JT photo.jpgRecently I had breakfast with John Thomas a business development director here in Dallas.  John has more than 20 years of business development experience, including at an AmLaw 100 firm and a global accounting firm. I frequently say I learn from other businesses. In the post today, John shares why law firms could find using sales-trained BD professionals beneficial.

John writes:

Priscilla Partner finally gets a meeting with the F500 Company General Counsel. They discuss industry issues, the company’s issues, and her experience.  The General Counsel seems impressed but says he selected new counsel six months earlier after issuing an RFP to five firms.  He apologizes for forgetting to include Priscilla’s firm.

How could this happen?  Priscilla’s AmLaw 100 firm retains a brand-name legal marketing consultant and employs a highly-compensated CMO overseeing a large BD/Marketing team.  Multiple practice groups are Chambers banded. The firm has an award-winning website, spends hundreds of thousands on events, and has social media covered.  That General Counsel and many others have tuned it all out.

Given the continued weak economy, an ultra competitive legal environment, and the diminishing return on marketing tools, law firms need sales-oriented BD professionals to break through the clutter.  Yet, most law firm CMOs and BD professionals lack sales experience.

Not so in global and regional accounting firms.  They have had sales professionals for more than 20 years, which is ironic since their industry has fewer competitors.  A billion dollar public company chooses an accounting firm from only six mega accounting firms, but chooses a law firm from the AmLaw 100 or 200 law firms.  Accounting firms know referrals and marketing only go so far.

One international law firm understands this.  They’re now searching for a BD Executive to “develop and manage a proactive and organized sales process and pipeline.”  Had Pricilla’s firm employed a sales professional a year ago, she might have a new billion dollar client today.

Hiring even one sales person comes with risks, especially for the sales person.  Therefore, only hire an outward-facing BD Director if you need someone to do the following:

  • Proactively tee up prospect meetings.  This is not a boiler room approach that violates Bar ethics rules or a non-lawyer giving legal advice over the phone, but a sales person doing the legwork to secure an introductory meeting between a willing general counsel and a hungry attorney while that attorney continues with his billable work.
  • Proactively use the firm’s CRM system to research attorney relationships and encourage partner A to introduce partner B to non-client C.
  • Find cross-selling opportunities.  While the tax partner should be introduced to all your securities clients, this often requires the push of a sales person.
  • Lead client satisfaction meetings.  Understanding how well or how poorly the firm serves its existing clients allows the sales professional in a non-defensive environment to better understand the needs of potential clients and avoid BD mistakes.
  • Introduce attorneys at all levels to new referral sources.  Relationships between law firms and accounting firms, private equity firms, and investment bankers should be encouraged, never discouraged.  They are the coin of the realm.
  • Provide strategic direction on RFPs and proposals.  How can a CMO or other marketing professional coach an attorney on the right sales messages or prepare for oral presentations if they have never met with the prospect?
  • Examine marketing ROI.  Award-winning website videos do not win new business.
  • Be a public “face” for the firm in the business community.  Being with prospects at the right place and time is always better than relying on library research.