Business development for professional service firms – Summary of MBL seminar

Posted on: October 4, 2014

Here is a summary of the highlights of the MBL “Business development for professional service firms” conference which took place in London on 1st October 2014.

The delegates were an interesting mix – half were fee-earners and the others were marketing/business development professionals. Medium sized law firms dominated although there were a few accountants in attendance. With regards to the speakers (of which I was one) it felt like a reunion – so many faces from my earliest days in professional services. 

Andrew Hedley – Linking strategy to business development

After a comprehensive review of the main strategy models (including Ohmae, Ansoff and Porter – I was particularly pleased to see Bowman’s clock as I had seen the great man himself actually present his work at Cranfield University a couple of weeks ago) Andrew focused on how to avoid being “stuck in the middle” by either adopting a cost leadership or differentiation strategy.

I liked his analogy of seeing professional service firms behaving like a series of beef cuts rather than the whole cow. That effectively conveyed the silo mentality model. His service blue printing and quality mapping exercise engaged the audience and his discussion of Kotter’s change management was brought to life with the analogy of some partners behaving like rogue elephants crashing through the jungle. 

Tony Reiss – Best ways for partners to invest their time in business development

Making good use of a flipchart, Tony shared his research into how lawyers (and their BD folk) thought they spent their BD time compared to how they should and actually spend their time. Big mismatch.

His picture of the moving staircase of business development travelling from marketing and profile raising, through selling and conversion and onto relationship development struck a chord.

It was interesting to hear of the firm that hired lots of MBAs to obtain insights about their markets and about another firm that established a trade association for women working in the shipping market. He mentioned that one big four accountancy practice had identified the 10 stage process for winning and developing a client relationship.

The remainder of his talk focused on a four step process of 1. Identifying objectives and what success would look like 2. Diagnosing issues 3. Taking action (with the necessary support) and 4. Monitoring results and consolidating.

Robert Mowbray – Maximising profits

I’ve worked with accountant Robert on many occasions in the past and admire his focus on understanding the profitability of different activities. As he undertakes the biggest analysis of law firm finances for NatWest each year, he knows his stuff (for more information on this benchmarking see https://www.kimtasso.com/law-firm-financial-benchmarking-report-for-small-and-medium-sized-solicitor-practices-from-natwest/)

He talked us through his model of the five drivers of profitability, some pricing issues and the impact of discounts.  His matter planning tools made project management methods accessible.

Andrea Kennedy – Keeping the client satisfied

Andrea is a qualified lawyer and a coach and concentrated on the skills required to establish and nurture effective client relationships. There was an exploration of client service research programmes and an examination of what clients want from their lawyers (value for money, honesty, open communication, competence, knowing their business, feeling valued and trust). She provided some helpful tips for networking (e.g. saying “That sounds difficult”) and referenced work by David Maister when talking about law firm culture.

Kim Tasso – Profitable referrer and intermediary relationships

After considering the typical rather haphazard approaches to referrer management, we explored pragmatic approaches to analysing the source of work referrals, understanding their needs and developing criteria for targeting referrers.

I looked at the need for co-ordinated campaigns and how social media can support relationship building before looking at examples of sponsorship, collaboration and co-branding from firms such as Bikelawyer, Grant Thornton, Mazars, DLA, KPMG, Mishcon de Reya (which also employs a dedicated BD manager to focus on intermediaries) and Smith & Williamson.

I also talked through some innovative examples of joint service development including: Deloitte (property with Drivers Jonas acquisition), Fridaysmove (conveyancing and surveying), Pinsent Masons (lawyers and accountants), family lawyers Benussi & Co (in-house psychotherapy counsellors and forensic accountants) and Schillings (incorporating IT and risk consultants in reputation management services).  We also looked at some innovative referral reward systems before considering lessons from Key Account Management (KAM) programmes.

Kim Tasso – Thought leadership

With less than 24 hours’ notice, I had been asked to step in for the speaker who was meant to be presenting this session. When I’d asked my colleagues on social media what they thought I should cover they’d all mentioned the need for a definition. For this I provided a modified version of that produced by the late Laurie Young in his book “Thought leadership – prompting businesses to learn and think” which is: “The creation and communication of ideas (that change the world – this is my addition) for business advantage”.

After considering some of the most significant thought leadership campaigns throughout history we considered the alternative approaches such as integrated communications campaigns, championing causes and lobbying for change, strategic repositioning and the creation of new services and markets. These were illustrated with examples from the professions including Seddons, Mishcon de Reya, Manches, Thomson Snell & Passmore, Taylor Wessing, BDO and Allen & Overy.

I also spent a little time looking at the winner Steve Blank of the Global Thought Leadership awards. His work has changed the way we think about business planning for start-up businesses. I also considered how thought leadership might develop in the future (for further information see https://www.kimtasso.com/steve-blanks-lean-start-wins-laurie-young-global-prize-thought-leadership-2014/)

Peter Scott – Partner reward systems

As well as being the chair for the day Peter Scott, well known in the professions as an authoritative consultant and a former managing partner of Eversheds London, presented the final session.

Peter explained that an appropriate reward system should be seen as a component part of achieving a competitive advantage over rivals. He shared some interesting insights gleaned from partner self-assessments and 360 performance development feedback studies.

He left us with the thought that “the determining factor is just whether the people think it rewards the right people” (another reference to David Maister). This relates to the distributive method of justice which is explored further in my old blog on motivation https://www.kimtasso.com/faq/how-do-you-increase-motivation-for-marketing-and-business-development/

Further details of MBL seminars here: http://www.mblseminars.com/

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