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How not to win business: a guide for professionals

16 December 13

No 11 in the tongue-in-cheek series is titled "Lead from the rear" - because generating new business means providing the encouragement and incentive to get everyone involved

by Stephen Gold

“You can’t sell it outside if you can’t sell it inside” (Stan Slap, author of Bury My Heart at Conference Room B)

I have talked a lot about individual achievement in this series, but no man (even one named Harris) is an island. The culture we work in matters profoundly.

All good leaders aim to create highly motivated people, equipped to fulfil their potential. What does this mean for making rainmakers? None of it, frankly, is quantum physics.

Know where you’re heading

Every firm needs a clear business development strategy that answers: What markets should we be in? What are we selling? How do we differentiate ourselves? What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and priorities? How can we best get our message across? What does success look like? Who is responsible for what?

Start ’em young

Include everyone in your strategic planning, not just partners. Associates, qualified staff and trainees are flexible and ambitious. If not, what are they doing in your firm? They will often have more creativity and commitment than their grizzled seniors, and a firmer grip on social media. They are the future, and how they develop will have a crucial impact on your firm’s long-term success. Invite and value their contribution.

Say that it matters

Emphasise by words, and in particular by actions, that rainmaking is a core responsibility for everyone, not an optional extra. Give it a central place in performance appraisal and reward. In every business, what gets rewarded is what gets done.

It’s not all about chargeable time

Every good hunter knows there may be a journey of many miles before the kill. Chargeable time is not everything. Give your people the freedom to invest time and resources speculatively, but intelligently. Then be supportive.

Ban talk of “my clients”

Be clear that all clients belong to the firm, not individuals, and reward collaboration. Come down firmly on “hoarding”, reluctance to cross-refer and the prima donna behaviour to which heavy hitters are sometimes prone.

Invest in expertise

Success is impossible without investment in good training, and the right level of human and technological support. If you have made it, are you getting the right return? In some firms, it works brilliantly; but equally, if I had a pound for every sales and marketing professional driven nuts by lawyers who waste their talents, or treat them as an excuse to make little effort themselves, I would feel like a lottery winner. So invest, but be vigilant and measure the results.

Outlaw blame

Sometimes, your people will play a blinder, but still not win the work. And sometimes they will make misjudgments. As the Dalek said when he climbed off the dustbin, anyone can make a mistake, and in this area it is easier than most. Be clear that failure is no crime. The crime is not to try.

Be accessible

Walk the floor. Keep your door open. Set up a mailbox: brilliantideas@myfirm.com and respond to them all with encouragement. Finally....

Give out gongs

Praise initiative and celebrate success – as loudly and publicly as possible. And speaking of success, may I wish good health and full cabinets to all in the year to come. Thank you for your many generous comments: they are greatly appreciated.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide. Stephen can be contacted on 07968 484232, at stephen@stephengold.co.uk, or on twitter: @thewordofgold

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