By: Sharon Berman,
Published: The Daily Journal
Lawyers can learn valuable business development lessons from their marketing failures as well as their successes. As disappointing as losing can feel, the silver lining lies in the lessons one can learn from these situations. Whether a marketing event resulted in a win or a loss, a thorough debriefing can yield great and lasting benefits.
Debriefing essentially means “gathering knowledge or intelligence.” The idea is to analyze each situation to determine what you did right and that you can do differently next time. Sometimes lawyers don’t debrief because they believe that their failures are mostly due to things not under their control. It is true that there are some new business pitches you could not have won no matter what you did. Perhaps the prospect had already decided on another firm and just wanted a second opinion.
Sometimes you can slough it off on professional fees, both too high or too low. Usually, however, there is much to be learned if you take the time to dig deeper.
The time to debrief is after the close of each marketing win or loss. The first step is an internal debriefing. Meet with the firm colleagues who accompanied you to the meetings, the team responsible for your presentation materials and anyone else involved in targeting this new piece of business.
If you were successful, analyze what made it work. For example, did you win because you picked the right team based on the prospect’s personality? Make notes of the possible reasons for the win and go over them before the next marketing push.
Don’t forget, however, that despite the win, there may be parts of the process you could streamline or improve for the next time. For example, did you turn documents around quickly or were there hold-ups in the process? Did you do enough homework about the person and the firm? Did you listen well enough, and were you on target with your responses? If you lost, scrutinize the process to determine what changes to make next time. Keep a written record of the important points, and start a debriefing file so you can jog your memory the next time you meet with the prospect.
Next, regardless of whether the meeting was a win or loss, contact him or her to learn their perspective. To obtain the most honest response, assign the task to someone other than the attorneys who attended the meetings. The person will find it easier to be straightforward with people they don’t know personally. It’s best to choose an administrator, an inside or outside marketing professional or someone else in the firm who comes across professionally and can ask incisive questions without appearing pushy.
Before the interview, have an attorney who knows the prospect make contact and ask if someone may call for a debriefing.
Depending on the size of the assignment, a debriefing in person may be more appropriate. Let the prospect know that it is your practice to learn from every situation, whether a win or a loss, and that it helps you serve your clients better because it deepens your understanding of their needs. Don’t, however, allow anyone to call and ask questions off the cuff.
Meet with the interviewer with your list of prepared questions. Keep the list flexible to modify questions based on the answers received.
What to ask? If you won, design your questions to discover what differentiated you and your firm from the others they considered. What can they point to specifically? Was it your industry expertise? Even if you won, ask what they would have liked you to do differently. You may need to probe. For example, if someone says, “I can’t point to anything specifically. We just thought you were the best, “ ask “Can you please tell me how we were best?” or “What do you mean by best?” The idea is to break vague adjectives down into specifics.
If you were not chosen for this piece of new business, prepare questions regarding what you could have done differently and why the prospect selected another attorney or firm. Remember that this is an information- gathering mission only. Also ask what aspects the prospect considered positive about you and your firm. It’s important not to start explaining or become defensive.
Maintain a file of the debriefing details, start tracking the results, watch for patterns and learn from what you glean. Debriefing takes courage because you may hear things that make you uncomfortable, but the opportunity to enhance future results is well worth the discomfort.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.