A number of years ago, a good friend shared what he considers the “magic business development pill.” It’s simple. There are only two ingredients: 1) Make your conversation all about the client (or potential client) and keep it about them; and 2) Show up with great frequency. According to my friend, keep repeating these steps and everything will work out.
Showing up is pretty straightforward, although you’ll obviously have to expand your definition of “showing up” beyond a physical presence to include virtual showing up: articles, social media and so on.
The “all-about-them piece,” however, requires thought and discipline.
How Do You Make It and Keep It All About Them?
First, understand the client’s or prospect’s business and industry as well as their personal goals and interests. That means investing time to do your homework about their industry and company, and about them personally.
Become a real student of your client’s industry, to the point where you sound like an insider because you’re informed like an insider.
If you’re in a firm of even modest size and you have younger lawyers clamoring to get business development training, get them invested in monitoring your clients’ industries and extracting the occasional opportunity nugget from all the news chaff. It’s great training for them and it makes you more effective.
You may think, “I have clients in many industries. How can I be a student of all of them, even if I have help from others?” Obviously, you can’t. You have finite resources, so you have to think like an investor and prioritize — and not based on vague, undefined values like “potential,” but on hard facts like fees paid, work that trains younger lawyers, referrals sent and the like.
Now, armed with what you learn, do what great lawyers do: Ask questions. Not just any questions. Ask open-ended questions (defined as not answerable with “yes” or “no”).
Ask questions that focus the conversation on them — not on your firm or you. Ask about their challenges and their opportunities.
Open-ended questions generally begin with “what,” “how” or “why.” These are most likely to get your client or prospect talking — and to get you listening.
Classic “What, How or Why” Sample Questions
Here are some examples that fall into the three classic phases of business development.
- It seems like [problem/challenge/trend] is affecting most companies in your industry. How might that impact your company?
- If you solved this problem, what economic, strategic, operational, emotional impacts would you anticipate?
- If you were looking back a year from now, what would success look like for you?
- If this problem with which you’re dealing doesn’t get solved, how will it impact you personally?
- What is the most important priority for you? Why is that so important?
Qualifying the Opportunity
- What other information should we know before moving forward?
- What might make this no longer a priority?
- How will this decision be made?
Before you ask to meet with your client or prospect, prepare a list of open-ended questions. Be sure these focus the conversation on their business challenges or opportunities and on their personal goals and successes.
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