Business Development often gets conflated with sales and scares attorneys away from a process that is much more enjoyable than traditional sales.
All that stuff you hate about sales…salespeople hate too. You don’t need to do any of it. I’ve sold millions of dollars of software and services and often had to do things that don’t work and I didn’t like in order to try to hit the quota someone else set for me.
Business development for attorneys is far better than traditional sales. While you definitely have expectations to bring in clients if you ever want to make partner or have the kind of practice that excites you, the control you have over the process is more like owning your own business than being a salesperson.
A properly executed business development strategy gives an individual attorney influence or control over how you are positioned, your target market, the activities you engage in, and service delivery. Very few people in sales have that level of influence and control. Typically, they are their job is to only to get new clients and nothing else. A quota is set for them and they can only do particular activities (like cold calling & cold emailing) to influence the outcome.
Somewhere along the way, the idea that business development for attorneys was the same as sales gained traction. While there is definitely overlap, to blindly adopt the same strategies and tactics as a traditional salesperson is not only misguided but ineffective. Bringing in new clients is also influenced by reputation management, content marketing, lead generation, and design but we don’t use blanket statements like “all attorneys are designers” the way that we do with sales.
Those thoughts on sales that have seeped into the legal vertical might come from years of terrible sales maxims like “you are always selling” or “always be closing”. Most see the negative impact of the later but oddly accept the former. You aren’t always selling. And if you are, that’s something to be explored. Sometimes, you are just having a conversation with a friend with no agenda. When my wife and I talk about dinner, I’m not always trying to sell her on what I want. I genuinely care about what she wants and what influence her day and our plans for the evening have on that decision. Sure, sometimes I want something specific and obviously try to talk her into agreeing but that is transparent and occasional. That’s how real humans interact and show care and concern for each other. Most of us aren’t constantly engaged in some game of influence or manipulation.
As for what is useful from the world of sales, you only really need to take away the parts that make sense and feel natural such as preparing for meetings, scheduling a next step, asking productive questions, and avoiding common bottlenecks. Implemented correctly, these tactics can make the difference between having a lot of connections and having a lot of clients.
Business Development is the combination of many things and there is no reason to feel like you are excluded because you don’t have some genetic propensity for sales or desire to learn how to execute a presumptive close. As an attorney, you are in a great position to create and execute a strategy that you own and that fits your personality. Look inside and outside of the legal vertical to find inspiration and most importantly, start now.