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| 20 minutes read

CMO Series EP140 - Brenton Anderson of Dentons on Value Led BD, the Biggest Missed Opportunity for Professional Services?

“Delivering value” is a core talking point for all legal marketers, but how much value are firms delivering in their marketing and BD efforts and how can they ensure each client interaction delivers on that promise of value?

Today, Cam Dobinson welcomes Brenton Anderson, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Dentons Australia, to the CMO Series Podcast to dive into what might be the biggest missed opportunity for professional services firms.

Brenton and Cam discuss: 

  • Why value-led business development is something that firms should consider
  • Where the typical firm can do more to deliver value through BD?
  • The types of interactions firms and lawyers should aim for in their day-to-day practice
  • How to get that first meeting, so you can deliver value
  • How to create a BD methodology that will have a meaningful impact at scale
  • What success looks like when you get it right
  • Advice to firms trying to deliver value through their BD

Cam: Any professional services marketing and BD conference will have “delivering value” as a core talking point. But how much value are firms actually delivering in their marketing and business development efforts? And how can they make sure that each client interaction is delivering on that promise of value? We're excited to welcome Brenton Anderson, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Denton's to dive deeper into what might be the biggest missed opportunity for professional service firms. Brenton, welcome to the Passle CMO Series. 

Brenton: Thank you, Cam. Thanks for having me on.

Cam: Absolute pleasure and really excited for the topic today and diving straight into it. Why is value-led business development something that firms should consider?

Brenton: Cam, I think we're operating in an environment these days where it's harder than ever to get access to clients and to targets. It's a very saturated market that we operate in. Certainly some commentators will have described it at various times as being over-lawyered. When we think about firms that are operating in that market, most firms, if not all firms are looking to grow. So whether that's trying to grow their existing clients or whether it's winning new clients, every firm is trying to increase their market share and in that sort of environment, the competition for people trying to compete for clients attention is absolutely immense. So we're also operating in an environment where we have very sophisticated buyers. Buyers really understand the market that they work in. They know how it works. They likely have views on firms, um, or on individuals what their strengths and their weaknesses and their reputations are and those views might be right or they might be wrong, but they certainly exist with the buyers. So given all of those factors, when you're trying to get cut through, it really requires much more than just good conversation, sparkling personality. And it certainly requires much more than just being able to talk about yourself or talk about your firm or talk about the practice that you have. So if you're gonna get a client's time and that's what we're all trying to compete for, it absolutely needs to be worth that client's time. Really? What's in it for them to meet with you? What are they going to get out of that meeting? Now, if you're able to teach the client something, show them something new, give them a different perspective, then that's something that is worth that client's time. And that's really what I guess we mean when we talk about a value-led approach, being able to take something of value to a client. One of the expressions that a former colleague of mine used to use that I really like is when a client walks away from the meeting, you want that client thinking, I got so much value out of that meeting, I would have paid for that meeting. And if you can be in that position, then you know that you've truly added value to that client. And there's some really great research in the market around this point around value-led business development. One of the top drivers for engagement from a buyer's point of view is being able to communicate with them around topics that impact their business and that are topics of it that are of interest to them. But what that same research also generally demonstrates is that it's one of the least common forms of business development that firms actually use. So there's a great opportunity there to engage with clients in a way that is relevant to them. And in a way that a lot of competitors in the market are simply not doing. I think the other benefit that I touch on around using a value-led approach is that it can really help create differentiation among firms. So firms will often talk about their differentiation, what their differentiators are, how they're different from their competitors. But differentiation is actually in the eye of the client. It's not in the eye of the firm. Differentiation is generally experienced. It's not told when we're telling someone what our differentiators are. We're generally speaking from a firm point of view, it's not what the client is actually experiencing. So, in an industry where it can be quite difficult for a buyer to differentiate between firms. And that's certainly true for large parts of the legal market. If you can be a firm or an individual that is teaching a client something new, giving them a different perspective, showing them an alternate way to solve a problem that can help create differentiation. And it's a pretty strong position to be in if you can be known as a firm or an individual that's willing to bring those ideas or those insights that becomes a really powerful differentiator.

Cam: I really like that idea that differentiations are in the eye of the client. I think so often people get caught up in what they're doing, what they're, they're trying to achieve that. They actually forget that it's important to look from the client's perspective. Where do you think the typical firm can do more to deliver value through business development and actually taking that one step further? Where do you think the typical lawyer can also do more to deliver value?

Brenton: I think a great launching point for this is really making sure that you're putting yourself in the client's position so that you can see the issues as the client does and you know, at Dentons, we describe that as a client-in approach, rather than a firm-out approach, which I think is a really helpful way to think about that. Ultimately being able to deliver value through BD. We need to understand the client and I mean, really understand the client just not at, not just at a superficial level. So we see that come up a lot in research and, and feedback from buyers of legal services, they want their firms that are advising them to truly understand their business because it means that we can advise their business in the context of the market that they're operating in. So things like, you know, what is driving their business, what's their strategy? What's impacting that strategy? You know, what's the structure of the business? What's the pressure that their industry is under at the moment? What is that organization's unique strengths? What are their weaknesses? What's their competitive advantage relative to their competitors? The more that you as an individual or as a firm know and understand about a client, then the better you are able to understand what's gonna resonate with them and what's gonna give you the best chance of getting in front of and getting access to that client? I think a trap that I have often seen um in the professional services market is a default that many professionals take is to often focus on themselves. Yeah, they'll talk about their achievements, they'll talk about matters that they're working on past deals, other clients that they work for those sorts of things. And it's pretty understandable as to why people do this. You know, most of us know ourselves really well. And so it's really easy for us to talk about that, but generally clients aren't that interested in that. And I think, you know, most people would be perhaps surprised, perhaps unsurprised to understand just how uninteresting it is to hear a professional talk about themselves and not talk about that client. And we know that it's difficult to get access to a client or a target. And so when you get that access, it is such a waste. If we're just talking about ourselves, we really want to be talking about the client and talking about their issues. And I think another aspect that, that either individuals or firms can think about in a value that BD approach can really come from challenging the client, you know, challenging their thinking, challenging their approach, challenging some of the assumptions that they've got. If you can do that, you can put yourself in a really strong position. Most people recognize they don't have all of the answers that they need. And conversations, discussions with external advisors can be a way that buyers of legal services can start to fill in some of the gaps that they may have. Now, of course, if you're going to go down this path and you're creating a little bit of tension with the client if I can call it that.  You need really strong EQ, emotional intelligence, to be able to do that, the approach that you take and the style that you use matters a lot as does the intent, you don't wanna create tension with the client where it feels awkward for the client. But when you're creating that tension by probing questions, by being curious around the way that they do things at the moment that's going to put you in a really strong position. I mean, the qualifier, I'd perhaps put around that is you don't perhaps want to be taking that approach with a new client in the first meeting that you have. But where you've established some relationship where you've got, you know, an existing client relationship, it's a really good approach approach to take. 

Cam: Yeah, I like, I like the spin of it's really important to understand that the client and if you are getting time with that client, then it's really important that you are providing value in making the most of that time because as you've mentioned, it is very difficult to get in front of them on a regular basis. And in practice at the level of a lawyer talking to a client that we've mentioned or, or sending an insight, what works from that respect and actually what type of interaction should firms and the individual lawyers be aiming for?

Brenton: Yeah, I think it's often, it's often not what you're doing but how you're doing it that can make the biggest difference. And what I mean by that is, you know, is really being able to demonstrate to the client through the approach that you're taking that you have their interests at heart. You're not there trying to get their time just to position yourself around some work that you think they can send your way. And I think most of us have been on the other side of this and to pick on a couple of industries, let's say, you know, an engagement with a real estate agent or a car salesperson or a charity collector where it's really obvious to you what they're trying to do, they're just trying to get into your pocket so they can get some of your hard earned money. And I think we've all experienced that and we all know how off-putting it could be. And I'm certainly not suggesting that that is the way professionals are viewed. But again, your approach, your style, the intent really matters. And I'm not a huge fan of the, the phrase or perhaps the word, but your approach needs to be authentic because if it's not clients and targets will really quickly see through that you're just here because you're trying to feather your own nest. So that approach that how you go about it, you know, is a really important part when, when you're thinking about how, how you go about it. The other thing to talk about here I think is, is relationships. So in a professional services context, relationships, they are undeniably important and we all absolutely need to be putting effort into establishing those relationships, into building and maintaining those relationships. It's important to think about how we do that. And there's, there's really two important aspects for developing or building a relationship. First of those is frequency. So how frequently you're in touch with the client? And the second of those is substance. And this is really where the value piece comes in. What are you bringing to that relationship? So think about it in terms of uh an equation, you could say relationship development is really substance multiplied by frequency. Now, as a marketer maths was never my strong point. But one thing I always remember is that if you multiply something by zero, you get zero. So using that equation, if you're not bringing any substance to a relationship and you're only using frequency, you're not going to develop that relationship equally if you're only bringing substance, but you're never meeting with the client. It's fairly obvious you're not going to develop that relationship. The trap can really be to fall into just focusing on the frequency just having catch-ups with clients, you know, not having a purpose for those catch-ups. And we've probably all experienced those, those uh engagements with, with clients, whether either as the client or, or as the provider where it becomes a bit of a listless pointless meeting or engagement. And it sort of drifts along with no clear purpose. If you can reframe your thinking to think about the substance side of that equation can really elevate the impact that you're having in that relationship development and the frequency becomes less important. Again, you need to be having some frequency, but you don't need to be in touch with a client as frequently. Because when you are in touch, you're adding a lot of value and that generally has more impact with a client than just a whole load of catch ups. And then I think the last point I'd make um here is really around the interactions that you're having. You know, when you're taking a valuable idea or using a value-led approach with a client, you need to be listening to your client's feedbacks, uh client's feedback and you know, the input that they're having around the ideas and insights that you're discussing and, and really being able to adjust and pivot around that you don't wanna be in a position where you're taking a fully formed answer to a client. You wanna be taking an idea that you can use to generate and build a conversation around and then hopefully get into a position where you're co-developing a solution or an outcome or furthering the idea with that client, often, we're not gonna be in a position where we're able to take a complete answer to a client because we don't have the full insight or the full context on the client's position. So it's generally better not to try and do that if you are just presenting an idea much more, feels like you're pitching rather than taking something that the client can engage with you on. 

Cam: And you mentioned that in the professional service context, it's incredibly important to build and work on those relationships and provide substance on a regular basis. I think there's a question here around. How do you regularly get that client in the room? And this might be from experience with the lawyers that you're working with and how do you actually get that meeting in the first place? How do you open that door or deliver value into their inbox for that first time? 

Brenton: Yeah, sort of getting that initial access is, you know, is often one of the hardest parts and that's true, whether it's a new client or an existing client. There's a gentleman by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk who I'm sure many of your listeners will be familiar with. And he has a book called Jab Jab Jab Right Hook. And I'm not much of a boxing fan, but I really like the analogy. It's essentially about looking for light touch, small interactions that are an easy yes for the client, it's easy to say yes to them. And they help you as the professional build credibility, they help you build relationships. And if you can do that, those small jabs those small, easy things that a client can engage with you on before you're looking to try and land, you know, work or ask for something bigger from a client, puts you in a really strong position. So when I'm thinking about, you know, a value-led approach, I think it's really important that we don't need to come up with the next big idea every time we want to engage with a client, you know, those small interactions and insights are absolutely valuable too. And I always think we sometimes get caught up in trying to make an idea perfect, but don't be afraid to take the start of an idea to a client. An approach that I think works really well is something along the lines of I've been working on this idea and I'd love to get your input into it. It's a great way to get some client buy-in and most people's ego will want to accept that request. You're showing the client that you're really interested in what they've got to say to something that you've started. Most people will say yes to that to that sort of conversation. Now that sort of approach will generally work best when it's an existing client rather than a new client. So always remember that, you know, it's easier to get access when you've got that existing relationship, but it can work with new clients as well. The setup just needs to be slightly different. And, and the other point I'd make around that is, you know, test your ideas with those clients that you have good, strong relationships with. Before you look to start rolling it out to others and particularly new clients, you know, it'll give you an idea of what resonates. You can test where you might have some gaps and you can start to fill in some other ideas that supplement the initial idea that you've had. Another point that I'd make here, Cam, is really around tailoring. If you're looking to get in front of a client or target, you've got to tailor that idea or that insight, it's absolutely critical that you do that. And I think a really good way to think about this is hyper-personalization and that's tailoring to an audience of one. You know, you really demonstrate your understanding of that idea and the context of the client when you tailor it to an audience of one, and you might come up with a great idea that you can use to get in front of a dozen different clients, but you should be putting some form of tailoring on that for each of those clients. So it's really, really relevant to that client. I think in the marketing world that we live in these days, generic really doesn't cut it. Um, you know, I think it's why most of us largely ignore mass marketing. Um, a as a way to access clients or as a consumer. Um, you want to make it easy for your client, you want them to be able to see why you're telling them this and how it's relevant to them. And you as the professional absolutely need to do the work here. What doesn't work is to just throw some content or an idea at your client and hope that they can work out why it's relevant to them. Again, you need to give the client a reason to be interested and the reason to engage in this.

Cam: And before the podcast. You'd said that if you get this right, if you deliver value, the firm's business development function becomes a real point of difference, how can firms do that at a scale that have a meaningful impact? And are there teams built around this? Should this be a global initiative? Should it be a sort of broken-down initiative? And actually, are there any technologies that you found that that firms should look at? 

Brenton: Okay. So a couple of points in there Cam, look, I think the key to doing it at scale is really ensuring those that have direct client contact, understand the importance of it and how to do it and really why it would be a good idea to do that. So in my line of work, that's our lawyers and that's our fee earners. So a firm's business development team becomes really critical in this context. So yes, to effectively do it at scale. A BD team does need to be built around that fundamental understanding and that team needs to be able to instill the approach throughout the organization. And there's a couple of ways that that can happen, you know, your traditional, you know, coaching and workshops, um particularly around live opportunities so that it's real rather than it's theoretical. And I always find, you know, again, an audience of one is what works here trying to impart, you know, this idea, this methodology, uh you know, to a room full of people is really, really hard to do. But when you can work with people on an opportunity that they have an idea that they have in helping them tailor that to the client and what the approach is gonna look like that works really, really well. The second way is really leading by example, and that's through the business development team using a value-led approach in their engagement with the fee earners. So the fee earner then gets to experience it from the other side, they can see it in action, they can see the benefits of being on the receiving end of this type of approach and it's much easier for them to envisage doing it with their clients when they've seen it in action. And, you know, they've seen the benefit that they get from it. Global initiative. Absolutely. I think it can be, it can be a global initiative, but there are cultural differences that need to be taken into account. So while it might be a, you know, a global methodology that is used a localized approach needs to be applied to ensure that it works. It certainly isn't a one size fits all. So, you know, for example, I would say the way that we would go about this in Australia is going to be slightly nuanced from the way that say some of our Asian countries might approach that sort of methodology. And then I think your last point was around technologies and technology can certainly enhance the engagement. And I think that really starts with a really sound CRM system. And that allows firms to understand who their clients are, who their contacts are, who their targets are and to record engagements over time and track what's resonating, what is not both at an individual and an organizational level. But I think there's a real trap here. The technology doesn't lead the approach, the technology supplements the approach, it's the mindset that makes a value-led approach, successful thinking that implementing whatever technology it is going to change the way that the firm goes to market. It’s simply a red herring. You've got to change the mindset and you've got to change the behavior to begin with. 

Cam: And I guess the important part to all of this is what's the impact, what does this actually look like when you get it right? When you deliver value and how do you know that it's working? And what type of results can you expect?

Brenton: Yeah. Well, it's the reason we're doing it right at the end of the day. Look, I think if it's done well, it should really be putting you as an individual or your firm in a position for that client to be thinking of you when they're making their decisions to purchase, it should be putting you in the frame. If you are adding a lot of value to a client, human nature tells us that people want to repay that favor. So if you're consistently adding value for buyer of legal services, when it comes time for them to engage, they're going to be thinking of those people that have been doing them all of those favors and making them look good in their organizations. It is a mistake I think to be looking for or expecting an immediate payoff or return for the value that we deliver. It's generally unrealistic,you know, it's important to remember that delivering some value to a client and being engaged. It's not a linear relationship and frankly, no BD is for that matter, it can happen, it does happen. There's certainly exceptions out there. But what we're really trying to do here is one of two things. Firstly, we're trying to put ourselves in a position that client will think of us when they need to solve an issue because we've invested in that relationship. And we've demonstrated our value to the client. The second thing that we're trying to do is we're trying to help the client understand that the status quo is not where they need to be. And that they may actually have an issue that they didn't realize they have. So we're then moving that client into a purchasing frame of mind. And that's really, I guess the first couple of stages of a traditional buying cycle where the client moves from position of, I don't have a problem through to, maybe I do have a problem here through to OK, I actually, I do have a problem and I need to do something about it. Ultimately, if you've been able to lead the client through that, then they're unlikely to follow the next couple of parts of the traditional buy buying cycle, which are along the lines of seeking information, evaluating alternatives, comparing prices, etc. They're much more likely to instruct you directly because you've brought that issue to their attention. You've been workshopped what it means to them, how they might be able to solve it. It's much more likely that they're going to just instruct you directly on that. It's not guaranteed, it's just not guaranteed. You know, some people, you know, have procurement processes that they need to go through. Some people, you know, may well take advantage of your good nature, but more often than not, if you've been able to help a client understand an issue and realize that they need to do something about it. There's a good chance that they're going to instruct you on that. And that's really, you know, the ideal position that we want to be in, you want to be bringing the client into the market. And that's really the difference between finding work and creating work. And it's much easier if you can help create the work rather than just have to find the work and win it off another competitor.

Cam: Yeah, that educational piece is, I guess, really important. I like the idea of bringing clients into the market and the position that that leaves you in. Just to finish us off here, Brenton, you've got a bunch of key takeaways or sort of just scribbling down along the way. I really like the idea of that. There was sort of the notion that the client should leave every interaction feeling like they would have paid for that meeting and differentiations are in the eye of the client. And it's important for hyper personalization. The final piece here is if you had one bit of advice to firms trying to deliver value through business development, what would that be?

Brenton: Look, I think that's a really simple one. Put the client first and at the center of your BD approaches, you know, if you can put yourself in the client's shoes and ask, what would I find useful if I was sitting in their chair, that's going to really position you? Well, look, it is easy to say it's harder to do.  Absolutely. But where firms and individuals can do that, they will truly find success because they are ultimately being client-centric there. They're thinking about their clients first and foremost, not thinking about, you know, I need to get more revenue in the door. I need to have more meetings with clients. They're thinking about what does my client need to be successful and in the long-term, that's gonna position you really well to be successful.

Cam: Keep the client first. I feel like that's a good place to finish. Brenton,  thanks so much for featuring, that was a really educational piece. And yeah, thank you very much for featuring on the CMO series podcast.

Brenton: Thanks Cam. It's been a pleasure.

Outro: The CMO Series Podcast is brought to you by Passle. Passle makes thought leadership, simple, scalable and effective so professional services firms can be front of mind with their clients and prospects when it matters most. Find out more at


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