Forefront article Christopher Young

Time for Business Development Tigers to roar

This article appeared in Forefront III 2020


Looking back on the first half of the year, it is amazing how our businesses have changed, how quickly, and how dramatically. Teams really have achieved remarkable things in the face of a completely unprecedented global pandemic.

As it stands, many teams have pretty much “done their stuff”; the IT teams, in the early days of lockdown, had to get the business up and running remotely—buying and configuring laptops, beefing up infrastructure, and accelerating implementation plans for collaboration tools such as Microsoft® Teams or Zoom.

We then saw finance and other functions having to rapidly digitize processes—moving to electronic authorization of payments, rather than signing physical checks, putting in tools to help with expense claims and their authorizations, etc.

Firms have become more real time. A number have told us how this shift is being driven by client demand and also the need with all the uncertainty to know where the business is at any given moment, be that WIP or accounts receivable, etc.

Many of these firms have pulled together small multi-disciplinary teams to get these things done—just like the NASA-inspired Tiger Team concept that saved Apollo 13. Some of these we have been invited to be part of, and it is amazing what small groups of people can achieve if empowered. Within our own organization, we have similarly focused teams working to accelerate and enhance forecasting, developing software enhancements, and improving the use of technologies we have.

But some business support areas are proving especially challenging because there are so many unknowns. While finance enjoys the familiarity of crunching the numbers, even remotely, those in the business development space have, I think, been wondering whether the world will ever go back to the way it was with events, meetings, and the more social ways of developing the pipeline. It’s becoming pretty clear that conferences are going to be hard to organize before the middle of next year. As for meeting in person at offices, there are still some daunting logistical problems for those firms in big cities. One calculation from a New York firm estimated that it could take more than an hour for an employee to get from the street to their 25th floor office—and that’s on a low volume day.

Understandably the focus for most of us has been on sustaining what we have: keeping the show on the road. Having sorted the IT and getting a handle on the cash flow, the firms that we are working with and are talking to are increasingly turning to growing the revenues. In other words, they are turning to business development. While some are busier than ever, there is always more work that could be won. And others are having to find new ways of driving revenues.

With revenues not picking up, firms are beginning to cut marketing and business development staff such as the events and mailings teams.

It is harder than ever to differentiate. Almost all firms have been sending mass emails about how to deal with the pandemic. How do you stand out going forward? How will client and business development need to change? What are the skills that need to be honed? What tools and techniques need to be developed?

Our marketing and business development (MBD) practice has been working with a return on investment model which allows firms to see where they should focus their marketing and business development efforts. Each firm is different, and it helps to highlight how and where firms should focus resources, throwing a lens on areas of weakness. MBD teams need to strengthen certain capabilities, and that comes down not to technology, but rather to more robust processes and thinking.

For example, look at the intelligent segmenting of practice areas within firms. Some practices have to be bought on trust, others are closer to physical goods (i.e. the buyer knows how much it should cost and the features and benefits that they are expecting in the work that they commission). These two types of practice areas need different go-to-market strategies. They need different skills. Lead generation and filling of the pipeline can be done by non-legal staff in one situation and can’t in the other.

The point is that we as marketing and business development professionals need to be clearer than ever. We need to focus on defining our client base, segmenting our internal and external clients, and developing clear go-to-market strategies that differentiate us. In essence, demonstrating the value and power of marketing and business development. It is time for the Business Development Tiger Team.

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