Developing Your Own Successful Business Development Program

How does one develop a successful business development program? What are the ingredients, and how are they best arranged? In the course of our efforts and experimentation, we’ve discovered that, though there is not a “one-size-fits all” answer, there are crucial takeaways that have worked and are still working for us, and around which you can begin to build your own program.

Determine Your Why and Who.

At the end of 2016, I was tasked by my firm with developing a program that would help support the transition of our non-principal lawyers to principals. Understanding that teaching one how to fish pays better dividends than handing out fish, I wanted to provide the training to help them do this in addition to strengthening the business development culture throughout the firm. Working with practice group leaders, we culled a list of prospects—ending up with about 28 total participants in the initial “boot camp.” Once I had zeroed in on my overarching goal and the cohort that would help me achieve it, I made sure to secure the full support of the firm’s Board; buy-in from the top is absolutely critical in terms of both consistency and accountability.

Immerse in Basic Skills.

Once the participants were locked in, they were given a personality test (we chose the Facet5 test) and attended a two-day in-person program. Beth, the boot camp’s outside coach, went over the results with each individual, which gave her a chance to start forming relationships with each lawyer. In-person attendance was made mandatory, both to facilitate face-time with Beth, but also because we wanted the participants to get to know one another, as well.

The first day focused on understanding individual strengths and challenges to developing business in a program called “Me to BD – How to Be a Rainmaker.” The second day focused on leveraging social media, developing networks and a specific list of current client, potential clients and referral sources. These two days were interspersed with fun ice-breakers and interactive discussion. Before long, the trainees were already forming bonds and getting to know each other’s practices.

Start with a Group Approach.

The next key to success was the deployment of both a group and individual approach. We held monthly calls for six months. During each call, we incorporated a mini-lesson. Presentations included topics such as conference preparation and follow-up, the art of the handwritten note, and how to close a sale and leverage your referral system. Each person gave an update on what they were working on and share any best practices or challenges with the group. It was incredibly effective; the lawyers were able to learn from one another and find inspiration in their colleagues’ successes. The calls also created a comfort zone for the lawyers to try new things.

Add Individual Coaching, but Make Them Earn It!

After six months, those lawyers who were fully engaged were allowed a one-hour session of individual coaching each month with Beth. Coaching is very effective, but can be quite expensive, so I wanted to make sure the lawyers were going to effectively utilize it. Of the 28 beginning participants, 23 received the coaching. Making them earn it created a sense of buy-in, and we started to see some real results.

Give Them Homework, but Keep It Simple.

Most of the lawyers we work with are exceptional students. They like doing homework—so give them some. At the end of each coaching session, the participants were tasked with one to three follow-up items. Giving them small, bite-sized business development activities was key to their success, as they never felt overwhelmed or intimidated.

The individual coaching also allowed us to give them their how. Not every lawyer develops business the same way. They were able to develop methodologies that felt comfortable for them in the individual sessions and share those with the group during the monthly calls.

What Happened?

They all gained confidence. The lawyers started to see small successes and developed good habits that they continue to use today. They learned to cross-sell one another and started working in teams. Most of all, six of them converted to principal, and the group generated over a million dollars in new revenue after the first year.

Demonstrating the increase in revenue and relaying the success anecdotes to the executive leaders was key to sustaining excitement and support for the initiative. Because the initial boot camp was such a success, we kicked-off another two in 2018 and 2019. Our commitment to the program allows us to continuously support any of our current and past participants should they need a quick meeting or call to discuss an opportunity.

By Elizabeth Lockett, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer, Miles & Stockbridge

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