#LMA15 Recap: The 15 People That Will Make or Break Your Year

May 01, 2015 Zack Ehrmann

Business Development is often challenging. For those that are able to devote time to new business, the task can seem insurmountable. Your lawyers/consultants/advisors certainly don’t have time to cold call, so the alternative is to resort to leaning on personal or client networks, which can contain hundreds – if not thousands – of people. With a list so big, the options are to either a) contact each one individually or b) concentrate on two or three big ones and hope the rest “works itself out.” Either approach encourages BD efforts that are inefficient, unsuccessful and, most importantly, a poor use of valuable time.

Our goal as marketers should always be to make things easier for the people with whom we work. I recently attended the 2015 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference and had the chance to sit in on Darryl Cross’ session, “The 15 People That Will Make or Break Your Year.” He suggests eliminating the “fish in a barrel” approach to BD. Instead, he posits, you should encourage your colleagues to centralize their efforts by making a personal target list of just 15 people – not client names, actual people – that they’d like to do business with in the coming year. Specifically, this list should contain:

  1. Five Current Clients
  2. Five Prospective Clients
  3. Five Investors (Or Referral Sources)

Five Current Clients
You’ve convinced your colleagues to buy into this “15 People” ideology. Now what? According to Cross, the easiest place to start is with their top-five current clients – those that have “demonstrated a repeated willingness to hire you at your current prices, reputation and offerings.”

When deciding whom those people might be, the instinct is to concentrate exclusively on your biggest, most loyal clients (High Volume, High Consistency). Although you’ll certainly want to include those, the list should not be restricted to just those. These clients give you the most work, sure, but because they have been with your firm so long, they have become accustomed to heavily adjusted fee schedules, discounts, etc. Over time, these “special arrangements” may turn these clients into ones less profitable than you might think.

To that end, your colleagues should also concentrate on acquiring business from those that give your firm a lot of work on an inconsistent basis (High Volume, Low Consistency) and those that give you small amounts of work on a consistent basis (Low Volume, High Consistency). If they can build a relationship with these clients, that will set the firm up for stability and growth for years to come.

Once your list has been set, Cross offers a couple of interesting and efficient ways to engage the group:

  1. Introduce members of your top-five to each other – Easy to do when there are five. Gives them an opportunity to network and to say good things about you as a mutual acquaintance.
  2. Buy a block of tickets to a sporting event, give some of them to your clients and ask them to invite four of their top prospects – Again, allows for them to network and for you to meet new, prospective clients. 
  3. Competitive Review – Not of your competitors, but your client’s competitors. It will make them look good, and they will tell others about the hard work you did on their behalf.

Five Prospects
After the first five have been identified, you should concentrate next on Prospects, which Cross defines as: “The individuals and organizations that need your services, but for some reason have not chosen you. Repetitively.”

Hunting for prospects can be tricky, especially since they have probably considered your firm at some point and have made a conscious decision to take their matters elsewhere. When considering whom to go after, Cross recommends you strongly consider the following:

  1. How much do they look like our existing clients? 
  2. Are you prepared to ask them to fire their current firm? Why should they?

With respect to the first point, the answer should be “like clones.” If not, your prospective client will look at your client roster and either a) see your company as inexperienced in matters like theirs or b) wonder why you even want their business in the first place. Either response puts your organization behind the eight ball pretty quickly.

With respect to point number two, you should not offer something everyone else can (i.e., reduced rates). Rather, you should try to go above and beyond by offering specific experience or putting significant time and forethought into ideas that can help them succeed; things that have never been brought to their attention before.

To engage this group, Cross offers the following:

  1. Find new work – Look at balance sheets to see with whom who they are working. 
  2. Offer Predictability – Don’t just discount the first 100 hours. Say “We’ll never bill travel or research.”
  3. Lower the risk of switching
  4. Increase the risk of not switching

Five Investors (or Referral Sources)
The list should now be up to ten. The last group that Cross identifies are Investors, which are “not the individuals and organizations that send you business. Rather, it’s the individuals and organizations that partner with you and expect a positive return on their investment.”

Because this is the most volatile segment of the list, Cross further recommends that you hedge by segmenting the investors into three sub-groups (Cross used law firms as industry of choice for this example, but I can see this applying to other professional services organizations as well.):

  1. Investors: Non-Lawyers (2 or 3 at most)
  2. Investors: Fellow Lawyers (1 or 2 at most)
  3. Investors: Old Colleague (1)

Investors: Non-Lawyers (2 or 3 at most)
These are professionals that work with similar clients, but are not direct competitors (i.e., Accountants, Real Estate Brokers or Financiers). Cross recommends coming to these investors with ideas that benefit them as well.

For example, you could each buy a suite at a Cubs game, invite some of your own prospects and then ask them to switch suites in the middle of the game. This generates a precise, focused approach and, better yet, gives you new leads for next-to-nothing. Your accountant friend will appreciate the leads you’re able to send his or her way, too.

Investors: Fellow Lawyers (1 or 2 at most)
This group will only come to your organization if they have conflicts or lack of resources. When engaging with a fellow lawyer, consider why they help you and hesitate to put them on your list if they aren’t sending you profitable work already. Also consider what you may be able to offer them, as they will only value you so much as you are able to give them something in exchange for sending business your way.

Investors: An Old Colleague (1)
This group is perhaps relied too heavily upon, simply because it’s so easy to engage an old friend or co-worker who has since moved on from your firm. Cross argues that while the group is great for insight and idea generation, they rarely generate enough business to justify a significant time investment. Pick one person from this group, and do not expect a high yield.

The List
Once your colleagues have gone through the process of thoughtfully analyzing their BD targets for the upcoming year, they will find it much easier to devote time to tracking down, engaging and converting upon the leads that they themselves have determined to be realistic.

As a marketer, you should encourage them to keep this list dynamic, so if they do fail (which, let’s be honest, is bound to happen), they are ready to plug another name in just as well. You can also use your expertise and knowledge of your business to help your colleagues learn the fundamentals, plan and practice their approaches for each individual person on their list.

At One North, we truly believe in the power of relationships. Cross’ approach allows for you to become more deeply involved in the BD process, helping to improve your internal relationships (and trust). It also allows for your colleagues to spend their time more wisely, better focus their efforts, convert on more opportunities and, ultimately, develop strong relationships with 15 people that have the potential to influence others. It really is a win-win for everyone at your firm, and gives all parties involved a better opportunity for year-over-year success. Isn’t that better than shooting fish in a barrel?

Curious to learn how social media can help you in your marketing and business development efforts? Explore our recent webinar: Social Media – Turning Your People & Your Network into Your Best Marketing Assets.


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Zack Ehrmann Project Manager & Associate Designer

At the time of publishing, Zack was a Project Manager & Associate Designer at One North.

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