A startup funded by Richard Driehaus’ private-equity business has acquired a firm that trains lawyers to sell better, with an eye to expanding offerings to other professional services.
The six-month-old GrowthPlay, which helps companies improve their sales, has acquired Chicago-based Akina with a combination of cash and equity, almost doubling the startup’s headcount to 11 employees, said CEO Daniel Weinfurter. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Akina, founded in 2001 by former Frito-Lay executive Deborah Knupp, coaches lawyers to improve their ability to generate business. Weinfurter said GrowthPlay, which plans two more acquisitions before year-end, will extend the model to other professional services including consulting, banking, finance and wealth management.
“We think we can take their starting point and build it into something really quite large,” he said. “It’s a vastly underserved market with huge upside. . . .The bar is fairly low, and I think people can get a lot better (at sales).”
Rainmaking is a critical skill for lawyers who have their eye on making partner, yet it’s not taught in law school, said Steve Fretzin, a business development coach for lawyers in Chicago. Even an associate’s first years at a law firm still are devoted to learning the profession. Yet the days of landing clients coming through reputation alone—Fretzin notes his own father, an attorney, “never had to make a (sales) call in his life”—are gone.
THE ‘S’ WORD
Yet “sales” still carries such a negative connotation among professionals that they even try to avoid the word, Fretzin said.
“When I got into it, it was ‘marketing, marketing, marketing,’ ” he said. “Now at least it’s ‘business development.’ ”
Weinfurter agreed that the word “sales” makes many professionals “think of the car salesman or what was in the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ and nothing could be further from the truth.”
The key is to help lawyers or other professionals understand that new legal work grows from authentic relationships and understanding their clients’ businesses, Knupp said. Akina teaches lawyers to focus on their clients’ needs, rather than searching for a legal problem to attack, so the lawyer’s role becomes more like that of a consultant.
Knupp, who will join GrowthPlay as a managing partner, said the acquisition would give her team a larger platform from which to expand beyond the legal world. The acquisition allows them to expand in a way that would have been difficult to achieve organically.
“It’s really about acceleration, more than anything,” she said.