Business Development can be Murder to Attorneys

Success in business development can easily be explained through the analogy of a lawyer conducting a murder trial. While this might be a strange way to illustrate my philosophy on business development, I ask you to bear with me as I promise to produce a solid “ah-ha” moment for you before the completion of my article.

Imagine you are engaged in the murder trial of the century. The suspect is being held without bail and you are diligently developing the best case. In reviewing all of the facts, evidence and proof, you disappointingly realize that all you have is one witness. This individual claims to have witnessed the homicide from only a few hundred feet away. Unfortunately, the witness is severely nearsighted, has a criminal record and is a notorious snitch. As the prosecutor, how are you feeling about your case? How will this case hold up in court?

While this may seem like a ridiculous scenario, when we relate it back to business development, it can take a more serious tone. In order to grow one’s law practice, attorneys today must successfully identify evidence that a prospective client has needs, issues and compelling reasons to proceed with any matter.  As you know, CEOs and GCs don’t typically leave their existing counsel without significant cause. Your ability to identify the key factors of pain, fear or gain may be the difference between new business and wasting your valuable time. Here are three key areas that will definitely make you a better business developer and maybe even a better friend, lawyer and spouse.

#1. Build a Rapport First

It’s important for the jury to like you when you’re trying to win them over to your side. The same is true when meeting with a new prospective client.  Be sure to invest some time at the beginning of your meeting to ask some well-prepared questions and get her talking about her favorite subject—herself. For example, you might ask, “I noticed your business was rated by INC. Magazine as a top place to work in 2017. How did you build such a strong work environment?” Or, “I saw on LinkedIn that you run marathons for the American Cancer Society charity. When did you begin running for charity?” Being prepared and getting your prospects talking about their favorite subjects is critical to developing rapport and trust.

#2. Qualify All Prospective Clients on the Phone Before Meeting in Person

Try to be patient and not scramble to meet with anyone who’s breathing. Take a few minutes on the phone to ask some qualifying questions. After developing some rapport on the phone just say, “In order to make the best use of our time when we do meet, may I ask you a few questions to better understand the situation?” Then dive in with some solid qualifying questions to better understand if there really is a matter here or not. Asking a few good questions on the phone will save you time, money and the frustration of meeting with unqualified prospects. Be sure to ask the following questions on the phone before meeting:

  • “Tell me what’s been going on?”
  • “What are your primary challenges, frustrations and concerns about (their needs)?”

Be sure to obtain one to three issues on the phone. This will give you enough “evidence” to commit your time to meet. Also, DO NOT discuss legal solutions on the phone!! Get the prospect talking and feeling good about you and your ability to listen. Then schedule the in-person meeting to discuss solutions after you’ve given it some thought (even when she meets with you, ask more questions before solving or offering advice). A good way to deflect her advances on solutions is to say, “Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.” Giving away advice on the phone can eliminate the reason for meeting, which is where the magic happens.

#3. Prepare Your Evidence in Advance

When a prospective client tells you her issues, you should think of this as “collecting evidence” or reasons to work together. The more in-depth questions you ask, the more evidence there is for you to engage in a new matter. The best advice I can give to any attorney is to ask deeper questions to better understand the pain points of your prospective new client. Your ability to uncover these pain points will directly impact her decision to work with you. Here are some questions that will help you to draw out proof that this decision maker needs to hire you:

  1. With regards to your legal needs, what are your greatest challenges, frustrations and concerns?” (Ask if you haven’t already.)
  2. “What have you done to address this issue prior to meeting with me today?”
  3. “How much is this problem costing you?”
  4. “How has this problem impacted the company and you on a personal level?”
  5. “What happens if nothing is done to solve these issues?”
  6. “On a scale of 1-10, how serious are these issues we’re discussing today?”
  7. “Who have you used in the past and why are you thinking of changing counsel?”
  8. “Other than yourself, who else might be involved in making this decision?”

Think of the power you will hold when someone shares her deepest fears and pains with you. This approach will not only make you a trusted partner, but it eliminates the need to storm in and pitch right away. Most lawyers find it’s easiest to sell by talking about what they know best, the law. There is a term for this and it’s called “free consulting.” The best rainmakers today are the ones who ask questions, listen and empathize.

The same skills you use in the courtroom need to be applied in the way you conduct your business development meetings with prospective new clients.

You will be more successful in business development when you build more rapport, qualify on the phone, and take a deeper dive when meeting.