Passion and Persistence: Keys to Success in Client Development

February 11, 2013

When introducing myself to a prospective client over the phone, I have one incredibly difficult task ahead of me: persuading them that my legal recruiting company, Chicago Legal Search, Ltd., will provide beneficial services to them and make their job easier. As one can imagine, the point of contact often doesn’t return my introductory call with a warm welcome, if at all. Even identifying the proper person to call, particularly at larger companies and law firms, can be difficult and time consuming. Although there are inevitable roadblocks in any business development role, I have found that passion and persistence are the two qualities that invariably enable me to sign new clients.  

While the ultimate purpose of my job is to generate new business, another more subtle yet equally important task is to gather information about active jobs in our geographic market. Despite annoying some people with routine check-ins, my regimented schedule of calls enables me to gather information effectively. I like to think that I take very little of people’s time with my 45-second voicemails and follow-up emails, and many of my contacts do appreciate the frequent communication. Persistence here is crucial, because any contact is beneficial to my company, even if the prospective client expresses no interest in working together. Every reply I receive provides me with new information about future recruiting possibilities. If the response is positive or neutral, I know to dedicate more time to that potential client in the future. If it's negative, then I'm able to focus on other leads that are more likely to result in future business.  

Not making a second or third attempt, and giving up on a potential client, may cost the company revenue and myself a commission. Recently, I attempted to contact a financial services corporation after seeing their ad on a job posting board that was perfect for our recruiting niche. Since they are a large company, I knew that signing this client would not be easy. Luckily, I was able to identify the proper contact from the start, but despite this minor triumph I did not receive any feedback after three weeks of multiple attempts. The key during this unfortunately common situation is to not get defeated. I decided to keep calling and, much to my surprise, was finally greeted by a voice at the other end. During our first conversation, the hiring coordinator said they typically don’t use recruiters and was not interested in our services. Although this initial news was discouraging, I considered it a neutral response, so it did not end my pursuit. I continued to monitor the status of the job on the company's website, and when I saw that it was still listed two weeks after my first contact (five weeks after I initially reached out), I decided to call again.

My second conversation was drastically different from the first. At this point in the process, they still could not find qualified candidates for the job. So after about ten minutes of talking she decided to use our services. A contract was executed shortly thereafter and they hired one of the candidates we submitted six weeks later. Although my first conversation was brief, it ended up being essential to the eventual signing of the client because it established a rapport. When I spoke with the hiring coordinator the second time, not only did she know who I was, but also realized the value of our services. Persistence enabled me to not only determine that the job was still active, but also to actually obtain a lucrative new client that generated revenue for my company.

Persistence, however, is only valuable with authenticity. I genuinely believe in my company and feel that we can be extremely helpful in particular circumstances. It's essential that I always demonstrate an ardent belief in my company's ability to recruit talented and qualified candidates with each of my introductions. Since my primary form of communication is by telephone, the challenge is to convey that confidence not by what I say, but how I say it. If I fail to be passionate about my company to a prospective client, they most likely will not be interested in working with us.

But passion can’t just speak for itself; in order to express enthusiasm effectively, you have to be able to determine some characteristics and personality traits about the person you're speaking with. This will allow you to tailor your pitch to their particular needs. During my first month in my business development role, I found myself on the phone with a regional HR director at a large law firm. After my opening spiel, the director asked me what about my company separated us from its many competitors. It was a serious question, but I could tell by his whimsical intonation that he was trying to befuddle me. Instead of falling into the trap, I tried to match his approach, which seemed ever-so-slightly ironic. “Like your firm,” I replied, “We too place a high value on only working with clients who have consistently demonstrated success.” With this answer, not only did I appear confident by not getting flustered, but I also established a mutual understanding by showing this HR Director that I recognized his tone and responded in a similar manner. While this conversation did not lead to new business, I have since developed a fantastic working relationship with this person and we communicate regularly. Other people, such as the hiring coordinator for the financial services company, are much more cut and dry. During those conversations, I adopted a more serious, no-nonsense approach. We only exchanged information relevant to the company’s job search, which pleased her greatly. Both strategies, despite being vastly different, resulted in building and maintaining a solid relationship. Therefore, you should never get stuck with only one approach to pitch a service or product. Always personalize each conversation to match the temperament of the person you’re talking to.

Two mechanisms critical to conveying sincere passion on the phone are posture and voice. When speaking to a potential client on the phone, I make a point of adjusting my body to an upright position as if I were meeting them in person. A slouched posture may reflect a lackluster demeanor, unpreparedness, and the potential to mismanage the conversation (even when they can’t see you). In addition to body language, my spoken language also varies when I’m on the phone. I'm always conscious of enunciation, succinctness, and inflection, each of which can help your voice sound more professional. Enunciation is the most straightforward; you must speak clearly and articulately in order to convey a business proposition. Succinctness takes time to develop effectively, but is essential during any conversation. People value nothing more than their time, so it’s vital to make conscious choices and be direct with your speech. Inflection is the most challenging, and is critical to establishing the proper tone for the conversation. There is a glaring line between sounding monotonous and overly peppy. The key is to convey excitement about your company’s services without appearing to be that obnoxious salesperson, animated to the point of seeming disingenuous. Being aware of these simple body and speech patterns goes a long way towards helping to convey passion over the phone, and, ultimately, generating a new client.

No matter how hard I try, in some cases, my actions will be inconsequential to whether a particular client decides to work with my company. However, the fervor of my pitch delivery may be the deciding factor for developing a new client. Or, it could also be the lucky occurrence of contacting the proper person at the right time on a second or third attempt. Regardless, with so many competitors in the market, it’s fundamental to never become complacent. The core of any business development position is to make lots of calls and be highly energetic when you actually make contact with a prospective client. Focusing on the basics of passion and persistence will assuredly make you successful in obtaining new business in any development role.


Chicago river at night
  • Alan was a great help to me in my job search even before he ever met me. He is very knowledgeable about the Chicago market and was a great encouragement throughout the process. I’m lucky to have found him – I think it made all the difference in landing at a great firm.

    Amy Mahone, Of Counsel

    Baker Donelson