client experience. When did you last ask the client whether there is anything more your team can do to make their lives easier? Client reviews conducted by a third party can provide invaluable feedback as can matter reviews.

Does everyone in the firm know how valuable your key accounts are? If not put in place a way to tell them: on your intranet, via internal newsletters and in practice meetings.

2. Referrers and networks

Who are the main conduits of work into and out of your firm – which are the most valuable and how are they being nurtured? Introduce a tracking field for third party source of new business if you haven’t already got this in your PMS. Sometimes this information is only available anecdotally – but if referrers are important, then its worth analysing the traffic in and out. You may find one practice area may have referred a lot of business out without any hint of reciprocity but another part of the firm is benefiting.

Which networks are most productive and who is making the most of them? How well are junior team members being trained on making the most of networking?

How good are your people at networking at virtual events? Or making the most of LinkedIn? Book in a trainer to work with them and get them up to speed.

3. Lead generation & qualification

Where is do you new leads come from? What is the quality of your inbound leads and is it trending up, down or unchanged from 6 months ago? How are they being qualified?

How long does it take from initial contact to qualification, qualification to conversion to client?

What are your conversion ratios – are they trending up or down? If up - what can you learn and apply elsewhere, if down - what needs fixing?

What data do you have and where are the gaps? How can you close these.

What can and should you automate or systemise?

What slows down or impedes progress – what is the buyer experience?

How are enquiries handled and what training do those handling them have?

How well do you profile potential clients, to match personality as well as needs? Getting the right personality fit can make or break the relationship.

What are you doing about potentially lapsing clients or intermittent clients? A keep in touch programme can ensure you remain front of mind with them.

4. Talking about value

A business that excels in value communications articulates its benefits in meaningful terms for its clients and employees. This isn’t about describing features of your services but the benefit. Value is the measure of the benefit to the client. Do you have a clear value proposition for clients? For employees?

For clients, how well do you focus on

- problems and how you resolve/relieve them?

- better outcomes or gains and how you contribute to them?

- a future state where either or both are better?

How focused are your communications or do they try to draw on every feature and benefit? If you are passionate about what you do it is easy to fall into the trap of adding everything into the mix. An objective review can help with ensuring the balance is right and your messages are not diluted.

How well do you understand your client’s purchasing criteria and where does your service perform compared to existing alternatives? Identifying the benefits where you have competitive advantage can help.

How tailored are your messages to different client types? You will need to use different messaging for different segments. For example an individuals may see more value in a packaged service, a business may value how easy it is to work with you and cost-certainty.

When did you last check your messaging is hitting the mark? If clients or employees don’t believe the value is clear and compelling then its time to refine the messaging so that it works.

Does everyone in client facing roles know how to talk about value? How far is all your messaging written with value in mind?

What types of social proof do you use? Testimonials and recommendations are good ways to demonstrate the value you deliver.

5. Pricing

Having a better understanding of what your different buyers value means opening up to thinking of alternative ways of pricing. The billable hour is still top of many lists but clients typically seek greater cost certainty and if your competitors are offering them options, its time you did too.

Have your partners and anyone setting pricing had recent training on how to price both the client and the job? How good are they at offering options? Or fixing a price?

How often do jobs overrun?

How good are they at communicating around changes in scope when a price has been fixed?

These are just some considerations: Pricing expertise is not a given, is hard to learn ‘on the job’ and structured training can bring significant rewards.

6. Competitive situations

Having a robust qualification process can improve success rates and reduce time spent on low value bids.

How are you assessing bid opportunities? What makes for a worthwhile opportunity?

How quickly can you turn out credentials, quotes, tailored responses? What does good look like? How well does your documentation stack up to your competitors? Scale up your documentation, processes and support to match demand volumes and client expectations.

How well can you assess the opportunity cost (time +)? Time recording for bids can uncover areas for improvement and inform your qualification processes.

How much do you engage with a client through the bid cycle? How good are you at understanding the real deciding factors and decision makers? Restricting your interactions will restrict your chances of finding out more pre- during and post bid. Take advantage of any opportunities to seek clarification or find out more. Even if the answers are shared with your competitors, you will be seen in a better light for having asked them. Always respect guidance on interaction (often restricted in the public sector) but if none is given, then approach and ask.

How well do you prepare for interviews? Making sure that interview rehearsal happens, includes everyone who is going to be in front of the client and that everyone knows their roles and what they will speak about are the basics. Never leave it until you are in the lobby of the clients offices to talk through (yes, it often gets fed back to the decision makers by proactive folk on reception).

7. Embedding BD in the firm

Sadly it is often the case that business development is seen solely as a partner responsibility. And then only falls on the shoulders of some who have the innate skills. This is cutting down on your potential BD squad significantly: rather than having a 24-strong squad in the premier division, you are struggling to turn out a team for a five-a-side.

This most often happens because undertaking business development is not being recognised and rewarded. And as a result is not seen as a priority to invest time in. Businesses function only by having in place a successful marketing and sales (business development) focus. So is it time to take steps and reorient the thinking in your firm around BD contributions, embed into your performance reviews and promotion criteria, and invest in BD skills training for your people?


If you'd like to have a free discussion about improving your firm's BD fitness, then get in touch.

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