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| 21 minutes read

CMO Series EP77 - Julie Wall Khoury of Balch & Bingham on customising business development coaching for today’s firm

Defining and creating a new business development training program in a firm that’s thriving is perhaps more daunting than starting from scratch. Many firms stick to a tried and tested method, but that isn't always the most effective, or equitable, approach for a modern-day firm.

On this episode of the CMO Series Ali Bone has the pleasure of welcoming Julie Wall Khoury, Chief Marketing Officer at Balch & Bingham to share her experience in developing a successful business development coaching program.

Ali and Julie explore:

  • Balch & Bingham’s background in BD training and what needed to change
  • How the ‘Business Generator’ program come about, and the process and people involved in that journey
  • What value Society 54 brought to the research and development of the program
  • Identifying the right tools and platform for the program to be successful
  • Why ‘levelling up’ access for everyone in the firm was a conscious decision in the development of the program
  • How to drive engagement with a BD training program
  • The challenges or barriers to success when implementing a new program 
  • The success stories off the back of the program and how feedback will influence the next iteration
  • Advice for other marketing and BD leaders looking to take a customised approach to their BD training program


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series

Ali: Welcome to the Passle CMO series podcast, where we discuss all things marketing and business development in professional services. Today we are going to discuss customising business development coaching. And when it comes to defining and developing a new business development training program in a firm that's thriving, it can be perhaps more daunting to start from scratch. So many firms stick to that tried and tested method, but that isn't always the most effective or equitable approach for today's law firms.

That's why we're so lucky to welcome Julie Wall Khoury, Chief Marketing Officer at Balch & Bingham, who has first-hand experience in developing an innovative BD training program for success in a modern-day law firm. 

Welcome, Julie.

Julie: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Ali: Absolute pleasure. We're very excited to get into this. I think it's a very exciting topic. So, Julie, to kick things off, you're here obviously, to delve into business development training program you've created and implemented at Balch & Bingham. But firstly, please, can you give us some background on what came before in terms of the BD training at the firm and what you felt needed to change?

Julie: Absolutely. So the firm historically hosted an annual business generator program, that was the title of the program, that was designed for twelve to 15 partners at the firm. It was a nine-month long program where they really received intensive business development coaching and training. They actually had an opportunity to participate in an actual pitch for a new piece of work. And that program had been going on here at the firm for, goodness, close to a decade.

Ali: Wow, that's amazing. I mean, that's really quite some time that I've been running. So I'm sure you coming in and thinking about what's next and what are we going to do to change it would have been quite daunting, not only for yourself, but others involved. So with that in mind, how did the business generator come about and what was the process and who was involved in that journey?

Julie: Absolutely. What happened is and I think really the Pandemic brought to my attention the fact that we had this really robust business generator program. But once people had been through the program once, there really wasn't another robust program, or there wasn't that continuing education opportunity for them. So it's sort of like any of us, once we learn something, you've got to continue to learn, you've got to continue to grow, you've got to continue to be reminded. And we had an opportunity to enhance what we were doing was sort of my perspective. But during the Pandemic, or I should say right when the pandemic started, I, like probably a lot of other people in my position,  was participating in every webinar, and every conversation. Most of them were through the Legal Marketing Association, which is an absolutely fantastic group. But I was learning from my peers and listening to what others were doing and sort of by listening to what others were doing, talking to our own lawyers, our own associates, our own partners and listening to what they needed and what they felt like they needed, certainly during the pandemic, to continue to add value to clients, to continue to grow loyalty and to continue to develop new business. We sort of, I, along with some others at the firm and also with Society 54, one of my outside partners, started having conversations about developing a new program or taking what we were already doing, rather, and evolving it to create something that really gave everyone an opportunity to access through business development, coaching and training.

Ali: Yeah, I think that's so important, kind of giving everybody that opportunity, as you mentioned there, and involving other partners and listening to sort of the community and the LMA. I know from speaking to the likes of Amanda Bruno and Debra Hare over at Morgan Lewis, a much bigger firm, they've got the whole BD set up. They've got coaches involved such as Debra, and they open it up to everybody. But actually, as you talk about there, being a smaller firm, it's a lot harder to think about that. So bringing in all of those different aspects obviously helps you to develop something that's really successful. And actually, you mentioned they're working alongside Society 54 to research and develop that program. What was their role and what value did that bring to the process for both you and for the firm?

Julie: So we created very much a customised curriculum for business development, training program. It was something that wasn't really off the shelf. It was tailored to our firm, which is a mid-size firm with roughly 225 lawyers today and ten offices. My view is here at Balch & Bingham, I listen to our lawyers, I listen to our people. I listen to our clients. And so I have that perspective. The perspective that an outside consultant like Society 54 can bring to the table is much broader. They have an opportunity to talk with lots and lots of different firms and work with lots of different firms and lots of different marketing teams, and business development teams across the country. And so they bring this different perspective that together we collaborated to create a curriculum that goodness; it focused on best practices, it focused on what's ahead, and it was certainly responsive to the feedback that we were hearing from our own lawyers. That was really, to me, incredibly valuable to have a partner and to have just another set of expertise come alongside us to develop something that would truly add value.

Ali: Yeah, I can imagine. I know from speaking offline, you said just how pivotal important that relationship with Society 54 was in terms of developing this and actually kind of just thinking, I know we're going to go into the weeds a little bit more. But for you, when you were creating this alongside them, were there one or two really top-level points that you're like, I really want to be able to achieve this from it?

Julie: Yeah, that's a great question. So access for everyone, it was really important to me, and not just to me, but also to our firm, that we created something that was accessible to everyone. We all at law firms may say, well, these are our rainmakers and we know who those people are, but there are often other potential rainmakers that we may not have uncovered, but that we may not interact with on a daily basis. And for me, at a mid-size firm with a very small marketing and business development staff, it is often difficult to reach everyone and engage with everyone on a regular basis. And so to me, I wanted something that gave everyone an opportunity to learn, everyone an opportunity to grow. And that was probably the number one goal as we created this program in particular.

Ali: Sure. Just opening up to everybody and having that opportunity. So kind of delving into that a little bit more in detail. How important was identifying the right tools and platform for the program to be successful? And again, there you talked about technology and levelling up and that access for everybody within the firm. Was that a conscious decision in the development program to make sure that you could implement technology as well?

Julie: Absolutely, without question. So we hosted the program via Zoom, and again, it was important that there weren't really groups of people in conference rooms that were all benefiting from in-person interaction. We actually purposefully wanted everyone to be at their own desks and on their cameras, on their own computers, or if they're working remotely at home so that everyone was sort of just connected via Zoom. And that was, again, really important to us. We launched this when the Pandemic was still very much in full swing, I should say. People were working remotely quite frequently. And so using Zoom and using a platform like Zoom was really important to us. That's the technology we chose to use to kick off the program.

Ali: Yeah, I can imagine. He said it just opens up the opportunity for everybody to get involved, which is so important, and I'm sure we'll talk about it later on. And I know you're kind of looking at Business Generator 2.0 and how maybe you can start to bring some stuff in person now that people are back in the office and those smaller group workshops. So actually, kind of when talking about this, it'd be really good to understand, Julie, how did you drive engagement once that program was launched? Because obviously, people were, as you say, they're at home. Yes, it was on Zoom, and you're bringing them together from that perspective. But it'd be great to understand how you drove that engagement. But also, you mentioned previously about Gamifying. So was Gamifying part of that process that you found sort of central to its success?

Julie: It was absolutely central to success, without question. Lawyers thrive on competition. We're competitive by training. We're taught to be competitive early on. And so we used Gamification to really play that and really take advantage of the fact that competition can be a lot of fun, but it also can encourage participation. And we saw just that. We used just a simple survey tool called Type Form to gather feedback after each virtual session. And we held twelve, by the way. So one each month, or actually two each month, one for partners and one for associates. But then there was a survey that each group received after the session in the survey. Yes, it tested sort of like were you listening? What are the things that you heard? We asked some of those questions, but we actually also asked them to give us tangible ideas. So an example is, say, for example, we were conducting a partner session on cross-servicing, cross-selling, if you will. So we may have asked a question. Identify one opportunity in which you could introduce another partner in the firm to a client in which you are actively working and explain how you might make that happen. And if you do this, you get an extra prize or you get extra points on the leaderboard. And those points were certainly translated to various prizes, such as a firm branded backpack all the way to gift cards, and then silly things that weren't as impactful, like pens and notebooks. But everyone got excited about the pens and the notebooks and everyone got excited about the opportunity to earn points. Our practices began competing with each other, our offices. We had some office competition, which was a lot of fun. So the Gamification to me was probably one of the most important parts of this program to encourage participation, to add a bit of fun to something that lawyers are often not every lawyer, but lawyers are often a bit intimidated. Subject matter can be intimidating. And so I think for me, the Gamification part was really important and it's also an opportunity to connect it to the culture of your firm. And so from our messaging, from the way we approached Gamification, and the way we approached it might not be the way that another firm chooses to approach it, but we wanted to do something that certainly honoured our culture, which is certainly a very approachable culture and very committed to building relationships, and the Gamification did that. Throughout the Gamification or throughout the program. And this is certainly connected to the fact that we have these competitions. The way I knew we were making progress is when I was at two different firm events during the recruiting season and lawyers were talking about the program, they were talking about the prizes, they were talking about points, they were talking about what they learned and I overheard conversations. I had lawyers coming up to me and so I was really reaffirmed. We were making progress. We had started to sort of turn the corner to building a tree business development culture here at the firm.

Ali: That must have been a really brilliant moment for you to start overhearing that. So I must say, a big congratulations, because there's no mean feat. But I did absolutely love when we first spoke about this, that idea of gamifying it because it's not something people necessarily do when we launch Passle. I hate to bring up, but we do it around gamifying it and running a competition, because, as you say, lawyers are competitive beasts and it's really what gets them going. And I love the fact, and you mentioned it there, how people just like revert back to their childlike self and love the fact that they've won a Balch & Bingham sponsored and branded backpack or a pen or something that they can kind of go away and talk about and other people. How did you get that? I think it's just great.

Julie: Right. It was a lot of fun. That part of the program was certainly a ton of fun and generated a lot of excitement. So that's something that we will certainly continue to grow, definitely. But all the fun aside, you've actually driven tangible results, which is actually fundamentally what is all about. So it's a huge success from that perspective. And actually, when we kind of consider all of this, it sounds like the program definitely would have required some behavioural change within the firm, getting people to really understand the benefit of what business generator brought them and what you're trying to achieve out of it. So were there any challenges or barriers to its success that you found?

Julie: That's a really good question. I think probably one of the challenges is choosing the best time of day. That sounds a bit silly, but it's really important because you want to make sure that you're hosting a program when most of your people are available. That's really difficult, especially with lawyers. That was really a challenge, finding the best time of day to get people to join live. We recorded every session. So in the event, and that's actually an important point; in the event that a lawyer was unable to participate live, they could go back and watch the recording and could still complete the survey and be eligible for points and certainly prizes. They were not eligible for as many points if they only watched the recording and did not participate live, but nonetheless, they could still win points. And so they were again incentivised to participate and engage with the content. So finding the best time of day, I think is really important. And going forward, I might shift that a little bit for us. Maybe not a challenge, but maybe I think it's just more of an opportunity: People wanted more. I think about the topics that we presented. We covered a wide range of topics over the course of the program. And what I found is that during a 1 hour or roughly 50 minutes session, people wanted more so they would have all of these questions and it would sort of open the door to, my goodness, we could host a program on this, on this, on this. And so I think it was just wanting to pack, wanting to do so much, again, but with a limited time. And so just that balance, I think, is certainly something to keep in mind going forward. I think that the curriculum will certainly evolve. But that balance of wanting to do too many things at once and overwhelm people, you don't want to go there, but you also don't want to give them too little. So there's just, I think, a careful balance that again, to me is very specific to the culture of your firm. I think it's really important to listen to your people and seek their feedback.

Ali: Yeah, of course. But as you say, you get that feedback. And when you were that sort of fly on the wall and you heard everyone talking about at the event, that's where you can really start to see the impact that it's driving and actually only helps to shape and form what you do going forward, which is again, just adding to the success of it. So thank you very much for sharing that back. I guess on the flip side, what have been the highlights and success stories that you've had off the back of the program? And to that point, how have you planned on incorporating this feedback into that next iteration? 

Julia: Absolutely. So I think a highlight of the program has just simply been some new revenue-generating opportunities that have emerged. Success stories that lawyers will reach out to me and say, took your advice, actually did this and here's what happened. And now it's opened the door to X, Y and Z. It is so exciting to hear those stories, to see other lawyers collaborating across the firm, we've had a couple of those that's been absolutely outstanding. Yes, revenue generation has certainly we have seen some really great data points there that we're really proud of and we're just getting started, number one. But number two, simple, maybe not simple, but things like creating your business development plan and creating a plan that's not overwhelming, creating a plan that's truly actionable. We have seen that and people are doing that and they're sharing these plans with me and members of my team. And that's certainly been really exciting, but all the way to updating your bio. So we offered a special prize if you updated your bio within a 15-day period, over 40% of the firm updated their bio. And so as silly as that may sound, that's really important to keep your bio up-to-date because those are certainly the most visited pages on our website. That's also the content that we're using for proposals, et cetera. And we know our clients and prospects are reading our bios. So just getting that to happen, I think, in a really meaningful way was really exciting, too.

Ali: That's brilliant. And all of it touches on the behavioural change of people understanding the benefits. And I know when we were first speaking, you also shared it was almost, I suppose, a little bit of a personal success story, where, through the ability to sit in on some of those conversations, you build up a little bit of a black book of the partners and the associates of who was wanting to introduce so and so to a client or bring other people into conversations. And you were saying that that's been really useful for you to kind of actually use a bit of a touch base.

Julie: You got it. That's great for me and my team. So out of the surveys, after the sessions, we may ask lawyers to provide, as I said earlier, kind of some of those really specific action items. So those action items I used as if I am and I see myself as this, but I am the firm salesperson, so I can say, hey, lawyer Y, you said that you wanted to do this and introduce Lawyer B to your client. How can I help facilitate this? Let's talk about what the strategy is. I'm here to help coach you through that. I began to do that on a regular basis, and again, to encourage our lawyers to follow through and to dedicate that time and their schedule to make that happen, but then also to highlight my team and to highlight that my team is here to help you. My team is here to come alongside you. We're committed to helping you grow your business. I think that was really sort of an unexpected thing that emerged that I believe positioned my team really well. And I think there's an opportunity as we grow the program, I expect to be able to do more of that going forward. I have conversations with the lawyers. I certainly help coach almost on a daily basis, but this program allowed me to engage with maybe some of those lawyers who I don't often hear from. And that was a lot of fun. And it opened the door to some conversations and it opened the door to what I believe are some very real opportunities for that lawyer and for other lawyers within the firm and also just looking at other ways we can add value to our current clients, because that's certainly something that's a priority for us, looking for ways in which we can better serve a client, we can better support their growing needs. And being intentional about having those conversations with lawyers was really great. So that was sort of an unexpected outcome from the program that's certainly a delightful one and one that I saw a lot of value from.

Ali: Yeah, definitely, I think that’s brilliant. As you say, whilst it's about the client and the opportunities there, what I think some of the themes you touched upon there is the way that it demonstrated the linked-up approach that you're able to have. But also you spoke about showing your team alongside them and it must have just been able to demonstrate how you're the strategic partners and you can really elevate everything that ultimately the lawyers are wanting to achieve. So I think it's just brilliant that all of that came from it. And there's been so many fantastic insights throughout this, but sadly, we’ve actually come to the final part and the final question. What I'd like to understand from you, Julie, what would be your one piece of advice to be to the other marketing and BD leaders who are looking to take a customised approach to their BD training program?

Julie: Listen. I think just focus on listening. Creating something like this from the ground up may seem like an overwhelming task, but listen to your people. Listen to all of your people. Listen to what their needs are. Listen to what they're hearing from clients. I think that was so important. Listen to your peers at other firms. Again, through the LMA, through the Legal Marketing Association, I've developed a lot of friendships. But listening to your peers, listening to sort of what their challenges are, don't be afraid to sort of bounce ideas off your peers and listening to your consultants and those other people that you lean on to help you do your job, to me, that is just so critically important. So listen, would be the first thing to do. Listen to conduct those surveys and have those important conversations before you put pen to paper.

Ali: I love that and it's clearly served you incredibly well. I mean, as they say, we have two ears and one mouth, so it really is about listening. And from everything that you shared today, it's evident that you've created an incredibly successful BD program that has only been ultimately in its new look, been going for a year, and there's 2.0 around the corner and I'm super excited to kind of see what comes from that. So thank you so much, Julie, for sharing all this. Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Ali: Pleasure! Now for the final part of the podcast, a chance to kind of get to know you a little bit better with our Quick Fire Round. So I have to first ask, what's your favourite business or non-business book?

Julie: So, A Big Life (in Advertising) by Mary Wells Lawrence. It is her autobiography. That is my favourite book. I read it when I was 21 years old. And at that time, as someone who had just graduated from Auburn, it shaped me in a really impactful way and it's something that I've read three other times since then. So I've read it a total of four times, but Mary Wells Lawrence, in case you don't know, she was the first woman president of an ad agency, also the first female CEO of a company on the New York Stock Exchange. But it's A Big Life (in Advertising) and it's a really impactful story.

Ali: Amazing and shows just how much you enjoyed it to read it so much and clearly taken a lot away from it. Secondly, what was your first job?

Julie: I was the public relations specialist for the city of Auburn, Alabama, which is also home to Auburn University, and had an opportunity to do a lot of creative things and was fortunate that the city gave me a chance right upon graduation. And it's something I'm very much grateful for. But I had an opportunity to meet a lot of people. I had a weekly radio talk show, which was really a lot of fun, talking about all the things that were going on at the city, but I was also quite intimidated. I remember in my first few months, I actually carried my public relations textbooks to work with me and I would take them home at night because again, I was learning, it was a brand new job. I didn't want to fail. I'm not going to tell you my age, but this is at a time when we were all still relying on our textbooks, that was my first job and I think, to me gave me a lot of confidence. I made certainly a lot of mistakes that I hope I learned from, but also a lot of confidence to continue to grow my career.

Ali: Sure, it sounds like it served you really well and I didn't realise that you're no stranger to being behind the mic with the radio show as well. So no wonder you’re coming across so well. Julie, third question what makes you happy at work?

Julie: My team, the people I get to work alongside every day are really absolutely fantastic. I lean on them, I love their creativity. It's really important that you work with people you really enjoy, and I really enjoy my team because we interact all day long, but we often interact on nights and weekends just because we are certainly all very close and we have great friendships, but my team makes me happy at work.

Ali: That's brilliant to hear. Fourth question, what are you listening to at the moment? Maybe podcast, music, audiobooks?

Julie: Taylor Swift. So I'm listening to Taylor Swift’s new album right now. I was actually a little behind, so I'm just now getting into it and I really, really like it and so it's playing over and over. So that's where I'm at right now. Brilliant. Just on loop. I don't blame you. Everyone seems to be loving it and she's got a few absolute bangers on there. So, question five, where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Julie: So I've only been once, but it would be Zion National Park, which is a National Park in Utah. It was probably the most memorable trip I've ever had. It is one of the most beautiful places to visit. I had a chance to hike The Narrows, which is this incredible hike through a canyon and through water. And it, I think, just changed my perspective on a lot of things. That would be my most favourite trip to date.

Ali: Lovely. Well, I'm sure there'll be many more to come, and I know that the US offers ample opportunity to see an incredible world, I must say. Julie, an absolute pleasure. Thanks very much for coming on, for answering those questions so candidly, and it's been a real joy to talk to you.

Julie: You as well. Thank you so much. I very much appreciate the opportunity.

Ali: Our pleasure.


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