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5 posts from January 2007

January 31, 2007

How to increase coaching success - Part 3 of 3


Attorneys have many good reasons for failing to follow up on the advice from business development coaches and trainers, starting with heavy case loads that constantly compete for their time. No business development program can succeed if lawyers fail to follow up.

This is a never-ending battle. One of the greatest contributions of any coach is simply to ensure that things get done. In my work with lawyers, I focus on Neil Rackham’s concept of sales “advances” based on his studies of more than 35,000 sales calls in a variety of professions over twelve years. In SPIN Selling, Rackham defines an advance as “A specific action taken by either party that moves the sale forward,” such as scheduling another meeting, getting introduced to someone new, or providing a list of references.

Great salespeople succeed by planning every sales call, and successfully strategizing how to get the largest possible advance. Rackham’s SPIN Selling Fieldbook provides examples and guidance of how to brainstorm possible advances before a meeting, and then select the one that is likely to lead to the greatest progress. This takes effort and practice. But it may be the difference between success and failure.

To increase follow-up, coaches can provide weekly reports of the advances and results for each person in the business development group. This creates accountability and a subtle group pressure; no one wants to see a report with a string of zeroes next to their name.

Individual Differences

The field of differential psychology focuses on the many differences that make each of us unique, including personality traits, values, motivation, and learning styles. The best coaching programs must be designed to build on these individual differences.

The book Discover Your Sales Strengths summarizes 40 years of research by the Gallup organization on why some people succeed at sales, and some do not. Based on interviews with over 250,000 sales professionals, they have concluded that the most successful sales people learn how to apply their personal strengths to develop successful selling tactics.

There are many many ways to sell. But lawyers don’t have time to learn them all. If an individual finds a particular task difficult or distasteful, they should focus their limited business development efforts on something else. Each individual must specialize in what they do best. An effective coach can accommodate personal differences and individual needs by helping each person to identify their personal key strengths.

In recent decades, sales professionals have made significant advances in refining training and coaching techniques. Legal business development professionals can increase their success by applying the lessons learned in other industries – starting with these five critical success factors.

This three part series is from an article I published in the November/ December 2006 issue of Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing.

January 24, 2007

How to increase coaching success - Part 2 of 3


Lawyers have little time for business development. Therefore, it is urgent that they focus the time they do have on the most productive activities. For example, if a lawyer takes a class on how to network, then later fails to actually attend networking events, the program will be a waste on all accounts.

Selling requires follow-up, and coaches have the greatest success encouraging follow-up when they concentrate on the selling activities that each lawyer is most comfortable with. This usually means starting out by coaching them on how to develop the potential for new work within existing clients.

Allowing each lawyer to set his/her own agenda and focusing on the “low hanging fruit” will also increase motivation. Psychologists such as Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin have repeatedly shown that when people have a feeling of control over their environment, they feel better and are more likely to act.

Of course, some lawyers may have trouble identifying the best low hanging fruit. Sales professionals qualify prospects by asking three questions: “Will they buy?”, “Will they buy now?”, and “Will they buy from me?” This type of thinking is often foreign to lawyers, who may be tempted to select prospects based on a variety of irrelevant criteria.

A diplomatic coach can help guide lawyers to the prospects that are most likely to lead to significant new engagements. But the key word in that sentence is “diplomatic.” Lawyers are highly intelligent people who are trained to be critical. Most respond negatively to overt pressure. So the coach’s job is to gently try to convince them to pursue the largest and most likely prospects. If that doesn’t work, one must “go with the flow,” and help lawyers to pursue the clients they care about. If it produces results, it will prove the lawyer was right. And if it doesn’t, you will now have the evidence to turn attention to better prospects.


As management guru Tom Peters put it: “What gets measured gets done.” In every program to change behavior, coaches and therapists measure activity and results. Dieters track their calorie intake and weight. People who want to become more fit track the time they spend exercising. People with money problems track their budgets. People with medical complaints track their symptoms.

In a recent survey of 377 marketing professionals, Suzanne Lowe and Larry Bodine found that “Professional firms that said they were extremely effective [in developing new business] used three particular client-focused metrics in combination with each other…: a) Growing client revenue: ‘Did you grow revenue with your client or not?’ b) Moving the phases of a sale through a pipeline: ‘Did you close the sale or not?’ and c) Listening to the client: ‘Did you listen to your client or not?’”

As explained in my book Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide, in addition to these three variables law firms should also consider such measures as time spent, advances, meetings, market share, referrals, client satisfaction, and more. The precise measures to be used in each coaching program will be based on each firm’s goals and culture. What the best measures have in common is simplicity, so that something will in fact be counted consistently and followed up.

This three part series is from an article I published in the November/ December 2006 issue of Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing.

January 17, 2007

How to increase coaching success - Part 1 of 3

According to the 2006 Law Firm Business Development Practices Survey published by ALM Research, 69% of large law firms have tried sales training, but few see it as contributing to revenue growth. Sales trainers and coaches in other industries have found that they can increase impact by focusing on five critical factors: motivation, focus, measurement, follow-up, and individual differences. This article will discuss how these factors are being applied in legal business development coaching to increase attorney commitment and improve business results.


You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that motivation is a key to success. But discussions of motivating lawyers to develop new business often get bogged down in debates about compensation, rather than focusing on variables that are easier to control.

In the long run, law firms must change compensation to better reward business development success. However, in the short run this is simply not going to happen at every firm. Therefore, the focus needs to be on other common motivators for job performance, including social reinforcement and group pressure.

Coaches can start by “selling” both financial and non-financial benefits of marketing activity, and explaining how business development can increase personal satisfaction by helping lawyers to find the most interesting clients. As David Maister put it in his book True Professionalism: “The better you are at marketing, the better the chance you have to work on fun stuff, and the less trapped you become in being forced to take on work and clients you don’t truly enjoy.”

However well this message is delivered, some lawyers will simply not respond, and will remain unmotivated. Ignore them. As the cliché says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

One of the most important factors in the success of any program is the people who are selected to participate. Law firms should always start with the motivated, especially when launching a new program that others will watch to judge how well it works. Once a pilot group succeeds in bringing in new business, it will be much easier to build upon this initial success.

After the best attorney candidates are selected, the coach must serve not just as an expert guide but also as a cheerleader, to keep people moving forward when they encounter the inevitable obstacles. One way to do this is to use group coaching to provide regular feedback on each individual’s activity and results, as described in the measurement section below. The coaching group will appreciate and celebrate success, because they will see for themselves how hard it is to get a meeting or prepare a proposal. And if some lawyers in the group fail to work on business development due to other time demands, the reporting on the group successes will provide adequate peer pressure. Most lawyers are so competitive that simply knowing that others are making gains can be an effective way to increase motivation.

This three part series is from an article I published in the November/ December 2006 issue of Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing.

January 10, 2007

Sales training: Is it worth your while? Part 4 of 4

Two examples of institutional change

The ALM/ Brand Research 2006 “Law Firm Business Development Practices Survey” went far beyond sales training to ask questions about business development strategies, resources, staffing, client feedback, and growth targets. They reported that 66% of the participating firms had added business development staff last year.

Anne Malloy Tucker, Chief Marketing Officer at Goodwin Procter, put it this way: “If you are training people who have acted a certain way for their whole life, it’s unrealistic to hire a consultant to come in once a year and expect massive institutional change.” That’s why Goodwin Procter hired an in-house Manager of Business Development in 2004. Allison Nussbaum is a lawyer with extensive experience in sales. Her role includes coaching lawyers, linking the sales training provided by outside consultants with the strategic business plans of practice areas and the firm, and more.

Says Tucker: “At the core of what we are asking attorneys to do in sales training is to move from a rational, data driven approach to business development to a more emotionally-based process (relationship building, establishing trust, communicating value, listening, the importance of chemistry...) In many cases, this takes people out of their immediate comfort zone.” One implication is that “Firms that look for a quick and easy fix will be disappointed.”

Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, a firm founded in Winston-Salem North Carolina in 1876, has taken a more radical approach to institutional change, under the leadership of Mark Whitley, the Director of Strategic Development and Marketing. In 2001, Womble became one of the first law firms to publicly use word sales when it hired Steve Bell as Director of Sales. Bell came to the firm with over 15 years of experience selling professional services at Price Waterhouse and as a partner at Grant Thornton. The approach has worked so well that Womble has since expanded the inside sales staff to six people, each of whom has 10 to 25 years of prior experience selling to large clients.

Sales staff initiate client meetings and participate in them. They also offer lawyers sales training in classes, individual coaching, and on-the-job training in meetings with clients and prospective clients.

“Sales training does not transfer easily to the real world,” says Bell. “In training a lawyer learns that in a sales meeting he or she is supposed to listen 80% of the time and talk only 20%. But often when lawyers go on real sales calls, they revert to talking about themselves the whole time. At Womble, we offer regular sales training, but we also make sure that our sales professionals are at the point of sale with the lawyers, so they can help bridge the gap between training and reality.”

However, he emphasized that “Sales training is a tiny commitment of time and resources when compared with the real work that follows. Many law firms lack the infrastructure to follow up” including staff, secretarial and IT support, research budgets, travel and entertainment, office budgets and more. Womble Carlyle has made that commitment, including “top management's clear instructions to marketing that they are the sales support organization.”

The future

What does all this imply for the future?

Does Womble Carlyle’s success imply that every large law firm will soon be hiring an outside sales staff? Of course not. One size does not fit all. As Catherine MacDonagh notes, the details of successful programs will vary because success is “completely driven by the culture of the firm.”

Sales training for lawyers is here to stay. It may not be called sales training, but it will include coaching and follow-up. As the programs mature, the approach to sales training is likely to develop as it has in other industries, where in-house staff play an increasingly larger role. Outside consultants will provide expertise for critical initiatives, and develop course materials which are customized for each firm.

Whatever the training is called, at least for the short term the emphasis will be on what Dave Milberg at Schiff Hardin calls “The holy grail for lawyers… to become a trusted advisor.”

And as law firms become increasingly sophisticated about client service, the bar of client expectations and demands will go up. Law firms that are slow to adapt are taking a significant risk. When one law firm succeeds in training its lawyers to get new business, it usually takes the work away from a second firm. In this environment, firms may find it difficult to recover. “Once you lose the trusted advisor role,” Barrett says, “you are on the outside, and it could take five years to get back in.”

As Catherine MacDonagh summed it up: “This is do or die, folks…It is an absolute business imperative for law firms to take a serious look at sales and service. The ones who do will uncover incredible opportunities. The ones who don’t may not survive.”

This four part series is an expanded version of an article that I wrote for the most recent issue of Law Firm Inc (Nov/Dec 2006, p. 30). To see the abridged version that appeared in print, go to the free resources section of our web page.

January 03, 2007

Sales training: Is it worth your while? Part 3 of 4

The importance of follow-up

One key reason the Drinker Biddle program worked so well, according to Barrett, was that to assure success you must “follow up and follow up and follow up. You need a system to monitor results and assure consequences, and you must offer individual coaching. Otherwise, people will be doing the same old things the next Monday.”

Drinker Biddle’s follow-up was organized by client service teams which assigned tasks and deadlines, publicized them to the group, and sent regular email reminders. They also used a software program called Results Engine to provide automated reminders every Friday.

If all that didn’t work, lawyers were to expect a call from the managing partner. But that did not happen very often because when people started to slip, group pressure took over. Lawyers did not want to disappoint their colleagues by missing the deadlines.

Iris Jones at Akin Gump agrees on the importance of follow-up: “The most important factor in training success is to immediately develop a formalized implementation plan for each individual. It’s like learning a language -- if you don’t put it to use right away, it’s lost.”

Similar results have been observed by sales trainers in a variety of industries, since all trainers face similar challenges, rooted in human nature. Whether you are a personal exercise trainer, a nutritionist, a psychotherapist, a middle school teacher, a prison reformer, or a sales coach, it just isn’t easy to change long-term behavior patterns.

ISA is the largest association for training company executives (). At their 2005 sales and marketing conference in Washington, D.C., one of the keynote speakers was Tom Snyder, Vice President of Business Development at Huthwaite a Virginia company described on its web page as “the acknowledged thought leader in the sales performance improvement industry… best known as the creators of SPIN selling.”

Snyder’s keynote speech explained how difficult it is to train new behaviors, and why. He summarized several decades of research proving that when skills training is an isolated event, a maximum of 8% of participants should be expected to show long term effects. The other 92% or more will fall into two large groups: about half will try to change and fail, and the other half won’t even try. To effect change, every organization needs follow-up and management support.

That’s why Catherine MacDonagh, Director of Business Development at Day, Berry & Howard, says that “training is great, but it’s just the beginning. Change requires that the firm’s leaders must be committed to a sustained effort.” MacDonagh is in a good position to know, since she co-founded LSSO, the organization that held the RainDance Conference discussed in Part 1 of this series.

To emphasize her point, MacDonagh quoted the Roman philosopher Lucretius: “The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.” In many cases, this requires institutional change.

This four part series is an expanded version of an article that I wrote for the most recent issue of Law Firm Inc (Nov/Dec 2006, p. 30). To see the abridged version that appeared in print, go to the free resources section of our web page.