The Current State of Business Development | David Ackert

In early June, I discussed the state of business development with a group of legal marketing and business development experts during a virtual session of the LSSO Global Sales Summit. They were candid when asked about how their firms are currently faring in three critical areas: lead sourcing, lead tracking, and new business forecasting.  

Sourcing Leads for the Funnel

Legal marketing and business development leaders are chomping at the bit to get lawyers back to pursuing leads. The group used terms like stirring the pot and lighting a fire to describe their current efforts to get lawyers physically outside the office and meeting with clients and prospects, as appropriate.  

One chief business and development officer shared, “After working from home for the last year, I’m telling lawyers this is the summer of love. Between now and Labor Day, lawyers need to physically go see people and stop using technology as a crutch. They need to visit clients and prospects – get out there and start generating interpersonal activity.” 

And it seems at least some lawyers are on board. A chief marketing and business development officer told the group, “We’re starting to get people back out there, visiting clients. We’re seeing expense reports being put in for tickets to ball games and dinners.”  

He also said his firm relies on thought leadership in target publications to source leads and that, surprisingly, he’s seeing more referrals come in and general counsels reach out after having researched the firm. 

When asked where his firm is seeking leads, a third chief marketing and business development officer responded, “I like to look back to look forward; figure out where we’re adding value and seek more of those opportunities. We also use LinkedIn Sales Navigator and social listening to see what clients and prospects are talking about and then leverage those in-roads in our outreach.” 

New Business Forecasting 

When asked if they had formal forecasting mechanisms in place, the group admitted that forecasting is in a similar state as tracking, but it’s not all bad news. One chief marketing and business development officer said, “My firm has a method of prioritizing leads. We rank prospects based on whether they have done business with us before and focus on those with the highest probability of selling.” Another acknowledged how PipelinePlus allows his firm to flag prospects as low, medium or high value and estimate the dollar value of the opportunity, which helps with forecasting.  

Despite the range of approaches shared during the discussion, two common themes emerged: Firstly, the pandemic helped to accelerate law firm business development evolution to a small degree, prompting certain firms to integrate new technologies and processes. Secondly, lawyers continue to require considerable coaching and prodding to stay engaged in the process with a strong reliance on support from marketing and business development departments. 

Tracking Leads

When it comes to tracking leads as they move through the funnel, the participants all agreed the reality of how it’s being done at their firms falls short of where they’d like it to be.  

A chief marketing and business development officer who reported optimistically about the leads his firm is generating also admitted, “We have a haphazard process of organizing and tracking business development activity – mostly Excel sheets. We have a CRM that has a few power users, some occasional users, but mostly non-users, so my team has to follow-up with lawyers on leads, put things on attorneys’ calendars for them, and create the Excel sheets.” 

Another reported that his firm has very simplistic tracking, like xl sheets, but he’s working toward getting to AI. “For now, though,” he said, “My team is doing the work for the lawyers. We don’t make them do manual things. Even then, they sometimes don’t want to share information with us so we can do the work for them.” 

Some firms are advancing beyond Microsoft Excel to manage their business development process. 

A chief marketing officer shared that her team is still doing a lot of hand-holding with lawyers, but they are trying to coach them to own the process more. She said, “For now, my team is tracking pitches, but we are trying to get to the promised land of dashboards and formal tracking. We started integrating PipelinePlus into our one-on-one coaching sessions with lawyers. It helps that I can share business development activity reports for firm leadership.” 

A Senior Marketing Manager shared, “We recently rolled out a CRM, but the challenge is getting lawyers engaged with it. We even hold expense reimbursements hostage to try to help.”  

He claimed his team is working hard to get lawyers to realize the value of the tool. “The assistants log in for the attorneys manually, but my team is encouraging attorneys to use the information in the system. We provide them with details to help them follow up with leads and make sure they know that the information is from the CRM.”  

For now, though, he shared, “My team uses the CRM to pull a weekly report on leads and the time of last activity, so if an opportunity has stalled, we can urge lawyers to re-engage.”