A colleague recently sent me a list of the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies, sorted by the geographic markets in which my employer, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC, operates.  Who wouldn’t want to serve vibrant, fast-growing companies like these?  Sounds like a target list to me.  I examined the lists to see which companies we already know (a few) and which we would like to know (hundreds).   While not all of the companies in the latter category have needs that match our capabilities, many of them do, so my mind turned to a key question in a time-based enterprise like a law firm:  How can a group of about 1,200 people (the lawyers and staff at Womble Carlyle) make real progress in initiating relationships at a list of hundreds of targets?  Is there enough time to do so?  

The answer is:  yes, for those with the discipline and will to make it happen.

I know of few lawyers in private practice who do not have at least one hour of client development time per week built into their personal plans.  How many targets can be accommodated in one hour?  A lot.  I’ll stipulate that the first phases of the sales process, as I alluded to in a previous posting, may require a material investment of time to conduct research into a prospective target, to assess potential “fits” between the law firm and the target, to investigate avenues of contact with individuals who buy legal services, and then actually to initiate (no mean task) and prepare for a first meeting.  After that first meeting, though, the professional services sales cycle must unfold over a period of weeks, months or years while buyer and seller both await a triggering event that could lead to a real opportunity to do business with one another.

How much time is required to keep a relationship alive while the sales process unfolds?  A good friend and mentor, Tim Freeman, CEO of Efficient Marketing LLC, told me long ago that the nurture of business relationships requires a “touch” every six weeks at a minimum.  Personally, I advocate a target touch a month.  In my own experience, a touch – sending a link to an article, noting a significant development at the company, composing a short e-mail, making a phone call, sending holiday wishes, or whatever you invent — takes 15 minutes on average.  By this math, one prospective-client relationship can be advanced with the investment of 3 hours per year:  12 months multiplied by ¼ hour per month.  Not taking vacation into account, a lawyer whose plan specifies one hour of client development time per week can accommodate about 16 targets (there are 16 ¼-hour segments in the average month.)  Imagine the number of targets required for a lawyer whose plan specifies FOUR hours of client development time per week – a number not unheard of at large law firms!

I’m not Pollyanna and I know that in the real world of lawyers and law firms Reality continually trumps Theory.  Still, most lawyers and most law firms simply don’t have enough targets in the pipeline to sustain the desired result.  You can test this out for yourself.  Walk the hallway of any law firm, and ask each lawyer you meet to state the number of client development hours in his her plan, to name the targets in his/her pipeline, and to talk about the last touch accomplished and the next touch planned.  Then run the math.  As we used to say in the accounting firms where I labored, it doesn’t foot.