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Bernard Savage – Demystifying business development for professional service firms

In episode 4 of the Your Law Firm Success podcast Stephen talks to Bernard Savage of Size Ten and a Half Boots and debunks the myths often associated with what is required to be a good business developer.

Bernard, an expert Business Development Consultant for professional services firms of all sizes, provides tips and guidance on how to grow your firm whilst doing what you feel comfortable with.

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My name is Stephen Moore and I’m the presenter of the your Law Firm success podcast this podcast explores the roots to Law Firm success we chat to those who have done it those who are doing it and those who help law firms do it this podcast is brought to you by MLT digital the leaders in law firm success in the previous three episodes of your Law Firm success in different ways we have covered the importance of sales and Business Development so today’s guest Bernard Savage is an expert in this area he works with law firms and Professional Services companies helping them to develop improve and enhance their sales and Business Development processes I hope you enjoy this discussion hope you find it useful Bernard is a thoroughly engaging fun and insightful guest thanks very much Bernard thanks for coming on this podcast with me at the start or to introduce yourself would you mind giving me bit more information obviously we know each other more information on you what you do how long you’ve been doing it for and the types of results that you achieve okay I’ll try and keep the football analogies to a minimum but if I can start with one uh my career is a game with two halves so first half of my career the first what 12 13 years, I worked in a very traditional Blue Chip environment at Proctor and gamble the people that make the world’s finest washing powders and shell and then in all honesty I made what in some respects was a bad career move and moved to Eversheds the law firm and that was my ignorance at the time my lack of understanding of how the legal sector worked but they say every cloud has a silver lining and if it hadn’t been for my two years of misery Eversheds we wouldn’t be having this conversation Stephen because I learned an awful lot at Eversheds and this was at the time the early 2000s and at that time legal marketing legal BD was pretty unsophisticated and that was quite a surprise to me having come from an environment where sales marketing is very much at the sort of Forefront of what people do so when I left Eversheds I made myself a promise this was 2004 the I’m never going to work for anybody else again and I want to work with like-minded people who buy into the idea that just being a good technical practitioner whether that’s in law or accounting uh do a lot of work intellectual property that that isn’t necessarily enough to be commercially successful and that was the birth of size 10 and a half boots which is the business that that I own set up in 2005 and despite two or three bumps in the road which you’d expect over 19 years or so here and we we’ve now worked with more than 250 Professional Service firms right across the UK and overseas and the legal set as the biggest part of that what do we do it’s about helping organisations get from A to B with practical BD Solutions okay so you focus primarily on helping law firms uh build their BD practice build a sustainable predict predictable pipeline of new business working with both individual partners and firms in general that’s right yeah so the work I mean it varies tremendously from client to client but in some cases is working with individual lawyers all levels from trainees right through to managing partners and Senior Partners and also doing some group work so it could be building the business which is more about actually finding sort of strategic Solutions targeting efforts or it could be working with individuals to help them grow in developing their non-technical skills so whilst BD is the is very much the focus of the business we do collaborate with other associates in other non-technical areas so Finance HR being the two obvious ones okay and you mentioned so you started at Proctor and gamble you know those types of organisations are renowned for their sales and marketing training and then moving into ever sheds where those within our audience which is typically the small to medium-sized Law Firm would assume would also have a well-honed business development and sales and marketing machine it wasn’t what you encountered at that time this is a tricky one to answer because it touches on so many areas but what I would say is that I’ve worked with law firms at one end of the spectrum you know International multinational firms but the other end of the spectrum solo practitioners and you know what the differences are not apart from the obvious that some are bigger than others the issues are not very different really whether there’s a big in-house team or not there’s still the fundamental issue that if I’m being brutally franked with a lot of naivety about business development and there are still some quite outdated ideas around how you retain and grow feeds so yes on the one hand the Eversheds and firms of that like have an advantage because they have Brands they have a lot of In-House resource some of the issues are not are not really that different they still have to attract business in you know a tough a tough environment where people are quite sceptical about Law Firm a suggesting they’re better than Law Firm B and why is it that you think law firms to a certain extent and let me think about this find Business Development difficult I mean it seems I I’ve recorded three episodes of this podcast so for far which haven’t been released so you won’t have heard them but in each one each of the guests who has in their own way been very successful have talked about the importance of sales and Business Development but within law firms and for lawyers in particular there’s obviously the issue of billable hours so just to ask you the you know get to the question really why is it that you find law firms struggle with it and why is it you think individual lawyers struggle with it I think there a whole host of reasons Stephen uh but a few of them are firstly I think there is this mistaken belief that if you do a good job that alone is enough to attract work I I don’t accept that I think that’s one issue second issue is that if I go back to the fortune the fortune I had an early start in my career at Proctor and gamble where training is you get training from day one and there’s a high Value Place on non-technical skills development in the context of law firms the overwhelming majority of the training is about technical skills it isn’t non-technical and then even within the non-technical that’s divided between BD leadership development health and safety training Financial skills and etc so people actually don’t get that much input I think a third issue is that a lot of lawyers have put off BD because they’ve been led to believe that to be successful at BD you have to fit a certain stereotype which is probably a very extrovert individual who dances on tables at 3 o’clock in the morning and that the only way to go about BD is to go to stuffy events and make small talk with complete strangers and is it any surprise given those circumstances that there are some difficulties for lawyers in law opposing BD and actually it could be so different yeah I think I mean I think that’s part of what people discuss and certainly you know we met at an event last week which was a very sort of large scale event typical I think what many people would assume would be a typical sort of networking event now I didn’t feel particularly comfortable networking in adverted commas it doesn’t really suit my style so what would you advise to people like me who are working within a law firm who just don’t feel comfortable at that very simple answer do something that you enjoy this might surprise you Stephen I know you and I don’t know it which other particularly well but you will make some assumptions perhaps in terms of somebody like myself with my profile having a more positive more comfortable attitude to that traditional networking and the truth of the matter is whilst I am doing business development for my own business there my clients every day of the week probably including the weekends as well I do very little in the way of attending the kind of formal events where we met which isn’t to say they don’t have a place but for me the real value of that event was actually us going outside the conference and having a more intimate conversation to try and get to know one another and for me that’s what BD should be it should be authentic it should be based upon actually getting to understand people that understand their markets which they operate and what their motivations are and I think if you can understand people and find a connection with them then business is going to be much easier so for me the answer to the question is do something that you enjoy it isn’t all about networking you know create content whether that’s doing what we’re doing now in terms of podcast it could be giving talks it could be writing blogs but networking itself that’s successful is often smaller uh events a bit more intimate and it isn’t all about meeting strangers you know spend more time with people that you know already and broaden the scope of the conversation so you’re not just talking about an open file or

 

[10:00] particularly in a legal matter but you’re actually having a broader conversation really getting inside their business and inside your client’s lives and that way you’ll find is a lot easier oh certainly I find having conversations like the one we had and you know people might assume we were talking today because we’d met at that event but actually we’d arranged this prior to that and arranged to have the discussion at the event knowing we were both going to be there but it was quite an intense environment that I found a little bit uncomfortable and there was just too many people there so you know and the purpose of this podcast for me is one to pursue the passion around helping small law firms succeed which then puts me in that picture which is my own way of doing business development of course and is the one that I feel comfortable at so how do you manage to extract within a firm with a number of different partners or to produce a plan for them that takes into account that everybody likes to do things differently wow so there’s a lot of questions of their let me try and break it into bite-size chunks I think the first thing is that the starting point for BD is not about looking you know researching different events to go to and coming up with answers the starting point is to have absolute Clarity on who is your client who is your target market who’s it what does the perfect client look like for you what specialists do you want to home in on and I think the more the tighter you are with one with your definition in terms of what success looks like the easier it’s going to be in terms of making choices I think too often people’s approach to BD is far too vague and woolly far too vague and woolly so I think that’s the first point actually comes down to some not going to say Naval gazing but certainly business planning and get a real Clarity I think the second thing is to look at rather than talk about sales or business development or marketing focus on visibility how are you going to get more visible to the people and the markets the clients you’re trying to ultimately attract and you know the way to think about visibility is to do something not dissimilar some of the lists may have seen be familiar with crime dramas on television or Netflix or whatever where once a crime is been committed there’s a scene where a detective addresses an audio they have a whiteboard behind them they have a picture of the victim and then they adopted a very forensic approach to achieve two objectives number one find the perpetrator of the crime as quick as possible and to ensure there’s no miscarriage of justice so it’s about a real it’s actually quite analytical protests if you do the detective work properly and I think BD should be approaching the same way and if you do approach it in that way you’ll make better choices in terms of how you build visibility and what will be apparent is that visibility is not doesn’t all hinge on big events there’s another problem with big events is that and that typically they only happen once a year and of course if you’re serious about relationships you need to have a number of touch points and I don’t want to embarrass you Stephen but quite genuinely the way if one was to kind of analyse our relationship which I think you you’ve been the driving force in this but the way that you’ve managed it is in my opinion a very good example of how BD has done properly because you’ve you know you’ve given first and that’s and you’ve been very generous with that and it’s been a very, you found a way of finding a connection with me which makes it more likely that I’m going to lean towards you versus other suppliers of which you know that I know other suppliers too so I think you’ve gone about it really well and I think too often solicitors go into BD thinking what can they get out of people which is a very unhealthy and pretty ineffective way actually to be successful in BD so I think focus on visibility it isn’t all about networking find out where do the people that you’re trying to influence go who do they hang about with what do they read what trade bodies are they members of what associations or alliances or networks are they members of and again just like you would do if you’re a forensic investigator do your due diligence that’s a combination of desk research and primary consultation with people and then just hang about the right places I call it engineering Serendipity and if you’re being silly cool you could say it’s professional stalking but you know quite simply if you hang about in the right places and you get on with people and you listen attentively and you follow up things will happen things will happen and they’ll only happen as fast as you know you can’t kind of force chemistry if you and I and then you know anyone knows me well will corroborate what I’m going to say I don’t suffer fools and I won’t spend time with people who I don’t feel some sort of connection with and you know in our case from my perspective I’ve really enjoyed the contacts we’ve had and feel very positive about the opportunity to have more contacts and if you spend more time with people the conversations develop and you find things out and one thing leads to another that leads to another that that perhaps leads to another so it’s about visibility it and it’s about using you know thinking more creatively about how you can be visible it isn’t all about networking events so starting a podcast is a big leap of faith a leap into the unknown and one of the things that helps majorly is if we receive positive reviews so if you could spare just a couple of minutes to leave us a positive review that would be greatly appreciated and will help us to bring more hopefully informative content to your ears I think that’s a really good point and it’s one sort of worth exploring to a certain extent because you know I am sure you have come across the situation in many occasions where you’ve spoken to lawyers and they say I don’t like selling I don’t I’m not into sales and people will make the leap from one end of the sales Spectrum which is the sort of cold calling door knocking you know commission based sales to the consultative sales process that is about building up a relationship and understanding that the person you are talking to has a need and that you’re able to meet that need so you’re actually you know working towards coming up with a solution for them and it’s not a hard sale it’s simply look this is what we do it seems as if you have a requirement for that we’re very happy to chat you about that but at the same token and we’re happy just to spend some time together and find out more about you as a person and be genuine in in that approach and I think you can take a sledgehammer to crack a nut in terms of organising or being focused on having large events or else you can be consistent and incremental in terms of your approach and understanding that in order for you to generate business you need to be having a certain amount of conversations every month it it’s also okay this is something I could talk about for hours but relax because I’m not but I think it’s also you know one needs to get one’s head around the fact that so much this is about timing the people that anybody’s trying to influence whether you’re on the transactional side or you’re on the your litigator people not waiting for solicitors to contact you and you’re going to need to interact with people five 6 7even 8 nine times or even more now an interaction doesn’t mean you have to have night lunches or meet people in person necessarily 8 nine 10 times you know one interaction might be a phone call another one might be you said there was something useful in the post another interaction might be an invitation to some sort of social event another interaction might be an exchange on LinkedIn and so on and so forth but there needs to be more contact and I think people make BD harder than it needs to be because they work with a client help a client get the outcome that they want the file is then archived away and they move on to the next thing and I think if people spent a bit more time to actually engage with their professional contact with their clients or intermediaries outside of open files they be front of mine more often than stay on people’s radar so that when the right kind of opportunities come up in the future they’ll think of you and I I’ve used the word opportunity with intent rather than I haven’t said instructional referral because I think it’s far too simplistic to look at relationships based on instructions and referrals so I’ll give you a couple examples probably the best contact I’ve had in terms of retail on investment in 19 years as a business owner will be based upon one introduction I had for one client to give a talk to the chartered Institute of patent attorneys many years ago go and as I said that wasn’t an instruction referral that was I can get you a speaking engagement and at that point in time that was a non that I wasn’t paid for that speaking engagement in case anybody’s listening now I do charge for my speaking engagements just sort to get that in there but at the time 18, 19 years ago I would anybody give me a microphone I would gladly take it and that particular talk has led to a pipeline of 17 years’ worth of work since within the intellectual property Market that’s one example another one is even in the short time that you

 

[20:00] and I have known each other Stephen we’ve both made introductions for each other not referrals because they’re not the same thing referrals are difficult for lots of reasons that don’t come about that often but with a little bit of creative thinking it isn’t too difficult to initiate conversations or help your contacts introduce them to people and then it’s down to them what happens afterwards and I think you know this can also help manage stress as a lawyer you cannot make people instruct you can’t do it what is within your control with a little bit of with a commitment  is to get in front of people to be visible and to manage the number of interactions you have with the people that you’re trying to influence that is manageable I call it coffee meetings that doesn’t mean you have to have a cup of coffee with people but I will help alleviate some of my stress as a business owner cause I’ve got six mouths to feed I had too many children Stephen that was a mistake I made let’s hope they’re not listening they been busy enough yeah it’s not difficult to get in front of people and just fun put on the coffee thing because as sometimes I get Challenge from people and they say well it’s all very well you talking about approaching people for a coffee but you know my contacts they’re very important they’re very senior and they’re very busy so am mine and they do give me their time why because they perceive that they’re going to get something meaningful from the discussion that are going to add value that’s their perception whether I do or not you’d have to ask them but I don’t have much difficulty when I approach people and getting coffee meetings yeah not with a bit of persistence anyway I think also if you’ve got the right message and you’re looking at providing me I imagine you know your message is more around helping them grow which is about what this podcast is you know how can I help your lawyers be more successful so for example say I was a young lawyer I’m not young anymore but say I was a young lawyer I’ve had a few years of practice I moved firm on the basis of my years of experience but I’ve been quite clearly tasked by The Firm in terms of they want me to achieve growth and revenue new business coming into the firm and I’m sitting there on the first day and I’m thinking right what do I do now what tips would you give me okay well again my starting point would be to spend a little bit time being really clear about exactly who you want to engage with so I give you an example many law firms talk about they want to focus on high net with individuals that’s not that helpful because High net with individuals could be professional sports people they could be little old ladies who keep their cash under the mattress they could be C suite execs they could be doctors I just you know I’ve just plucked a few groups now how you would actually get visible to them would be very different depending upon which of those particular profiles you’re targeting so I think people need to be a bit more focused when they’re thinking about their targets that’s the starting point second bit is do some desk research find out you know where do these people congregate and you find you’ll be hard pushed to find any community of people that doesn’t have a trade body or isn’t Affiliated to some sort of organisation and then it’s a case of you know what can you do to get visible and really simple one let’s just take let’s take your podcast as an example Stephen and I hope you don’t mind me doing this but anyone who’s got a podcast doesn’t matter whether you’re a you know FTSE 100 company or whether you’re a micro business if you’ve got a podcast you’ve got three problems problem number one is coming out with new ideas and all of us struggle for that because all of us sometimes can’t say the wood before the trees so that’s the first problem second problem is you know you’ve committed to this podcast and you you’re thinking about ideas but then you’ve got the problem who’s going to be on them now if in your organisation you if let’s look at your situation if it was only people in your business that are on your podcast with the greatest respect to you and your colleagues that’s actually not going to be harder to get people to listen to because actually it has more credibility if you can bring somebody in from outside an expert in whatever area third problem is that ultimately the reason that you or anyone would do a podcast is there is a marketing purpose and this is where it gets interesting for the lawyers are listening because if you were to in the course of your coffee meetings you know ask questions or seek to understand about the podcast that some of your clients and intermediaries have they will bite your hand off if you put yourself forward to be on their podcast because it addresses the three issues first one you’ll have some you have some topics hopefully that are interest two it provides fresh content which makes it more engaging for listeners and thirdly it actually amplifies from a marketing perspective it made it a stronger product for the host so you know there’s one example of how very easily you can build visibility and don’t worry about the selling bit because if you’re visible to the right people and you’re out there and it’s done in a targeted way you can and you will succeed if I just add one thing to that I’ll give a I want to be very specific here because I want to be while there’s with I did work with intellectual property the charted Institute of patent attorneys have got a very good podcast called two IPS and a pod I think it’s excellent and you know from my selfish perspective it’s helpful for me if I was thinking it’d be really good if I could find a way to be on their podcast because that gives me exposure to a lot of people within the intellectual property community so I approached the people that did the podcast and said think podcast is really good have you thought about doing a top on Business Development so this is what they said Stephen very rude they said do you know anyone that knows anything about BD so well I sort of calmed down a little bit and  I put myself forward to throw my hat in the ring they invited me onto their podcast and you know it’s a lot less work being on a podcast and producing a slide deck to give a talk I’ve spent this morning producing a slide deck for a talk I’m going to give to somebody next week or the week after and yeah that was it took me about I don’t know two hours work to pull that all together two and a half hours it’s a lot of work again without I hope this doesn’t disappoint you or the listeners but it hasn’t taken me two hours to prepare for this and it’s actually very enjoyable the other thing about podcasts and advantage they have is that once it’s recorded you can use that over and over and over again and with going back to the your patter attorned is I have shared that podcast with many people as a follow-up tactic after meeting them through perhaps more traditional networking means because effectively it comes across as endorsement I mean it’s not but that’s how it’s perceived so there’s plenty of places to get started so a key message there is that actually you don’t start with selling you know you start with thinking about your audience you think about where you know where it’s which Stephen Gold talked about where you play then you start thinking about the ways in which you can grow your visibility to that audience without being an avert sales process you know if we were looking at it from a more sort of digital marketing point of view you know obviously what we want to do and what we do for our law firms is make their phones ring but we are moving people down the funnel and what you’re talking about is essentially starting at the top the funnel building up awareness building up visibility and then as your relationship progresses you are able to visualise those contexts and those contacts and relationships developing from a very sort of open relationship into one in which hopefully you become a supplier absolutely there’s two things I want to add if I can in sort of closing on that first one is implicit in what you said but I think it needs to be explicit is the importance of follow up you know if you said to me now Stephen right you got 15 seconds just you know give us some gold dust just follow up you know the quality or the lack of follow up is a major reason why people don’t have law success in BD simple as that follow up follow up and follow up BD is a process you need to follow up the final thing I that that I want to say on this is that just be authentic BD will be much, much easier if one is true to oneself and just focuses on sharing  who one is and being comfortable with that and accepting that you know your story might not be for everybody it’s not a problem there’s nobody listening to this podcast there’s no law firm out there that needs everyone to be their client we need to hit our numbers but I think if people had more confidence in themselves uh had the in expressing who they really were so that it didn’t come across as vanilla beige a commodity they’d find somebody out there there’s enough people out there that will want you because of you but unfortunately what happens too often is people don’t have the confidence

 

[30:00] to be them true selves so be authentic okay so that’s brilliant so now Bernard we’ve got 15 seconds can you give me 15 seconds of gold dust no get be visible follow up and be authentic okay brilliant one I’ve got one more question before summing up and that is we generate business online for a law firm customers we make their phones ring and then the next stage is for the firm to follow up and there’s inquiries that can sometimes pose difficulties for some of our firms I think you’ve already covered it but are you able to emphasise what would be the key things to do in terms of following up with inbound enquiries as opposed to going up and finding them be confident in your follow up so don’t a good follow-up is not an email to somebody that says it was really nice to meet you I hope our paths cross again that’s a bit pathetic a good follow up is really enjoyed our discussion about the best pub in Edinburgh as it happens I’m back up in Edinburgh on the 9th of November are you around to meet up for it if not there’s some dates of work for you end of December cause I’m planning another trip be specific say what you want so come back be confident be authentic and ensure that there’s a next  stage yeah this is a key one to action you should never have any communication with anyone whether it’s online or in person without having a clear Next Step that it it’s about nudging a conversation forward if you smoke if you focus on the small steps things will progress so it’s about being clear what that next step is always every communication should finish with a suggested next step and getting Clarity trying to get agreement on that even if it’s a very small next step like a follow-up meeting or scheduling a phone call or sharing something there should always be a next step okay Bernard thank you very much for your time that was very helpful insightful if people wish to find out more about you where can they find you okay so my call to action is they can find me on the website which is www.tenandahalf.co.uk or they can email me bernardtenandahalf.co.uk or invite to connect with me on LinkedIn under my name that’s Bernard Savage and always key to start conversations with people with no obligation at all equally good to reconnect with some people that might be listening to this perhaps we haven’t had any contact for some time let’s reconnect okay Bernard thank you very much thanks for your time and I look forward to catching up with you again on Thursday that’s it me too thank you.

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