Don’t make assumptions.

I ran across this quote recently:

what's your favorite traveldestination- (2)

So true, isn’t it? And yet, we all tend to make assumptions.

  • That client is thrilled with our engagement; this one isn’t.
  • That target client is represented and has no interest in moving; that one understands the legal situation that’s cropped up but can’t (or won’t) spend the money to resolve it.
  • That contact knows what kind of work I do and knows I’d like to get referrals.

What assumptions are you making that may affect your business development success? How can you test them?


What can law schools teach you now?

I recently paged through the Vanderbilt University alumni magazine and ran across a story titled Law 2.0: Vanderbilt Law School Innovates to Stay Ahead. The article provides a nice summary of the practice a law in the years leading up to the Great Recession, the shifts that the economic crisis created, and the efforts to adapt. Little of that, of course, is news at this late date, but several quotes jumped out at me:

  • “Some commentators call this the ‘new normal.’ I call it the ‘post-normal.’ We don’t know what the new normal is yet for law firms, but we know there’s no going back to how it was.” J.B. Ruhl, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Professor of Law at Vanderbilt
  • “The billable hours don’t indicate value at all. The firm that I hire really needs to help me reach a business result, and that business result is not 1,000 hours.” Julie Ortmeier, vice president, general counsel and secretary for Carfax
  • “Succeeding at a law firm today is more about forging an entrepreneurial, business-oriented path than simply executing good legal work.” Andy Bayman, partner at King & Spalding
  • Daniel Reed, CEO of UnitedLex, a global consulting and legal services firm that offers comprehensive technological solutions for law firms, corporations and law schools, believes the technological revolution in law is only just beginning. “If this is a baseball game,” he says, “we are probably still in the first inning of change.”


The article also describes the Program on Law and Innovation, Vanderbilt Law’s response to all of the changes in the legal profession, providing core training in e-discovery, legal project management, law and technology, and legal futurism. Although other programs are not discussed in this article, other schools are also working to identify the skills and new disciplines that law students need to master to be competitive. (See, for example, the regrettably defunct Law School Innovation blog, the Legal Tech & Innovation Concentration at Suffolk University Law School, and the Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice Seminar at Georgetown Law School.)

For those already in practice, so what? While I believe it’s too early to call these new topics and programs required, some programs seem to have been launched at least in part in response to the criticisms about the value of law school and the ease and profitability of entering the practice of law. It would not be surprising to find that new lawyers who have completed them have a leg up if only because taking part in these programs indicates an understanding of the importance of the business of law, which is now a key client focus. You need not adopt the new approaches fully, but failing to be aware of and fluent concerning them may in time mark you as a legal dinosaur—hardly a competitive advantage.

Tracking which topics and programs are successful also allows you to make a call about legal fads versus legal futures. When you see the basis for program initiation and the response, you have an opportunity to be an early adopter of the trends that will speak most directly to your clients.

And if you’re feeling off the hook because you don’t work in a large firm—not so fast; small firm practitioners may have a better opportunity to innovate simply because you usually have to cut through less red tape to implement new ideas.

Here’s the bottom line: you need not go back to law school to learn about today’s innovations, but you can’t afford to quit studying.

Two keys to biz dev perseverance and success.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of your business development sails? That can happen when you expect to land some new business and it doesn’t happen, when you hit a few closed doors in a row, or even when you lay out your business development plan and feel exhausted just looking at it. Nobody said building a book of business is easy or fast.

Here’s what makes it less frustrating: doing business development activity on a consistent basis and tracking what you do and your results. When you act consistently and build a track record to look back on, you’ll find it easier to keep on keeping on.

I’ve written extensively about the need for consistency. In talking with several clients recently who were slammed with billable work and leaving business development work on the back burner as a result, I suggested this:

  1. Determine, with all the clear-eyed realism you can muster, how much time you can make available for business development activity on a daily basis.
  2. Block that amount of time on your daily calendar.

  3. Categorize your task list based on the type of activity (contexts, to use Getting Things Done language) and on the amount of time necessary for completion.
  4. Work on one “chunk” of activity each day. If your tasks take less time than you have available, cross a couple of items off your list. If they take more time than you have available, define and complete one step toward the task.

You probably won’t keep your scheduled block every single day, but if the blocks are on your calendar, you have a much better chance of making consistent progress than if you only have one block of time set aside per week.


I’ve also written about parallels between business development and going to the gym. Last month, I shifted from a small local gym to my neighborhood YMCA, and I discovered a new parallel: tracking matters!

My new gym features Fitlinxx®, small screens that show the proper settings for each machine and connect to an online program that tracks participants’ activity. Through Fitlinxx®, I can see historical data about what machines I used, how much weight I lifted, and how much cardio or other activity I performed, along with my standings among other FitLinxx® members. I not only stay motivated (right now, I’m #8 among women in my age range in my gym, and I’m just over 200 points behind the #5 position—hello, competition with myself to move up!) but I can also correlate how I performed with how I’m feeling, how I’m sleeping, and so on. All of this data is measurable and meaningful to me, and I can use it to help me improve.

So too with tracking your business development activity and results. When you track what you did and what happened as a result, you’ll get data that will tell you what you can and should do to improve your results. (Do more of what works well and eliminate what doesn’t work, and use the data to tell you which is which.) You may also find that tracking your activity is motivating in itself, and if you share it with an accountability partner (a peer or a coach) you’ll likely find that you do more activity and work to do better.

Here’s the bottom line on tracking:

Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.

You can find more information on how to track your results in Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker, and you may download a sample tracking sheet here.

How will you build consistency and tracking into your business development approach?

Are you ready to thrive in your practice?

Two offerings for you this week.

1. The next round of Coursera’s Better Leader, Richer Life begins on October 5. This free online course is taught by Steward Friedman and based on his bookTotal Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. If you’ve ever felt like there isn’t enough time for your practice and your family and serving your community and meeting your own personal needs, you can’t afford to miss this opportunity.Click here to register.

2.  Have you ever stopped yourself from applying for a job because you aren’t 100% qualified?  An interesting post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network addresses this situation, and though it speak specifically to women, it should be required reading for women and men alike. Not looking for a job? Read on anyway:  The discussion applies equally to responding to an RFP or asking for business.

For you to consider…Do you stop yourself from seeking to get hired because you don’t meet the requirements (or perceived requirements)? Do you stop yourself because you don’t think you can do the work?The article’s conclusion is that women should spend less time observing “requirements” that may be only guidelines or a wish list.

What does this have to do with business development?
An RFP may have explicit requirements, or you may perceive that a contact is looking for certain qualifications that you don’t fully meet. Sometimes it makes sense not to answer an RFP or to ask for the business, but it’s important not to psyche yourself out of an opportunity.

Consider this:

Major decisions were made and resources were allocated based not on good data or thoughtful reflection, but based on who had built the right relationships and had the chutzpah to propose big plans.  It took me a while to understand that the habits of diligent preparation and doing quality work that I’d learned in school were not the only—or even primary—ingredients I needed to become visible and successful within my organization.

That goes double in the context of business development.

Finally, for those of you in the United States, Happy Labor Day weekend! 

Fear can be good news!

I’ve been talking about fear with my clients quite a lot recently. (If you’re feeling fear, trust me, you aren’t the only one!) Sometimes it’s the fear of taking a step–more accurately, the fear of making a misstep. The fear of losing what you have (either material belongings or a reputation or self-identity) can be paralyzing, even if you know that you can’t get the next thing you want without giving up something you now have. And the fear of missing out has become so commonly identified that it has its own acronym, FOMO. Neither last nor least is the ubiquitous fear of rejection, which nearly everyone feels at some time.

Years ago the title of a popular book proclaimed, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. While the title is attractive, in my experience it’s hard to follow. In fact, given the typical risk resistance that most lawyers have by nature and/or nurture, it may be tougher for lawyers than for others who spend less time thinking about what might go wrong.

I was mulling how to talk to my clients about acknowledging fear, mitigating risk, and then moving forward when I found this article by Seth Godin. This sentence hit home for me: “The reason you’re afraid is that there’s leverage here, something might happen.” (The rest of this brief article is also worth a read.)

What would happen if you were to view fear as a signal both to be aware of potential snags and also to get moving?  Why not test it this week: take a moment and notice what you’ve been delaying or what has you paralyzed. Do you not have any idea how or when to take the step you’ve been contemplating? Or are you afraid that it won’t go well, that you’ll jeopardize a relationship or a position, that you might even fail? Take a breath…then take a first step.

Because in addition to the problems Godin notes about waiting for the fear to subside, there’s one more challenge: Sometimes the fear just doesn’t subside. And then you’re really and truly stuck.

So don’t wait. Get whatever assistance you may need (whether tactical or just someone to whom you can safely admit your fear), then get it done.

Legal Business Development: Plans Are Important, But Nothing Happens Without Action!

It’s obvious that action is required to bring in new business, right? 
Sometimes, though, you have a great justification for not action…  When everyone is out of town or busy, when you’d like to get started with networking, but no available group feels like a good fit, when you just don’t know where or how to get published or to get an opportunity to speak, what then?

Here’s the simple truth:  you will hit roadblocks, quagmires of uncertainty or doubt, and even roadblocks in your business development journey.

A few of my clients have run into this situation, and their response often predicts (or even determines) their level of success.  Those who move forward in a helpful direction, even if it isn’t optimal, tend to do well; those who stall out and wait for the “right” conditions tend to flail and eventually fail.  The successful ones pursue a common line of analysis, and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

Step one:  determine whether this is an obstacle, meaning a temporary challenge that can be resolve through action or by the passage of time, or a roadblock, meaning a long-lasting challenge that is due to issues you don’t control.  Imagine that you’ve identified an organization that sounds ideal for your practice.  If it’s on hiatus for the summer, that’s just an obstacle.  If your review of the events calendar shows that activity has dwindled to nothing and that the organization appears to be moribund, that may be a roadblock.

Solve or wait out obstacles; strategize an alternative approach to get around a roadblock.  Continuing the organization example, if the group is on hiatus for the summer, you can simply wait for Fall to get involved, and perhaps you can consider helping the group find ways to stay active even over the summer.  If the group is moribund, however, even though you could try to revive it, it probably wouldn’t be the best use of your resources, so you should look for another activity.

Step two:  if you’re waiting out an obstacle, get started with something else in the meantime; if you’ve hit a roadblock, go to plan B.  Could you identify some leaders in the group whom you might contact directly?  Is there a next best organization you might join?  You might choose instead to work on getting an article written and published, or you might track down a speaking opportunity that makes sense for your strategic plan.

There is always a viable Plan B.  If you find that you’re tied to a single approach, pull out a piece of paper and brainstorm alternatives, giving yourself permission to list even the silliest ideas in service of finding the right idea.

Whether you adjust your plans to move around an obstacle or a roadblock, you must keep moving.  Don’t allow an obstacle to prevent you from launching or continuing your business development plan.  There’s always more than one route to a goal.  Choosing to wait until you can execute your original plan (or even what feels like the best plan) is analogous to delaying the start of an exercise program because you plan to ride your bike but can’t because it’s monsoon season.

In summary:  make your plans, but be ready to adjust them in response to obstacles and roadblocks.  Plans are important, but when it comes to business development (and just about everything else, too), nothing happens without activity.

Legal Business Development: Where do you stop yourself from getting results?

A few days ago, a colleague and I were swapping stories about our business missteps:  the things that just didn’t work, and the things that were colossal, flaming failures.
 To listen to us, you might think that neither of us had a viable business, must less a successful one–but fortunately, that isn’t at all the case.

Although the failure stories are fun to tell (with sufficient hindsight and success in the time since), the real story is in how we respond to the failures and, more importantly, how we turn failures into success.  Stella and I shared experiences in which we’d had to undertake massive action to change course and shift our results.  Sometimes graceful, usually not, we’d refused to quit until we had succeeded.

Toward the end of our conversation, Stella said, “That’s the difference between success and failure:
knowing when to quit, and when to dig in and do what it takes to succeed.”

Are you stopping yourself when instead you should shift strategy and keep going?  Here are some indicators:

  • Have you put in enough effort?  I attended a Christian high school, and every classroom included a poster that read, “Bless me, Lord, according to my preparation.”  Religion aside, if your preparation has been half-hearted, you can’t expect good results.  Be honest:  have you put in the necessary time and energy to get the results you want?
  • Are you picking apart opportunities unfairly?  Lawyers are highly skilled at finding problems, and that skill sometimes undermines business development.  For example, are you waiting until you find the perfect opportunity to get active in a relevant industry organization?  Are you searching for the perfect speaking opportunity?  If no action seems to have a sufficient likelihood of success, you may stop yourself from taking any action at all — and that’s a certain route to failure.
  • Are you unconsciously looking for proof that you can’t land business?  If you believe that business development is a talent that you may lack, you may unintentionally expect and then highlight any evidence to support that proposition.  Do you expect to succeed?
  • Do you feel disheartened? It’s ok to feel discouraged for a time, but recognize that feeling as an impotent emotion.  When you’re disheartened, you’ve given up and your activity will grind to a halt.A client once consulted me on an upcoming pitch and described some of the challenges that might prevent him from getting the matter.  Rick’s tone was downcast, though he put a good face on it by asking how he could address the problems in the future, so he might succeed next time.  He had already given up on the pitch, which ensured that he would not be successful.I pointed out that he had declared failure prematurely and challenged him to buckle down and shoot for success or to bow out of the pitch contest altogether.  Rick chose to strategize how to meet the challenges that had consumed him.  He was irritated (first with me, then with the challenges themselves) and he used that energy to create and deliver a powerful pitch, and a few days later he received the good news that he’d been retained.

    When things aren’t working out, take a bit of time to be disappointed, but then get your energy flowing.  Do whatever you do to pump yourself up (work out, listen to powerful music, review a list of your successful engagements) and then get active.

  • Do you have a partner who can push you forward?  I pushed Rick forward, and many times my mentors have urged me to continue when I really wanted to give up.  Be sure that you have a mentor who can offer objective insight into whether you should keep going and who will give you a swift kick if you stop yourself.  You may find this a difficult determination at times, and outside help and support makes all the difference.

A successful business development plan will require you to give up unsuccessful activities, but before you stop, be sure that you’re stopping for the right reasons.  Don’t allow the discomfort or discouragement to stop you short.

Legal Rainmaking: To Sell Is…

This week, I met with a lawyer who’s been in practice for 50 years, who will be using The Reluctant Rainmaker to teach a law school class on business development.  We touched on how the practice has changed over the years and why he encouraged his sons to become lawyers, but the bulk of our conversation centered on how he has marketed his practice over the years.  Perhaps you’ll be interested in these three takeaways from our talk:

  1. Business development starts with personal development and must be grounded in integrity, authenticity, and truth.  Turns out that we’re both fans of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I recommended The Speed of Trust by Covey’s son, Stephen M. R. Covey.
  2. Small, consistent touches are memorable and build relationships.  For instance, this lawyer sends a book that meant a great deal to him when his mother died whenever he learns of a death in a client’s immediate family.  His firm also uses a client satisfaction form at the close of every representation, and he’s created cards to send whenever he sees a client mentioned in the news.
  3. Meeting new people is critical to the success of any practice.  This lawyer serves on several boards, speaks regularly to associations relevant to his practice, and is active in a wide variety of community activities.  As we discussed, the small, consistent touches won’t accomplish anything if you don’t have people to receive them.

We also agreed that too many lawyers have bought into the myth that sales is inapplicable to professionals.  Every lawyer must understand how to sell, and that’s why I’ve reviewed Daniel Pink’s recent book To Sell Is Human recently.  Read about that here.

Out of curiosity, how would you complete the sentence stem, To sell is…?


Legal Marketing: To Sell Is Human

The subtitle of Daniel Pink’s recent book To Sell Is Human is The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.  I’m not entirely sure that the truths shared in the book are altogether surprising, but the book puts a human, approachable face on a necessary skill that suffers from a bad reputation.

Pink starts by proving that we’re all in sales now.  He defines sales as the business of persuading, convincing, and influencing, which he calls “moving” others.  With a definition that broad, it’s almost impossible to find someone who isn’t in what Pink calls “non-sales selling.”  Pitching an idea (to a boss, a team, or a jury), convincing a hyped-up kid to go to bed, or teaching resistent students all qualify as sales activity.

Nonetheless, the majority of people view selling with distaste, largely because of the deceptive tactics that salespeople are known to pull.  Pink cites record-breaking car salesman Joe Girard, known for establishing relationships with buyers by fabricating connections.  (“You’re from Yonkers?  Me too!  Your aunt has a beach house on Long Island?  Me too!  Your middle name is Thaddeus The Great?  Me too!”  UGH, right?)  Although Girard was quite successful in the past, Pink suggests that he wouldn’t do as well in today’s world.  Why?

We have shifted, writes Pink, from caveat emptor to caveat venditor.  Today’s purchasers come into sales conversations armed with information, reviews, and ratings of products and services.  As a result, sales now consists of curating information to assist the purchaser, finding answers together, and making sales both personal and purposeful.

In contrast to the old “ABC” = “Always Be Closing” model of sales, Pink defines the ABCs as Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.

  • Attunement refers to approaching the sales exchange from the buyer’s perspective.  Pink notes that in contrast to the stereotype that extroverts are the best personality type for sales, ambiverts (meaning those in the middle of the extrovert/introvert range) are actually more successful because of superior skill in attunement.
  • Buoyancy is the combination of “a gritty spirit and a sunny outlook.”  Pink urges sellers to be optimistic and reason-focused (asking, for instance, “Can I succeed?” before a sales encounter, to prompt reasons to expect success rather than just ungrounded motivation), with just enough negativity to stay pragmatic.
  • Clarity calls on a successful seller’s ability to define the problem to be solved through the sale and why the purchaser might not want to buy your solution.  Pink offers several tactics to use her, including emphasizing experience over material objects and including a small negative attribute to the solution being sold to make the positives more believable.

When it comes to the “how to” of selling, To Sell Is Human is not comprehensive, and if you’re looking to become an expert in sales, you’ll want to add other resources.  However, he offers three points that provide significant insight into the process of selling.  One of the most useful is Pink’s list of six new ways to pitch a solution:  the one-word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch, the 140-character Twitter-style pitch, the subject line pitch, and the Pixar pitch.  These won’t translate directly to selling legal services, but the exercise is helpful in crystallizing what a buyer needs to know and what will pique her interest.

Pink also recommends the use of improvisation techniques, which allow the seller to accept whatever a buyer says and to add a suggestion that supports the sale.  I couldn’t agree more about the value of improv for sales and any other business discussion.  See my review of Improv Wisdom for additional suggestions.

Pink finally urges sellers to come from service, focusing on the value that the solution will bring to the buyer.  This point feels like the most “human” of the suite:  instead of just looking from the buyer’s perspective, service requires an independent determination that the buyer will benefit.  Sales, in other words, is not done to someone, it’s done for them.

What’s in it for lawyers?

So many lawyers have told me that they can’t possibly excel in rainmaking because they aren’t extroverts.  This interview in which Pink explained why ambiverts (which includes most of us) perform the best in sales is what prompted me to pick up the book.  If you’ve ever worried that your introversion will block your ability to land business, read the book.  That section alone makes it worthwhile.

More generally, the book’s premise and examples will help to mitigate distaste for selling and the idea is something you do to someone, not for them.  That shift in perspective alone can transform the way you approach business development.

Finally, the examples and exercises will focus your attention and will help you to improve in sales.  As I said, learning sales techniques will require additional training (I recommend Mastering the Complex Sale:  How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High!  By Jeff Thull), but To Sell Is Human will help to erase discomfort around sales and provide an authentic way of approaching a necessary task.

Networking Secret: We tend to like people who like us.

This month, I’ve selected quotes from some terrific blog posts about relationship.  Read the quotes, and then go check out these posts.  They’re too good to miss.

We all like people who like us.  If I show you I’m genuinely happy to meet you, you’ll instantly start to like me.  (And you’ll show that you do, which will help calm my nerves and let me be myself.)
~Jeff Haden, 6 Habits of Remarkably Likable People

A few might dispute the notion, but most will agree — relationship trumps everything.

Whether in the business or personal arena, relationship provides the context in which almost everything is interpreted.  It influences judgment and defines value.
~Eric Fletcher, Deliver the Experience or Lose the Relationship

Social media is the perfect medium for someone like me — someone who’s an introvert, a bit on the shy side, and prefers to have the safety of being behind a computer screen rather than face-to-face.
~Lindsay Griffiths, Taking it Offline