The five rules of business development

This resource was also featured as a Briefing Industry Analysis in the September 2015 issue of Briefing magazine. To read the issue in full, download Briefing magazine. 

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If you boil it down to its simplest form, business development follows five simple rules. 

Those are to increase your number of clients; to increase the monetary value of each client opportunity; to increase the rate at which clients buy services; to reduce the cost of influencing clients to make buying decisions; and to reduce the time those decisions take.

Reputation, relationships, relevance and results have always been essential to a law firm’s ability to achieve business development success. But the rise of technology over the last decade has also transformed the terrain. There are new rules.

We now operate in a world where competitors have more knowledge about your clients than ever before, and they can reach them easier, cheaper and faster. And it’s not just about the way referral and reputation has become ever more digitised. Technology has optimised, automated and disrupted, leading to new business models, price suppression and commoditisation. As a result, long established brands are not doing the same job, nor having the same impact. But is technology alone driving this change or are the winners simply developing a new way of thinking in response to the changing environment?

Redrawing battle lines

21 October 1805 is a date history buffs will know marks the Battle of Trafalgar, an event that may offer some insight into opportunities and threats facing law firms.

At Trafalgar, the commander of the British fleet, Lord Nelson, faced a Franco-Spanish combined force of 33 ships (against his 27). He was outnumbered and outgunned. Conventional battle tactics of the day were to line up parallel to your opponent and fire. More ships and guns would normally create a tactical advantage.

Undaunted by the challenge, Nelson decided to split his force into two columns and drive them straight into the Franco-Spanish line. In effect, he cut their force into three. This was an unusual tactic, but Nelson understood the competitive landscape had changed and the force he faced couldn’t be tackled with the same tactics used by everybody else. Defeat was unthinkable. A revision of convention was essential. He had to use the full power of the technology and resources available to him to do something different.

Faced with economic and competitive change, law firms also face many challenges – not as life threating as those posed at Trafalgar in 1805, but daunting nonetheless. But perhaps more daunting are the myriad of options now available to reach clients, create engagement and inform buying behaviours. CRM, mobile, email, web, events and a plethora of social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and SlideShare, are creating micro segments and opportunities for direct conversations on a scale once thought improbable. Each requires time, energy and expertise to get the desired results. The biggest challenge is knowing where to begin.

What’s clear is that digital has given law firms the ability to reach an audience faster and cheaper. But the fact the ability to do something exists doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. Like ships lining up to fire on one another, it would seem that some firms still use the technologies of business development to create and distribute rafts of content because they believe that if they don’t, the competition will. It’s a strategy based on fear and it has resulted in a lot of noise.

Intelligent attack

Faced with the opportunity to do something different, Nelson didn’t follow a whim. He considered the low morale of the competitive force, analysed their limited skills in targeting and cannon fire and calculated the swell in battle would work to his advantage. He also concentrated his force on the parts of the enemy fleet that he perceived were most vulnerable. In the end, the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 of their 33 ships without the British conceding one. The battle was won by a clear understanding of the problem, based on data converted into intelligence and packaged into an executable plan. It’s the same with law firms using technology to win the field in marketing and business development today.

Every engagement with a client is an opportunity to gather data about wants, needs and requirements. Every email, comment and white paper provides a rich trove of information about how you’re perceived, how often, when, and on what device. Intelligence, not content, is the focus. It’s the blueprint for success, made possible through the power of technology.

Rather than adding to the noise in the field, use the resources available to let clients make buying decisions. The real power of digital in business development is the opportunity it gives firms, not to talk, but to listen, analyse, consider and then respond.

Wider adoption of digital technologies in business development will undoubtedly mean more measurement and better targeting, but only if underpinned by effective thinking and the ability to execute. Technology is a powerful tool, but only ever as powerful as the hand that wields it.

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