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Ten steps to winning new business

14 March 16

It isn't rocket science; it just takes a little effort: 10 things that smaller firms in particular can do to improve client footfall

by Stephen Vallance

The older I get, the more I realise that very little in life is complicated, or at least if it is then probably you are getting a poor service. The same goes for much that we read on sales and marketing techniques. That is not to say that we shouldn’t always be learning and improving what we do, but many firms need to start by learning how to do the simple things well.

Here are 10 easy suggestions to improve business development within any high street firm and, just as importantly, to monitor the effects.

1. Accept that improvement doesn’t come without a little suffering

We all know if we diet and exercise we will lose weight, so why don’t we? Simple, we don’t like the discomfort. There is no quick fix for most issues, but the solutions are not complicated – they are just uncomfortable. Changing your business development strategy will cause discomfort. It might be financial, or the time required to pursue and monitor matters over and above all of the time that you already spend in the practice. It might even be emotional (NOBODY likes picking up the phone and cold calling, but it works). Accept, though, that usually things get harder before they get easier, not the other way around!

2. Be crystal clear on what kind of business you are seeking

There is no point simply saying “I want more conveyancing,” or “I’d like to do more commercial work.” Today’s market for these types of work is too diverse. Do you want the work at any price? Do you want it in a specific geographical area or market sector? How often have you wasted hours shopping for “something to wear”, and never finding the right thing? Think how quickly you can get there and back when you know exactly what you’re looking for, and maybe even who has it in stock!

3. Consider the routes and pathways to reach these clients

There are many traditional ways to develop business, and in a world of social media new channels are continually opening. Think of different ways to reach your audience. If you are clear who your audience is, you will have a better idea of “places” that they might congregate and, perhaps, the messages that are important to them. Often, if you ask, clients will tell you where they prefer to access their information. The costs vary from free upwards, and the possibilities are worthy of an article in themselves.

4. Do it!

Don’t talk about doing it. Don’t delay doing it. Don’t wait till work quietens down, until the holidays are over or till the tooth fairy comes. Do it! As with so many of us and our diets, we seem to have an endless supply of excuses to procrastinate. It’s almost as if we believe that “If we don’t do it we can’t fail” sounds more rational than “We can’t succeed unless we try”. Do it!

5. Monitor and evaluate the impact of your efforts

Don’t simply send out a letter or email to everyone, then sit back and wait for business to flood in. It might, and you certainly have done something (so well done you!), but you might have wasted time and effort and not gained the maximum impact.

Be in control of your efforts and monitor how they are performing. For example, if it’s a letter or email campaign, send them in batches with some way of monitoring their success. You could say “Register within 10 days and get 10% off your next legal bill”. The action, time limit and reward will allow you to monitor the responses. To be really smart, make the offer different in your next batch. For example, “Register before the end of the month to enter our prize draw to win an iPad”. You will begin to see trends as to which works best. Even if the response for both is poor, you can ask “Is the medium or the target market wrong?” and potentially save yourself wasted time and money. You can do the same with the style and format of the offering. It’s why we start to hear changes in the wording of popular TV and radio adverts as they try and hit different markets.

6. When you find the winning formula, exploit it!

This might again sound obvious, but if something is working, why stop doing it? National brands don’t advertise daily because they like spending the money, but because their analysis shows that every pound spent returns many pounds more in sales. Once you have the data it is like playing a slot machine but knowing that every £100 spent returns you £200. Why would you want to stop playing unless and until those statistics change?

7. Over perform and over deliver

That is easy to say but harder to do. Can you find ways to ensure that the clients’ experience is even better than they expected? One example for me is my online contact lens supplier. They are cheaper than anyone else, the goods always arrive on time and work fine, but when they arrive there is a small packet of sweets inside. Ridiculous, but that little treat is something more than I expected to get.

Let’s pause for a moment…

This is perhaps time to take a reality check. Business development will bring you enquiries, but it is your people and systems that will secure results. Is your business able to deal with an upswing in volume? Imagine how much business is lost to firms every day because they can’t answer the phone within the first few rings. Imagine how much good work is wasted because clients leave when the service they receive is below that they expect.

Following No 5, though, will give you some indication of what the effects might be and perhaps more confidence to gear up for new business that might be coming. Every new client can tell you the reason why they have chosen you, making the bet on No 6 even safer. In addition, every client leaving can tell you what you need to change in order to improve things for the future.

8. Follow up till they buy or follow up till they die

I hear a few sharp intakes of breath, as this sounds a little too much like double glazing salesmen. Having made my point, though, let me perhaps rephrase: persistence pays.

Nobody reacts well to the hard sell, but clients or potential clients do want information in a form that they can understand (usually repeated to them several times so it is easily available when they need it). Not everyone is ready to instruct at the moment you contact them. How many clients have been thinking about their will for years, but only act when something happens to spur them into action? If you are in their thoughts at that time, how much more likely are they to use you? Likewise for commercial clients, where existing business relationships may become habitual. When something goes wrong and the opportunity to show your worth arises, who will they look to except those who are regularly in touch?

9. If you can meet, don’t phone; if you can phone, don’t email; and if you can email, don’t text

Not practical, I appreciate, for every aspect of practice, but this is business development. My experience is that many of us hide behind technology. We don’t like the emotional discomfort of someone saying that they don’t want to buy from us. People, though, buy people and often that personal connection is all that it takes to secure the work. Even where there is rejection, or issues to be resolved, it is all fabulous market research. When targeting small specific groups of clients, you should follow up any initial written contact with a call. If you monitor the statistics you will see that the success rate goes up dramatically.

10. Test, learn, adapt and repeat

In essence you are going to end up in a cycle, but a good one. Everything you do can be monitored learned from and improved. Once perfected, these techniques can be adapted for other work types or client groups. As new and existing clients utilise your firm, you will learn what works for them. That can be fed back into your processes, increasing client retention and satisfaction.

Before and after

If you implement these few simple suggestions, your business is going to change, possibly a lot. Like the diet analogy, you will be in better shape and able to take on challenges that you hadn’t imagined just a short while ago. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding and will leave you feeling far more in control of your destiny.

Stephen Vallance built up and sold his own legal practice and now works closely with many high street and rural law firms across Scotland as part of Harper Macleod's HM Connect support and referral network, which allows firms to access additional legal resources where necessary to service their clients.
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