For Everyone Beginning To Work On A Business Development Plan For 2019

Over the next two-and-a-half months or so you may be among the lawyers, accountants, consultants and other professional service providers taking a long hard look at your marketing, business development and sales initiatives. The dye for 2018 is pretty much cast. Time to focus on market movement, emerging trends, lessons learned, and begin the work that will chart a course for the coming year.

Whether your organization is breaking records this year, facing revenues in steep decline, or somewhere in between, you are likely about to spend a measurable amount of time in meetings focused on how to do more with less next year.

(The reason for the deja vu you’re experiencing is these meetings bear a striking resemblance to the ones you had last year. And the year before.)

Unless you are among a small handful of exceptions, you’re feeling pressure to increase marketing/business development/sales ROI. But identifying new targets is still a challenge. Generating leads is a mystery. Each year seems to bring new “best-ever-solutions.” And when it comes down to establishing priorities, choosing tools and allocating resources, you may trim a little here…add a little there…and end up with a slight variation on what you’ve always done — do your best to get your name out there, and hope the marketplace chooses you.

This Time, Build A Plan That Changes The Game

If you are working on a plan for 2019, without respect to where you are on the spectrum ranging from completely frustrated to enthusiastic, for the next 14 weeks this space is dedicated to you. Each week we’ll address a critical element in a process aimed at the creation of a plan that can put you in a different place when mid-September 2019 rolls around.

This week — Step 1: BOS — Build On Strategy

We know…strategy and strategic planning are overused, to understate. But trying to craft a marketing or business development plan apart from a strategic baseline is like attempting to build a house without a foundation — and to flounder, frustrate and fail.

Lest you drop out before we’ve really begun, creating a strategic approach for your efforts does not have to be a stumbling block. Executable plans are seldom the stuff of MBA projects. They do, however, require a sober approach to three critical elements:

    • A Market Awareness
    • A Self-Assessment
    • A Commitment to the Process

If you’re not up for dealing with these three things, now is the time to tune out. You’re doomed to continuing to depend on getting lucky, or repeating the most frustrating moments of your marketing and bizdev moments.

On the other hand…if you’re game, here we go.

Market Awareness

To presume to go-to-market offering a menu of services/products without having completed an analysis of market conditions is to invite frustration from the outset. Here are seven basic questions that should be asked to get you started on a productive market analysis.

    1. What does the competitive landscape look like?
    2. What is your value proposition? (Why should the market choose you?)
    3. Where do gaps in services/products (relevant to your offerings) exist?
    4. What market sectors are growing? In decline?
    5. Where can you leverage existing connections and relationships for growth?
    6. What is a realistic estimate of the cost to develop a new client/customer, and what is the projected 3-5 year value?
    7. Who are your specific targets in this market?

 

Self-Assessment

Call it a SWOT, an audit, an organizational inventory or any label that facilitates getting it done; but a clear understanding of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is a critical step in the creation of a marketing, business development and sales initiative that makes a difference when it comes to carving out market share. Identifying the areas where this assessment intersects with the realities of market is what provides a strategic foundation for a plan.

Simultaneously, the owners of the organizations should articulate core values and shared aspirations — the three or four organizational principles and goals against which major decisions are weighed. Ideally, these are the things that brought you together as a partnership or team in the first place. This list will vary firm by firm; but examples of aspirations addressed might include:

    • a position of market or industry leadership
    • a specific financial benchmark — individual and/or organizational
    • a position relative to work/life balance
    • a specific stance relative to civic or charitable involvement

The recognition of shared aspirations is invaluable when a group of owners wrestle with issues that inevitably arise in the creation and execution of a strategic plan.

And no self assessment is complete without a clear understanding of critical operational and profitability metrics. Specifics here have a great deal to do with the nature of your organization; however, to sacrifice transparency here in the name of collegiality is to leave out a basic building block. 

Commitment to the Process

Plans fail, without respect to strategic foundation, when not executed to maturity. Instigating change in a marketplace comes with a life cycle. A solid market and self-analysis (including the identification of pursuit targets) should lead to a clear understanding of a realistic sales cycle and projected return.

Stakeholders must share a commitment to the initiative, its processes, and a calendar that accommodates consequential change.

This is not to suggest that accountability, tweaks and even significant adjustments should not be incorporated.

But significant and enduring organic growth is seldom the result of a three to six month “surge” approach to marketing and business development. Expectations that declining revenues and shrinking profits — frequent indicators of issues that transcend marketing and sales — can be turned around by pulling out the stops for three to six months, almost always result in a fits-and-starts approach. If your revenue isn’t growing, chances are good you have no real sustained strategy aimed at increasing market share.

Want to realize a measurable return on your investment in marketing and business development? Focus on building an initiative on a solid strategy to which all are committed.

Coming next week — Step two in our 14-week series on creating a plan that will make a difference.

The Resonant, Authentic Voice Of Leadership

Some accomplish it with a pen — mightier-than-any-sword. Some with eloquent oratory.

For some the tool is as simple as an invitation — how may I help you? Or the offer of a cup of cold water

A few speak volumes with the sheer force of example.

Whatever the avenue or methodology, the voice of real leaders encourages conversations — around core ideas, fundamental values, consequential agendas, and aspirational vision.

To be sure, with the right megaphone any voice may be able to distract for a season. Given the resources, a poser can spin, obfuscate, and monopolize messaging.

But storming to the front of a room, grasping the microphone or hovering over a pulpit does not constitute leadership.

The more one must announce credentials the more likely reality will reveal a leadership vacuum.

Real leadership — in a firm, a family, a community or a country — is marked by the presence of inclusion, service, and the pursuit of a higher calling.

Yes…the conversations can be messy and disconcerting; but progress is realized in the honest dialogue and collaborative spirit that is born of shared aspirations.

Over time, real leadership is unmistakable. The authenticity resonates, and inspires us — to see a bigger picture, to dream of what could be, to build bridges, and to dispense with our smaller selves, and engage in consequential adventure. And in our gut, we know it when we hear it.

The “if-the-market-knew-my-story” approach to Business Development

There is a basic principle in communication theory — shared experiences form the basis for the most effective communication.

Even if we did not formally study the science, most of us have first-hand experience with the validity of the principle — in intimate, social and professional settings alike.In the space where experiences of the communicator overlap with those of the audience, there is a common vernacular, similar concerns and dreams. Invest in identifying this common ground, and then use it as the foundation for your approach to connecting, and efforts are more efficient and productive.

But when it comes to marketing, business development and sales strategies, we frequently opt to skip over this basic building block.

In part, we can blame this on the fact that so many distribution channels are accessible and affordable. Once we have a product, service or cause, the temptation is to waste no time, and plunge headlong into shouting our story from every virtual rooftop available.

If the market knew our story, we reason out-loud…it would beat a path to our door is the unspoken inference.

Yet even in the wake of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we continue to focus on our story — from the breadth of our expertise to extraordinary talent (we only hire from the top 10%!); from our commitment to diversity to locations that make us virtually omnipresent…to anything else we can come up with that announces our availability.

This is, after all, how it worked for professional service providers for decades — go to the right school, hang a nice shingle, do good work, follow the path and the market will find you. And though no one really believes it was the shingle that attracted the clients, we seem willing to believe that the contemporary shingles — a logo, a (clever) tag-line, and some finessed copy on a freshly minted website will make all the difference to today’s marketplace..

We just need to get the word out there.

Notwithstanding the existence and value of all the communication and marketing tools available today, wherever just-get-our-name-out-there is the refrain, the results likely look and sound the same as the competition’s. And organic growth is slow-to-nonexistent. When it comes for business development and marketing conversations, ROI is questioned. And eventually tactics (masquerading as new strategy) shift one more time.

This Time, Begin With The Principle

There is a way to create awareness that differentiates, takes advantage of the all of the distribution channels to reach the right audience, and even prompts the market to take a step in your direction. Just go back to that basic principle.

Effective communication begins with the Identification of where your experiences align with the experiences of your target market.

It is a simple equation.

But for many, the difficulty exists in what the equation presumes — that a target has been identified.

(If you’re a regular reader, you knew we’d be getting back to this.)

We mentioned the temptation above — to jump right in, grab the nearest tool, and broadcast our story to all within earshot…all the while assuming the power to deliver the market lies within an accounting of our skills, insights, and — provided we have enough time and space — our experiences.

Yet, we know the verdict even before we begin. All the available communication channels notwithstanding — it is impossible to create a message relevant to everyone. When it comes time to precipitate the action that ultimately results in new business, the marketplace is littered with websites, ad campaigns, blogs, and social media feeds that promise everything…and all sound alike.

Granted, knowing where to begin when it comes to target identification is challenging. But an important step is to beware the “anyone-who-needs-what-I-do” trap. The real estate lawyer who says “just put me in touch with anyone doing a real estate deal” is sacrificing the leverage that comes with being able to address specific issues, needs, and experiences.

And the only way we can be certain we’re connecting with what our audience cares about, is to begin with a target. (By the way…the definition of “target” is not limited to one with hiring authority; but that is a topic for another post.)

The more removed we are from being able to name a target, the more likely our strategy is little more than a hope that the market somehow find our door. Or our email address.

Get Targeting Right, and The Second Stumbling Block Is Easy To Avoid

Here are three questions that frame a very simple target identification process:

  • Who do I want to work with?
  • Can I map relationships that connect me to the hiring authority? If not,
  • What must be accomplished in order to create that relationship map?

Once a target is identified, a basic plan of action revolves around learning what the hiring authority cares about — that is, learning the relevant field of experiences. This is the intentional listening part of the equation. It includes market analysis, research, and input from “coaches” identified during the relationship mapping process. Past experiences, future challenges, personal preferences — all of this serves to map the target’s field of experiences, and help develop an understanding of what the market cares about.

Invest in research — listen intently — and your target market will tell you what it will take to stand out and make contact — even in a crowded marketplace.

Sure…if an offering is both one-of-a-kind (or scarce), and in high demand, announcing the unique availability may be all that is required to generate a wave of new business. Take the news of your service to the rooftops and commence shouting.

But most of us exist in a competitive and noisy marketplace. Connecting is difficult enough; drawing a distinction between the services we offer and those of our competiton requires more than just getting our message out there.

It seems worth noting for the record that your most rewarding business development efforts will almost always be the byproduct of relationships. There are a number of reasons this is the case; but it is inescapable that one is in the context of building and nurturing a relationship our efforts are focused. Targeted, if you will.

Once a target has been identified, the marketing toolbox — content, events, PR, and the myriad of ways to go-to-market — will become a valued if not coveted resource. A number of the questions we wrestle with — should I be on Twitter…what about Linked In…should I speak, or blog, or volunteer…or all of the above — become much less vexing. You’ll begin to consider these issues in the context of what your target cares about — that relevant field of experience.

If we as marketers and service providers exchanged some of the resources we often invest in getting our story out there for an equal portion of target identification and intentional listening designed to find that highly productive space where our experiences — professional and personal — align with what our target cares about we might find ourselves in the midst of wholly new conversations when it comes to business development.

The Simple Complications of Business Development

Business development is not complicated.

Hard work? Indeed…because effective business development (especially in a professional service firm) is almost always about building productive relationships. And that is no small task.

But we shouldn’t confuse the hard work required to build rewarding relationships with the suggestion that business development requires something that is somehow inconsistent with our profession. Or that proven disciplines such as target identification, market research, and rigorous CRM are unnecessary time-wasters. Or marketing nonsense. In fact, these are simply among the resources in the relationship tool box.

There are complicating factors, to be sure. The ongoing search for a silver bullet — a quest that precipitates fits-and-starts often affiliated with the newest shiny tool or flavor-of-the-month — is a usual suspect. Expectations that aren’t aligned with allocated resources is another.

And before you object, this is not to suggest that strategies, tactics or personnel should not be held accountable. Any legitimate business initiative includes reviews and adjustments; the point here is that rewarding  and enduring relationships rarely spring up in a month. Or a quarter or a year. If your situation demands immediate results, here’s hoping you already have a pipeline of productive relationships, or you’re going to the market with a hot commodity or slam dunk solution.

If you aspire to the status of trusted advisor, prepare to invest the resources in business development and sales that are necessary to foster and nurture relationships.

The foundation of effective business development relationships is a relentless focus on your target. (This assumes you have a target in mind; more on this in a minute.)

The Basics

While it isn’t normally accomplished overnight or as an afterthought, the hard work that results in building productive relationships isn’t difficult to understand. In fact, if you have a successful relationship or two in your personal life you already know the process.

Step 1. Listen — to your target and anyone that knows anything about your target — and learn everything you can about what your target cares about. (Hate to be a broken record here; but this, too, assumes you have a target.)

Step 2. Create visibility — make it known that you care about what your target cares about (this is otherwise known as marketing).

Step 3. Relentlessly pursue — this is the BD (or sales) part. Don’t bail or give up so quickly…invest the time and resources necessary to have a series of conversations. Does this mean stay forever? No. But if you’ve done a good job of target identification (there’s that word again), don’t jump ship after one or two or even three conversations.

Not a complicated process. The caveat is that smart target identification is the key to efficiency, and increased ROI. If you are a regular reader you know we spend a good deal of time with this idea. And this is the reason — if we haven’t identified a target we don’t know who to listen to, what to care about, or how to begin to demonstrate that we care.

Translation? We try to be all things to all potential clients. Not exactly the recipe for productive, much less enduring relationships.

Spin it, complicate it and if-and-or-but it all you want; relationships that endure — professional or personal — are about strategic (read Targeted) listening, and demonstrating we share common interests. This is the fabric of relationship, and where trust develops.

Are there skill sets, tools and more sophisticated processes that will help? No doubt.

But anyone serious about business development can realize success with attention to this simple process. Those who find a way to personalize it, and incorporate it as a daily routine are the ones that make it rain.

Are You Doing the 4 Things Necessary to Stand Out From the Crowd and Build a Pipeline of Future Clients?

Most professional service providers would welcome a more predictable, consistent and robust flow of qualified new business leads.

Scratch that.

When it comes to business development and sales, virtually every professional service provider I know is searching for an efficient way to connect with potential new clients. Marketing strategies promise it; the possibility is the siren song of technology platforms; and blog posts, podcasts and articles ponder over illusive results, ROI, and secret sauce.

Meanwhile, for many lawyers, accountants, consultants, and other professional service providers, solid solutions that transcend promises and actually deliver seem illusive.

Sure — if your budget is big enough, or if your brand has the kind of equity that captures the attention of the marketplace with a whisper, or if you’re in an arena that allows you to simply play a numbers game — a steady stream of work may not be an issue…today.

However, if what you offer is less commodity and more the service of a trusted advisor, you are in an elite minority if you’re not searching for a way to connect with qualified prospects in need of the experience and expertise you provide. The marketplace is crowded and competition is fierce

Visibility is valuable. Friends, fans and followers are assets. SEO and web traffic is important. But all are of little value if your business development and sales strategy does not provide for a connection that leads to an engagement, sale, or referral source.

Lead Generation: Hype or Real?

Short answer: contrary to what your experience may have been, it is possible for marketing efforts to open doors to meetings and instigate conversations  that result in the work you seek.

Here’s the catch. New and productive client relationships are decidedly not the byproduct of an afterthought. Or an initiative you turn to when business is slow. Or something you begrudgingly and half-heartedly invest in. In a competitive marketplace, simply doing great work isn’t going to build a pipeline of future business. And even if you’ve been the beneficiary of a big brand name, you’re likely experiencing the impact of a market in transition — less client loyalty, increased competition for talent, and heightened lateral movement, to name a few.

The steady development of new business requires:

  • strategic planning (over-used term, I know — but this is about the kind of planning that is foundational — that is part of the conversation from the outset);
  • focus and tenacity (get distracted by each new flavor-of-the-month or possible shortcut, and you lose…period);
  • proportionate investment (if you cringe at the suggested benchmarks for investing in marketing and bizdev, move on…this will be the least of your concerns soon); and,
  • commitment (this is about being in it for the long-haul).

The good news is that if you’re willing to do what it takes,  you can build a marketing / business development pipeline that will deliver measurable organic growth — even significant return on your investment.

Here are the four components this kind of process requires.

One — Identify Targets

If you are a regular reader of Marketing Brain Fodder, you may be cringing. We spend a good deal of time on this one. This is the foundation of effective and efficient marketing and business development. No matter how creative or eloquent, cast a marketing effort out there designed to connect and communicate with anyone in need of what you offer, and you will continue to be frustrated. Build a strategy based on either the hope that it reaches the right audience or the belief that qualified prospects will knock on your door simply because of your firm’s name, and you’re doing little more than throwing good resources into the wind.

On the other hand, invest in identifying targets for whom your service is especially relevant, and focus here, and your marketing efforts go further and accomplish more.

If you have no idea where to begin when it comes to building a target list, or don’t know how to go about the process of target identification, your efforts are going to be frustrating and costly. It is time to put the brakes on your plan and dive into the work of Target Identification.

Two — Deliver Value

If the thesis of your marketing plan is “if the market just knew our name” or “if we could just get the word out” you have subscribed to the hang-a-shingle-and-they-will-come approach to business development. And while it might be possible to build a practice with this approach in a small market where Main Street has two stop-lights, in a competitive (and increasingly global) market, it is going to take more than a sign to prompt anyone to beat a path to your door — even if your address is the most prestigious in town.

If you’ve done the foundational work of Target Identification (meaning you’re talking to the right audience), the way to differentiate your efforts and prompt real prospects to take action is to deliver value.

Observation: this is where marketing efforts often go awry because we go to the marketplace with what we deem to be valuable. Our message. Our offering. Our answers.

Effective lead generation — that is, a productive on-going connection and conversation with a qualified target — is initiated by delivering something your target market defines as valuable.

Three — Demonstrate Relevance

This is about knowing and understanding the business issues faced by your target. In consultant-speak, what keeps your target up at night? In plain English — what causes stress, is a drain on resources, impacts profitability, and threatens existence. Become relevant here and you have a shot at being deemed valuable by your prospect.

On the other hand, insist on making a pitch without knowing that your offering connects to business concerns of the target, and risk becoming irrelevant…which means being relegated to market noise — where every competitor is saying what you’re saying, doing the same thing you are, and vying for the attention of a shrinking group of prospects.

Four — Keep the Conversation Going

This is what separates the relentless business developer (read: rainmaker) from everyone else.

Question: in what endeavor of consequence does delivering a message one time get the job done?

Without respect to targeting, delivering value, and proving relevance, if your go-to-market development strategy does not include intentional and strategic follow up, you’ve embarked on one more less-than-productive marketing initiative.

The nature of appropriate follow up will vary depending on the specifics of your offering. But without an intentional effort to establish an on-going conversation, you are still hoping the market will do the hard work, identify what differentiates you from your competitor, and beat a path to your door…undistracted by the messaages and promises of competitors.

An effective marketing and sales effort can use a variety of tools, and be built on a number of platforms. Whatever your platform of choice, these are the four keys to differentiating your efforts from the masses, generating meaningful leads, building a pipeline of somewhat predictable business, and finally delivering measurable return on your investments in marketing and business development.

Seven Signs Your Firm Could Be Facing Consequential Transition

Whether a new enterprise or a venerable brand, the realities of a market in transition are most likely having an effect on your firm. Responses to Altman Weil’s 2018 Law Firms In Transition Survey underscore the magnitude.

  • 49% of responding firms failed to meet billable hour targets in 2017
  • 59% say equity partners are under utilized

A move to handle work in-house, alternative service providers, and technology solutions are cited as factors contributing to the transition.

As to how 2018 compares to previous years, “…the threat to law firms in 2018 is broader and more nuanced,” according to Altman Weil principal and survey co-author Tom Clay.

If your firm is staring down the double barrel of missing budgeted targets and equity partners with too little to do, you didn’t need the survey to substantiate what you are experiencing. And you are likely among the firms engaged in activities intended to be an appropriate response to these issues. Colleagues Roger Hayse and Andy Jillson of Hayse LLC point to three additional conditions that may already have precipitated action — or at least conversations:

  • an increased reliance on credit to fund debt
  • the attrition of key clients, and/or
  • the inability to recruit the talent necessary to compete

But consequential transition typically begins long before these emphatic challenges announce trouble.

Here are 7 indicia of a firm that, whether recognized by leadership or not, is already in the midst of a defining season.

1. Matters of Succession Are a Mystery

For decades in many firms the question about who would inherit leadership roles and/or key client relationships seemed to be resolved organically (or at least systematically), with a clear and accepted line of succession. But as firms became larger and more diverse in terms of practice offerings, questions swirl on both fronts.

Stable firms proactively address succession — in terms of leadership as well as key client relationships. Firms failing to address this are on the cusp of a transition that may result in the loss of both key clients and young talent.

2. Your Diversity Initiative Is Driven By 60+ Year Old White Guys

Diversity is increasingly a driver in the marketplace — of who clients want to work with, and of where talent wants to work. Firms that address the conversation by relegating it to a committee may find it difficult to make progress.

The conversation not only warrants, but demands fresh perspective and institutional commitment. If efforts, however well intentioned, fail to address implicit biases — individual and organizational — that impact opportunity, compensation, values, and aspirations, diversity and inclusion will continue to be a significant factor when it comes to the transition of today’s firms.

3. Cross Selling Is The Exception Rather Than The Rule

Firms that operate as practice (or even industry) silos fail to capitalize on the real value of partnership — leverage and cultural dynamism. If business development credit, relationship protection, a lack of trust, or simple blindness to opportunity stand in the way of a firm finding ways to make the most of relationships and capabilities, you’re not only leaving work on the table; you’re opening the door to fracture.

4. You Have No Idea What It Costs Your Firm To Take In A New Client or Open A New File

It is vogue to speak of the business of law. But where everyday costs to do business are not understood and factored into strategic and operational decisions, the business side of the firm has yet to be fully embraced. In this environment issues such as project management, strategic growth, the value of culture, and the essential nature of team will pose challenging conversations.

5. Lateral Partners Are A Losing Proposition

When it comes to measurable growth in revenue, firms have historically turned to individuals and groups interested in making a lateral move, trusting that “portables” will follow. Whether the byproduct of mediocre due diligence, worse-than-mediocre integration practices, or strategic or cultural misfit, if laterals are no better than a break-even, this path to revenue growth is an early sign of potentially painful transition.  

6. You Are Still Searching For A Silver Bullet For Business Development and Growth

Firms whose knee-jerk response to zero-or-worse-revenue growth is to regularly move from one personnel decision to the next initiative or tool rather than engaging in an honest SWOT analysis are already in the midst of transition. Pulling the trigger on a new silver bullet is easy, whereas the day-to-day roll-up-your-sleeves work necessary for organic revenue growth is uncomfortable. Only one of these two approaches delivers a solution. 

7. A Strategic Plan Is A Moving Target

At its best, a strategic plan grows out of four things:

  • shared values and aspirations that form the foundation of the partnership
  • a clearly defined target market(s)
  • an understanding of the dominant drivers at work in the target market
  • a plan that
    • articulates methodologies and practices that address market drivers, and
    • a go-to-market strategy designed to connect with targets

This kind of strategy does not shift quarter to quarter or get thrown out after one tough year. It is the standard against which significant decisions are measured and tested, and the fabric that provides continuity, stability and long-term direction.

Anyone engaged in the marketplace today deals with some measure of on-going transition. Firms that endure have an attentive ear to the ground, identify early indicators, and find a way to manage change. If you’re a part of the leadership team of a law firm or other professional service firm, and would like regular thoughts managing firms in transition, I refer you to the regular musings of my friends Roger and Andy here.

There are exclamation marks that announce big transitions. And there are more subtle, day-to-day signs that indicate whether we are managing inevitable transitional moments effectively, or are on the brink of high-consequence change.

In Search Of The True Professionals

We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. We may write about it, design programs and build entire initiatives around it. If we have enough juice we might be able to insist on a moniker or title that insinuates we have arrived.

But when it comes to what it really means to be a professional, titles, labels, and even robust branding efforts have little to do with the reality.

When it comes to determining what it means to be a professional, what we do speaks much more eloquently than what our business card (or Linked In profile) says.

Professionalism is a characteristic. It is the sum of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments — whatever the venue might be.

The only thing most of us are able to control with respect to this discussion is our own personal pursuit of the traits we deem central to the professionalism to which we aspire.

The temptation is to act as though defining moments on a big stage…in the glare of bright lights..in the context of high visibility.

In our gut we know that true professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than public…where there is little fanfare.

Simply calling someone (or something) professional, does not make it so.

In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here is a six-pack of some of the traits present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.

  1. Professionals accept responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in the toughest moments. Nor, it should be noted, do the best of the best demand the spotlight for sustenance.
  2. The professional possesses crystal-clear self-awareness, and is constantly honing the ability to understand personal limitations. This is manifest in honesty, intentional listening, and a big-picture perspective.
  3. Professionals don’t engage in turf wars, and do not tear down others. Rather, they build bridges, and are apt to deflect credit.
  4. The professional doesn’t avoid difficult moments, conversations or problem personalities…approaching challenges with honesty.
  5. Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what. As cliche as it may sound, this is fact.
  6. The professional is always professional — without respect to position or title.

This is not offered as an exhaustive list. It does, however, represent the foundational traits to which I personally aspire. Have thoughts and/or additions that might be instructive for all of us? Please contribute.

Four Cornerstones of Effective Marketing

Ask a dozen professionals to define marketing and you might receive a dozen different responses. From retailer to B-to-B enterprise, from service provider to widget manufacturer, from Fortune-listed to start-up — marketing is defined based on what we’re offering the market, who we’ve targeted, and what is required to create appropriate visibility.

But all of us, unique perspectives notwithstanding, count on our marketing investments to change our business reality — in terms of awareness, behavior, and loyalty within a target market.

Marketing should instigate action. It may be about transforming a target into a client, expanding a customer’s use of a product/service line, creating initial awareness, or deepening devotion to a brand. If marketing isn’t making a difference it is not doing its job.

Effective Marketing Builds on 4 Things

A number of things may be driving the change. Economic pressures, an event, an emotion, even peer pressure are some biggies. But the life-blood of measurable and enduring change — in marketing terms, what turns targets into clients and clients into raving fans — is much more than a flurry of indiscriminate activities in hopes of getting the word out and/or waiting on the market to knock on your door.

An incentive, a compelling message, even marketing slight-of-hand can precipitate one-off decisions. But when it comes to making a difference that lasts — when you’re looking for what instigates an experience, return engagements, and a reputation that endures — an effective plan builds around four things:

  • Clear identification of your target market — know specifically who you must connect with if your initiative is to be deemed successful. Not every target has to be a potential client / customer; but every target should play a meaningful role in your pursuit of clients.
  • Clear understanding of market drivers — this is about knowing your market well enough to understand why there is a decision to be made. From pain points to peer influence, these drivers serve to shape every critical decision.
  • Activities and experiences specifically designed to speak to the market’s drivers — create visibility, engage, and deliver discernable value around the issues that your target market cares about, and you’re on the road to a productive relationship — and a plan that delivers results.
  • Tenacious pursuit — if you stick to your plan for all of three weeks or even three months, don’t bother. Connecting with targets, establishing credibility and motivating action is a process — one that takes time, depends on frequency, and is about investing in the future. How long you must persist, and the nature of the frequency depend greatly on what you’re marketing. But the strategic marketing of professional services bares no resemblance to selling widgets. Be tenacious.

Invest in a plan based on these four cornerstones, and questions about return on investments in marketing tend to move from how do we get by with less to how do we do more.

When you wonder about what your marketing strategy should look like — when you set out to determine whether a particular tactic or a “new opportunity” aligns with a defined approach — remember what gives rise to new relationships that endure is the instigation of an awareness that differentiates, the creation of valued experiences, and the facilitation of dialogue. Do this, and watch your marketplace change.

Why Don’t We Cross Sell More Effectively?

A few years ago I was privy to the results of a deep analysis of an AmLaw 100 firm’s practice penetration of it’s clients. That is, the degree to which the firm served clients in more than one practice area.

It seemed a lot of opportunity was left on the table. With more than 20 practice areas listed on the website, on average the firm served the needs of its clients in 1.5 to 2 practice areas per client.

In the ensuing years it has been my experience that these numbers are representative of the entire industry. And to some degree most professional service firms are not too much different.

Big and not-so-big multi-vertical professional service firms simply don’t cross sell. Law firms just happen to be a glaring example.

In spite of touting expertise in numerous areas where business intersects with issues of law…and even in the throes of marginal revenue growth and fiscal challenges, law firms wrestle mightily with the process and practices needed to leverage and grow existing client relationships.

In virtually every business sector, existing relationships are viewed as an asset — a resource to be nurtured and deepened. And cross-served.

Granted, the issue stems, in part, from the way law firms have historically gone-to-market — that is, pass the Bar, hang a shingle, and wait for prospective clients to appear at your door. For decades this worked well. Doing business in the marketplace would precipitate a need. Clients would seek out a lawyer or a firm able to meet the need. Lawyers would respond to the need.

And then just wait for the next client to show up with a need.

Perhaps it is this reactive approach that is at the heart of the issue — a view that for decades has recoiled at the idea of proactive selling. We are professionals. We do excellent work. When the market needs the services we provide, they’ll call.

But in the marketplace of 2018, anemic penetration of even our best clients is no longer a viable strategy if we’re leaving business on the table…if it ever was.

Why don’t we view existing client relationships as opportunities worth more than an occasional all-partner lunch? Or a hastily designed pursuit strategy when one or two large practice areas are slow?

Even given the historic reactive nature noted above, it is tough to ignore the possibility that some other issues are preventing a concerted and strategic effort to connect and cross sell. Here are a handful of usual suspects:

    • compensation systems that encourage silos;
    • the absence of the intentional integration of rainmakers and practices across a firm;
    • a lack of confidence or trust in ones partners;
    • a need on the part of some business developers to guard or protect important relationships;
    • a complete lack of awareness of the breadth of service offered by the partnership.

The list, no doubt, goes on. Meanwhile, it is extraordinary that we will chase anything that even hints at being an opportunity. And desperate to see some growth, we invest heavily (and often hastily) in laterals promising portable business (they often fall far short of projections), and give in to the siren call of mergers and large combinations in hopes that 1 + 1 will equate to 3.

If you’ve been around long, cross selling topic-fatigue may inhibit any creative thinking about how we might deal with the challenges, both real and manufactured, and proactively double-down on our best relationships.

But for everyone willing to suspend preconceived notions and topic fatigue, here is a simple four point approach that could — if you’re like most multiple practice law firms and professional service firms — turn up some real opportunities for growth.

    • Begin with an analysis of your firm’s top clients. The number of clients will depend on the size of your firm…but think in terms of the Top 50 to 200. Note the areas in which you currently provide service, and identify where your strongest relationships exist?
    • Do some basic research to identify where your best client relationships are connected to additional needs your firm is positioned to meet. This due diligence should include market intelligence as well as client feedback.
    • Construct a plan to raise visibility focused on where the needs of your clients intersect with your firm’s capabilities. An efficient way to achieve targeted visibility is through a strategic content marketing plan.
    • Execute a process that creates face-to-face opportunities with key relationships for the purpose of exploring this overlap. This means personal calls and face-to-face meetings.

In most any endeavor the shortest distance between the status quo and measurable growth is found by devoting appropriate attention and resources to listening and nurturing the relationships you currently enjoy.

One wonders if this might be true for law firms. And why we are so reticent to invest here.

The Four Keys To Acquiring Quality Leads

Most professional service providers would welcome a more consistent and robust flow of quality leads.

Scratch that.

When it comes to business development and sales, virtually every professional service provider I know is searching for a way to connect with potential new clients. So much so that this is the promise of marketing strategies, the siren song of technology platforms, and the recurring theme of blog posts and articles.

But solutions that deliver seem illusive.

Sure, if your budget is big enough, or if your brand has the kind of equity that prompts market movement with the mere hint of a new offering, or if you’re in an arena that allows you to simply play a numbers game — then generating new leads may not be an issue.

But if what you offer is less commodity and more the service of a trusted advisor, you are in an elite minority if you’re not still searching for a way to connect face to face with prospects that are in need of (and willing to pay for) the experience and expertise you provide.

Visibility is valuable. Friends, fans and followers are important parts of a community. SEO and web traffic is important. But all are of little value if your strategy does not provide for a connection that leads to a sale.

So Is There A Way To Generate Viable Leads For The Professional Service You Offer?

Contrary to what your experience may have been, lead generation isn’t just another marketing or sales cliche. It is a real thing.

It is possible for your marketing efforts to open doors to meetings, conversations and collaborations that result in the kind of work you want to do. Here’s the catch. It is decidedly not the byproduct of an afterthought. Or something you turn to when business is slow. Or something you half-heartedly invest in.

The work that leads to new business — even rainmaking — requires strategic planning, focus, investment and commitment.

The good news is that if you’re willing to do what it takes, then the answer is Yes — you can build a marketing / business development / sales process that will deliver measurable — even significant return on your investment.

Here are the four components this kind of process requires.

One — Identify Targets

This is the foundation of effective and efficient marketing and business development. No matter how creative or eloquent, cast a marketing effort out there with nothing more than the hope that it reaches the right audience, and you’re doing little more than throwing good resources after bad.

On the other hand, invest in identifying targets for whom your service has a shot at being relevant, and your marketing efforts go further and accomplish more. If you can’t build a target list, or don’t know how to go about the process of target identification, you are going to have a frustrating and costly experience. it is time to put the brakes on your plan and dive into the work of Target Identification.

Two — Deliver Value

If the thesis of your marketing plan is “if the market just knew our name” or “if we could just get the word out” you may have fallen victim to a hang-a-shingle-and-they-will-come strategy. And while it might be possible to build a practice with this approach if your target is a small market where Main Street has two stop-lights, in a competitive (and increasingly global) market, a shingle alone is not going to prompt anyone to beat a path to your door.

If you’ve done the foundational work of Target Identification (meaning you’re talking to the right audience), the way to prompt real prospects to take action is to deliver value.

Observation: this is where marketing efforts often go awry because we go to the marketplace with what we deem to be valuable. Our message. Our canned presentation. This is backwards.

Effective lead generation — that is, a productive on-going conversation with a qualified target — is initiated by delivering something your target market defines as valuable.

Three — Demonstrate Relevance

This is about knowing and understanding the business issues faced by the target. In consultant-speak, what keeps your target up at night? Become relevant to this issue and you have a shot at a productive conversation.

On the other hand, insist on making a pitch without knowing that your offering connects to business concerns of the target, and risk becoming irrelevant…which means being relegated to market noise — where every competitor is doing the same thing you are, and vying for the attention of your best targets.

Four — Do the Follow Up

This is what separates the relentless business developer (read: rainmaker) from everyone else.

Question: in what endeavor of consequence does delivering a message one time get the job done?

Without respect to targeting, delivering value, and proving relevance, if your go-to-market development strategy does not include intentional and strategic follow up, you’ve embarked on one more less-than-productive marketing initiative.

The nature of appropriate follow up may vary depending on the specifics of your offering. But without an intentional effort to establish an on-going conversation, you are still hoping the market will do the hard work, and chart the path to your door…undistracted by the noise and promises of competitors.

An effective marketing and sales effort may utilize a variety of tools, and be built on a number of platforms. Whatever your platform of choice, these are the four keys to differentiating your efforts from the masses, generating meaningful leads, and finally delivering measurable return on your investments in marketing and business development.

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