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In Baseball and in Business Development-It's All About Pitching

Friday, July 19, 2013
By Seth M. Apple, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

It is often said that winning baseball comes down to good pitching. A strong starting rotation, steady bullpen and powerful closer are frequently the building blocks of a championship team. As we reach the midpoint of the Major League Baseball season and take a break to acknowledge the game’s most productive players at the MLB All-Star Game here in New York, perhaps now is a good time to review your approach to business development and some strategies for improving your own game.

Starting Rotation

These are your everyday workhorses. In business development speak, they include writing articles and posting to blogs, cultivating your professional network, maintaining your social media profile(s), attending conferences, joining (and making contributions to) key trade organizations, pursuing speaking opportunities and supporting at least one personal cause that inspires you. In other words, the business development tactics (“BD Tactics”) you should be doing on a regular basis to help build visibility, credibility and relationships in your industry and community.

I have always approached this with what I call “Rule-3C” – that is, try to do something every day to benefit your Career, Cause and Crew (i.e. family). This will help ensure your balanced growth personally and professionally – a combination that often produces powerful results. If that seems unrealistic I suggest, at the risk of extending the baseball analogy too far, that you at least devote some time to each of these items “every 5th day”. I recognize that there will be some late inning heroics, walk off homeruns and a few come from behind victories, but it’s important to remember that winning at marketing and business development, like baseball, requires consistency from your starting rotation and the use of numerous BD Tactics.

A Visit to the Mound. The best way to facilitate consistency in the implementation of these BD Tactics is by planning. Not necessarily overly documented or detailed plans and spreadsheets, but certainly a deliberate and focused framework that defines the universe of opportunities that matter most to your practice. In other words, establish guard rails, not center rails. A simple list of opportunities within some of the BD Tactics mentioned above is extremely beneficial and likely sufficient. Identify the key conferences, publications and organizations in your industry, consider the potential opportunities that may exist for each in a particular month/quarter/year and circle a few to pursue as part of your regular business development / marketing rotation.

Bullpen

In baseball, these are the “set up” guys. They are the ones who come in after a foundation (and hopefully a lead) has been established by the starter. They are the bridge to the closer. Lucky for you, you have one of the best set up guys in the game. His name is LinkedIn. If used properly, LinkedIn can be an extremely effective business development and marketing tool, but before he takes the ball, it is important to recognize the innings (i.e. BD Tactics) logged by the starting rotation. After all, they are what got you here.

Give them a tip of the cap and begin building out your LinkedIn profile by promoting all of the accomplishments and activity they provided you through writing, blogging, commenting / liking, speaking, trade association involvement and volunteering time to a particular cause. Then use the visibility gained from doing so to make connections and develop relationships the closer can take offline.

A Visit to the Mound. Read the underlined sentence in the previous paragraph again. One more time. This is a key step in the business development / marketing process that, unfortunately, many fail to take. LinkedIn provides you with the ability to “aggregate and act” by allowing you to showcase your accomplishments on a single platform and connect with others who are passionate about, or at the very least work in, the practice area you choose to make your professional focus. I often say that LinkedIn is nothing more that “networking caffeine,” meaning it simply provides an extra jolt to the networking and business development activities you are (or should) already be doing. So spend some time cultivating your profile and online relationships each time you grab a coffee at the office. It’s a great way to maintain some consistency (a critical component to networking, particularly online) with minimal effort.

Closer

Good pitching by the starter and bullpen might get you to the 9th inning, but it’s the closer that secures the win. Fearless in his approach and relentless in his pursuit, to the closer its personal, as he is often the only thing that stands between victory and defeat. As you may suspect, the closer is you. Although you rely on the starting rotation and bullpen to get you an opportunity to close a game, in the end it is up to you to make it happen and your “team” (i.e. your family, firm, etc.) is counting on you to do so.

A Visit to the Mound. ROI in business development and marketing can often be difficult to measure. Landing the client, transaction or new matter is obvious, but there are several ways to define “return” during the business development process and the end result is often a culmination of a several BD tactics. Therefore, it is important to establish benchmarks to gauge your progress along the way. Starting a relationship with a key contact online (LinkedIn) and then taking it offline (coffee/lunch/drinks), being approached for an interview on a topical issue or case, increasing your Twitter following, being asked to keynote a conference, placing an article in a highly regarded publication – these are all small victories which should be acknowledged in the game of business development.

Seth M. Apple is a business development manager at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and a former practicing attorney. You can reach him at seth.apple@davispolk.com and follow him on Twitter at @sethmapple. The opinions expressed herein are that of the author.

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