Assuming the Role of a Business Development Coach

by Gretchen Lyn Koehler on October 13, 2011

As law firms increasingly seek methods for driving revenues from improved or expanded client relationships, many business development staff members are being challenged to deliver skills coaching to their internal clients. Whether afforded formalized “train the trainer” training from consultants, or expected to develop their own innovative methods, such business development staff members must learn how to initiate actual coaching relationships.

Effective business development coaching programs are customized to the strengths, needs, goals and skills of each participant. The first step necessary to engage in a meaningful coaching relationship is an exploratory conversation focused on obtaining information about which of the attorney’s past efforts to develop business have and have not worked, good fit situations in which he/she feels comfortable engaging in authentic interactions that could facilitate opportunities to develop business, and what he/she is seeking to accomplish concerning business development. The conversation should afford the coach insights into the coaching participant’s sophistication, experience and comfort levels pertaining to business development. It also needs to lay the foundation for familiarity, security and communication in the coaching relationship.

From there, the coach can create a coaching engagement plan. This plan requires consistent and focused effort from the coach and the coaching participant. The coach’s role will involve helping the participant continually set goals and develop execution plans. In the beginning, the goals and plans are likely to focus on:

  • developing value propositions and testing them out in networking situations;
  • identifying and immersing oneself in “good fit” business development situations; and
  • honing small talk skills by making conversation with new people at networking events.

As the coaching program progresses, the coach should help the coaching participant focus on increasingly complex goals, such as:

  • shifting from presentation style pitches to discovery conversations;
  • becoming attuned to client needs by conducting informal or formal client satisfaction interviews; and
  • developing outreach or social media plans to keep clients informed on subjects related to their business objectives.

A coach’s likelihood of success depends upon his/her ability to listen and facilitate the creation of goals and plans which encourage the coaching participant to evolve his/her business development skills. Also critical are the coach’s tenacity about following up, requesting progress and success reports and assisting in the process of setting next steps which support the coaching participant’s overall goals and growth.

Coaching participants benefit from the coach’s guidance on setting realistic expectations. This includes teaching coaching participants about the sales process and reminding them that it could take 6-10 tries and up to 18 months to develop new business from their target clients. By helping them recognize the value of developing authentic relationships, coaches empower their coaching participants to spot opportunities which trigger actual sales and thereby resist premature pitch attempts commonly known as “rushes to rejection.” Tools designed to help map and track relationship advances reinforce this concept and serve as long term reminders that coaching participants can revisit in the future.

Also beneficial are mechanisms to report on business development activities and successes. Though frequently met with initial resistance, such mechanisms can be used to reinforce the value of the coaching program and the contributions made by individual attorneys. Besides creating credibility and support for the coaching program, these mechanisms supply higher-ups with information they can use to make decisions regarding attorney compensation, hiring, firm strategy, investments, and conflicts.

Gretchen Lyn Koehler, Esq. is Director of Business Development at Kenyon & Kenyon LLP. She can be reached at gkoehler@kenyon.com.

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