By Ben Paul
Back in 2016 I wrote an article in LawTalk that outlined the nine habits of a rainmaker (“The top nine habits of a rainmaker”, LawTalk 890, 17 June 2016, pages 38-39). While a lot of those basic business development and relationship building habits are still important, with a very different economic outlook and a very different mood of your clients and potential clients, we need to adjust for the new normal.
The first thing to note, for those providing legal services that are not in the frontline of dealing with the immediate fall-out from business stress: now is the perfect time to get your BD house in order.
Post-GFC, the companies and firms that invested in their marketing efforts came out the other side of the recession with a bigger market share and increased earnings compared to their competitors who did not. This means that when assessing the costs in your firms as you face economic uncertainty, try to avoid reducing your marketing spend, as while it may help maintain profits this year, it will have a negative impact on your future growth. The good news is that maintaining your overall marketing spend will most likely mean that you will be able to increase what you can achieve with it. Sadly, for the advertising and sponsorship industry, decreased demand means that the cost for their services and the purchasing of advertising space has come down dramatically.
Over the years I’ve worked with several rainmakers and lawyers who are naturally good at winning work for themselves and their firms. I also worked in business development in London during the GFC, and based on these experiences I have shared a simple seven-step approach to take to become a rainmaker in the new normal.
1. Be kind
This has been a major ‘slogan’ during the COVID-19 pandemic and our Prime Minister has referred to it a great deal. It is a mindset that when interacting with clients and potential future clients, it is important to adopt. A great deal of the individuals you will be talking to will be highly stressed and concerned about the future of their businesses, and their employees whose livelihoods depend on them. More than ever, being kind to everyone you interact with will be appreciated and will start your interactions on the right note.
2. Listen intently
Those who provide legal services to clients are essentially providing two services – legal expertise and consultancy services. In the current climate, in your initial conversations with clients and potential clients, I’d recommend you forget you are a lawyer! Think more like a consultant, one that is focused on really trying to fully understand the person they are talking to. In fact, in the current climate, you’ll potentially feel more like a counsellor, listening to your clients’ problems and worries. Like all good counsellors, seek to listen, empathise, but do not try to solve all the problems. Your clients are looking to share their burdens, not get all the answers from you, certainly not in one call at least!
3. Be the connector. Share your networks
In the months ahead, the people and businesses you engage with will have a myriad of problems. Lots of these you will not be able to assist with; however, you’ll most likely know other people who can. Think about how you can connect your clients, who is best placed to help them, and spend time making those introductions. This will help your clients’ businesses recover, and in the long term they’ll appreciate you for this. No doubt, doing this selflessly will provide you with clients for life.
4. Avoid pitching your services
If there ever was a time (which is doubtful) for an elevator pitch, or sending your capability statements over to a client, now is certainly not it. It really does change how a client in stress will perceive you. If you call or email them asking them how they are and expressing genuine concern for them and their business, then you have made a great start. If you then immediately follow it up with a pitch for work, then you’ve completely undone that great start. In one fell swoop, the client will think you only called them because you want their money.
5. Try to avoid asking for the work
Like the above, in the current climate it will be poorly received. Your clients are worried about their cash-flow and paying their committed bills. They will no doubt need your help, or your firm’s help, and when the time is right, if you’ve done all of the above, they will ask you for it.
6. When engaged on a matter, be considerate and continue to listen
Once engaged on a matter, it is more important than ever to go beyond just doing a good job. If you can hold your client’s hand through the process, keep them informed of what’s coming, and be transparent about all likely costs (those you control/invoice and any others they may incur), they’ll really appreciate it. If you can continue to show empathy and understanding for their personal circumstances, it will really enhance your personal brand. As well as a delighted client, the upside of doing this is they will be far more likely to recommend you to their contacts. Client referrals are gold and are one of the best ways of winning new work.
7. Make time for personal branding and marketing
The traditional seminars, networking event and coffee catchups you may have been engaging in previously have been superseded by webinars, virtual meetings and social networking. Some people may take a long time to feel comfortable with having in-person meetings and social gatherings. It is hard to know when all people will get this comfort back again. This means that more than ever it is important that you ensure your profile on your website, and more importantly your LinkedIn profile, is up to date.
Start to think about what you want your clients, and intended target clients, to know you for. What do you want them to think of when they think of you? From this starting point, update your profile and then ensure your marketing activities are linked to this clearly. Whether you write articles, blogs or conduct webinars, there needs to be a consistent focus.
The world has changed. To be an effective rainmaker in the new normal, you’ll need to be more effective in conducting marketing and business development online. You’ll also need to be more empathetic and look to become your client’s trusted advisor, in the months ahead. In the post-COVID economy, those who truly listen and help their clients, will be the ones who succeed.
Ben Paul is Director and Founder of the BD Ladder, a consultancy focused on helping legal and professional services firms. Ben has over 20 years’ experience in New Zealand and the UK in business development and marketing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.