The single best business development tip

Issue November/December 2016 By By John O. Cunningham

One of the largest conversational firestorms I have seen online was sparked by a question posed to a law firm marketing group on LinkedIn. The question was: "What is your single best marketing and business development tip?"

Literally hundreds of answers blazed in from around the world, which I subsequently recorded and categorized for my own edification. I then posed the question to law firm rainmakers and legal marketing pros I knew, and found that the answers were still pretty consistent.

For purposes of this article, I have categorized and combined the most popular recurring answers into the following "10 best tips for legal business development:"

1. Meet with clients and prospects face to face. This tip is the one most often given by successful rainmakers and marketers alike, who say that no form of communication is better for business than "in person" conversation, which often results in new assignments or referrals.

2. Grow and nurture your referral networks. Successful lawyers consistently state that referrals are a key part of their business, and they offer lots of tips for growing and maintaining referral networks. One frequent tip is simply to show appreciation to those who refer business by sending "thank you" notes and occasionally thoughtful, but not ostentatious, gifts.

3. Leverage your existing clients for more work. At the successful conclusion of a project, you can ask satisfied clients for one contact in their own company or elsewhere who might benefit from your assistance. This tip is consistent with my own experience - the vast majority of clients I've surveyed indicate that they are happy to provide a potential client contact if they think highly of you as a service provider.

4. Focus on personal marketing plans. Marketing pros in particular say that firms benefit most from developing marketing plans and strategies for individual lawyers in ways that fit their styles and abilities. A good plan should offer a step-by-step guide to success, spelling out specific weekly and monthly actions to be taken, such as phone calls, emails, in-person visits, content marketing or other actions.

5. Focus on perpetual service improvement. A number of academic business studies have revealed the importance of cultivating a culture of continuous improvement. Organizations that obsess over how to serve their customers or clients better are more likely to grow their market share. Why? Clients rave about great service experiences, but they tell even more people about service slumps.

6. Enhance your cyber-presence. In most businesses, use of technology and the internet are key difference makers. Having a website that is user-friendly, informative and full of value-added content for clients will yield more visitors. By adding in newsletters, client alerts, blogs and/or links to social media pages, you can become ubiquitous in cyberspace.

7. Improve your marketing communications. When you communicate simply, consistently and regularly who you are, what you do, and how and why you do it, good things happen. People have to know your story, find it memorable and like it. Developing that story and telling it well is a matter of practice.

8. Measure and know the results of what you do. Measure results of both your legal and marketing actions. As one client said to me, "I have to know every measure of my business, so I want my lawyer to know from past history the expected budget for a matter, the average time to get to trial, the likelihood of winning, and the potential verdict if I lose." Track your marketing metrics and outcomes as well, so you can make targeted expenditures on specific marketing activities that offer you the best return on investment.

9. Run a client-driven law firm. Much has been written about the success of customer-driven companies, which operate on an upside down pyramid. The customers are on top, those who serve them are the next tier down, and management is on the narrow bottom, serving those above them. Clients should drive the business strategies and planning of a law firm because they pay the revenue … or not.

10. Know the client's business and industry. More than one survey has shown that most clients rate industry knowledge as both hard to find and critical to their buying decisions. In a 2012 Altman Weil survey, 200 general counsel even ranked industry knowledge ahead of referral recommendations as their top factor in hiring.

You will notice that all of these tips take work - there is no "magic wand" tip. But there is a track record of success among those who follow through on these professional marketing suggestions.

John O. Cunningham is a writer, consultant and public speaker. As a lawyer, he served as General Counsel to a publicly traded company and to a privately-held subsidiary of a Fortune 100 company. For more information about his work in the fields of legal service, marketing, communications, and management, check out his website and blog at

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