Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

'Not my bag'

'Not my bag'


Professionals who choose to categorise themselves according to their strengths are harmful to business development. They need a nudge

The debate on everyone's lips is the EU referendum: should we be in or out? Or should we pretend that we're out, just so we can go back and negotiate a better deal?

A similar debate is often had in relation to professional services and business development. Many professionals are quite comfortable declaring that they are 'out' as they are 'no good' at business development, as they view themselves as technicians rather than sales people.

Law and professional services firms have for many years accepted this declaration, and simply engaged other partners who are more comfortable with business development, relying on the few to feed the many.

This manifests itself in the widely accepted principle that in terms of business development, professionals can be categorised into those that find the clients, those that manage the work and those that carry out the work; the concept of finders, minders and grinders.

All-purpose professionals

It is certainly true that people often show a stronger aptitude for one of these three categories, but the reality is that for a firm and a professional to succeed, professionals needs to be a blend of all three.

Very few professional services firms can survive, or better still flourish, on the efforts of pure rainmakers alone and while efforts and budget can be committed to advertising and public relations, experience tells us that personal referral or recommendation is still the most common way of winning new work in the professional services sector.

The reason for this is simple. Much like finding a plumber or an electrician, when a client finds themselves in a tricky situation, they ask their trusted friends and contacts whether they have been through something similar and whether they can recommend someone.

Consequently, a way to increase sales is to increase the number of professionals in your business who are being recommended, or referred.

There are two main routes for recommendations and referrals; a referral from an existing client, or a referral from an existing personal or business contact.

A common misconception is that referrals from existing clients just happen organically. Sometimes this is true, however, this does not make that approach the right one; it's just luck.

A good professional will be looking to forge stronger relationships with their clients which go beyond the specific piece of advice on which they have been instructed.

Much like everyone suddenly realising that they need to take a genuine interest in Europe if they are to have any hope of an informed vote on Brexit, professionals need to take a genuine interest in their clients and their personal and business worlds if they are to have a hope of continuing referrals. This also inevitably leads to more instructions from the client.

Where to begin?

It is essential to be up to speed on current affairs and proactively contact the client when matters of relevance arise, and not just when there is a fee involved. Professionals need to go and see their clients, listen to them, help them, connect them and become more than just their professional adviser. The day a client calls to talk about a problem that does not immediately relate to a service you offer, that is the day you know you've 'cracked it'. However, it doesn't end there.

The professional should then take the chance to educate the client, not only about them, but about the wider practice and to actively seek recommendations and referrals. It is a fact of life that people like to help people that they like and respect. Professionals need to have the confidence to ask for this assistance from their clients.

It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that on a cost/benefit analysis where time is the cost, and new instructions are the benefit, forging good referral relationships can be potentially much more lucrative than relying on good client relationships alone.

This is not to say that one should neglect fostering those client relationships, but professionals should look to balance their efforts between key clients and key referrers.

As with any challenge, the key is to take the first step. The goal is not to convert grinders into finders, but simply to encourage, help and ideally, incentivise them to move out of their comfort zone. It's essential they begin to look at the clients and contacts they have and think about how they might proactively develop some new instructions from them.

If you can get just 20 per cent more of your professionals to vote yes to business development, you will reap the rewards. 

Rebecca Lynch is head of business development at Gordon Dadds