This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
hero image of people sitting with documents near table


| 9 minutes read

CMO Series EP34 - Susanne Mandel of Lowndes on tailoring a Business Development coaching program to fit your firm

No two lawyers are the same, yet business development coaching often seems to put lawyers through the same process.

On this episode of the CMO Series, Charles Cousins is lucky to be joined by Susanne Mandel, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at Lowndes, to discuss why we need to rethink this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and how to implement a more tailored training program across your firm.

Susanne shares the trials and tribulations of running an ambitious, bespoke coaching program and how the firm has refined the approach with notable success.

Listen in as Charles and Susanne discuss:

  • Why a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to BD training might not be ideal
  • What makes a tailored BD program more effective
  • The process for building a BD program around the needs of your people
  • The challenges in running multiple programs simultaneously
  • Key successes that have made the program worthwhile
  • Advice for others developing their own BD training program


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series.

Charles: Hello and welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast. I'm Charles Cousins, and today we're covering how to tailor your business development programs to fit your firm. No two lawyers are the same, yet often BD coaching seems to put lawyers through the same process. Here to discuss why a more tailored program is more effective than the one size fits all approach is Susanne Mandel, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Lowndes. Welcome to the podcast, Susanne.

Susanne: Thank you. Thank you for having me on your podcast show.

Charles: All right. It's a pleasure. And to kick things off, when was it in your career in legal BD that you thought that maybe the one size fits all approach might not be the most efficient?

Susanne: Well, I was the marketing director at an Am Law 100 firm in New York City, and that was my first law firm, by the way. And I was their first marketing person ever way back when during that time, I became a parent. And it was actually then that I realized that just as my children each needed to be parented differently, each one of them responded to motivation and cajoling and advice and disciplined differently. The same was actually true for the lawyers. So after 30 years in big firms and small ones, I've been in major cities, smaller towns. I still believe and see that coaching lawyers in business development is very similar to parenting. Every lawyer, just like every child, has his or her own unique personality, motivations, and certainly their own learning styles.

Charles: It seems like you've taken what you've learned as a parent and applied that to your role at the CMO.

Susanne: Definitely.

Charles: So what makes a tailored program more effective?

Susanne: Well, as I said, it's the same with children. Different people learn in different ways. So younger lawyers might process information differently than older ones. Some lawyers prefer the Privacy of one to one coaching. Or they might want to learn at their own pace through some online learning. Others prefer the competitiveness of a group setting. And others actually like to learn by example or maybe are even willing to roleplay. So in any educational setting, tailoring learning styles to the participants will always have a more positive impact on engagement and ultimately on success.

Charles: So what was the process for building the BD program around the needs of your people? What did that involve?

Susanne: Oh, my goodness. It certainly takes a lot of time and a lot of thought. I would say the first step would be to identify who needs what skills. So I thought about, for instance, our younger lawyers. And I thought, well, they probably need an introduction to business development and maybe even some personal branding advice, like how to build their own internal brand so that partners will hand work down to them. And then experienced lawyers, they might need more sophisticated training, perhaps in pitches, in presentations, or even in how to close the sale as it were. So just as we advise lawyers to communicate with and get feedback from their clients, the same is true for us in our business development roles in these firms, we need to ask the lawyers where they need bolstering. Not everybody will give an honest answer, and some will shake their heads and say, oh, I don't know, I'm fine. But frankly, many will provide very helpful information. And that's how I got started.

Charles: Yeah. When we spoke about this before, you talked about the different sort of grouping, then what did that look like in the program that you ran? One of those groups, I remember you highlighted five or so.

Susanne: Yeah, there were definitely five. I thought about the different groups in the firm. And again, every firm is different, but I think many have similar groups to this. First I looked and I said, you know, we have leaders, people who are leading practice groups. They may be new to their leadership roles, or they may be great lawyers or business developers, but are they good leaders? So we need to put those leaders in one group for some kind of leadership training. And then I thought the other end of the spectrum about the younger associates at the firm. So maybe first to fourth or fifth year associates and how do they operate? Do they use social media? How can they grow their network? Do they even understand what that means? They can't be expected to focus on being a good lawyer for many years without understanding what's going to happen as they grow in their roles and eventually have to bring in business. So that was my group two, they were the junior associates. Then my third group were more of the community facing senior associates and younger partners. They serve on boards. They attend a lot of events and association meetings. They're engaged in all sorts of community presentations and activities. And so I called them the community facing group. And I put them together. They needed more networking training. The fourth group was the sort of I'm too busy lawyers to do anything structured and with a set time. And I'm also not that interested in a group setting lawyers. So this was the group that I focused on individual learning, technology based learning, so that they could do it at their own pace with an online curriculum. And then the fifth group were my I guess you'd call them horses to bet on the Rainmakers, who were already pretty sophisticated at business development. They were very competitive, so they needed to be in an environment together where they could compete with each other to grow their practices. And for that one, the Burgeoning Rainmakers group, we focused on sort of a sales closing the deal kind of group. So those were my five groups. No, go ahead. No, go ahead.

Charles: It sounds like you really covered the bases with those five key groups.

Susanne: I think so. I think we also left out of this initial program. Some of the very senior leadership lawyers who were close to retirement or certainly felt that they were not the ones we should be focusing on at the moment. So we sort of put them aside with their willingness to be put aside. But otherwise, pretty much everybody was included in one of those five groups. Well, Firstly, Congratulations on running those five programs simultaneously. It sounds like that was a hugely ambitious approach. Were there any major obstacles or challenges with running that many sort of tailored programs? Of course. I mean, I'm one person, but I used external facilitators and coaches for some of the programs, and one of them in particular, I have to say, was a huge failure. And that was the one where we put the rainmakers, the horses to bet on together for the more advanced type of business development training. And I think it's because the coach we engaged, the external coach, as much vetting as we did, just wasn't a good fit for the groups. This was a very aggressive group and a very aggressive coach, and the two, they just didn't mix well. And so we put that group aside and moved ahead with the other four after several sessions of that group that didn't do well. So that was definitely a challenge. The other challenges, of course, are in scheduling, because when you are kicking off a business development coaching program that a firm has not had before, there are always lawyers kicking and screaming that they're too busy and they can't set aside time for this. But this was a program that was stretched across a year, and so it wasn't crammed into a few days and then done. So we certainly had enough time to allow for everyone to get it on their calendars and to schedule it. So it was ambitious. Not everybody could show up at every single session, but for the most part, those four groups did really well. 

Charles: It seems like you had this fantastic idea. You rolled it out and you learned from your mistakes where things went down and were hugely successful with the other groups. 

Susanne: Yeah. You have to be willing to experiment, take risks, try things. I say that to the lawyers all the time, and lawyers are so risk averse. But those of us in marketing and business development know that you have to take a risk to understand how to learn from mistakes that you make along the way. So this was a learning process for all of us, and we've refined those groups since then. We've done things a little differently each year, but we all get better at what we're doing and what we're learning, so it's important to try it. 

Charles: Has there been any successes in particular that really make you feel your efforts have been worthwhile?

Susanne: I can certainly point to the hard evidence, because with any coaching program, whether you're doing it as a group or one on one, you want to set some benchmarks so that you can measure your progress along the way. So your key performance indicators, they might be revenues, they might be new clients, they might be new matters. And whatever they are, I certainly have the hard evidence from these groups that those key performance indicators changed over time for the better. But for me, the most important thing is that the lawyers definitely think differently. Behavioral changes can't happen overnight or in a one off sort of lecture on business development. It takes time to change behavior. And so now they think differently, they behave differently. They reach out to me and my team all the time. They're willing to try different approaches. Some are even willing to role play. So while the training and the coaching is ongoing, and obviously we have new lawyers all the time, so it's new for them. But even for the ones who have been through this, and I've been here for almost 13 years, so they've been through this with me for a while. They're much more willing now to have conversations about how to approach a pitch. Let's role play it, let's discuss it. So to me, that's the success of it. It's getting the behavior changed and the thought process changed. 

Charles: That must have been rewarding for you to see these behavioral changes in the lawyers.

Susanne: Definitely rewarding. And of course, there are stubborn mules in every group, but for the most part, I'd say it was successful. Yeah. 

Charles: Okay. To wrap things up today, we'll finish with a question that we ask all of our guests that come on the podcast. What would be your one piece of advice or your key takeaway? I guess this is for others developing their own BD training programs.

Susanne:  It's hard to think of just one because one size does not fit all. And it's very important to understand that. I think it's important to expect the unexpected. Some things work and some things don't work. But perhaps the most important advice would be it doesn't matter whether you're doing a multi modal program or a University style program with lots of course options. If it's one on one coaching, whatever the process is, I think most important to remember is that it's ongoing, that it should constantly be an upgrade, an improvement, get feedback from the participants, find out what skills are needed next, what are the weak links in your program, and just constantly improve, as we all should, so that your efforts have the best impact. 

Charles: I think that's a really nice way of putting it. You do something. If it works great, you carry on doing it. If there are ways you can make it better, improve on that. 

Susanne: Absolutely. 

Charles: Well, Susanne, thanks for your time today. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you about how you've tailored the BD training programs at your firm. So thanks for coming on. It's been a pleasure. 

Susanne: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Behavioral changes can't happen overnight or in a one off sort of lecture on business development. It takes time to change behavior. And so now they think differently, they behave differently. They reach out to me and my team all the time.


e2e, marketing, professional services, passlepod, cmoseries