How to use emotional intelligence for end-of-year business development

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Thanksgiving is behind us, and “year-end” is in full swing. This means three things: Starbucks is using their seasonal coffee cups, holiday music is playing in every store, and clients are reevaluating their current legal representation. 

For this week, I wanted to take a moment to focus on business development. You might be thinking, how is business development related to well-being? Well, for those of you whose occupational well-being success relies on developing and serving clients, business development is absolutely essential.

(And for those of you who don’t need to build business in the traditional sense, I encourage you to think about how you can use these same emotional intelligence skills to increase your professional growth and career trajectory in your organization. The same skills apply as you consider your interactions with anyone you are seeking to influence with authenticity and integrity!)

If you are in private practice, this is the time of year to think about how you can make sure your clients stay on for next year. And how can you possibly secure some new work from clients who are finding their current representation lacking? 

The answer? Emotional intelligence (EQ). It’s the undercurrent that impacts how you interact with clients and prospects. It’s about understanding and connecting with them, ensuring you’re their number-one choice for legal representation. 

Here are 5 year-end EQ strategies to boost business 

1. Understand what your existing clients need on a deeper level  

Harness EQ to delve into what clients truly value. This goes beyond their immediate legal needs. What are their business pressures, aspirations, and fears? Listen actively so you can propose tailored offerings and solutions that will resonate on a more personal level.  

For example, a client's “surface-level” need might be legal assistance with an upcoming merger. But if you listen closely (applying your EQ!), you realize that the client is not only concerned with the legal side of the merger, but they are also anxious about how this expansion will affect their company culture. 

Once you’ve picked up on this, maybe you can recommend a book, a resource, or a trainer on company culture. The client will be “wowed” that you anticipated their need and provided a solution they didn’t even request. Now you’ve stepped close to being that “trusted advisor” every client wants, all because you took the time to really listen to the “concern behind the concern.” 

2. Build trust through emotional connection

Clients are more likely to do business with someone they trust and feel understands them. Use EQ to pick up on and respond to their emotional cues. 

Similar to a doctor’s “bedside manner,” for a lawyer, establishing an emotional connection with a client often starts with validating what they’re feeling. Acknowledging that legal or professional challenges often carry personal weight for clients is key. Simply saying, "I can see that this situation is weighing on you. It's not just a legal challenge but a personal one, and that's completely understandable,” can go a long way to making clients feel understood. In turn, that feeling of trust cements your relationship for the future. 

3. Make sure “new business” conversations don’t feel transactional 

When approaching prospective clients, use EQ to genuinely empathize with the current challenges or opportunities they are facing. Offer thoughtful, empathetic responses that align with their emotional state and situation — instead of jumping right into your solution or your firm’s differentiators.

For instance, if a potential client is excited about a new venture, share in their enthusiasm. Show your excitement for them before you subtly mention how your legal expertise or experience could enhance their success further. Or if they're facing a crisis, validate the difficulty of the situation before talking about your approach. Create a connection that goes beyond a transactional relationship, showing that you truly care about them and standing out among their other choices.

4. Ask insightful, EQ-minded questions during sales conversations

The initial consultation with a potential client is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate EQ and establish a positive bond right away. Do your homework and come to the meeting prepared to ask nuanced and “next level” questions to show you’ve taken time to anticipate and consider their unique needs. 

Instead of leading with questions that focus solely on specific legal concerns, show your humanity and genuine interest by asking about their long-term vision or concerns. How does the issue at hand impact their longer-range plans and goals? This not only demonstrates your care for them but also could spark conversations that lead to more expansive work together. 

5. Commemorate end-of-year milestones with a personal touch

Standard holiday client gifts from the firm are great, but how much more meaningful would it be if a client received a personalized thank-you from you? 

Use EQ to reflect on what you’ve achieved for them throughout the year, highlighting the moments worth celebrating. Whether this takes the form of a personal (ideally handwritten) note or goes a step beyond with a hand-selected gift, this level of attention can set you apart in a competitive landscape. In a sea of unsigned holiday cards and generic gifts, your personalized note or present will jump out and make you memorable for your thoughtfulness and care.

EQ as a catalyst for year-end business growth

As you wind down the year, tap into EQ to enrich your relationships with current clients and connect with new clients with empathy. Winning new business is never just about legal expertise, but even more about building genuine connections. 

When lawyers prioritize emotional intelligence, they open doors to new possibilities, deepen existing relationships, and pave the way for a thriving practice into the new year and beyond.