Starting the Proactivity Process in Business Development: 3 Key Points

It’s more than 30 years since I came across the ‘Seven Golden Bullets’ ideas propounded by the amazing pioneer of professional services business development David Cottle.

I used his teaching, and stuff I learned elsewhere to grow my practice very successfully for a decade and a half with no dedicated business development people and a minuscule budget: frankly, it was easy.

The nub of Cottle’s approach was to get away from talking to clients about their current problem/compliance issue and start talking to them about their dreams and aspirations. This gives firms an unassailable USP – proactivity –  and great ‘client glue’.

Being proactive implies a genuine interest in the client – this will be noticed and will mean yours is the name they think of straight away when they have a need for legal services – especially if you are the person that makes them aware of it in the first place.

However, even that strategy leaves a lot of money on the table, because if the client has a future need or a wish that you can take care of for them, you should try to become part of their ‘strategic team’. A role that is valued far more highly than that of a compliance manager or firefighter. The expensive bit of business development is acquiring a new client, not gaining more work form an existing one.

Proactivity is given a lot of lip services these days, but professional firms are still terrible at it. When they are, they are still normally far too short-term in their approach. They seem to (crucially, in my view) regard the ‘know your client’ exercise as a ‘know enough about your client to tick the box’ requirement, rather than a ‘really understand your client’ one.

A client-centred approach to business development

Real proactivity requires a client-centred, not a matter-centred, approach. Here’s the way to do it. Your client is a person with real wishes and fears, real people around them with real problems and strengths and weaknesses. Find these out.

There are three key points:

  1. Dreams are more powerful than wants. If you can understand what your client dreams for – the really big goals they are after – you have a far better chance of acting in a really proactive way. This means understanding quite a lot about how they ‘tick’.

  2. Heaven is an easier sale than Hell. Proactivity means concentrating on the good you can do, not the bad things you can help their clients avoid.

  3. Context is key. To really understand what people are about, knowing a lot about their personal circumstances is critical (it normally opens up myriad other conversations which can lead to even more client work as well).

This approach works best if the organisation gathers and shares such information routinely – and a good CRM system is essential for this. Even more important than just CRM capability is deep thought in setting it up. First define the bits of data that will help you contextualise and predict client needs before you start building your CRM.

In my next short article I’ll give an example or two…once you start thinking proactively, it starts to become pretty easy.

Joe Reevy, LegalRSS and Crosselerator

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