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February 19, 2014

The most successful business development program we’ve seen: The case of Adams and Reese (Part 4 of 4)

To fully understand the success of the Adams and Reese coaching program, there is one more factor that cannot be ignored: the firm’s ability to deliver the kinds of legal services that clients are looking for these days.

An extremely important ingredient in sales success is having a product that people want to buy. You’ve probably heard the cliché that a great sales person could “sell ice to Eskimos.” But when the Gallup Organization reviewed 40 years of research on sales (in the book Discover Your Sales Strengths), they found evidence that “a good salesperson can sell anything” is a myth. No matter how talented the sales person may be, or how well they are coached, they will not get rich selling Betamax recorders or 3.5-inch computer disks.

These days, what most legal clients want to buy is value, They want the same high quality legal services they have been getting for years, but they also now expect firms to be creative, transparent, efficient, and cost-effective. As a regional firm with more than 300 lawyers but significantly lower overhead than name brand firms based in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, Adams and Reese is in a very good position to offer the kind of value that many clients are looking for.

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal blog posted an article with the headline “Smaller Law Firms Grab Big Slice of Corporate Legal Work… Midsize Firms Nearly Double Share of Big-Ticket Litigation.

The data behind the headline is described in a Harvard Business Review HBR Blog Network post which was co-authored by Firoz Dattu, the founder of AdvanceLaw, “an organization helping its general counsel clients identify top lawyers at firms vetted for quality, innovation, efficiency, and client service.”

AdvanceLaw clients include companies like Google, Deutsche Bank, NIKE, Nestle, Starwood Hotels, 3M, Mastercard, eBay and McDonald’s, all of whom are looking to lower costs and increase efficiency.

At this time, only 10 law firms in the United States have been vetted to belong to this value providing network. Adams and Reese is at the top of the list on the AdvanceLaw web page. (All right, it’s in alphabetical order, but still…)

So you could say that another reason for the success of this particular coaching program was that as a growing regional firm, Adams and Reese was well positioned to provide the high value services that clients are demanding these days. (Not all firms are so lucky, which is one reason legal project management has become so popular as a way to increase efficiency.)

At the end of the day, developing new business ultimately comes down to understanding what clients want, and giving them just a little more. Derek Anchondo, an Adams and Reese special counsel who does transactional work for oil and gas clients in the Houston office, agreed. As a former in-house counsel himself, he often sees things from the client perspective. Business development coaching helped him sharpen this perspective and frame it in a way that gained the trust of prospective clients.

“When you go into a client meeting, you need to be totally prepared to hear the client’s point of view,” Anchondo said. “Just listen. Don’t go in with a forceful sales pitch right away, just let them talk. You can learn so much by listening.”

Anchondo learned that sales progress is possible only after learning the prospective client’s needs. Then – and only then – can he decide which members of his firm might best meet those needs

“We wanted to build work from one particular client, and we realized that our challenge stemmed from their existing relationship with a different law firm,” Anchondo said. “My coach and I brainstormed ideas. We had four or five meetings, and I familiarized them with our fees and services available in the Houston office. Now they are thinking of expanding their work with us to include tax and OSHA work. It took that many meetings to swing the pendulum, but the approach worked.”

No matter how you do it, business development simply takes time. Many law firms have strategic plans that call for growth, but Adams and Reese is one of the few we have seen that is investing the time and money needed to achieve their goal. The investment has already paid for itself and is continuing to produce ever higher returns.

Adams and Reese plans to continue business development coaching with appropriate lawyers in the firm.

This series was written by Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner.

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