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Along with the traditional marketing and communication responsibilities, today’s CMOs are expected to oversee new and evolving business development and sales initiatives, each designed to help their lawyers improve individual and team BD acumen and skills. Frankly, helping lawyers improve their business development knowledge and skills through training is no simple task. Given the time and billing pressures your potential “students” face every day, it’s often easier to focus on a website rebuild or practice group “one-sheet” than to lead a one-hour discussion on client service. Yet at its core, ours is still a relationship business, and successful lawyers—from solo to mega—must know how to build and maintain relationships of trust with their clients. For most of us, that means some form of training.
Business development programs and initiatives, including training, can be found under one or more of the following four buckets:
- Product Knowledge – How much do we know about our firm’s market strategies, capabilities and client portfolio?
- Interpersonal Skills – Knowing how to build rapport through effective listening is key to BD success.
- Reputation Enhancement – Develop practice niches and effectively use social media and other tools to reach new markets.
- Client Service – Protect and expand current client relationships by understanding needs and adding unexpected value to each engagement.
With that background, consider these five simple resolutions for your BD training this year:
- Work more closely with the professional development and practice management staff. Integrate BD training into practice group and career development programs. BD skills are useful to lawyers at all levels. In addition, in some jurisdictions, CLE credit is more easily approved when BD skill training is combined with practice-specific content.
- Mix it up. People learn in different ways and for different reasons. Offer a balanced mix of training opportunities throughout the year. Firm and practice retreats offer a comfortable venue to practice listening skills and gain “product knowledge.” Brown bag sessions are a great place to experiment with different training games and exercises. Train your marketing and business development team on the best ways to be more effective coaches/advisors to the lawyers they serve. Consider adding or expanding individual learning opportunities, available through eLearning and similar tools used by many colleges and universities.
- Make it competitive. The very nature of the legal profession lends itself to competitive learning. In our experience, lawyers learn best when they teach each other. I can recall numerous instances where a heated exchange within the controlled environment of a brown bag seminar or training session uncovered missed opportunities and clarified firm and practice capabilities. Business development training is a great place to experiment with innovative learning games and related techniques.
- Spread the teaching responsibilities. Many CMOs—as well as their team members—are excellent speakers and teachers. Resolve to teach at least one or two classes yourself this coming year. Encourage selected staff to lead discussions in their areas of expertise. Recruit key rainmakers and other lawyer opinion leaders to lead or at least participate meaningfully in BD training. Share success stories on the firm Intranet and in class that recognize individual and team efforts while reinforcing the power of lawyers and staff working together on a project.
- Reward good behavior. Track attendance and recognize those who participate often in BD training. Recognition, the unexpected Starbucks card or a firm-paid luncheon for impressive team performance all can be effective tools to generate interest in BD training.
Mary Jane Pioli, a friend and executive coach, often says, “Business development is a part-time job, not a sometimes job.” Offer multiple opportunities—different content, different locations, different times—and make it easy for your lawyers and staff to learn about firm capabilities and clients, practice their listening skills and work together in teams. The rewards will speak for themselves in enthusiasm, espirit de corps and business development success.
Happy New Year!