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Who is a Good Candidate for Business Development Coaching?

We recently received a very nice note from our youngest son’s baseball coach saying, “I’m bullish about his future, both on and off the field of baseball.” He talked about his potential, his attitude and maturity, his love for the sport and his willingness to work on his weaknesses and receive feedback. I don’t share this to brag about my son. Let’s face it—he is 11 and has plenty of years ahead to define success and discover his passions. But the note struck me because of the similarities between the coach’s description and what makes a successful business development participant.

We often get asked by firms who should be selected for business development coaching. I am not too sure I have the perfect answer, but similar to sports, the best players are not always the most successful.

At Wicker Park Group, our business development coaching is typically tied to a training program where a selected group of individuals participate in one- or two-day trainings followed by one-on-one telephone coaching for several months after the training. The groups are diverse in every sense of the word—gender, age, practice, geography, book of business, success to date and size or cache of the firm. I am currently coaching over 25 lawyers and have coached hundreds in my career. And it is interesting to me that with every group, from the smallest firms to the global elite, there are always those who accomplish tremendous progress and always a few who never really change from the coaching. The baseball coach’s note made me pause and think about what attributes those success stories share.

At the most basic level, successful business development participants have the following characteristics:

  1. They want to be in the program and are interested in coaching. It is very rare that someone who has been forced or asked to be part of a program shines from coaching. We strongly believe participants should apply for BD coaching and make some effort ahead of the program to demonstrate their interest.
  2. They are openminded to new ideas and willing to admit they may not have all of the answers on how to be successful in business development. Most lawyers have never been trained or had any classes on sales, communication or business development. We are asking them to be successful at something they have never been taught. However, a lawyer that comes to coaching believing they have done everything possible or unwilling to try new ideas is not an ideal candidate.
  3. They have a network of contacts and generally enjoy the work and connecting with people. This is a relationship business, and it takes years to cultivate relationships. This is a marathon for most. The successful business development generators, or those with potential, need to have some basic network of people not known by others in the firm and be interested in deepening those relationships.
  4. They appreciate that being experts in their field or the law generally is a gating issue and that having a business mindset and understanding their clients and prospects’ businesses and industries is far more valued. Every law firm needs the specialized expert at times, but most of the lawyers are practicing in an area where they are one of hundreds, if not thousands, of capable lawyers to choose from. Successful business development lawyers approach a client or prospect with insights into that business and industry, not simply with standard legal advice.
  5. They are willing to hold themselves accountable to spend more time developing relationships. Similar to sports, getting good at something takes time and dedication. LeBron James is the first one to practice and the last one to leave. That is a choice he makes, not something a coach is telling him to do. Successful business development lawyers dedicate time every day or week to connecting with their network and clients, not just when they have extra time or are in the mood. They are disciplined enough to make it a priority.

There are certainly additional traits and characteristic that make someone an ideal candidate or successful at business development. But at the basic level, if a lawyer cannot agree with the statements above, that person may not be ready right now.

Who in your firm has raw potential, loves what they do, has a great attitude, is willing to work on challenges, is open to new ideas and wants help to improve? That’s every coaches dream—for 11-year-old travel baseball and for the highest performing law firms.

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