Business development is not very complicated.

Granted, it requires many to stray from a comfort zone, and the combination of science and art is often disconcerting; but the formula for success is not difficult to understand.

If you know of a business development effort that isn’t producing, chances are someone is making it more complicated than it needs to be.

Or, maybe the business development effort simply is not getting time and attention in amounts commensurate with the desired return.

Earlier this year, in a video post on his The New Legal Normal Blog, Steve Bell offered  what he characterizes as an “elegantly simple” view (complete with artistic support) of business development and sales, particularly with respect to legal services.

In an effort to stay a step ahead of a changing marketplace, and hold on to — never mind grow market share — many have ventured into the land of sales funnels, pipelines and closing strategies.

Yet, most legal service rainmakers still build a practice the old fashioned way — by earning the confidence and trust of prospective clients.

Put another way — the successful practice of today is still built on a foundation of relationships.

The Way It Used To Be

When I got into legal business development more than a dozen years ago, every successful rainmaker I talked to affirmed, in one way or another, that the key to building a strong practice was references, referrals and direct relationships. Few used the lingo; but all kept their pipeline full via a robust and dynamic network of targeted, relevant relationships.

As Steve notes in the post linked above, many of us have modeled complex strategies. We’ve tried to finagle and finesse the sales funnel, and even produced sophisticated pipeline infographics.

And still, virtually all the research into how legal services are bought underscores the same critical bottom-line of practice development ten, twenty-five and even fifty years ago: the value of relationships. 

Invest in a network, and you have the foundation for success. Ignore the development of relationships and your pipeline is apt to show up empty. It’s that simple.

In his short video post Steve notes a second element in the elegantly simple focus; SEO.

Search engine optimization 101 revolves around target identification. Pick your target; know what it cares about — what it is searching for — and use your content marketing to underscore your relevance to the market.

Three (Simple) Steps To Quality Relationships

With thanks to Steve for the reminder, here are three steps designed to help us keep it simple. (And perhaps even help in other areas where relationship is key.)

  1. Don’t waste resources on the irrelevant. Time, energy and dollars are limited. Spend them to advance valued relationships. This principle should answer all questions about where to focus.
  2. Listen for what your target cares about most. Hint: often what you do may not speak to what your target cares about. Building relationship is about the target; not you.
  3. Demonstrate you’ve been listening. This is how you differentiate yourself/your practice; use what you’ve learned as the basis for content, conversation and collaboration.

That’s it — three  keys to where to invest your resources, and how to begin building (or deepening) relationships. The simple art and science of business development.