Growing Your Book Of Business
If you're a law firm lawyer who wants to generate more business, the most important thing to do is to have more sales conversations with qualified buyers.
The most unfair part about the transition from associate to partner is the increased focus on generating new business. You spend all your time getting good at the practice of law, and then suddenly one day you’re expected to bring in clients. Maybe you read a sales book, or maybe you get advice from a rainmaker who built his book decades ago.
If that’s you, you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to share with you a formula (the “Outbound Playbook”) for generating new business. Basically it can be boiled down to a single statement:
Have more sales conversations with qualified buyers.
I’ll explain more below. The ideas I’m sharing come from my experience as a legal tech salesman and marketer. In my personal opinion there are many ideas you can borrow from the startup world—not just because we’re more innovative—but also because we have a lot more freedom than your typical law firm.
Before I move on, it’s important for me to identify who the Outbound Playbook is designed for. If you don’t fit this mold, some of the principles still might be helpful—but not as much as the ideal reader. This post is designed for a law firm lawyer who:
Serves corporate clients (the underlying principles work with consumer-based practices but the specific tactics will probably look very different);
Has originated some business before (validation that there’s demand for what you offer, and that there exists *some* ideal buyer profile) and
Understands the importance of sales (anyone who believes that “a great product sells itself” need not apply)
With that qualifier out of the way, let’s dive in.
Tactics that won’t help at this stage
If you’ve read this far, chances are this isn’t the first time you’ve tried to figure out how to generate more business. Some of the advice you’ve received in the past might include the following platitudes. I’ll address each one and explain why it doesn’t help.
“You should be better at keeping in touch” - Some people are great at keeping in touch. If that’s you, great—keep reading on. If not, don’t worry—I’m not great at it either. The good news is, having a great “follow up” game only helps you generate more business marginally. Essentially, it’s not bringing you into more/new sales conversations; it’s optimizing the conversations you’ve already had.
“Your pitch sucks / needs to be better” - Similar to the above, this is helpful—but it’s likely not your biggest limiting factor. Let’s say you pitch 10 people per year, and your shitty pitch converts 1 out of 10 people. Even if improving your pitch leads to double the conversion rate (which trust me, isn’t easy) that’s still only 2 people. The real limiting factor is not having enough sales conversations.
“Ask for referrals every time” - This does work but the problem is that it’s not targeted enough. Maybe a happy client refers you to one of their friends, but you’re unable to solve that friend’s problem. Maybe because it’s outside your specialty, or their budget is too small. Don’t get me wrong, referrals are incredibly important later on in this process—but not in the beginning.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what should you do instead?
The Outbound Playbook (for law firm lawyers)
Remember, the goal is to create more sales conversations with qualified buyers. Let’s start with qualified buyers first.
Step 1: Identify who your ideal buyer is
This is why it’s important that you’ve generated or originated business before. You need some validation that there even exists some ideal buyer out there. Ask yourself a few questions about why that buyer decided to retain you.What was their job title? What size legal department did they work at? What’s the company size or industry? The more specific you can get, the better.
Job titles and organization size are key, because they provide a way to easily narrow down your universe of potential buyers. Organization size (or legal department size) is great because it’s often a proxy for buying process and timeline. Larger orgs take more time than smaller orgs, but have larger budgets. By understanding your ideal buyer, you can also understand how quickly it takes to see results.
Step 2: Figure out where to find more of them
Let’s say you’re a patent litigator who’s seen success with in-house lawyers at mid-sized hardware technology companies. The next step is to find out how to identify them. Job titles are the lowest hanging fruit. Perhaps they have “IP” in there somewhere, or maybe it’s “patent counsel.” (I don’t know, I’m speculating here.)
Once you have a way to find them, now you can really lean in hard on LinkedIn. Pay for the premium service, because it’ll let you run unlimited filters and search for IP lawyers/patent counsel who work at mid-sized hardware tech companies. Make a list. It doesn’t have to be huge. If there are too few, use your instinct and broaden out your search.
Step 3: Meet them where they are
Now that you have a list, you should start reaching out to them. If you’re bold enough you can reach out to them directly, assuming there are no ethical issues (this is why I limited the scope of this post to corporate clients). You can email, call, or LinkedIn DM them directly.
This isn’t easy.So if that doesn’t work, or if you’re too shy to do your own outreach—find out where they congregate and go there. It could be social media (e.g. Twitter for Crypto companies) or industry specific conferences (e.g. finance or oil & energy trade shows). You can host an event or dinner, and then do direct outreach to invite them to these events. Do what you’re comfortable with.
Step 4: Ask for a sales conversation
Once you’ve initiated contact, now’s the time to ask for the business meeting.You can do it on a call, in-person, or through email, but essentially you have to make it clear that it’s a meeting to talk about how you can work together. It is *critical* for you to have a solid value proposition. E.g. I’d like to meet to discuss how we can work together to [insert benefit here]
Remember, this isn’t the *actual* pitch to persuade them to retain you. It’s the pitch for the sales conversation. You’re selling the appointment. Once you’ve gotten them to agree to 30 minutes, or whatever, then you worry about the actual pitch. Your goal is to get them to show up and agree to hear you out.
Does this actually work?
Absolutely. Those of us in the legal tech world who sell to corporate clients have used the Outbound Playbook for years. There are nuances and advanced tactics depending on the complexity and sophistication of the clients. For example, some clients will only work with firms that are on a specific law firm panel. There are parallels in the tech world that are addressed with principles that you can borrow too.
At the end of the day the most important part about generating more business, is to have more sales conversations with qualified buyers. That doesn’t change. And from my discussions with lawyers charged with business development, that is their biggest area of weakness.
What comes next
If you run this process correctly, it won’t feel like it’s working. You’ll spend most of your time being ignored and getting rejected. The few conversations you do have—they’ll say things like “I’d love to work with you but I don’t have the budget / need right now.”
Not only is that experience expected—it’s a good sign! It means you’re getting in front of buyers who actually need your service. You might get lucky and a few of these folks happen to be in the market, and are looking to replace their existing counsel, etc.
Let me be clear: What I’ve described above is simple, but not easy. It requires a thick skin, and takes time before you see results. But what I can tell you is that this is the Outbound playbook every legal tech company runs (even if they don’t describe it in the framework I have). They even hire specialized cold callers called SDRs or BDRs to do the outreach itself.
This article is a free version of my deep dives on sales, marketing, and business development that you can get access to with a paid subscription, which you can learn more about here.
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I understand that some of you might work with buyers who have complex buying processes (committee, multiple stakeholders, etc). That’s fine. The key thing here is—who’s that first person who kicks off the process, who can champion you along the way, and most importantly—can understand the true value you bring?
I realize many of you are not going to be OK with cold calls, emails, or DMs. Maybe because you receive solicitations and you hate them. Which is understandable. But there’s a reason why vendors keep doing them—it’s because they work. Really well. And it’s likely that the annoying sales types aren’t targeting their buyers as well as you are. Finally—to the extent you think a lawyer is “above” this work, just know that John Quinn of Quinn Emanuel cold called for clients in his early days.
Upon second reading I realize this might be confusing, since the previous step involved cold outreach. To clarify: You can ask for a sales conversation up front OR warm it up by inviting buyers to dinners, make small talk, etc. Ultimately though, you MUST ask for a sales conversation. As in dating, you don’t want there to be ambiguity or else you might get friendzoned by accident.
Watching a highly successful partner do this at a medium sized law firm in years past, his tactics also included:
- careful nurturing of intermediary relationships (e.g. accountants)
- having a ‘signature event’ each year to invite people to
- being incredibly organised about phoning people up and keeping in touch in a friendly but businesslike way - he always had interesting stories and anecdotes to tell.
There was also one partner whose main job it was to sit in the pub underneath the office, meeting business clients and originating leads...
Solid advice. I do think loose connections matter - so to me, keeping in touch even sporadically is a critical step. But it comes naturally to me, so it isn’t work ....