Thumb twiddling

“Describe your ideal target client,” I asked.

After shooting me a look that said that is the dumbest question I’ve ever heard, the law firm partner said, “My ideal client is the next person that walks into my office or calls me on the phone in need of a lawyer.”

Translation: “My market comes to me.” Because of the school I attended, the experience I’ve accumulated, the firm in which I’m a partner, the reputation I’ve built. And because that’s the way it has always been — go to law school, hang a shingle, do good work…for decades that was the formula for the creation of a solid practice.

That conversation took place nearly twenty years ago, in the early days of my first law firm business development gig. Boy have things changed.

The new normal has turned into the status quo.

But for many professional service providers one thing that hasn’t changed is the belief that if I put the right pieces in place and do good work, the market will sort through all the competition, and find me.

Few will argue that the market isn’t what it used to be. And outstanding professionals wake up each morning wondering what to do.

But if the only time we turn attention to marketing, business development or sales is when there is a fear things might be slowing down — or worse yet, after the slow-down has begun — three things are likely true. The actions taken:

  • are reactive in nature, and therefore not strategic;
  • solve few, if any of the short term challenges, and none of the real issues;
  • are decidedly frustrating.

And you’re still left hoping the market will walk through your door.

When the strategic identification of opportunities is given twenty minutes at a meeting once-a-quarter (whether you need it or not), don’t expect change. If plans to pursue specific targets aren’t part of a regular focus, call it what you will; but the approach to organic growth is to hope the market comes to you.

If integration or cross selling is left to chance — meaning there is no framework or process that ensures steps are taken that match capabilities with needs — don’t hope to magically benefit from the relationships your partnership enjoys with key clients.

If a system for religiously gathering and assessing feedback from clients and prospects does not exist, don’t be surprised when good — even long-term clients — leave you in favor of individuals or teams that are proactive in the marketplace.

If succession isn’t the subject of on-going conversations long before senior partners are about to retire, don’t be surprised when future leaders in your firm are restless, and when long-term clients evaporate as an inevitable changing of the guard takes place inside the client’s organization.

If innovative conversations around inclusion and diversity are initiated only in the wake of market pressures, be prepared to lose ground to others, and to have the same conversations year after year.

Pick Your Cliche

Put your money where your mouth is. We measure what matters. What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.

Take your pick.

The truth is that an organization concerned with strategic growth reflects this in its priorities. Not once a quarter, or once a month, or when it looks like budget might be missed.

Where the dynamics of marketing, business development, sales and organizational development are understood, the disciplines are not bound by a department. Nor are they confined to bullet-points on an agenda.

A marketing culture, an enduring brand, and growth through strategic business development efforts are not the byproducts of occasional conversation.

And the enterprise interested in seeding such a culture succeeds by virtue of the proactive attention requisite to the highest priority.