More and more so, business development is becoming a strategic focus as law firms look for ways to survive and thrive in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive market. Dave Kuhlman of Axiom Consulting Partners knows this well. With over 20 years of experience, Dave has worked with some of the leading professional firms in the world, improving collaboration and motivation, addressing strategic challenges and generally helping them continue to evolve competitively. We interviewed him to glean insights into practical steps law firms can take to harness business development to move their businesses forward.
Embrace a Generous Mind-Set
According to Dave, not only is it a best practice to generously share information and ideas with clients, it’s impactful to a firm’s brand. “Clients form a distinct picture of a firm based not so much on advertisements or brochures, but based on their interactions with the firm. Firms that succeed most over the longest period of time are very consistent in the values and characteristics they embody in every interaction. That consistency enables the firm to rise above the noise of same-sounding marketing and create a distinctive impression that leaves prospective and existing clients thinking, ‘Ah, I know who these people are, what they’re like and what they stand for.’ ”
Cultivate a Culture of Sharing
As Dave explains it, a culture of sharing is also force multiplier. Different people contribute different skills, which can be brought to bear to better serve clients. Plus, simply working through situations together candidly and constructively not only increases the likelihood of success, it drives personal growth. This, in turn, improves employee retention since professionals often show preference for firms that support their growth.
To encourage consistent and firm-wide sharing, Dave insists firms must do the following:
- Break the “eat what you kill” mind-set by penalizing lone wolves. Make it clear that the firm is behind a “we’re in this together” attitude, and pave the way for collaborative approaches.
- Increase transparency and information flow. This is closely related to abandoning the lone-wolf approach. Rather than each partner and lawyer holding their knowledge close to the vest, everyone should be encouraged to pool their knowledge for the good of the firm.
- Cultivate an environment of feedback and continual improvement. Again, if your work environment has long tolerated a lone-wolf mentality, people are likely hesitant to ask for assistance. Everyone needs to know it’s okay to need and ask for help.
Enhance Client Retention By Adding Value
There are no two ways about it: Client retention hinges on delivering outstanding legal services. That, Dave makes clear, is the foundation for successful retention efforts. With that foundation in place, Dave says the biggest driver of retention is adding value outside of the firm’s core work. Firms should brainstorm on ways they can provide value to their clients above and beyond the expected. Whether it comes in the form of a meaningful insight, an invitation to a round-table discussion on current topics, or an introduction to a subject matter expert, such actions demonstrate the firm’s commitment and increases feelings of goodwill.
Invest in Business Development
Dave rightly underscores that if lawyers wanted to excel at developing business, they would go to business school. “In many ways, the formidable skill set lawyers bring to the table doesn’t naturally lend itself well to business development. They can develop business, but it works better when they pair up with a colleague whose profession is business development.”
With that in mind, Dave recommends law firms employ the following measures to get the most from their business development activities:
- Ensure business development professionals build relationships of mutual respect with lawyers. “Get past the ‘business development as minion’ mind-set and instead see it as ‘two professionals with different skill sets working together.’”
- Establish objective standards for results and measure against them. Only by tracking performance can firms continually improve the impact of their business development efforts.
- Focus wisely on insights. Determine the “smallest activities” (those requiring the least amount of effort and time) that make the greatest impact. Focus on doing more of these to achieve bigger results while wasting fewer cycles.
- Invest in the people and internal relationships that create productive lawyer-business developer relationships.