Building Excitement Around Business Development

By Anne Marcotty and Joe Maguire



“Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.”

— Richard Pascale

Ask lawyers what they fnd EXCITING about selling (it is okay to use the “sales” word) and most will say winning, followed closely by developing new relationships. On the fipside, they fear rejection and failure. Add risk aversion and low resilience to the mix and business development can feel daunting

It isn’t surprising, then, that lawyers harbor overly optimistic notions that winning work can be achieved by authoring the right article, attending a networking event, presenting at the conference or having lunch with a general counsel. They want it quickly but the reality is…

  • 80% of sales happen after more than fve, even nine, contacts with a prospective client.
  • 90% of people give up before that.
  • Thus, the persistent 10% win the lion’s share of new work.

Firms need to offer business development training that refects the realities and demands of the sales cycle to better equip lawyers to successfully navigate it. The training needs to be sustained and intentional. It should not rely on random standalone courses or intensive three-day workshops that cram in too many sales techniques and unrealistic role plays. Lawyers need repeated opportunities to build their skills and relationships. With persistent activity, they acquire the patience and confdence necessary to become successful business developers. It is all about varied and practical bite-sized learning… one touch point at a time.

Exciting business development programs should be part of an articulated curriculum phased over a nine- to 12-month period, designed to help clients buy and to help lawyers form long-term client relationships. Effective programs support the frm’s competency framework and touch fee earners multiple times throughout their tenure, in particular before and after key career transition points. The content is level appropriate, tailored to the participant’s experience.

The program objectives should chiefy be to:

  • Increase marketing and sales activities and client dialog;
  • Enhance the many skills required to acquire new clients, grow strategic accounts and to build long-term client relationships;
  • Build the passion, confdence and resilience necessary to continuously grow the top line; and
  • Develop habits and track changes leading to substantial return on investment (ROI).

To keep the program exciting, the sessions should be of different lengths and format, and could include a combination of:

  • One-hour classes covering simple process elements or information resources such as preparing for business development meetings, using LinkedIn, network mapping, the RFP process, etc. For multi- offce frms, multiple cohorts could attend the same session by videoconference. The focus is on effciency.
  • Half-day interactive workshops honing critical communication skills to maximize business development impact and gravitas. They stimulate conversations about doing something different, along with challenges and progress. The focus is on effectiveness.
  • • Full-day workshops that take the participants out of their comfort zone by using sophisticated role plays of various types of client encounters. tailed feedback helps highlight strengths and areas for development. The focus is on achieving great infuence.
  • Group assignments focusing on improving specifc elements of the business development process such as preparing practice group presentations, writing case studies, developing an account plan for a specifc organization (at more senior levels). The focus is on teamwork.
  • Peer coaching sessions among more experienced lawyers to encourage sharing best practices, experiences and goals. The focus is on motivation.
  • Individual coaching sessions accelerating the mindset shift required, embedding the learning and fast tracking client wins. This is effective with lawyers regularly engaged in signifcant sales activities. The focus is on resilience.
  • An element of competition or “gamification” encouraging attendance, not using mobile devices, increasing internal networking activities, etc. The focus is on accountability.

The learning should provide a blend of brain storming, interactive discussion, demonstration, individual and group exercises, and opportunities to apply concepts. Infusing content with practical tips and skills that allow participants to use them immediately is critical to engagement and retention. Emphasis on practical concepts over theory throughout the sessions makes it easier to spur lawyers to action.

The learning should provide a blend of brain storming, interactive discussion, demonstration, individual and group exercises, and opportunities to apply concepts. Infusing content with practical tips and skills that allow participants to use them immediately is critical to engagement and retention. Emphasis on practical concepts over theory throughout the sessions makes it easier to spur lawyers to action.

The content should be tailored to the attendees’ experience level and revenue generation expectations. There is little benefit to a mid-level associate role playing pricing conversations or an equity partner engaging in a working-the-room skills exercise. Each program needs to be narrowly focused, with the exercises matching the lawyers’ seniority level.

Asking questions, for instance, is an essential skill at every level. The actual content and course design should differ based on lawyer sophistication. All content, regardless of target audience, should remain simple and easy to apply. Overambitious programs can complicate the frm’s expectations and, especially at junior levels, risk making marketing and sales overwhelming and confusing.

The philosophy underlying the curriculum is that there is no magic wand to winning work. Successful business development is about having the right combination of activity (DOING) and effectiveness (SKILLS). It is important to recognize that many participants will start their journey with low levels of business development activity and corresponding limited effectiveness. They need to build their “BD mindset” one small step at a time.

Expanding their skills will lead to increased use of those skills in various sales activities. Creating excitement around business development is mainly about doing more and thinking less, leveraging Erminia Ibarra concept of “Act Like a Leader Before You Try to Think Like One.” Perhaps the most exciting, and vital, component of the program is to track the wins.


Successful business development results do not always grow the top line. While the activities of more junior lawyers don’t typically generate signifcant revenue, self- reported activities and results can be tracked and evaluated. For instance, a lawyer who maintains a relationship with an inhouse contact might frst deepen the relationship through social engagements which later leads to converting them into a referral source. This type of real progress cannot be easily quantifed but over time comparisons between the fnancial metrics of lawyers who were trained with those who were not demonstrate the ROI.

New work won by participants can be captured anecdotally and then tracked going forward using fnancial metrics. It is important to look at individual successes and the collective success of the cohort, over time. It only takes a few new and unexpected matters to pay for the training. Typical program ROI is ten-fold … so the expense of building exciting programs is an investment, not overhead.

Excitement is contagious. As the programs graduate passionate and successful business developers, more of their colleagues will clamor to join the next cohort. Business development will further embed itself in the culture of the frm, paying dividends.

This article was originally published in MARKETING THE LAW FIRM, May 2016.


Anne Marcotty

Founder and CEO @ SWAM & CO
Helps professional services frms deliver top line growth. She has been working around the world with law frms and lawyers for the past twenty years and also advises accountants, surveyors, developers and consultants; she has an in depth understanding of the skills they have to deploy to infuence the buying process.

Joe Maguire

Professional Development and Continuing Legal Education Manager
Senior Manager of Professional Development and Continuing Legal Education who administers Reed Smith’s University School of Law operations in the U.S.


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