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Episode 243: Go-To Business Development Strategies—with Gemma Francis

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. This podcast is all about business development.

That is what you do to go out and get business. And we're going to dive into some of the research about what type of business development person you can be and what research shows that actually works. And I brought in someone who knows this extraordinarily well. Gemma Francis is going to come on and talk about what she has learned both by getting business as well as what the research tells us.

Such good stuff in this. Let's get started.

Welcome to the show today, Gemma Francis. Gemma, welcome to the show.

Gemma Francis: Thanks, Deb. I'm delighted to be here.

Deb Zahn: Let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.

Gemma Francis: So, I'm a BD consultant, and by that I mean business development and I work with midsize law firms predominantly in the UK on winning new work by using sustainable strategies.

Deb Zahn: I love that introduction because it's so crisp, it's so clear. And so anybody who's trying to work on how they introduce themselves and define their value proposition, listen to that again because that's a fabulous example. So, I want to dig into some of the business development strategies because you do that with law firms.

Everything you talk about and share, all of which I love, is so relevant to consultants. So, I thought we could have fun with that today. And one of the things that you've been posting and sharing on your website recently that really struck me is sort of five distinct profiles of how people approach business development, and you're talking about partners at law firms, but it applies to consultants.

What are those? And what does the research actually show about what works?

Gemma Francis: So, this is some research done specifically looking at law firms, but as you mentioned, it applies pretty much to all areas of business, all sectors and industries. It was done by DCM Insights and published in Harvard Business Review.

And it was mainly looking into the habits of Rainmaker Partners and their specific behaviors. And predominantly Rainmaker Partners have been seen as almost like a unicorn. This, you're born with these skills of developing business. So, what this research found was that there were five specific profiles across law firms.

Number one was the expert, which is obviously the subject matter expert. They go really deep into specific practice areas, for example. Number two was the confidant, which is the trusted advisor, often has a small group of clients, doesn't really want to share them, but really nurtures those small group of clients.

We have the debater, which is the person who challenges perspectives. They're often credited with being sort of out of the box thinkers. You also have the realist, which really values transparency. They're really honest, often loyal. I'm not afraid to give an opinion, but the number five was the activator.

And that's the one which is the one which is really generating business. And that is the one that they say is proactive in building connections. But they also have these activator partners that have elements of all of the other four as well. They're only in this research, only 22% of partners. And it was a huge, on a huge scale, only 22% were activators and those were the best at winning business.

Deb Zahn: Interesting. And I know that a lot of times it's, and this is definitely true for consultants, folks will foster sort of more transactional relationships. What's different between that and what an activator does?

Gemma Francis: You're completely right. There is, so there's a massive tendency to lean towards transactional relationships, whereas the activator is looking at building loyalty, genuine fostering, genuine connections, nurturing, and building these relationships.

These activators were often advising on areas that are outside of their skillset. They were connecting with other areas of the business, whether it resulted in a sale or not. They were sort of genuinely trying to help their clients and their clients can feel that. And as a result, have a higher level of trust in them.

Deb Zahn: And what are the types of things that they do to build those relationships? So, is it just call in a whole bunch, or, and I know that's not the answer because I know you wrote about it. So, what are some of the activator actions that tend to tend to work?

Gemma Francis: So, I mean, they boiled it down to the three Cs.

Number one was commit. That was committing to business development on a regular basis. And they didn't say whether that was 15 minutes a day or whether it was two hours a day I think that depends on the individual, but the main point was they are committed It doesn't slide down the to-do list. It always happens.

They also connect so they're masters at building connections between their clients and other intermediaries or other partners, they're building a really strong network, which is interconnected.

The third C was create which is about creating value, which can often look like curating useful information that you send on to your, to a client to say, “Hey, I spotted this in the news. This could be relevant to you for X reason.” They're breaking it down, making it interesting, short, snappy, and providing real value to them.

Deb Zahn: I'm so glad to hear that because these are things I do and I have done and how I built my consulting practice. I know that for some consultants, particularly if they're new, and I imagine this is true of partners is as well, they can do all of those things.

And for some reason, still make it feel transactional to the client on the other side. So, what are some of the ways that you would suggest? To make sure that the client's experience of being on the other side of what activators do actually feels genuine caring and sort of all the things that, that you hope it feels.

Gemma Francis: I think the number one thing is building a relationship when there isn't a business need. That one is, it seems really obvious when you, when we talk about it, but actually when you get busy, you're focused on the matter at hand, and you don't tend to chat with your client outside of those times when you've got those busy periods of work.

So, they are genuinely fostering relationships there, picking up the phone to chat outside of work. They're thinking about them. They're looking deeper into their business to think, how can I make my client look good or what's coming in the future for them that they should know about. That type of thing.

It's just, I think it really boils down to a genuine relationship and genuinely wanting your client to succeed.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I agree. And, and truthfully, there are so many opportunities to do that. I'm, I recall recently, actually, I was on the phone with a former client. Who is devising this very large strategy. He started talking about something that made me think of one of my other former clients and I, without hesitation, without even thinking about it, started positioning them in the conversation, genuinely because I thought it was true and it was going to help him accomplish his results, but I did that without hesitation, without thinking about it. No one was paying me to do it.

Gemma Francis: That's exactly it. It's not about the sale. And I think sometimes it just doesn't feel genuine as a client. We've all been buyers. We know what it feels like to be sold to.

We know when something's genuine, when somebody genuinely wants us, wants to help us. You know that that just increases the level of trust, doesn't it? Immediately, and usually loyalty. So, when you're doing something for the good of somebody else. That really shines through, but I think it's, it's easy to let that slide to the bottom of the to-do list because you're so focused on the work at hand.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Until your pipeline gets anemic or you start to fall off a revenue cliff and then you're like, “Oh my gosh, I got it. I have to start contacting people.” And they can tell even if you ask them about their kids or their puppy or something ahead of time, they can still tell when what you're really trying to do is get to the sale.

Gemma Francis: If you're coming at it with a, from a scarce mentality, then yeah, they can feel that. So, the key is to be building your pipeline when you feel like you don't need it, you should be building your pipeline well ahead of any cliffs coming into sight.

Deb Zahn: And when you work with folks, and I know it can be different depending on the circumstances, how often are you telling them they should be doing business development?

Is it once a week? Is it once a month? Is it once a quarter? What do you, what do you tell folks?

Gemma Francis: I mean, once a quarter is just far too little. I work with the client. It depends on their capacity at the time. If we sort of take a step back, BD can look like lots of different things.

And they can be easy, quick wins or they can be longer-term projects or things that require a higher level of investment or time. So, it's about working with the time that you've got and making it work for you and your client base or your prospect. But really, you should be ideally doing something ideally every day.

But if not, you should be doing something every single week.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely. Yeah. And making time for it. So, the other piece is the sustainability piece because you have to sustain the practice of business development if you're going to have a robust, profitable business. What are your kind of go-to tips for actually making it this practice of business development sustainable?

Gemma Francis: I think when I look at the clients that I work with, the unsustainability piece usually comes from what I call magpie syndrome or shiny object syndrome.

Deb Zahn: We've all been there.

Gemma Francis: We have, yeah, I've gotten some shiny objects in a drawer somewhere, but, you come up with an idea and you think about a campaign and you think, yeah, let's go do it. So, you start it and you might speak at a conference or attend a conference. Then you think, actually, we should also be talking about X.

So, let's write an article about it. And then somebody invites you to some drinks. So, you're also doing that. And actually it turns out that you're doing a whole load of things that are not necessarily interconnected. And then usually what happens is. You don't have the time to really follow through or follow up and that's a topic close to my heart, to be honest, but the following up piece is the bit usually is where the good stuff starts.

So, the sustainability comes back to doing more with less, I would say, as opposed to spreading yourself too thinly. There's a raspberry jam analogy, the wider you spread it, the thinner it gets. So, coming back to that analogy, if you're going to be doing absolutely everything, it's unlikely that you're going to do everything to the best of your ability and really see it through.

So, it needs to be sustainable.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love that. And I love the emphasis on follow through because again, it seems obvious, but I know a lot of people who are sort of out there networking, their conferences, they're having the drinks, they're doing all of that. And then there's nothing that happens on the other side.

So, they collect the business cards, if people are still giving those out, they have whatever conversations, but the magic is in the follow-up. So, talk about some of the strategies you would suggest if somebody is out there and they're doing that sort of networking. What should they be doing so that follow-up becomes a normal, natural thing to do and what types of follow up do you see tend to work well?

Gemma Francis: So, I mean, the first thing is to schedule time in your diary to make sure that it happens. So, in an event the night before, have some time in your diary the next following morning or the same night if you can manage it to make some notes. On your way home from the event, open your notes up in your phone and write down some details of things that you've discussed with specific individuals.

LinkedIn is fantastic as an easy way to make sure that you've got that person in your address book and that you can have a quick and easy conversation. So, that's my first tip is use LinkedIn to the absolute max. It's fantastic. But diarize it, make sure that you've got something specific to reference to.

So, it doesn't feel inauthentic when you do make that follow-up activity and just be consistent with it.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And are there certain types of, I mean, obviously, during COVID networking changed and got curtailed a bit. But are there any type of networking activity that tends to work better than others?

Or does it depend on the industry?

Gemma Francis: I think it depends. Yes, on the industry. And I think it depends on the individual. And again, just coming back to that sustainability piece, it's going to tire you out. It's going to feel harder if you're doing something, if you're naturally introverted and you've suddenly got a whole load of.

Speaking opportunities coming up, that's going to take a lot more energy than it would if you were just writing an article, for example, or having one on one conversations. So, I think the key to good BD is to do something that feels natural, that feels normal, that feels comfortable for you, particularly at the beginning, if you're starting to put yourself out there, do things that you feel comfortable with, and you'll probably do it in a better way, you won't feel as tired and you'll want to do more of it.

Deb Zahn: Right. And you won't procrastinate and rearrange your sock drawer because you'd rather do that. Schedule a root canal so you don't have to go do that networking thing that you hate to do. Now, I know one of the other things that people think particularly when they're first trying to get business is, “Oh my gosh, I have to do all this marketing and, or here, let me hire someone. And then it's taken care of, and I don't have to.” What's your take on how marketing fits into the mix of business development?

Gemma Francis: So, I would say marketing in my mind is speaking to a wider audience. It's about your brand building. It's where you've got potential clients are in that audience. Absolutely.

And they may start to associate you, for example, posting on LinkedIn, we call them lurkers. They're sort of behind the scenes. They may not necessarily be in contact with you, but they associate you with whatever it is that you do. You're not on a one-to-one conversation. That's marketing your brand building.

There's absolutely a place for that. But, in terms of business development, it's almost taking the next step. So, it's about building the conversation. It's about developing trust, demonstrating authority. And that usually comes down to something that is a one-on-one conversation where you can really start to develop an interest in each other.

Yeah. So, I think there is a place for both of them. You do need marketing, but you also do need BD, for example, if you're just. Posting on LinkedIn, but you're not sending the direct messages. You're not directly engaging with people on a one-to-one basis. It's quite hard to make that conversion.

Deb Zahn: That's right. I would agree. And so one of the other things that I like, and you definitely do this. I, and I love seeing your posts. So, if anybody would sort of wants to learn how to do this, they could also just see what you do because I think it's, it's great is you're also extraordinarily generous with the value that you give on LinkedIn.

And I don't know if the part of your brand that you've decided, but part of my brand as a consultant is, and for Craft of Consulting is anything I put out into the world. I want somebody to be able to get value from it. And it helps them regardless of whether or not they ever buy anything or they consume any other content for me.

That's the vibe I get when I see your things is if someone only saw one of your posts. There's at least one, often more gems in there that they could take away. They could apply immediately and it's going to help them with what they're struggling with. And that's different than look at me, me, me, me, me, me, which is often what a lot of, if you pay for marketing or that's often what they will do.

Gemma Francis: And if you want somebody to genuinely connect with you, you have to show them what you can do. And as I talked about scarcity mindset, if you're coming in with that, again, thinking about the sale, you're not going to be generous.

And the person on the other side of that is going to be feeling that they're not going to feel that actually I want to work with that person. Gosh, actually what she said really has made me think because I do want to be generous, and I want to share almost everything that I can do with everybody because I want people to be able to go out and do this themselves.

Eventually, the legal industry in particular is quite behind. So, they do need some help, which is why I love my job. But at the same time, I don't want to be holding back because people can feel that I want to be Genuinely generous,

Deb Zahn: I suppose. That's right. I think we've all been on those webinars or scrolled through something that told us they were going to give us some fabulous type of value.

And then you get to the end. And you've gotten barely a sliver of value, but to get the real value, they're now telling you, you have to pay for it. And it feels like a trick. I think it is experienced as a betrayal of trust, or at least, in no way building trust as opposed to. Show people that you're valuable don't just tell people that you're valuable. Show people that you're valuable. I know this is true with a lot of folks that I work with sometimes there is a fear of.

If I'm generous, and I tell people things. If I think that, well, people pay me to work with them or they pay me to coach them to they pay me to do consulting with them, then I'm giving away the store. Then they're never going to hire me because they're just going to pick it up and run with it and never need me.

How do you help people out of that mindset trap?

Gemma Francis: So, I think you can put all the content that you want, all of the frameworks, the templates, etc. But actually that old saying you can take a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. It kind of applies in a similar sense. You can give, for example, my client base, a lawyer, all of this information, but actually, what they struggle with, they are time poor, they don't have time to implement it.

So, they are probably going to still need me if they don't, and they can learn from what I've given them fantastic. That might then lead to an introduction or still a relationship that there are other ways to build business than just the direct client introduction and a one-to-one sale. So, you have to think wider.

So, if you're giving not to receive, you probably will still receive, but perhaps not in the way that you expected it.

Deb Zahn: Which is part of how you build a robust business because if you only have one source of sales and one method to get sales, then you're inserting risk into your business because what if that goes off the rails.

I know that people in my network. Past clients can call me and say, “Deb, here's the situation we have. Is this you?” And if I say, well, that's definitely not me. I can't help you with that. I'm not the best person for that but let me connect you with the person that is what that does.

One is I'm being a good person, which I really care about being a good person. But the other thing it does is then the past client or whoever's reaching out to me has a good, warm, fuzzy feeling. I'm now front of mind as someone who has helped them. And then the other thing it does is the person I referred them to, I'm now front of mind for them. And so if they see something that they think is a fit for me, they're going to think of me. They'll say my name without hesitation because I've said their name without hesitation.

Gemma Francis: Absolutely. I mean, honestly, is the best policy in that type of thing. I never take on work that I don't think I could absolutely deliver 100%.

I would rather give it to somebody that probably also needs that work. We'll be grateful. We'll have me in mind, as you say, front of mind for the future. And the client also knows that I will only tell you I can do something if I genuinely can. Therefore you can trust me with this piece of work that I've told you I can do.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And that builds that trust in relationships, just like, just like we talked about. Now, I know one other thing you posted recently talked about loyalty, client loyalty because I think the assumption has been in the past that once you develop the relationship, check you're good and they'll just keep coming back to you more and more. And you have found that not to be true. What is it that you're actually seeing?

Gemma Francis: Yeah, there's quite a lot of research about this now, and this is, again, for the legal industry, but I think it applies much wider. Clients are becoming less and less loyal. Some research I saw recently said that 53% of clients will, would be happy to use the firms that they've used in the past, but that's predicted to go down to 37%.

Wow. So, that's quite a big drop. it shows that clients are more savvy. They're more potentially more price conscious. They're definitely more value-= conscious. They're quite happy to move advisors or providers. So, therefore, if you want to build loyalty, you've got to be looking up from just the transaction at hand.

You've got to be offering, as we keep talking about value. You've got to be asking them what they need, whether that's in a business term or whether that's wider, whether that's personal, you really have to be digging deeper into the relationship to make them look good, make them feel good, show that you understand them, that you understand their business, that you understand their sector.

There's so much more now than just getting the piece of work in. And particularly in the law firm industry and the legal industry. There was this idea that if you're a subject matter expert, so for example, employment law, that should be enough to keep the clients, get the clients in the door.

But the research is all telling us that there's so much more to it now. You've got to work a lot harder.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And there's other people that are also subject matter experts in what you're, and that's the thing is. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't kid myself that I'm the only one who can do what I can do.

There are other people that can. So, what else am I bringing to the table that will instill the loyalty among the clients that I most want to work with? And that's often things like client experience. If I cause a lot of drama, and I make things hard and I do friction, they're going to be asking the question, and this is an American phrase, so I don't know if it translates, but is the juice worth the squeeze?

Yeah, I love that one. And they're going to constantly be questioning, is it worth this friction? Is it worth this drama when there are other subject matter experts and we could try them on and see if we like it better.

Gemma Francis: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, everybody has to have this in mind when you're thinking about the client experience.

One thing that I've talked about recently is client listening, as we call it in the legal industry. And that is speaking to your clients on a regular basis about the service that you're providing, about the opportunities that are on the horizon for your client, what you could be doing better, what they're already doing fantastically well at, to then come away and think, OK. In terms of the client relationship, this is what I could do better. And actually, this is. We need to rephrase this one, Deb, I don't like this one.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and that's kind of what we do in real relationships, right?

Gemma Francis: Yes, absolutely. So, yeah, it just, it just comes back to being honest, having open conversations with your clients and just doing the best that you possibly can for them because they can see that, they feel that.

Deb Zahn: They do, yeah. I, again, I'm thinking of a client recently just to give an example of, she has been talking about something. Ever since I've known her. So, probably 12 years and lots of reasons decided not to pursue something and I helped her making those decisions, but there's an opportunity now that is rare and relatively, as close to perfect as she's going to get for what she wants to do.

And there's options now that exist that didn't. Exists before. So, you darn sure bet, myself and actually some of the, that, that also worked with her. That's a colleague. We reached out and we were like, let's have a conversation about this. And the conversation that we're going to have, which is actually later this week is.

Even if she doesn't hire us to help her, we're on the phone with her because we know that if she misses this opportunity, it could have consequences for her organization. And we want to make sure we have a conversation about it. Is that going to lead to business? It might. We know what we can do.

We know what we can't do. We've had a conversation about what we can and can't do. We've had a conversation about who else can be helpful in different aspects. But you bet that's the first thing I thought of is I got to get on the phone and have this conversation.

Gemma Francis: And that's exactly what you want from an advisor.

Something that's got your back that really understands what it is that you are driving for as an individual and as a business. And you mentioned, I think it's fantastic that you mentioned you've had this relationship for such a long time and now there's an opportunity for you to work together.

How has that come about? Probably because you've maintained and nurtured that relationship when there wasn't a business need.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely. And I've worked with them multiple times, but it's not ongoing because it doesn't need to be ongoing. And so I don't push for an ongoing retainer because that's not what is needed in this circumstance.

And I know that. But I do know that this, if this was something that needed to happen, here are the pieces I could help with. And here's the pieces I can't. So, love, love, love that. So, are there any sort of top two do's and don'ts that you would want someone to keep in mind if they're like, all right, I'm going to be an activator.

I'm going to try and cultivate that because you mentioned earlier, people think, Oh, you're born with it. That's not true. So, any sort of do's and don'ts for cultivating their soon-to-be inner activator?

Gemma Francis: So, I think the first thing is. Thinking about whether what you're doing is active or passive. So, for example, you write an article and you want it, you put it on the firm's website and you, your company shares it on LinkedIn.

You leave it there and that's great. Job done, tick. That's the sort of passive approach where actually there's quite high levels of friction there. So, what you're hoping for is that your potential client. It's following you on LinkedIn or your firm finds it is interesting enough to click on it to read it and see you as the author to get in touch with you to have a conversation.

There's quite a lot of levels of friction, whereas the active approach is to write the article with potential clients in mind and actually send those to 3 to 5. Of your clients or prospects and start a conversation. “Hi, David, this is exactly how I wrote this article. You were in mind as I wrote it. Actually, I think this could be useful for X, Y, and Z.”

So, it's about taking that next step, which keeps it sustainable. You're not having to write 10 articles. That's right. You can write the one, but the way you're developing that one activity is what will probably reap the rewards. So, that would be my last tip.

Deb Zahn: Or even sharing an industry article that you think would be helpful for them and then adding your special little, little take on it. Like, here's how I think it applies to you.

Gemma Francis: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think be smart with how you're. But now you're doing your activities. So, passive versus active is certainly one of the things. I think the other tip is proactive over reactive, which it sounds similar, but it's not just about waiting for the client to call you and being able to pick up the phone within 30 seconds.

It's about you thinking of the client before. And you picking up the phone to them to say, “Hi David, actually, I did think about this for you. What do you think about X?” Having them in mind, being proactive, giving rather than just waiting for them to get in contact and delivering a good service. It's much more than that.

Deb Zahn: Oh, I'd love that. And that is so different than how so many folks do it, especially even if folks who are established who are like, oh, I could just wait by the phone and see what happens. And there might've been a time when that was wise, but I don't think it's currently wise, particularly with what you said about diminishing loyalty.

Gemma Francis: Absolutely. I mean, I feel like I'm a fountain of research knowledge at the moment, but I also read something again that applies to the legal industry, but I think goes wider that said, I forget the actual, I think it was 67% of law firm clients said that staying front of mind was one of the most important drivers for them to instruct.

A law firm, which results in new business and that's how you do that. That's recent contact. So, that's that proactivity. That's not waiting for a new matter to come in and land on your plate. It's about having those conversations and being proactive.

Deb Zahn: Love it. Oh, I love, love, love that. So, where can folks find you?

So, they definitely should follow you on LinkedIn because even if they don't work at a law firm, they should be looking at your stuff to see how it is you talk about things in the world. But how can folks find you otherwise?

Gemma Francis: Yeah, I also have a website, I do share, as we talked about being generous, I'm now sharing lots of content that people can read. You can also click and book a meeting with me on the website as well, but yes, do follow me on LinkedIn.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. And we will have links to all of that in the show notes. So, let me ask you my last question, which I ask everyone, which is how do you bring balance to your life, however it is you think about that?

Gemma Francis: So, I am also a qualified yoga teacher. I'm a big fan of meditation, of yoga, of, you know because I always say I advocate sustainable BD, so I try to apply that to my own life. Sometimes I can have a really busy day, but I know that if I take 10 to 15 minutes in the morning, my day will be infinitely better if I've just sat for a few moments to be quiet and just to get my thoughts in order. That is huge for me.

Deb Zahn: Love, love, love that. Well, Gemma, thank you so much for coming on. This has been just wonderful. And like I said, we know each other, I've been following your stuff, and I'm so impressed with it. So, I was so excited to have you on.

And as I was picking who my last guests were going to be on my weekly show, I knew that you had to be one because you would just deliver so much value to people who are listening.

Gemma Francis: Thank you so much, Deb. I'm absolutely honored to be your last guest. And I must say that you have been an inspiration on my journey since I have started my own business.

So, thank you.

Deb Zahn: Oh, thank you.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content, and I don't want you to miss anything.

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