What Can a Lawyer Learn About Business Development From a Golf Pro?

Over the past 30 years I have played hundreds of rounds of golf, never thinking much about how it related to my business development plan.

I was too busy swinging away, just trying to get to the next tee box without losing my ball, realistically I might have been better off practicing my swings with indoor golf practice equipment… A few years ago I met a golf instructor and decided to take a few lessons. It was a good thing I did because it not only improved my game, it provided a supplementary experience that really struck a chord with me as it related to my business development plan.

As an attorney, you’ve probably been involved in a “pitch” meeting with a new prospective client.

You may recall the nervousness or anxiousness felt around the idea of signing up a piece of new business. During your meeting, you probably believe that the end result or “close” is the single most important element of the meeting. While your origination numbers may depend on “closing the deal,” there is another important aspect to running a successful business development meeting that holds the key to your success. Let me go back to my golf pro for a minute and explain.

After meeting and chatting with my new golf pro for a few minutes, he invited me on to the green carpet to take a few swings. He watched me intently for a few minutes as I stepped up and smashed a few balls into the range. Finally, he turned to me and said, “Steve, do you enjoy swinging the golf club?” Being terribly confused by his question I said, “What?” I simply had no idea what he was talking about. Fortunately, he explained,

“You seem to be approaching each swing with the intention of getting to the outcome as fast as possible. You don’t seem to be enjoying the actual swing.”

I paused and thought about that for a minute. Do I really enjoy swinging a golf club or am I just trying to get it over with, hoping to land the ball somewhere in-bounds? I then realized there was very little enjoyment in swinging the golf club and I was in fact rushing each shot to quickly get to an outcome.

For me, this conversation was a real epiphany.

If the sport of golf is all about swinging a golf club repeatedly, and I’m not enjoying the swing, then am I really enjoying the game of golf? Pretty deep, right?

At the time, I didn’t have the skill-sets to truly enjoy the swing. Therefore, I was only focused on the end result of each shot.

The true enjoyment of golf is in the beauty and enjoyment of each swing. It then became clear to me that a better, more fluid swing will produce a much better outcome. This is where the missing piece of the puzzle was for me. It’s also where I realized how perfectly this scenario relates to attorneys and the process of a business development plan.

As I thought more about the swing in golf and what happens in a typical pitch meeting, there was something unnatural about both of these activities.

Just like my wild and harried swing, rushing to pitch a new prospective client can lead to an unpredictable outcome. A better solution would be to slow things down and enjoy conducting a successful business meeting. Instead of rushing to pitch and talk about yourself, you would build rapport and focus on asking great questions. You would listen to your prospective client’s legal problems and not feel obligated to solve them on the spot. While this might go against one’s natural instincts to problem solve, it will be a refreshing change to focus on not solving problems. By concentrating on asking tough questions and uncovering a prospective client’s pain points, there will be more urgency for them to hire you.

The “enjoyment of the swing” in a business development plan is to be found in the relationship building and questioning process that allows us to truly understand our prospective client’s problems, needs and desires. If you focus your time and attention there, they have to believe that you are indeed an expert and someone with whom they should be working. Having your focus on the prospective client and not on yourself can only help you in developing a new client opportunity. It might also separate you from the other attorneys who are still hacking away with their salesy pitches.

As you think about this new process of walking a buyer through a buying decision, you can truly enjoy your business development efforts and take away the pressure to just “close the sale.”

When the process is all about the buyer, good results will just happen.

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