How to Implement a Successful BD Coaching Initiative at Your Firm
Law firms of all sizes are struggling to grow as competition stiffens, clients grow more demanding, and outdated business models disincentivize desired behavior. Firm leadership is placing increasing emphasis on generating business development results, lawyers slowly and reluctantly adopt and adapt, and marketers struggle to unite the expectations of the former with the behaviors of the latter.
However, culture shift does not happen in one fell swoop – people need to agree to change, which can be a slow and incremental process. Marketers and business developers should consider implementing one of the most effective revenue-enablement initiatives we’ve seen in the industry: a business development coaching program with a select group of lawyers.
This definitive guide compiles best practices from our 20 years of experience with coaching lawyers, survey results from industry white papers, tried-and-true coaching strategies, and perspectives from seasoned legal marketers.
This guide is robust and approximately a 30-minute read. It also includes supplementary webinars, podcasts and articles in the right sidebar, so don’t hesitate to bookmark this page for later reference if you don’t have time to finish it now.
The Five Elements of a BD Coaching Initiative
In our experience, successful law firm business development coaching initiatives include five elements: plan, train, implement, track, outsource.
Tie the initiative to your firm’s strategic plan, gain buy-in from lawyers and leadership, and make a business case for budget approval.
Use tailored multi-modal training formats to educate lawyers on the most effective business development strategies.
Provide regular individual and/or group coaching to reinforce training principles, maintain engagement, and establish accountability.
Use technology like pipeline management or CRM to track lawyers’ business development activity, originations, and ROI on the initiative.
If your department is under-resourced, leverage the expertise of service providers to reduce the burden on your bandwidth, increase efficiency, and (often) ROI.
Use the menu buttons below to jump to each section.
Why BD Coaching?
In a recent market-wide survey, legal marketers rated business development coaching as the #1 most effective revenue generation strategy at their firm.
Firms can use this data to focus more on what’s working and less on what’s not. For example, despite the massive sums that law firms spend on advertising every year, print and digital advertising were rated least effective of all the strategies listed.
Law firms and marketing departments can improve their ROI by reallocating their investments toward proven high-performing initiatives like coaching.
Planning a Business Development Coaching Initiative
How to Obtain Buy-In
To put the problem in traditional sales terms, if your product is a BD coaching and your prospects are lawyers, you won’t be able to close them on participating if you don’t address their objections. And most lawyers are reluctant to engage in anything that might distract them from billable work unless their self-preservation depends on it. As any good salesperson will tell you, when your prospects show reluctance to buy, you must be able to counter their objections effectively.
Here are the top 4 most common objections you will encounter, and how to respond to them.
By far the most popular complaint among lawyers, this objection is also understandable. Fortunately, you can alleviate much of this burden by managing the organizational and administrative tasks involved. Schedule monthly meetings with each lawyer to review their pipelines. Help lawyers keep track of prospects using a simple task management or pipeline management system (rather than CRM, which lawyers rarely use). Ask them to send emails, make calls, and schedule lunches with prospects during this meeting, while you have a captive audience. Focus on activities that are easy to implement (e.g. happy hour with a client) rather than time-intensive endeavors like article-writing or conference attendance. After the meeting with your lawyer, update their pipeline with new activities and notes so you can follow up on the lawyer’s progress.
Most lawyers are in some degree of denial about their future at the firm. The fact is that unless they make business development a priority early in their career, they will find themselves bumping up against a glass ceiling when the topic of equity partnership comes due. Frame this conversation with your lawyers in terms of career enhancement. It’s possible that they don’t’ want to become rainmakers, in which case they can forgo business development altogether. But a book of business is the price of admission for influence.
This is another valid consideration among many lawyers. After all, they don’t teach sales in law school. However, many lawyers erroneously believe that business development requires casting a wide net, pursuing an unreasonable number of opportunities, and attempting to broker deals with people who are more or less unwilling or disinterested.
This is certainly not the case. Filling a pipeline with too many tenuous opportunities is not only time-consuming and stressful, it’s also ineffective. To address this concern, ask lawyers to follow Darryl Cross’s advice and identify 5 clients, 5 prospects, and 5 referral sources from whom they are most likely to obtain new business. Strengthening these 15 relationships is not only manageable; it leads to authentic dialogues within which lawyers can identify their contacts’ legal needs.
You probably won’t be able to get lawyers to voice this concern out loud, but it’s likely that they have some level of discomfort with the idea of business development if they show ongoing reluctance. The 3 methods above will work with the few lawyers who are willing to at least try, but to elicit willingness among the rest, there needs to be a sea change in the way lawyers perceive business development. The very word “sales” is taboo because it evokes ideas of pushy sales reps who will say anything to make a deal, even if it’s not in their prospect’s best interests. And if our industry can’t even use the word “sales” without flinching, it’s no wonder lawyers are reluctant to dedicate time to it.
To be effective, lawyers need to believe in their product and go into a sales dialogue with the intention to help. In the words of Jim Durham, “when lawyers think about these people as friends rather than targets, they start to understand that sales is not some bad thing they’re doing. They’re calling on their prospects because they care and want to help.”
In this webinar, Susan Longo and Aaron Garcia explain how to strategically structure your marketing budget, propose new initiatives, ask for more money, defend against budget cuts, and how to cope if you’ve got less money than expected.
“The amount of new client spending dwarfs the increases firms are making to their MBD budgets—making a compelling argument to boost those MBD budgets for 2019. One-third of law firms have already figured this out.”
1/3 of Law Firms Up Their Marketing Spending by BTI Consulting
Training Lawyers in Business Development
When it comes to business development, culture shift does not happen in one fell swoop – people need to agree to change, which can be a slow and incremental process. Marketers and business developers should consider implementing one of the most effective business development training formats we’ve seen in the industry: an intensive pilot program with a select group of service professionals.
Motivated candidates. Participant selection is one of the primary driving factors of success in any business development initiative. Invest in professionals who have demonstrated an appetite for business development by positioning the program as a privilege. Initiate the selection process with a participant application that examines their motivations for wanting to join the program and what they intend to accomplish. Be sure to pilot with early adopters rather than offer a firm-wide program – once the pilot group has demonstrated traction, their peers will be more likely to adopt. Include participants of various seniority levels, including junior professionals, and group them into similar vintage so that coaching sessions are relevant for everyone involved.
Time-efficient materials. Even the most enthusiastic professionals will balk if the training materials require too much of a time investment. Assemble a curriculum that requires a manageable amount of non-billable time on the order of a few hours per month. On-demand training materials and mobile apps can be particularly effective for Gen X and Y participants, and even for Baby Boomers provided the technology is not overly complex.
Regular triggers. According to the Fogg Behavior Model, in order for a desired behavior to occur there must be a requisite level of motivation, ability, and trigger occurring simultaneously. When someone has high motivation and the task is easy to do, a trigger will initiate the desired behavior. The lower the motivation level, the easier the task must be in order to get above the “action line.” In a business development intensive, marketers can provide triggers by way of email newsletters, push notifications, coaching sessions, in-person office visits, gamification scoreboards, and numerous other creative solutions.
Peer Pressure. Many service professionals are competitive by nature, so bringing them together for group coaching meetings not only inspires a sense of accountability (no one wants to be the one person who didn’t do their homework) but it can also act as a lever to the “motivation” axis mentioned in the chart above. Competitive participants can feel more motivated in a group or game setting, and will be more determined to complete tasks that may be difficult.
Begin the intensive with a group lunch-and-learn to set expectations for the structure of the program. Firm leadership give a strong opening message to set the tone of the initiative, letting participants know that the program will require an investment of time and effort and that success is wholly dependent on the participants. Let them know that there is a waitlist, so those who do not commit meaningfully will have to give up their seat for someone else who will.
During the kickoff, have the professionals evaluate their current abilities with a self-assessment survey. Provide a questionnaire that asks them to rate themselves using a scale of 1 to 10 on their various business development capabilities (such as the caliber of their network, their ability to articulate their personal brand, and their ability to persuade potential clients to hire them over the competition). The self-assessment survey can also include questions that identify participants’ strengths and goals. This will help them spend their limited time strategically. For example, a more introverted person might find that writing articles is their strong suit, while networking events are not a productive endeavor. So an effective goal for that professional might be to bolster their thought leadership by writing for industry publications, or to deepen their relationship with a client by co-authoring a white paper together.
Finally, the kickoff should establish expectations on how ROI will be measured. Ask the participants to complete a questionnaire that identifies a performance baseline. Include questions that measure proactive behaviors such as “business development touch-points per week” or “pitch meetings per month” rather than reactive indicators like “RFPs received.” An improvement in these key performance indicators is one way to measure ROI, as these behaviors are leading indicators of increased revenue.
The content of a business development intensive should be as convenient as possible. Consider using online materials to minimize the logistics of classroom-style “teaching.” Coordinating between multiple participants’ schedules to plan an in-person meeting is often next to impossible and will ensure you can only meet meaningfully every few months. Opt instead for on-demand videos or webinars, online reading material, and other content that participants can consume at their own pace.
Consider surveying the participants in advance to identify the types of content they want to learn about. While this may increase engagement, it may also create more work for the marketer who is tasked with providing this content. In general the intensive should focus on several key topics for associates and partners, respectively:
- Establish credibility
- Broaden network
- Define personal and digital brand
- Presentation skills
- Develop mentors
- Refine “go-to” status
- Develop client listening and opportunity spotting skills
- Hone pitching skills
- Mine opportunities from existing clients/network
The strategies above should also be tailored to each participant’s individual strengths. For example, an introverted associate may gain the most traction broadening their network through one-on-one meetings and asking for introductions, while a more extroverted associate may find better success delivering presentations at networking events.
In this webinar, David Ackert demonstrates how to avoid common BD training pitfalls, how to structure a clear pipeline of relationships, and how to motivate lawyers through coaching using effective accountability structures.
“BD training and client service aren’t one-time events; they are ongoing processes. Just as you should be interviewing your firm’s clients to stay abreast of their satisfaction level and needs, so you should be interviewing your clients — the lawyers — to find out what business development skills are needed next. Seek out the weak links of your business development culture so that your efforts have the biggest impact.”
Creating a Culture of Business Development: A Case Study by Susanne Mandel, Lowndes
Implementing the Program
Lawyer Pipeline Management
For many law firms, the need to engage in consistent business development and increase revenue continues to be met with indifference—and even resistance—from lawyers. But business development is paramount to remaining competitive in a hypersaturated marketplace. So, why is the work not being put in? One of the primary reasons is the inadequacy of the technology tools used by law firms. Fortunately, there are efficient and cost-effective alternatives available.
Read our case study on CRM vs. Pipeline Management for more information how how technology can help you track lawyer business development activity.
Tune into this podcast to hear David Ackert and Jenna Schiappacasse discuss Jenna’s methodology for providing BD coaching to a focused group of lawyers, plus practical approaches for conducting a meaningful coaching session with limited bandwidth.
In this webinar presented by David Ackert and Jeanne Hammerstrom, you will discover how to overcome common BD coaching challenges, like difficult personality types, lawyer reluctance, and navigating firm politics.
Regular coaching sessions are one of the best ways to provide accountability and maintain high engagement from participants. A group coaching model tends to work well for Generation X/Y professionals, who are usually not yet rainmakers and who benefit most from the peer pressure and competitive aspects of group coaching. Individual coaching works well for Baby Boomers, who tend to be more comfortable with sales and benefit most from targeted coaching around nurturing specific relationships.
If you don’t have an in-house person who can challenge the participants, don’t launch a program that requires them to change behavior. Your initiative will fizzle and the firm will remember business development training as an unsuccessful endeavor. If this is the case, consider upskilling your team’s coaching abilities by bringing in an external coach on a temporary basis or enrolling them in a business development course geared toward legal marketers.
The #1 challenge firms face with business development initiatives is a lack of accountability for professionals to stay engaged.
Work with firm leadership to establish effective accountability measures like rewards for excellence (e.g. public acknowledgement from a senior partner) and repercussions for non-participation (e.g. losing your seat in the program to someone on the waitlist). Establish these measures at the outset to set your participants’ expectations.
- Dealing with difficult personalities
- Internal politics
Why Leadership Support is Critical
“Many years ago, at one of the first RainDance conferences, one of my clients, who was Marketing Partner at his firm, joined me on the dais on Saturday morning. His first remarks got everyone’s attention: “You have the worst job imaginable. You’re essentially an internal service bureau, subject to unlimited demand that you must satisfy with very limited resources. Since you probably can’t ratchet up the resources, you’re going to have to reduce demand, and you’re going to have to get your firm’s leadership to back you on that.”
Without boundaries on demand, you guarantee constant firefighting mode.
Only the Executive Committee can establish and support those boundaries.”
Comment on “The Million Dollar Hamburger” by Brian Colucci
Tracking Results and ROI
Many legal marketers express a desire to help shape firm strategy, drive evolution, and act as business leaders rather than nudgers and project managers. But recent research shows that 50% of lawyers have a less-than-positive perception of their marketers’ contributions to firm strategy, and 67% of C-level marketers do not have a seat on their firm’s management committee.
Why? In our view, there are two reasons: one, most legal marketing and business development staff do not directly generate revenue. And two, many struggle to draw even an indirect line between their efforts and new business development revenue. Without this proof-of-concept, or justification of one’s budget, many partners simply don’t appreciate the full value that marketers bring to the table.
To move beyond “support staff” to “strategic advisor,” it is incumbent upon marketers to create their own seat at the table. We posit that marketers can accomplish this by converting a sea of data into actionable intelligence through the aggregation and analysis of key business metrics. Tracking metrics equips marketers with the ability to:
- Identify inefficiencies, wasteful expenditures, under-performing lawyers, or unprofitable clients.
- Determine which marketing and business development initiatives generate the greatest ROI.
- Enable new revenue by identifying leads and cross-selling opportunities.
- Improve pricing models by tracking AFAs, discounts, and realization.
- Demonstrate that the marketing department is a profit center rather than a cost center.
Metrics-tracking platforms such as Practice Viewer can be helpful for capturing data and pointing to “cultural ROI” that will set the stage for wider business development adoption throughout the firm.
Key Metrics to Track
These metrics can be tracked using CRM, a pipeline management tool, or billing software in some cases. Excel can be used to track any of these manually, but the time required to maintain spreadsheets may outweigh the potential benefits of tracking the metrics. Practice Viewer can integrate with all of the aforementioned platforms to display these metrics automatically.
When it comes to business development coaching, origination is only one data point; place more emphasis on short-term, high-yield leading indicators that are within your lawyers’ control (e.g. client site visits, incoming referrals, or pitch meetings). Measure these proactive KPIs against an initial baseline to identify improvements in behavior.
What percentage of your clients are new clients?
Marketing Department Response
- Establish a baseline expectation. Watch for aberrations or downward trends.
- Analyze weaknesses in the sales funnel leading to new client acquisition. Are the attorneys meeting enough new contacts? Are they properly managing their referral sources? Do they know how to ask for and close business with prospects?
- Design training, programs, and coaching to address pipeline issues.
- Have business development managers keep the topic top of mind at attorney meetings.
Are your current clients growing? At what rate?
Marketing Department Response
- Decide if this metric should be analyzed for the firm as a whole or by practice group.
- Educate attorneys about client growth expectations. Teach them to look for opportunities to grow an account.
- Foster strong attorney connections across the firm so that they have colleagues to turn to when a cross-sell opportunity presents itself.
- Evangelize the success of growing client accounts. Do this for both large and small clients to illustrate how it is done.
- Have clients come to speak at attorney retreats about what prompts them to increase their utilization of an outside counsel firm.
What percentage of your clients are generating revenue from more than one practice area? What percentage of your clients are cross-sold?
Marketing Department Response
- Same as above. Also, discuss with the comp department about what incentives exist or could be created to drive collaboration and cross-selling.
- Encourage attorneys to form connections with colleagues within the firm so that they can have a variety of names on hand to reference in cross-selling conversations.
What percentage of current client revenue is a result of cross-selling?
Marketing Department Response
- Same as above (see Client Expansion, Cross-Selling)
- Look for accounts where the revenue increased dramatically as a result of cross-selling. Promote that as an internal success example.
- Demonstrate that total client account value is highly correlated to cross-selling. Market that fact at retreats and in trainings.
On average, how productive at developing new business is a partner in the firm? Is our firm becoming more or less productive at developing new business?
Marketing Department Response
- Compare with individual attorney productivity reports to spot individuals who may need BD coaching help. Determine if they are managing their pipeline well.
- Communicate this number or at least questions about the topic during lateral hiring and onboarding.
How efficiently do attorneys use non-billable hours to get new clients? Are they becoming more or less efficient at business development?
Marketing Department Response
- Analyze where the marketing or admins could offload inefficient marketing time from attorneys (e.g. corresponding with reporters about PR opportunities, scheduling BD travel).
- Coach attorneys about what activities for them constitute high-value BD time.
- If some attorneys have an above-average number of marketing hours and very low efficiency, make sure that they aren’t funneling some non-billable client work into the marketing category to preserve realization.
Outsourcing Elements of a Coaching Program
Effectively outsourcing certain elements of a coaching program can greatly reduce the burden on your department’s bandwidth, while leveraging the strengths of service providers, and generate a greater ROI than if you were to do it all in-house.
Outsourcing a Training Curriculum
If you don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to develop your own training curriculum, consider outsourcing this portion of your initiative. Practice Boomers is a low-cost online training program that offers a series of video tutorials, a relationship tracking tool, and 150+ specific action steps that create proven practice growth. Our clients routinely generate 3-10x ROI. Watch four sample tutorials below.
Success Story: Outsourcing BD Training and Coaching
“By the end of the year, lawyers rated themselves as having improved by more than 20% in their business development capabilities and habits. 100% of the lawyers surpassed their revenue targets. The total new revenue generated by the lawyers in the program was over $1 million, representing a return of 1,374% on the Practice Boomers investment within 12 months.”
Allysn Hurley, Tucker Arensberg
Practice Boomers Case Study