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I stood there, staring, watching a business development train wreck happen before my own eyes — I couldn’t stop it.

A rock star high-tech company wanted help with its strategy. They enjoyed a meteoric rise from start-up to multi-hundred-million-dollar company. They wanted help mapping out their next moves.

We plotted, planned, and strategized on how to win the work. The pitch would include 3 segments. One from the most senior partner — the statesmen who represented leadership of the firm for whom I worked, one from the head of strategic planning (Danny), and me — in charge of emerging and growth companies.

We developed an intro about who we were, created a one-page flow chart of our approach, and added Q&A and wrap-up. We rehearsed this presentation several times with different groups in the firm. We were up against a super-branded consulting firm, and we were pumped.

The day arrived — we met the client, said our hellos, and began the show. The senior statesman kicked things off and handed it off to the strategic planner. Danny stood up and walked everyone through the flowchart of our approach. We answered a few questions and had a brief discussion. Then it was my turn to start the Q&A. But…

Before I could begin, Danny cleaned all the markings he drew on the flow chart slide and started to re-explain our process, almost verbatim, from the first go around. And then… he cleared his markings yet again and presented our process for a third time. He continued to bestow the virtues of our approach and how it would lead to continued rock star-level success.

When he finished, Danny asked if there were any other questions. After a moment of awkward silence, the client executive group answered in unison some form of no and indicated this would wrap things up. The meeting was over. We were done.

We later got feedback from this potential client. We had embarrassed ourselves. They couldn’t believe we used the same slide 3 times as the centerpiece of the presentation. And if you are wondering — no we didn’t get the work.

Life goes on.

Another big opportunity came along shortly thereafter. I immediately went to work. I reached out to this potential client. We talked about what and how he was thinking about the problem. I asked what he thought would be most helpful to discuss in our meeting — and what he wanted to get out of it.

I conducted my own research and found out who their top customers were. We interviewed these customers about their needs and their providers. We also talked to their suppliers who are crucial to their business. We also learned how customers used their offerings. I shared all this with the senior statesman and originating partner — who after serious convincing — agreed to start the presentation with this insight.

The big day arrived.

We all gathered, and they asked how we wanted to proceed. I indicated I wanted to share some things about the market and customers and get their thoughts. I shared the research. They were especially interested in how their customers used their offerings. This led to a larger discussion of immediate actions they could take — at almost no cost — to improve their customer’s experience.

We never got to our process, and they asked if we could stay an extra half hour. Everyone from our team played a part in the conversation.

The feedback we got was as follows from the CEO. “What do we need to do to get started?”

This was the antidote I needed from our previous debacle.

And it’s a lesson I try to impart to all my clients and friends — learn about and talk about your potential client. Top legal decision makers tell us the best law firms understand the business context of the legal matter — and adding industry nuance is more assurance they will get the best result.

Your ability to articulate one aspect of the business risk proves you have a great process. And clients will give you the work. Your audience will see you as differentiated and worth more — because so few people do it.

Best in the market ahead.

The Mad Clientist

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