How to Measure Your Sales Pipeline

Firms tend to measure sales predominantly. This is understandable. Sales are important and the figures tend to be indisputable.

But might this measure discourage sufficient activity in developing the sales pipeline? One firm I worked with found that it took, on average, three years to win a significant mandate from the first connection with the client. Maybe they weren’t very good at it, but we can all accept that it might take a few meetings to establish our credibility, build rapport and become trusted with each of the key stakeholders at the client.

Firms obviously need to encourage BD activity to ensure there is income in the future.

So here’s a way of measuring progress in the pipeline and early client phases. It’s a ten-point scale. You can adapt it to suit your own business activities.

0 – I doubt they’ve heard of us

1 – We have met and exchanged contact details

2 – We’ve had a business development meeting

3 – They’ve opened up to us and shared their plans

4 – They have called us for advice

5 – They have invited us to pitch

6 – We have started work for Joe (ie fees being earned)

7 – Joe has given us another project (ie follow up work)

8 – I have introduced a colleague, who is working for Joe (ie x-selling)

9 – We are now working with Joe’s colleagues (ie further x-selling)

10 – They have referred us to another client

A professional advisor might, for example, have the objective of moving a handful of target clients from a 1 to a 3 or 4 over the course of a year.

Furthermore, it should be emphasised that each of these stages are verifiable. They either invited you to pitch, or not.

Would your firm benefit from using a system based on this approach? I’d be interested to learn how other firms encourage activities to develop their pipeline.

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​Do You Listen to the Message or the Messenger?

Hermes – Messenger of the Gods and Divine Trickster (Wiki)

It’s frustrating isn’t it when many of our own good ideas are not taken up until an outside consultant comes in and says the same thing. Then it’s the best idea since sliced bread! They just had to be dressed in a suit, carry a briefcase and come from out of town.

Or it’s probably even worse when the boss’s protégé says the same thing but gets listened to.

The reason this happens apparently is because we find it hard to separate the message from the person giving it.

Edward L Thorndike an American psychologist studied communication in firms in the 1920’s. He found that, when rating employees on different characteristics, say leadership and intelligence or dependability and decisiveness, managers tended to use their rating on one dimension to guide their rating on another unrelated one. So a weak leader was more likely to be rated as less intelligent. This is widely termed ‘the halo effect’.

In effect there are just two types of employees: good and bad!

Later, in 1946, a Polish-born psychologist Solomon Asch found that individuals form impressions of one another from early or initial information. First impressions were established as more important than subsequent impressions. We either continue to look at others through rose-coloured or grey-coloured lenses. And see what we expect to see!

In this fast-paced, data-saturated world it is increasingly easy to fall into the trap of assuming a person talented in one aspect of work is equally good in another. Clearly this defies logic.

It happens in politics as well. A politician tainted by a failed policy will probably find it harder to have future ideas listened to.

Savvy parents will recognise this situation. Their offspring might not listen to them but might listen to their best friend. Or even better the cute boy or girl next door they have a crush on!

So what’s the lesson? It’s this. Even if you have the best idea, you may not be the best person to present it.



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Could Leaders Learn More from the Arts than Business Schools?

If you are in business and just like crunching numbers in a spreadsheet, you may not be interested to read on.

Believe it or not, MBA students at Said Business School in Oxford, as part of their learning programme, had to conduct choristers singing O Clap Your Hands by Orlando Gibbons, first performed in 1622.

Apparently, the first volunteer was an overconfident American. He went wrong early on. His most obvious mistake was not to ask the experienced singers how they wanted to be directed.

The students learned that leaders need to listen to their teams, especially when they have specialist knowledge. As conductors all they may need you to do is set the pace and let the group govern themselves.

It was noticeable that the choir managed pretty well even if the conductor was waving their arms around in an indeterminate fashion. The lesson there was that leaders can only do so much damage, particularly when they don’t try to control the whole process.

Said Business School is not alone. Carnegie Mellon has introduced poetry, art installations and a book club to its leadership courses to help develop empathy skills.

RADA also offers training courses for executives to improve their impact and influence through their voice and physicality. Women leaders in particular are commenting on how useful this training is.

Such training is proving to be popular and much more fun than traditional programmes, which focus on entering numbers in spreadsheets and learning lots of TLA’s – that’s 3 letter acronyms!

It looks as if business could learn from the arts and vice versa. ‘Twas ever thus!

Where did you learn most about being an effective leader?

For more on these recent business school initiatives, see the Bartleby column in The Economist.



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Why Isn’t L&D Happening in Law Firms?

I’ve recently attended an excellent workshop at Reed Smith on the O-shaped lawyer. In case you’re interested, this basically means a more rounded T-shaped lawyer. The T-shaped lawyer was one that had more than just technical excellence – they had breadth (see picture).

Anyway, I digress. Most of the biggest firms were represented and what really shocked me was the plea from many of the L&D specialists saying that they were struggling to get lawyers to attend their in-house training workshops.

One in-house trainer said: ‘If they give up a couple of hours, they’ll have to stay two hours later in the evening to get their chargeable hours in’.

Another said: ‘If they are not at their desk, they fear that a rival lawyer might be invited on to a prestigious matter’.

Several admitted that most partners didn’t see the value-added by associates attending training workshops.

It seems to be that this problem has got worse. Some big firms now have chargeable hour ‘targets’ of 2,000 hours. Ten-hour days and a proper use of holidays gets you a theoretical maximum of 2,250 hours at your desk. I accept that this gives little time for attending training workshops, business development, generating knowhow, supervising juniors, innovating better legal processes and all the other good things a professional firm needs.

This leads me to pose the following questions:

  • Is this law firm business model, with ever increasing chargeable hour targets, sustainable?
  • Is there anything L&D or HR functions can do differently to get more partners on side and appreciating the value from an investment in training?
  • If associates don’t attend training workshops, how else are they going to develop the skills that clients are increasingly demanding?

As ever, any thoughts on this challenge would be welcome.

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Letter to the Senior Partner: Diversity Matters

From: Staff Member

To: Senior Partner

Subject: Diversity Isn’t Happening!

We’ve been talking a good game on diversity and inclusion issues for some time now but, quite frankly, it seems to have fizzled out. Sorry to be so blunt about it. But many of us in the firm are feeling really disappointed.

Apparently 87% of bosses told PwC that diversity is a business priority. Maybe you were one of them. There’s plenty of talk and plenty of initiatives. We were pleased when you decided to post a job for a diversity manager. But there has been little change on the ground.

We agreed to the objective of having 30% female partners. It went up a bit to 25% but has plateaued. And then many of them are not fully equity. Something is clearly amiss.

You may be tempted to pass this memo to someone in HR. This will probably be someone with an arts degree. A sound moral compass and too little power. Please don’t. This is a Board problem. It will need strong and sound leadership. It’s your problem.

Here are some thoughts which might help you:

  1. Have you fully considered why diversity matters to our firm? Do we need to attract and retain the best talent? Most of our rivals do. Do we want more innovation? It’s pretty obvious that a lack of diversity leads to groupthink. And might we need to get better at using technology to improve our products and processes?


  1. Have you worked out what’s stopping diversity happening? A McKinsey survey showed that it’s the second rung in the ladder that’s broken. Female staff are sensing that our culture isn’t right for them early on. Partners (typically men) are choosing young men like them to work on their matters. Surely we should make the system of selecting staff for matters fairer.


  1. Training on its own doesn’t seem to be the answer. We’ve learnt about unconscious bias. We’ve done the D&I training. We tried to make women more assertive. It’s hard to beat the bias out of individuals, though it would surely help to see board members leading by example. But what about improving the systems. One of our rivals has introduced ‘contextual recruitment’. Surely a B in a school where most students get Cs may be more impressive than an A from a school where most pupils get an A*.

Anyway, please don’t give up on diversity. We think we can do better.


Staff member


PS This is adapted from a letter in The Economist, 9 November 2019

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How Lawyers & Their Firms Can Be More Innovative – Live Broadcast with Tony Reiss

A live webinar lasting 1.5 hours and starting at 2.30 on 12 November 2019.

Why do Law Firms Need to be More Innovative?

The world is changing fast, particularly with the development of AI and algorithms. Some commentators talk about us entering the fourth industrial revolution.

On top of this, client surveys confirm that clients want creative solutions to their problems and many law firms are failing to deliver. Clearly firms need to change. The question is how.

This live broadcast session is aimed at partners and senior members of the management teams.

About Tony Reiss

Tony was originally at Procter & Gamble and responsible for new product development in the food industry where he was project director for the development and launch of CLOVER – the first spreadable ‘butter’.

He went on to lead several consulting projects at Deloitte involving new products and services for clients such as BBC, BP, BT, Prudential, Shell, United Nations amongst others.

He then became the first BD Director for the pioneering Cameron McKenna firm where he introduced several innovations in the early 1990’s such as business planning, business development training for partners and setting up one of the first key account programmes. The firm won a National Training Award and was the first City firm to be accredited as an Investor in People.

He has designed several award-winning programmes for law firms and had two projects shortlisted for Law Society Excellence awards.

What You Will Learn

This live and interactive session has been successfully received on the MBA at the Nottingham Law School and on the IE Law School Executive Education programme. It will cover the following:

  • Understanding the need for innovation within legal services, as well as the organisational challenge of achieving this
  • Assessing the need for innovation in services, organisational structures, processes and relationships
  • Applying a conceptual six step model analysing the process of new service development, as well as the political processes involved in successful practice creation
  • Understanding the complex challenges in culture change and being able to assess the drivers for change and the blockers that need to be addressed

The live session will be recorded by MBL so you will be able to go back and access the recording – should you wish to revisit the material discussed.

If you think your firm needs to be better at Innovation, please make a booking. Further details and bookings can be made at


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Tactics for Generating More Internal Referrals

Too many professionals sit in their office expecting others in the firm to bring them work or introductions to clients. They probably won’t! Why? Because:

  • they don’t really know what you do and
  • they don’t fully trust that you will deliver.

So a colleague introducing you to their client is potentially taking a big risk.

But fret not! Here is a step by step guide for those who would like to get more referrals from other parts of the firm:

  1. Decide which clients of the firm would benefit from your experience and skills.
  1. Do your homework. Read up about these clients, their competitors, sector issues and the legal issues they might need to confront.
  1. Approach the partners who lead the relationships with these clients and have responsibility for developing the relationships. Have an initial discussion with them to learn more about the client and offer ways in which you might be able to add value.
  1. Be prepared to offer a quid pro quo. Consider what you can offer in return. To develop good sustainable relationships with your fellow partners it can help if there are favours operating in both directions.
  1. Take on board what you learn from these discussions and prepare your persuasive case as to why the partner should introduce you and your services to the client.
  1. In considering this, ask yourself ‘what’s in it for the partner to introduce you?’ In what ways will this help the partner look good?

You’ll get many more referrals from colleagues if you adopt this approach.

For more on the art of cross selling see

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How to Be More Creative at Work

The results of client surveys are clear. Clients are increasingly looking for more creative solutions to their problems. So let’s get more creative!

In a previous life I led the project team that invented CLOVER – the first spreadable ‘butter’. I learned a lot about creative processes.

Forget the thought that creatives are a different breed. You don’t have to be an artist or musician. It’s a process. We can all do it!

My favourite quote is this…

The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament.

It does not create something from nothing: it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills.

Arthur Koestler (Austro-Hungarian essayist): The Act of Creation


Here are some examples.

  1. The Gutenberg press, widely thought to be one of the most ground-breaking inventions ever, was invented around 1440. It combined a die punch for making coins with a wine press!
  2. The Sony Walkman was the hi tech item for teens to have in the 1980’s. It allowed people to walk around listening to music on magnetic cassette tapes (invented by Philips) without annoying others too much! The breakthrough in thinking came from:
    1. Discarding the tape-recording function of the cassette decks that we had at home
    2. Moving the speakers to the ears using headphones (that already existed)
    3. Miniaturizing the rest

The objective for CLOVER was to taste as good as butter but spread straight from the fridge. Before I joined the team they’d tried different formulations and different temperatures. No-one had thought of adapting the churn! Maybe it was something to do with my Austro-Hungarian heritage!

What tweaks could you introduce to transform your product or service offering to deliver better solutions for clients?

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Falling Off The Ladder of Inference

Here’s a typical scenario which explains the ladder of inference…

You briefed your assistant Jo yesterday to draft a document and give it to you first thing this morning. It’s on your desk at 10.00am (not exactly first thing!) and it’s got errors (the client name) and typos in it.

The information you are choosing not to focus on is:

  • Jo is very busy on other work with tight deadlines
  • You didn’t ask how busy Jo was when you did the briefing
  • You briefed Jo in a hurry and the briefing was incomplete
  • Jo didn’t ask any questions because she didn’t want you to think she is unintelligent

Within seconds, your subconscious mind adds meaning and makes assumptions about this experience, such as:

  • Jo is a typical Millennial
  • She isn’t diligent and is likely to hand in sloppy work in future
  • Jo isn’t interested in developing her career

You then go further and draw conclusions and develop additional beliefs, such as

  • Jo is not reliable
  • She is not professional

On the basis that you now don’t trust Jo, you take action and avoid using Jo on your projects in future. Wow! Seems harsh. Poor Jo!

Is there a happy ending? Well, not for you! Jo’s career doesn’t flourish with you, but she finds another job with a rival firm where there is a better boss who delegates work thoroughly and doesn’t jump to conclusions. You end up under-resourced and working even later most evenings!

Do you recognise how easy it is to make these false judgements? All because we select what information we choose and then make invalid assumptions.

Tip for Supervisors: check all the data and ask yourself what beliefs and assumptions you are adding.

Best practice in delegating and supervising at

Source: The above process is adapted from The Ladder of Inference, a model developed by Chris Argyris and developed further by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline.

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How to Change Our Work Habits

Gretchen Rubin has recognised that there are four types of people at work, based on our tendencies to respond to expectations. It turns out there are two types of expectation:

  • outer expectations, such as work deadlines or accepting requests from work colleagues, and
  • inner expectations, such as learning Portuguese, writing more blogs or finding time to do more exercise or meditation

An Upholder

The first type are the Upholders. They meet both expectations. There aren’t many of this type. Think Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Surely they don’t have a problem? Well, apparently they can be too rigid and can find it hard to let go when they should.

Then there are the Questioners. They’ll probably be ok at meeting their own expectations but find it hard to accept outer expectations. You will need to convince them why they need to do something, then they’ll do it. The problem is that they can overwhelm others with their questions. The way of dealing with their tendency is to give them deadlines or limited their resources or scope.

The Obligers meet the outer expectations but not the inner ones. Their motto is ‘You can count on me!’. What rocks of the world! They hate to let others down. The trouble with this tendency is that it’s not sustainable for their long-term welfare. Their supervisors will do well to recognise this type and provide accountability to help them meet their personal needs.

Finally there are the Rebels. They meet neither outer or inner expectations. Their motto is ‘You can’t make me!’. They resist taking orders from anybody. They are motivated by choice and freedom. They dread habits. These need subtle managing to avoid clashes. Carrots might work better than sticks. Try to find benefits for them if they were to comply.

It’s hard to change habits. But a good place to start is to recognise what type we are. Which one are you? And if you don’t fancy answering that question, maybe you’re a Rebel!

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