As a consultant to law and accounting practices, the most common question I’m asked is, “Why aren’t we winning more new business?”
It might feel like you’re doing everything right, but the time you put in isn’t yielding satisfactory results.
While there’s no silver bullet for sales, here are seven ‘business-blocking’ behaviours you should identify and end as soon as possible.
1 – Business development is the responsibility of a select few
Put simply, the more people you have selling your services, the more work you’ll win. Every single person in your firm, from fee earners to practice support staff, should contribute to growing the firm – so ensure they’re given the right tools and opportunities to do so.
Start by ensuring everybody can explain what you do and the types of clients you serve. Make it easy for them. Update all staff on the firm’s plan and performance every quarter.
Give everyone a business card and encourage them to be on LinkedIn. And, at this time of year, don’t limit the firm Christmas Cards to partners – let everyone send cards to their contacts so they begin to nurture relationships.
2 – Your referrals only come through partners
In my experience, partners usually have around three trusted, long-term referral sources that have made a material difference to their careers. These relationships have often been built over many years and are essential to the firm – but this doesn’t mean you should neglect to grow new relationships.
Get a head start and encourage your professionals to build networks from day one. There are a number of programs for young professionals run by industry groups and associations, such the Law Society. There are also some private ones such as Grant Thornton’s Affinity program or Pitcher Partners Critical Point Network.
If you can’t find a networking event that suits your practice or location, why not start your own?
3 – You don’t listen to your credit manager
A good credit manager should be at the forefront of client relationships and business development.
Proactive credit managers can provide a unique point of view about the state of client relationships and trends in client service. Give them a chance to provide narrative in their reports and you’ll soon be picking up more than late payments – you’ll get real insights into who’s engaged and who isn’t. In turn, this will give you a good picture on who you can target for more work, and who you need to defend.
4 – You silo client feedback
Don’t limit your client feedback to online surveys or partner conversations. Give your lawyers some guidance about asking for feedback and then let them use their judgment about when to gather their own.
For instance, you’ll receive great information about the market, and your clients, if you arm every lawyer with just three questions when they work with a client or referral source. One of these should always be, “Did anything surprise you about how this matter ran?”
5 – You’re losing opportunities at the first hurdle
Make sure anyone who answers incoming calls knows enough about the firm to direct an enquiry to the right person.
They should also know your client service standards well enough to confidently ask a few questions when taking a message. Or give them the power to hand out the partner’s email address if they want to get something to you fast and make sure you see it.
On that note, if you want someone to screen your calls then they should also have access to your diary. There’s nothing more off-putting than assistants who can’t assist.
6 – Your processes are slowing you down
Few things kill off enthusiasm for business development more quickly than unnecessary paperwork.
I recently met a partner who wanted to sponsor an event at his local club – the total cost was just $500. It was a club that the partner knew well. He was a member and felt strongly about what it did. He was good friends with a lot of people at the club. Spending just $500 to cement the relationship between his practice and the club was a no brainer.
But to get funding this poor guy had to put together a business case proposal – time he could have spent billing. Then the practice manager had to review it. Then it went back to the partner for further questions and only then was it finally approved.
$1,000 would be a conservative estimate of the fees wasted in this process. If you’re spending that kind of time (money) approving such trivial issues, something’s very wrong.
If you really need approval, limit everything to a 48-hour turnaround. And make the time you invest in reviewing any decision proportionate to both the risk and reward.
7 – You aren’t trying new things
Earlier this year, in one of the Unrestricted Practicing Certificate courses I facilitate for the NSW Law Society, a lawyer asked if it was OK to advertise on Gumtree – a free, online classified.
The other lawyers sniggered at this suggestion… At least until the lawyer revealed she got four new clients from one posting. (Did I mention it was free!?)
That’s because Gumtree was exactly the right medium to let people know about her regional practice and her area of work (family law).
Other practices I know have found specific Facebook Groups more influential than any newspaper column or highbrow business publication.
Media is changing and it’s important that you’re adventurous and test ideas. Some things mightn’t work, but others may leave you pleasantly surprised.
These are just some examples of what your firm could be doing to get your business development practices better aligned with your overall goals.
If you’d like some further real world examples, feel free to contact me.
Sue-Ella is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping law and accounting practices sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients and become more profitable.