As we are frantically and amazingly already approaching the end of January 2024, legal marketers are busy executing their business development plans for the year. As they do so, a new piece of research is demanding their attention. A report featured in the Harvard Business Review suggests that the behaviours of ‘Rainmakers’—or the highest-performing fee earners—have dramatically changed in the current legal landscape. The findings have the potential to change some legal marketers' plans for the coming year.
At the centre of this shift is a new business reality: clients are much less loyal to firms and individual fee earners than they used to be. In the past, the standard operating procedure in the legal industry was that good work and a strong relationship were enough to ensure repeated business. An ongoing survey of 100 C-suite executives found that this is no longer the case. In 2019, 76% of buyers were happy to stay with a partner or firm they had used in the past. Today, however, the number is down to 53% and is expected to drop further to 37% over the next five years.
The research's findings are based on a global study of 1,800 partners at 23 different professional services firms, which focused on their business development preferences, behaviours, time allocation and use of the firm's resources. The research revealed that the partners studied had five distinct profiles. Amazingly, only one of the profiles—the 'activator'—could be positively linked to performance and revenue generation. Even more interestingly, only 22% of the partners studied possessed this profile.
The five profiles can be summarised as the following:
Experts - Reluctant business developers who focus on their public reputations as subject matter experts. They assume that clients will seek them out for their services and they respond to inbound demand from clients whose needs match their skill set and who already have a budget.
Confidants - Extremely client-centric, responsive and build their reputation on delivering superior work. They will have built long-standing relationships with clients, and as a result, are protective internally of them. Due to their ‘trusted advisor’ status—previously the gold standard of the industry—they expect clients to return to them automatically.
Debaters - Very opinionated and are often unafraid to push clients out of their comfort zones. They know best and expect clients to follow their lead. This tends to work well in industries outside professional services, but not if the product being sold is the actual partner.
Realists - Transparency and honesty with clients are at the forefront of this profile. Realists are transparent with costs and what they can and can't deliver. They tend to avoid ‘no-win’ situations and don't come across as aspirational to clients. Their nature as straight-shooters is appealing to many clients, but their lack of aspirational enthusiasm is often unconvincing to prospects.
Activators - At their core, activators are defined by a proactive approach to business development and adding value to their current clients. They commit a block of time to business development each week, connect with clients and colleagues, and create value through collaboration. Activators work hard on networking both at events and through social platforms like LinkedIn and will often look for opportunities to introduce their clients to other partners from different practice areas around the firm. Importantly, activators have a proactive approach to adding value to their clients. They go out of their way to ensure that they are approaching a client with a solution or valuable information before that client presents a problem.
The answer is simple. Go out and build a team of activators!
For our other content on Harvard Business Review research, see the post here.