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| 42 minutes read

CMO Series EP134 - Matt Dixon of DCM Insights on What It Takes To Be A Rainmaker in Today’s Market

The landscape for professional services business development is changing. Clients are less loyal to firms and individual fee earners, and strong relationships are no longer enough to guarantee repeat business. 

These are just some of the insights that have recently come out of research conducted by DCM Insights, published in the Harvard Business Review. 

Today, on this special episode of the CMO Series Podcast, Will Eke welcomes founding partner of DCM Insights, Matt Dixon, to discuss the highlights of the study and delve into the key characteristics that today’s most successful rainmakers all have in common.

Matt and Will discuss:

  • How the research came about and the impetus behind it
  • The key findings from the study and the most surprising results
  • The 5 business development profiles of lawyers the research revealed
  • The characteristics that set the ‘Activator’ profile apart
  • What lawyers can work on to develop some of the key ‘Activator’ attributes 
  • Advice for BD managers looking to develop the business development skills of their lawyers


Will: Welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast where we discuss all things marketing and business development. My name is Will Eke and today, extremely excited to be talking through some new research that was actually featured in the Harvard Business Review just before Christmas. I suppose just to set the scene that the landscape in terms of professional service business development is, has been changing for a while. There's a few points out there, you know, clients are less loyal now to firms and individual fee earners and strong relationships are probably no longer enough to guarantee repeat business. These are sort of some of the insights and findings that have recently come out with DCM insights who built this huge piece of research. Today I'm actually joined by Matt Dixon who I'm absolutely delighted to welcome. He's one of the founding partners at DCM Insights. Welcome to the podcast today, Matt.

Matt: Hey Will, how are you? Thank you for inviting me.

Will: Very well thank you, and thanks again for coming on. I'm probably gonna delve straight into getting you to explain a bit more about the research. So, you know, can you tell us a bit more about what was behind it and how you started with something like this?

Matt: Yeah, I actually, it's got a kind of a humorous, well it wasn't humorous for me but it might be humorous for your listeners, origin story that I'll - if you'll permit me - I’ll share really quickly. So you know Will, as you and I were talking in preparation for this conversation, you told me about, you know, your familiarity with some of our previous work, notably the Challenger Sale, which is a book that some of your listeners might be familiar with. It was a large global study of business-to-business sellers and we wrote a book on that called The Challenger Scale published in 2011 and I spent a good long time after that book came out. Brent Adamson, my co-author and I traveled around the world sharing that research at sales kickoffs and to sales leadership teams and so on and so forth. And early on in my experience, you know, getting the word out, I was actually invited to present at the partner retreat for a strategy consulting firm, who I won’t mention by name, but I think all of your listeners would be very familiar with them. They invited me to come present at their partner off site, their partner retreat. It was about 400 partners in the room and things seem to be going ok in the presentation. The audience seemed fairly engaged until about 50 minutes into the 60-minute time slot I'd been allotted, when the managing partner kind of rose from his chair in the front row where, you know, all the senior executives sit, and started waving his arms kind of gesticulating wildly to get me to stop talking. And I said, it was very unnerving as you can imagine, and I said please like there's something on your mind, I was going to take questions in 10 minutes but, you know, you’re paying the bill so you can go right ahead sir. And so he says, you know, I really hate to interrupt, I know you’re drawing to a close here, but I have to say, you know, maybe there was some miscommunication when we brought you in here to present to our partners. And I said, oh please, what was the miscommunication do you think? And he said, well you keep talking about sales and selling and sales people and sales effectiveness and sales best practices and what you need to understand is that- he gestured to the entire audience- there was not a single salesperson in this entire room and he said, in fact, our firm doesn't sell anything, we don’t so sales. And so I was a bit flummoxed and there were two thoughts that went through my head, one was why didn't you tell me this before the presentation? The other one was what time is my flight home? But the only thing I could think to say in the moment was well let’s stipulate to the fact that there's a mysterious process by which the client's money ends up in your firm's bank account and could we just call it sales for the next 10 minutes? Everyone starts laughing, he laughs too and says, fair enough, you can continue. And so I wrap up that presentation, but I will tell you it was a learning experience for me because what- and I actually spent a bit of time with some of the senior folks from this firm during the break afterward and became quite good friends with some of these folks who I followed up with afterwards and really started to develop more of an appreciation for something I didn't fully appreciate at the time, which is that a doer seller, a partner in professional services, be that the law, accounting, consulting, executive search, public relationship, all the different subverticals within that broad market segment. But what these people do is actually quite different from what a sales person does day in and day out. And so I think I parked this experience and kind of spent the next, I would say 10 years avoiding invitations to partner retreats because I knew what I have- what I had to share with them wasn't particularly on point or relevant because it wasn't really written about them or their unique jobs. And so that didn't change until about two years ago when we were approached by Intapp, the large cloud player in professional financial services and they had some interest in doing some new research around what makes top performers, I know there's people who have a love hate relationship with this term, but top rain makers, different from their peers and as you know, and I think as major listeners know, there hasn’t been very much if any, real rigorous quantitative research on this very important question. And so they commissioned our team at DCM insights to start this project two years ago. So we spent two years collecting data,we published the initial results as you mentioned in Harvard Business Review in an article called ‘What Today's Rainmakers Do Differently.’ It was in the November/December issue as you pointed out, of HBR, and the book version is going to come out next spring from Harvard Business Review Press and it's gonna contain a lot more data, all the stuff that didn't make it into the HBR article. We've collected a lot more data actually since the original article was written so some new cuts and some new data dimensions will bring to bear but that’s, it’s been a really fascinating journey for me as a, if you will, I quote ‘a sales researcher’ or, you know, some people have called me a sales anthropologist to kind of realize that there's this massive segment of the commercial world where, you know, the job, the business development job of a partner is in fact quite different from that of a B2B salesperson. So I kind of was able to scratch a personal itch which was always having a curiosity about the space. What we found actually confirmed my- invalidated my decision to avoid partner retreats for the past decade because I- what we found was actually quite different in this space and I think you alluded to this Will in your intro, that there's quite a bit going on now that’s- brings kind of an edge or an urgency to this question, figuring out the answer to this question of what our best people do differently because of the changes in client buying behavior that I think many firms are seeing out there in the market.

Will: Yeah, it's fascinating. I mean I have read that book. I'm not trying to get brownie points from you Matt in terms of the challenge itself, but I was- it resonated with me because I was at a big tech firm at the time and of course as a salesperson there it resonated. But exactly, you know what you’re saying here, sales, it’s deemed a dirty word sometimes in professional services. So they don’t use it and they are a different breed. So, how many was the sample size on this? 

Matt: One of the original runs of the data included data on 1800 partners across the major segments of professional services. These are 1800 partners across 23 different firms ranging from, you know, some of the biggest firms that we all know in these various segments down to some more mid-tier and even a couple of boutique firms in the mix. But we collected data from law firm partners, investment bankers, executive search consultants, management and strategy consultants, accounting was also included in the study, so really trying to cover the waterfront. We of course didn’t cover every sub-segment of professional services. There were no engineering firms or architectural firms or kind of advertising or marketing agencies in the mix, but we do think the findings are kind of extensible to those segments as well because they commercially function in much the same way as law, accounting, consulting et cetera. So we- what we did actually was two things. So first, when I say we collect the data the way we did it, we had a survey instrument. By the way it took us so long to collect the data because the survey itself was pretty arduous. It was about a 45-minute survey for a partner to complete. It was not, yeah, so you can imagine we got a lot of thanks but no thanks from firms that we approached who said that we’ll wait till the results come out. It did- it’s quite an expensive undertaking, but we did get to a critical mass and we got enough data collected. But what we're asking them to do is go through this 45-minute survey which really tried to cover the waterfront of business development, so the way a partner spends their- his or her time around business development, what types of clients and prospective clients they focus on, how they engage those clients, how they use firm resources, their activities, their behaviors, even their attitudes towards business development and their mindsets, so really, you know, capturing as much as we could. I mean there’s stuff we had to cut because I think 45 minutes was about the max we could really get from any given partner but we covered 108 total attributes around business development and then for every single partner who participated, we asked the leadership team of their firm to score them individually on their business development effectiveness. Now the reason we did this is because firms as you know will measure effectiveness and performance using a variety of different metrics and getting them all to agree on the single set of measures would never happen so we created a standard set of questions, a battery of questions. So for instance, we would ask a firm leader, compare Will against his peers on his overall business development effectiveness on a standard scale, his ability to land net new client business, his ability to expand existing client relationships, his ability to cross-sell the breadth of the firm's capabilities versus sell his own expertise, etc. There are about five or six questions in total that we asked for every individual partner who participated, so every partner basically got a composite business development performance score assigned to them and that gave us our kind of outcome variable that we used to do the analysis. And there were two types of analysis, one was a state kind of regression analysis to figure out, you know, what are the things that really move the needle. And then the other one was what we call factor analysis. Factor analysis is an interesting methodology. We- it’s the same approach we actually used Will in the Challenger Sale research where we found five types of salespeople. In here, interestingly, we found five types of partners in terms of business, five different business development approaches. And so it was just pretty eye-opening and as eye-opening for me as a sales researcher, is that none of those five match up to the business-to-business sales profiles that we found. Oh there's some overlap between them but they were a unique set of five for what is, you know, a unique segment of the economy and a unique job so. 

Will: And then, I mean you’ve already said the research scratched an itch for you in terms of what you found, but was there any sort of real surprising results that you that you'd pick out from the research for our listeners?

Matt: Yeah, I think there are a few at the highest level and we can dig into this in a bit more detail. So I think the first big thing, and you mentioned this in the introduction, that we are in a moment now where I think we've reached the tipping point of client loyalty. So we’ve, we are coming out of a world in which we could expect kind of if you will, automatic loyalty from our clients, meaning that a client, provided we do good work for them and provided we have a strong and positive relationship with them, they will automatically come back to us for the next matter, for the next engagement, for the next deal, the next dispute et cetera. That was very much the case up until now and we've now reached a tipping point quite literally. Five years ago, we find that nearly three-quarters of buyers would say, yeah, I just go back to my existing law firm, my existing providers. Today, that number is closer to 50%, 53% to be precise, so we are literally at this tipping point where, you know, we ask them to think about five years from now, how likely they would be to go back automatically to the same providers, that number dips down to 37%. So we're shifting from a world of automatic loyalty to kind of automatic disloyalty, where just doing good work and having a great relationship is not necessarily going to guarantee you the next piece of work. It will likely earn you a right to come pitch for the next piece of work, but we know today that clients are shopping the field, even when they’ve had great experiences with their existing council, they are still going out and they're vetting the full spectrum of providers for every incremental piece of work, every new matter, you know, part of this is a function of the formalization of purchasing the rise of legal operations procurement, getting all the more use of RFPS, alternate fee arrangements, but also the disaggregation of work. I think that clients have really realized that they are in many cases paying top, you know, top dollar, or lots of money for services that maybe they don't value as fully and so are there opportunities to break apart legal work and to send some work to outsourcers or flexible staffing providers or tech-enabled start-ups, and send yet other work to the existing incumbent suppliers like deals and disputes that they've used historically. So these, this is kind of creating this perfect storm. So that was the first big thing is that we are in a unique moment of time or moment in time in professional services. The second big thing was as I mentioned before, every one of those 1800 partners, which I should mention we've been collecting data on an ongoing basis, I alluded to this earlier, we've got data now on 3000 partners, so it's beyond what we originally had in the HBR article. I think by the time we write the book, we’ll probably be closer to, you know, somewhere between seven and 10,000 responses. So it’s the data set continues to grow, but what we found is that every one of those partners can be statistically placed into one of five different business development approaches, which we've come to call the five types of partners. And the big surprise with this is that 80% of partners are focusing on an approach that is actually negatively correlated with business development effectiveness, and there's only one that we found that has a positive statistical relationship with performance. And interestingly, it is one that is not, has not traditionally been the focus area in terms of recruitment partners, partner election decisions, lateral hiring, even the way incentive structures are run in the messaging that partners receive about how to go out in the market and generate business. These folks are doing it actually quite differently. Not because anybody told them to go do it this way. I think it's largely because they've realised clients are buying differently and that means that we need to be engaging them and developing business in a different way to keep pace. So those are the big takeaways and I’m sure we will talk about there in a little bit what those five profiles are but I'll grab a drink of water and let you ask that in a different question if you want to dig in there.

Will: Well, I'll let you have a drink. I was gonna come on to those five different profiles that you identified and I wondered if again, you know, you- as you say, you’ve got the book coming out next year, that's gonna be a great read for people to go into more depth. But if you could just maybe give our listeners a bit more of an overview of what those key profiles look like and what the key characteristics are of each if that’s okay?

Matt: Absolutely. Yeah so we use the, again we use the data to define these. These are not, these are not profiles or archetypes that we concocted, it was the data saying there when I look at these 1800 partners, they basically fall into these five different approaches. That was using that methodology called factor analysis so the five profiles are these, and as I go through them, I think the natural thing for listeners is gonna be to think of themselves to think about if you are a practitioner or you are a lawyer for instance, or a consultant. I think the other thing is if you are a firm leader, so CMO or CBDO, you’re gonna likely be thinking about the people in your firm and that’s perfectly normal and I encourage you to actually do so. One thing to keep in mind though is that these are not mutually exclusive. So the reality is that people are complicated and you know, as you know very well, partners and professional services firms are very complicated people. They have in other words, we all have elements of all five, but what the data says very clearly is that every single person spikes in one of these five. You may have elements of all five, but you have one primary posture. So that's really the way you should be thinking about it. So the five are the following: You've got experts, confidants, activators, debaters and realists. So the expert I would describe as the reluctant business developer. So this person, as one law firm partner, big white shoe firm told me not too long ago, look, I didn’t go to a top law school so they could be a salesperson. I don't enjoy that part of my job, I don’t like business developments, I try to avoid it. But these people, because they are partners, they know they are also not just responsible for delivering great work, but also for bringing the work to the firm, right? They've got to sell the work and develop business. What that translates into is a very reactive business development approach. The CEO of a large executive search firm told us during our research, said most of his partners are experts and said they go to market or their sales approach is to quote-unquote aggressively wait for the phone to ring. And I thought that was pretty telling and it was very characteristic of the expert approach. What the expert is doing is they're trying to signal to the market through, you know, public speaking engagements, thought leadership, serving on panels and Industry Association panels et cetera. They're trying to, they care a lot about chambers rankings and you know, lawyer rankings and other things like that. What they're trying to do is send a signal to the market that if you are looking for, if you have this issue and you are looking for one of the best people in the world on that topic, you should call me. And so what they do is they basically sit and aggressively wait for the phone to ring. They, their belief is, my name is out there, I'm in the rankings, I'm in the conversation. When a client realizes they have a need, I'm gonna be on the shortlist. They're gonna pick up the phone and call or they're gonna fill out that form on the website and ask for a meeting with me. What that means in very practical terms though is that by the time the client reaches out to them, they're likely already talking to several other experts from other firms and so they get pulled into a lot of competitive kind of pursuits, a lot of tender or RFP driven purchasing as well. The second profile is the confidant. The confidant I would describe Will as an old-school trusted advisor. And this is not to denigrate the concept of trusted advisor, but rather to say that the way these folks do it is in that kind of very traditional old school kind of way. What I mean by that is that they will build very deep relationships with a small handful of key clients. So I think 3 to 4 big key client relationships, they will bend over backwards for these clients, they deliver very responsive client service, they deliver great work actually to their clients and they try to build not just great business relationships, but actually even personal relationships with their clients. What their business development approach then is predicated on this idea that as long as I do great work for my client and I deliver exceptional client service and I have a great relationship with them. They should just automatically contact me the next time they have a need, I shouldn't have to sell anything. And I let alone compete with other providers, I should just have automatic kind of repurchase built in because we've got that kind of close relationship. They basically think they build a moat around these clients that makes it impossible for others to steal the work. Now because they've invested so deeply in these relationships that also translates into hoarding internally. So in other words, they don’t share those relationships with their colleagues because they're deeply afraid of another person in another practice area or another office maybe not delivering great work at the client standard or perhaps offending the client somehow and then ruining that relationship for them. And they just can't afford for that to happen. So they don't put any notes in the CRM system, they don't do any collaboration or even referrals and cross-selling with their colleagues, they think that these are my clients, not the firm's clients. Third, you’ve got the activator. The activator is a super-connector so they are very active on LinkedIn, they’re big users of tools like ExecAtlas, the Equilar tool, or Sales Navigator from LinkedIn. They are not just digital networking though, they also are purposeful around building connections and making new connections through firm-sponsored events and industry events and conferences. These are the folks who will go to an event, a firm-sponsored event, not kind of there to consume the event and hope that business development happens, but to make business development happen. So they look at the attendee list, they're working with their you know, their PA or their team to schedule meetings in advance with folks, they wanna talk to make sure that they’re you know, carving out time for a coffee or for beer or what have you to engage with the folks they want to engage with. They leave with a stack of business cards and then they rigorously follow up on those connections. What now, the reason we chose, somebody asked us the other day, why don't you just call them connectors instead of activators? And I think because connector undersells what they're doing a little bit. They’re not just collecting business cards and LinkedIn connections, they are activating those connections and trying to turn them into paying client relationships. The way they do that is they proactively bring new ideas to their clients: So Will, I don’t know if you saw this recent tax court decision or this new regulation in your industry or this piece of M and A news? I'd love to hop on a Zoom and maybe talk about or grab a coffee and talk about this a little bit and share with you my perspective about how your firm might manage that risk or take advantage of that opportunity. Now, interestingly when you talk to activators, they will tell you that initial engagement, they're not looking to get paid for the time. It's not billable work in their minds, they're looking to pay it forward with the client, to give the client a chance to kick the tires a bit on their advisory skills, to earn some preference. So if you as a client decide this is a real need, we didn't recognize this risk, I do need a service provider and I'm gonna go see who's best in the market. Well because I brought the idea to you and I shaped the understanding for you and I didn't charge you for that, I've got a bit of preference and a leg up even if you do go through a formal pursuit. Last thing about the activator, I'll say is unlike the confidant who hoards relationships, activators are all about opening up relationships for their colleagues.So they believe that a stronger relationship is one where the client isn't just loyal to you individually as a partner, but they are, they have loyalty that cuts across different people in your firm. So in other words, if we are supporting the client across multiple departments, functions, regions, or markets that they operate in, that is a multi-point kind of relationship, not a single point relationship that becomes much harder for the client to sever and to go with a competitor when we support them across a wide, you know, a broad waterfront if you will of their business. The fourth one is the debater. So the debaters, it personally interesting to me because the debater is probably the one that's most closely associated with the challenger. Yeah from the Challenger Sales work and what’s interesting I guess and lack for, in the interest of time, I'll just say the debater is kind of a sharp-elbowed, opinionated, know it all. So they like to come  into the client and upend the way the client thinks about what they need. So the client may reach out saying hey, I need X, but the debater thinks that if they're going to win this opportunity, they need to prove to the client that they don't want X, they actually want Y. And that is how when they do that, they will create this differentiation in the market and create white space between themselves and their competitors. There was an executive search consultant we interviewed as part of the research who said that, you know, when he gets pulled in for a CMO or CFO search at a big company, he knows that he is going to be up against his, you know, all of the search consultants in from his biggest competitors and because nobody engages in this without at least talking to the top, you know, the top firms. It's always part of the standard process and so he says his goal when he goes in is to usually tell the hiring manager or the person running point on the vendor selection process that they're thinking about the job in completely the wrong way and that they're looking in the wrong talent pools. And what this partner said is interesting, he said I don’t win, you know, I probably lose 80% of the time doing that, but when I win it’s in, the client tells me it’s because I help them think outside the box, I brought a different solution whereas all my competitors were saying the same thing, they're parroting back what the client already knew. I'm telling them the thing they don't know, so again, a little bit of a high wire act. What’s interesting to me about this is again, as you know, from the Challenger Sale, well they, this profile actually does quite well in business to business sales but, you know, giving away a little bit of the punch line, but they don’t do very well in professional services. And I think the big realization for us was that it's fine to be a challenger or to be a debater if you are selling a product like software or, you know, a manufactured product, but it’s a whole thing. It’s a whole different thing entirely if you are the product as you are in professional services and if that's your posture, that's a very tough one to build a strong client relationship off of. And we had clients tell us, look I want the partners I work with to push my thinking and to help me think outside the box, but if every time I sit down with you, you're telling me I'm doing it wrong, I don't want to spend time with you. It’s just mentally exhausting right? So that's why we think that this posture wins in B2B sales but doesn't actually do very well in professional services. And the last one is the realist. So the realist is a sort of truthful, transparent, honest broker with the client. What that means in practice is that they are very very transparent about how much things will cost about, you know, how much budget needs to be allocated, about how long things will take, about outcomes that should be expected and should not be expected. They're very comfortable saying no to the client. You know, we, you know, I can’t do this for that budget, it's gonna take longer, your expectations are misplaced, I need to reset those and they're even comfortable telling the client, you know, I’m not the right person for you, in fact, our firm isn’t the right firm for you. Given what you're looking for, we'd love to do business with you, but I wouldn't be doing you a good service if I signed up for work that I know we are not well positioned to execute on at the highest level possible. Now these folks, it's a great posture and I think clients do love the truthfulness and the honesty when you talk, but I think the flip side is that they also want a little bit of aspiration with their, or an aspirational perspective with their partners, they don't always want their partner to be glass half empty, they want that to be glass half full as well. And when you talk to realists and you ask them why they predicate their business development approach on this kind of ruthless honesty and transparency and what they say is, look I know that in this market, every single client has been burned in the past by, you know, the consulting firm that left them holding the bag, you know, or the investment bank that over, you know, over-inflated valuation or expected proceeds from a divestiture or the lawyer who sent surprise invoices that were well in excess of our budget after the matter was concluded, you know, everyone's had that experience before and so realists would say I try to do the exact opposite almost to a fault so that they know they're getting the straight scoop from me. So those are the five profiles we found and again, not mutually exclusive, but interestingly now the several 1000 partners we've studied, every single one of them spikes in one of those five. So we each have a major or a specialization, across one of those five different profiles.

Will: You know, it’s amazing when you talk about it because I imagine the listeners are as you said, they’re either thinking well that’s me or, oh I think I do touch upon a few of those, or the CMOs that are listening, CMBDOs are sort of going oh god yeah I’ve got them down to a tee. On the next question I’m gonna ask you a bit more about, you know, one of the personas which again, I'm not giving away the punch line, but we sort of have already that there are more successful personas than others and the activator is the most successful, right? So what, and we talked about being a rainmaker. You know, it’s the holy grail in a lot of professional services firms, it's the ones that drive the business, what makes an activator so successful that there must be some, in terms of revenue generation, there must be key characteristics and in terms of what sets them apart, what would you say they are?

Matt: Yeah, no great question. So again back to your point, we did in the regression analysis, we found that four of these five, so real estimators, covenants and experts have a negative correlation with performance meaning that partners who pursue those approaches, generate less revenue than they, in less client work, than they could otherwise. Activators were the exact opposite. So they had a positive statistical correlation with business development performance and not to put too fine a point on it, but if you took the average performing partner and you took them from being not very good on activator skills and behaviours and time spent characteristics and things like that to very good demonstration of those things, they could lift their own personal revenue generation by up to 32% which, you know, if you’re an individual, that’s a big number. If you’re a practice leader, that’s an even bigger number. If you're a firm leader, that's a huge number if you think about that. Now, I would actually go out on a limb and say there actually aren't any other opportunities for leaders to generate that kind of lift in business development performance full stop. It’s, you know, there’s a lot of spilled ink on a lot of other things but I think that is the big one is to improve the way we're engaging clients and in developing business. So to your question, what are the activators actually doing there? There were, theres a lot of what they’re doing but we created kind of a mnemonic, you remember from Challenger? The, we said challengers teach, tailor and take control and so we've got a kind of a similar framework here to think about the pillars of an activator approach. We like to say activators commit, they connect and they create. So the three Cs of being an activator and there’s a lot more beneath us of course, but at the highest level, what they’re doing is three things. So on the commit piece, they really do commit to business development as a core part of their job. That means that they carve out and protect time in their day to do business development. This for them, it's a bit like your, you know, your gym routine. If you're trying to get into shape, if you miss your morning workout, you do it at lunch and if you miss at lunch, you'll do it in the evening. But they've got this rigor and this commitment to doing business development and we're not talking tons of time, but we're talking about scheduled purposeful time and directed time to do business development. Now, why do they do this? I think there’s a couple of reasons. I think the first one is back to what I said earlier, you know, we've entered this world of client disloyalty and if you're in a situation where you may have done great work and you may have great client relationships and it doesn't guarantee you the next piece of work again, this may not have been true 5, 10 years ago, but it is true today that it does not guarantee the next piece of work. Well, you better have a pipeline of opportunities behind your current clients, ready to take that client's place. Should the client, you know, pull up the tent stakes and go on to one of your competitors. So it’s a bit of a risk management play for them. But I think actually there's more to it than that when we talk to activators, they say, you know, I believe being a great lawyer or being a great consultant or being a great, you know, executive recruiter is, goes hand in glove with being a great business developer. So, you know, we interview lawyers who are activators, they will tell us that they believe being good at business development makes them a better lawyer. They don't see it as a separate part of their job, they see it as a core and central part of their- of being a great professional that being good at business development means being able to influence and persuade and to be other central and empathetic and client centric. And that flows back into the way I execute the work as a legal professional and so they will all every single one of them we interviewed, we asked them why they spend more time than their peers on business development, why they are so rigorous in terms of keeping that time and committing to that time, and they all said because it makes me better at what I do and it makes it, develops ultimately better relationships for me with my clients. The second piece on connect, so I mentioned this before, but they are super connectors both internally and externally. So they’re building on these broad based connections, bigger LinkedIn networks, they’re very active on these platforms but also in physical settings like firm sponsored events and industry conference and they're also a building connections within the firm, right. I am trying to get my clients to engage with my colleagues because I know when I could shift the locus of loyalty from me to we of the firm is a much stronger and healthier client relationship. So again, that stickiness that they're trying to create is in large part because they know we are in a world where you need a lot of stickiness to keep those clients from from pulling up and going with somebody else. And then the last piece, this idea of creating a business development or creating business opportunities. What that refers to specifically is the propensity of activators to proactively bring new ideas to clients versus reactively waiting for the client to realise they have a need and ask us for our advice or for our help. We are in a world now where so much business goes through RFPR and formalised you know a procurement processes and activators know that they are much much better off if, you know, even informal pursuits when they have brought the idea to the client, shaped the idea for the client and even ideally position themselves advantageously as part of that effort. So that even if it does go through an RFPR tender process, they've got a leg up against their competitors. So again, much more proactive than reactive when it comes to bringing business opportunities to clients and just generally as a business development approach. 

Will: Yeah, it does sound like the holy grail really because I mean it also, it would look far more attractive for a client looking in to see a firm you know working together and we hear it a lot where, oh you know, our client didn’t realise we did IP. Actually we've been working with them, yeah, on TMT and we've been working with them on, you know, employment law, but they didn’t know we were a full-service law firm so the activator sort of makes that happen. The other thing is from a law firm or from a consultancy's perspective that it's less risk for them as well right. If you've got an activator and it's about we, as opposed to the, you know, these huge lateral hires, we see all the time in many of these spaces, they don’t take the clients with them as much so it is way less risky. I think what the listeners and what I'm keen to understand a bit more about is so not everyone's an activator, you know, you have interviewed a whole bunch of partners as you've said 1800. Now it's gonna be, you know, 3000 up to 5 to 10,000 by the end of it. For those that are in the other four profiles if you like, and I suppose not everyone can suddenly light up a room in the networking space and, you know,they have to learn those skills over time, things like empathy even, you know, there’s lots of movements, the O shape lawyer movement in terms of teaching lawyers, for instance, empathy, which some don't have like naturally apparently. What sort of skills and attributes would the other 4 personas need to be working on really to try and move them in more like an activator?

Matt: Yeah, you know I think there's even a question within that question Will, which is should we even bother right? What do we, you know, if i’m a firm leader, is the, should I be trying to make all of my partners activators. And I think what this, this is actually the first question invariably whenever we present this that comes up from the audience, should everybody be an activator? Do we want the whole, do you want a firm full of activators? And I’d answer that in two ways. I think from practically speaking, we don’t, you know, it was likely impossible to turn, you know, 100% of partners into activators, but we also know you don't have to. Remember the regression analysis where we found, you know, going from weak to strong can raise your revenue generation by 32%. But that's a straight-line linear slope. In other words, every incremental improvement any of us make can improve our business development performance and we may not get the full 32% lift. But any incremental addition of activatorness to our current approach makes us better off and makes us perform better. So the takeaway I think for leaders is, and for partners, is that you, the wrong questions to be asking is how do I become an activator or how do I turn you know, stop what I’m doing today and start doing something else. The better way to think about it is how do I enrich my current approach by adding some more of what activators do naturally. And so that comes down to a few things. So as we've broken this apart and we, you know, I mentioned the three CS before, but underneath that is a pretty robust kind of behavioral model and what we find is activators have a number of shared mindsets. So you mentioned empathy before the other ones, resiliency. Empathy and resiliency actually are that while we didn't study personality in our research, these aren't personality types, these are bundles of skills and behaviors and attitudes and you know, time spent characteristics, use of tools and resources. These are things that everybody can learn to get better at as the short version of it. But I think we do find that there's some commonality in terms of mindsets that activator share in some of these mindsets, like empathy and resiliency, are actually things we can all get better at being more other-centric walking, you know, a mile in your client's shoes, sitting on their side of the table, trying to see things from their perspective and getting up when we get knocked down. And by the way, you know, as we all know, business development is not a game of a lot of yes’s, you're gonna get way more no’s than you get yes’s. And so we've got to develop a bit of a thicker skin and more resiliency in those moments. Then there are six habits or behaviors, things like daily routines that you see activators exhibit. Those are things that are very easy for any partner to start incorporating into their daily workflow. And then finally, when we study this, we find that activators, they don’t think in terms of a if you will a quote-unquote ‘sales process’, they are, you know, complicated sales process. What they think about is there are five really central moments in a client relationship and I've got to distinguish myself in those moments. So I don't have to be great at everything, I just have to be really good in these five moments because these are the make or break moments in the client relationship. And so it’s interesting when we teach this to partners, we approach it from the let's think about these mindsets, let's think about these six habits, let's think about these five moments. And it's almost as interesting, what's not included there that you might find included in like a business to business sales process or methodology, and that's for good reason because being an activator is not the same as being a salesperson at a B2B company. But, you know, I think back to your point, I would say for partners, and for firm leaders who are listening to this right now, I would say, let's think not about turning everyone into an activator, but rather, how do we increase our activator nests? How do we add more activator habits? More of an activator approach to those key pivot points in the client relationship, more develop those activator mindsets and do it to enrich our current approach, not to change or burn down our current approach and replace it with activator, but rather to enrich what we're doing today. Now, I think in very practical terms, what you're going to find is there are some partners out there who've been quite successful doing one of the other four approaches and they've, they're top rainmakers by being confidants or experts or what have you, and we'd be the last people to say you gotta change everything about who you are and what you do, but we also know something is true about high performance that they're always looking for that next edge. They're always looking to add that new tool to the tool belt. There are other partners out there who are struggling and they are actually looking for more of a reset, they're looking for a different answer than the one they thought would lead to business development. Success for them hasn’t really panned out and then I think there’s yet another population, well I think about here, which is our associates. Now our guidance to firm leaders is for younger professionals, your early career professionals associates, the pre-partner levels. You should actually be a bit more directive with those folks. In other words, don't make business development a choose your own adventure for those associates, guide them onto an activator path because we know the data is very clear that that is a path much more likely to lead to successful outcomes for them personally and for their practice groups and for the firm at large. So again, the guidance is a little bit different depending on where you are. But the good news is, you know, we’ve been out there, we probably, we trained a few 1000 I think now, associates and partners around the world across, not just law, but broadly across professional services. And we do see people developing and starting to add some of these activator, a little bit more activatorness to their daily routine into their business development approach and we hear the results back from partners that, wow, this works. It’s changed the way I’m engaging with my clients, it’s brought a new lens to the way I approach my job as a professional and so yeah, it can be done. It’s not about personality and changing who you are, it’s about developing some new muscles and some new routines and some new habits.

Will: Yeah, that makes perfect sense actually. And it makes sense to again, build it into, as you say, lower down the sort of fee earning funnel. I suppose if they wanna be on partner track, this is what you got to do, because this is a, this is what a successful partner would look like. We also hear which I'm sure your research has covered and you’ve heard, but the things like reviews, these types of things are built in, you know, to review processes now, you know, how are you networking? How are you in influencing key clients and prospects? So yeah, that I can see how that would be built in. But there's one bit that we haven't, one bit of a law firm, one bit of a function in a consultancy that has always been, well, I’ve always been told it isn’t as mature, but it is the BD function. And I'm not talking about the business development function that the,fee earners are taking upon themselves. There is actually a separate function, you know, that falls often with marketing, often it’s an under-resourced piece within a firm but you know, how do you see that sort of working the business development manager or the business development director? How can they, you know, take your research or the learnings from it? How can they sort of use the activator profile working with lawyers but also for themselves. I mean, is that something?

Matt: You're right. We work with BD teams as well on this content and I think there's a couple of different ways to think about it. So first I would say, and back to your point Will I mean I think in the typical firm BD is under-resourced, and I think unfortunately often times  becomes kind of a dumping ground for business development administrative work like building pitch decks, you know, client lists and things like that and it's, you know, follow up from conferences and entering things into the CRM system because the partners don't wanna use it. You know, these are the kind of things that end up happening. I think what we’re seeing and how this idea is kind of grabbing hold with BD leaders and CMOs, CBDOs, directors of business development and their teams, is one, I think a lot of these folks would say their very best business development team members themselves that they, themselves are activators. So they are, they're not just activators, but in some ways like activator copilots to their partners. So we know that it can be easy for business development to slip and we also know that our partners are very busy and so when they carve out some time between billable work and they've got a little bit of BD time, the last thing we want them to do is stare at a blank screen wondering what they should do right? And so your BD partner can really play a great role there in terms of creating a punch list in a short, you know, lets get after this client, let’s re-engage them, we haven't talked to in a while, this person just changed roles, this person had a big event, what happened in their space? Let’s reach out, let’s make sure we’re staying engaged with some of these connections we made at the last firm-sponsored event, you know, these kinds of things and helping guide. It's almost like a personal trainer at the gym right? Instead of going in and just staring at the equipment and wondering where to start, you have somebody who’s working with you to achieve outcomes that you both share. Secondly, on the connect piece, you know, we certainly know BD teams are very much in most firms, power users of, you know, LinkedIn sales, Navigator, and other tools like that, and really leveraging of those technologies to target in and create lists of key clients and prospective clients, helping stay abreast of changes happening in the network and really helping the partners manage their network. So, this is not just a collection of connections, but we are harvesting business out of that collection of connections. And then lastly, that create piece. This is where business development teams are really well positioned. How do we help our partners by bringing those insights and those events and those ‘ahas!’ insights we can bring to clients saying, hey, these come from a variety of places. Hey, I noticed that there was this recent, you know, regulatory change or court decision or an M and A event in the space, here are five clients I think who would really have a lot of interest in hearing about our perspective on this issue. Why don’t, you know, if i’ve surfaced that for you, let’s reach out to those clients and propose a Zoom or a coffee to talk through the implications of these things that are happening in their market. It could also take the shape of, hey Will, I, you know, we just put out a great thought leadership piece on gen AI or on, you know, the future of work, or what have you any number of ESG, any number of big issues that our clients care about? Why don't we reach out to these key clients and let's highlight these specific parts of that thought leadership with the- I thought of you because…- kind of lead in. So I think if done really well, you know, your active, or sorry, your BD team is almost like an activator copilot team for your partners again nudging and encouraging our partners to spend time the way activators do, to build activator habits into their daily cadence and routine, to be proactive rather than reactive. And that helps him, I think, break out of that funk of like, you know, being the dumping ground and kind of that BD administrative resource that unfortunately a lot of teams find themselves stuck in.

Will: Matt, It's been absolutely exhilarating listening to all of your research and that’s just top level. So, I mean, for people, for our listeners, as you’ve said, the article came out in Harvard Business Review, What today's rainmakers do differently? When can we see the book? When's that coming out? Not to put too much pressure.

Matt: I know as soon as I finish writing it!" So I actually, so we're due to send the manuscript to Harvard here in the spring time and so publishing takes a while. So there's a peer review, there’s an editorial process that’ll go through the summer and then when we start planning for the launch, which will be in Spring 2025, I don’t have an exact date yet, but I would so, I don’t even have a title yet, but it’ll probably have something with activator in the title is what I'm guessing. And so yeah, so look for that next spring and of course, one way for folks to just stay engaged and abreast of course,any of your listeners can reach out to me on LinkedIn, I’m pretty active on there. Tell me you heard me on the show and you'd like to be connected and stay in the loop about the book and how the research is going. But also you can visit us at, I know it's a long URL but that's where we talk about our activator development program, how we work with BD teams, with fee earners, both associates and partners and firm leaders to drive activator transformation, activator change. And that's a great place to stay in the loop and get on the mailing list as new news comes out about the book.

Will: Great stuff, Matt again, thank you so much for taking the time to talk us through this. It's absolutely fascinating and good luck with the book.

Matt: Thanks Will, I appreciate the invite, It was great talking to you today.


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