Why Business Development

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by Dr.ChristianKessel

Common excuses why business development is not on your todo list

Why you should always aim to be a successful business developer

There are many people who are not involved in consciously looking for business opportunities and exploiting them. They simply do not pursue business development activities. They have no business development plan, take no strategic decisions, at most rely on their firm´s business development or marketing team, are happy or pretend to be happy with their existing business or may not generally perceive themselves as business developers. Nevertheless, they would always acknowledge that business development is important and has long-term value.

When asked about it – whether in a review or allocation meeting or in a private conversation – they have a number of explanations why they are not great business developers. None of these reasons are really convincing to me:

“No time – too busy!”

One of the most common excuses for not being consistently involved in any business development activity is the alleged lack of time: ‘I have too much client work’, ‘I currently have one/ two/ three big projects/ litigation cases which require all my attention‘, ‘I am just too busy’ or simply: ‘I have no time for business development’.

True, there are these busy periods

Yes, there are certain times when there is too much client work to allow for business development.

When a transaction closes, a court hearing or trial is imminent and needs to be prepared for or contract negotiations with two or more bidders take place over three or four weeks per round of negotiations, there is of course no time for much business development (however good one may be with time management).

But: Too busy for business development should be the exception

However, outside of any such circumstances, it should always be possible to find 15 minutes per day or 1 to 2 hours per week to consistently and continuously involve yourself in planning and implementing steps or measures for venturing into new markets, pursue potential clients, grow the client/customer base, build strong relationships and generally be involved in effective and efficient business development. (For more details please see my article Implementing Business Development)

The really good business developer is characterised by bouncing back into business development and all its closely related activities.

Discipline

This requires a certain discipline to structure your day and week. If you are not the most organised or disciplined person – take heart, that can be learnt. Visionintentionality and a natural sense of being disciplined all help to start or carry on with business development. If you don’t have a clear idea of how to go about any of these seek help and be accountable for what you manage to achieve or fail to do. If you don’t have family or friends to help you, get some external support like a coach or mentor.

Set Boundaries

You are not the victim of your clients, your assistants, or your team and you do not need to give in to every demand they have on you. It is actually up to you to define what your day or week should look like, how you spend your time and which priorities you set. Conversely, you need to set boundaries for yourself and everyone in your environment to allow you the freedom to juggle all your responsibilities – one of which is business development.

Tools

There are practical tools that help to get your priorities right, to find a good balance between all your different obligations and to have a means of reviewing and reflecting as to what you have actually been doing and achieving. I just want to mention two such tools here briefly: 

I know very successful people who block times in their calendars for sports, family and other personal matters and interests, for client work, for attending internal matters of their firm and for business development as well.

And in the latter respect, even the different options or tasks at hand may be listed, whether in the diary, as digital reminders or notes or otherwise. Typical examples, both big and rather small, may be :

  • exploring weaknesses, opportunities and threats (swot analysis) of the own practice and business vis à vis pursuing new business/new business opportunities in perhaps even new markets
  • the need for training (perhaps on soft skills) of yourself or the team
  • writing a business plan
  • identifying growth opportunities or new customers/clients because of market trends
  • researching the company’s reputation or a company’s performance that is a key target
  • working on new skills for business development (eg for social media)
  • identifying trade shows or relevant people or a target audience at an event
  • developing new ideas as part of becoming a thought leader

It is obvious that some of the above items may take far less time than others. So even for busy times with much client work, there may be smaller tasks that may help to develop the discipline of daily business development activities.

I have always been successful with writing hand-scribbled lists of things to do – one list for client work, one list for business development, one list for matters to be discussed with the firm’s management etc.

Excuses are recognised, don’t pretend otherwise

Often, there are other reasons that prevent you from fully involving yourself in consistent and continuous business development and for which any of the above quotes provide good excuses. But please don’t deceive yourself: such excuses are recognised as what they are by those observing you for a longer period of time, whether it is your friends in the firm, your management or those supporting you and standing alongside you professionally. 

Internal Challenges

Reasons, why business development is sometimes not done, may relate to your personality, identity or perception of yourself; or there may be a lack of (self-)confidence. I have covered these internal challenges quite broadly in my article Common Business Development Challenges and How to Overcome Them.

These internal challenges that keep you from (continuous) business development can be dealt with and overcome. Coaching is a perfect tool for you to dig deep, become aware of what is going on, choose your own means to change and have someone – your coach – to support you in reaching any jointly defined goals, not least because of your accountability to the coach as long as the coaching relationship continues.

“I am not a business developer”

Another good reason professionals often give for not being as active in good business development as others are their own perception (which is often widely held in firms and even shared by those who have a reputation as a good client and business developer) that in each firm there are some who are better suited for business development and, closely related, others better suited for attending to existing customers/clients or simply discharging the work brought in by each successful business developer or even rainmaker in the firm.

Even at the management level, I was confronted with the view that not each partner is or has to be a client-getter or business developer and that there must be people who work off what others bring in. 

I do not share such views at all – even though, of course, I readily acknowledge that they reflect the reality in many firms. But from helping many of my team members, and other colleagues, and at times even simply observing professionals, I have gathered different experiences and impressions and formed the conviction that anyone can become a great business developer.

For instance, I have had many team members who have joined me with 3-6 years of experience and who had never been trained or even encouraged to do business development in their previous firms. They all learnt quickly and became great at pursuing business opportunities, building business relationships, winning clients and generating growth soon after they started. Each of them has become an excellent, dedicated and keen business developer.

This normally happened once they understood that they were not with us only for their great brains, their excellent technical skills and past experiences but that they were meant to build something of their own and got the support and training for it. And we’re empowered to do so. They became great client-getters/ business developers and are well on their way to become rainmakers. 

Therefore, it is my firm conviction, that everybody may become a successful business developer and even a rainmaker. It just takes being intentional in forming a vision and pursuing a business development strategy and, in its implementation, focusing on the daily, weekly or monthly business development goals.

“We have a market-leading reputation – we do not need to do business development”

An argument against business development I often come across is the real or perceived reputation of an individual lawyer, team or an entire firm as a market leader. 

There are law firms or teams within law firms that have such outstanding market reputations that clients flock to them without any promotion of their excellency. General counsels may feel that retaining such firms or teams may be their safest bet and if something does not quite work out as expected they have chosen the best and can’t be blamed for it. 

Nevertheless, relying on such leading market reputation has a number of disadvantages and may even be dangerous.

False sense of security

Often such considerations or convictions are based on a false sense of security : 

First of all, that kind of reputation needs to be defended with each and every transaction, litigation case or piece of advice. 

Secondly, such a reputation can quickly be lost if a strong partner or even a whole team leaves for another firm.

Furthermore, a partner, team or even firm may just have a good run in a particular season, for instance, because they were lucky enough to do a particular kind of transaction or build particular expertise ahead of their competitors. Once these competitors catch up there is a more level playing field and competition gets harder. 

The perceived reputation barely exists

The perceived reputation proves to be weaker or less sustainable than expected. A partner or his team have a wrong perception of their reputation or does not see their flaws in other areas that make them less attractive to be retained by clients at all or repeatedly. Or they may exaggerate their reputation and oversell themselves on any move to another law firm.

So, in essence, market-leading reputations may be overestimated and the dangers of losing them underestimated. If any of these risks materialize the need for successful business development becomes obvious. 

But there are also many other reasons why even market-leading lawyers, teams and firms are well advised to carry on with business development consistently: 

Market changes may cause a loss of expertise or reputation

The market may change and the previous expertise may no longer be relevant in the same measure as before. I have experienced that when my flourishing telecoms business collapsed and two-thirds of my telecoms clients disappeared during the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000. I had to reinvent myself quickly. 

Sustainable Growth requires successful business development

There may always be enough work to keep the team or firm busy but is there also enough work to keep growing? A standstill is never good and no or very little new business development limits business growth opportunities.

Key client contacts disappear

In addition, business relationships may end if the key contact at the client( e.g. the General Counsel, CEO or CFO, the head of the sales department or of the purchasing team) leave the company and their successors are not keen to continue the business relationships of their predecessors (for instance the General Counsel prefers to work closely with his trusted advisors of many years and does not give you a chance).

No freedom to move law firms

For individual lawyers, it restricts the freedom to change within the firm or to move jobs. 

A good track record in winning new businesses as clients in the market helps negotiations with a new firm. It gives you the confidence that during the first one or two years you will survive – even if none or only very few of your current clients would follow you to your new firm. 

Conclusion

So, there are plenty of good reasons why business development should always be done and no partner, lawyer or attorney of any seniority level should ever fall for or subscribe to any of the above excuses (or any others) long term, however plausible they may appear from time to time.

You can and will be a successful business developer if you activate your potential and consider business development important not only in words but in deed also.

Therefore: Let’s realize your full potential!

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