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The Four Essential Rules of Business Development Coaching

It is the rare firm these days that does not offer some form of career and/or business development coaching services to its attorneys. Just about everyone in legal marketing has been asked to “coach” lawyers. Often, however, coaching attorneys in business development is easier said than done. And it can be complicated when succession issues are part of the coaching challenge. So, recognizing that every coaching situation is truly unique, below are four principles that I believe will improve the chances for success in business development coaching:

Enthusiasm is a prerequisite.

Some firms view business development coaching as a remedial solution for lawyers who are unable (or more often unwilling to try) to secure new clients or expand work for current clients. Unless the lawyer is truly enthusiastic about the prospect of business development coaching, the effort is likely to fail. Coaching itself can be perceived as punishment or a reflection of failure. A few firms ask their lawyer-coachees to help pay for coaching services (for an outside coach), believing that “skin in the game” will confirm the level of enthusiasm important for coaching success.

Coaching in business development works when the service is viewed as a reward for positive effort, not as a last-ditch effort to save a struggling colleague. Career coaching might be the better approach.

Seek real leadership support.

Without leadership support, any marketing or business development initiative is handicapped. This principle is doubly true for coaching efforts. Real leadership support goes beyond simple ratification at an ExCom meeting, however. Those in leadership positions—practice group leaders, acknowledged rainmakers, office managing partners and members of the executive team—should be maintaining a high level of awareness about the business development coaching effort. In addition, they might practice MBWA (management by walking around) and visit colleagues receiving coaching support, offering words of interest and encouragement.

Those most receptive to business development coaching tend to be younger partners and senior associates. They are at the point in their careers when business development acumen is of significant importance to career advancement.

Set realistic goals.

One great advantage coaching provides is the opportunity to truly customize business development goals and measures. The lawyers I coach initially focus their business development efforts too narrowly, don’t really have a focus and/or are unorganized. Individually, our market is our network. Set goals around the individual relationships that matter and agree on activities necessary to strengthen those relationships in ways that lead to new work opportunities. The time gap between coaching sessions should include specific “to dos” to be completed prior to the next session.

Manage and track performance.

We suggest three performance measures:

  • A financial measure such as new client origination credit, matter origination credit or growth in billable work attributable, in whole or part, to specific business development activities.
  • An activity measure. Track the increase in both number and quality of business development activities. Agree on the relative value of different activities.
  • A promoter measure. How do the lawyers in the program regard its relative value to themselves and the firm?

Knowing the answer to these combined measures will help you make improvements for future coaching.

Business development coaching is just that—coaching. The proof is in the performance of those receiving the coaching support. Ultimately, coaching services should result in better business development habits to the point where coaching is no longer necessary. By incorporating the four principles noted above, firms will significantly improve the value of coaching and, in turn, business development performance.

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