There’s something fishy about it
by Susan Van Dyke
Okay, so you’ve slogged through law school, your articles and perhaps a few years of practice and now you’re expected to go out and bring in the big fish, too? Oh man.
Times have changed. Gone are the days when the streams were raging with plump salmon and all you needed to do was roll up a sleeve and reach in. Today there are fewer fish and many more rods.
When firms describe their marketing practices, they’ll go on about lawyers attending events, taking clients to lunch, and so on – all the while assuring themselves they are actively practising business development techniques. Sorry, Charlie, but that’s no longer enough.
Building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with clients is done in small, easy casts, not single events. The best ones are caught at dawn, so you’ve got to start early. Give people a chance to get to know you and the value you bring – beyond legal advice.
Begin by thinking of ways you can help others – as in non-billable help – and your efforts will be memorable and likely rewarded. And you won’t learn what you can do for someone else by sitting alone in your office. Get out from behind your desk and get in front of clients and prospects.
So, how can I help a stranger, you ask? The process of learning what you can do for another person will lead to opportunities not normally discovered. For instance, we can share our thoughts and opinions, introduce people in our network or provide solutions to a problem or help identify goals and objectives.
And here’s the kicker: it’s dead easy. If I asked you to choose between introducing yourself to a stranger and selling them on your services, or instead, find a way to help that person, which method are you most likely to use? More importantly, which one will be more effective?
So, go ahead and ask a few open-ended questions, such as:
- What are your biggest challenges over the next year or so?
- What are your goals?
- What would you most like to change?
- Whom can I connect you with?
- What are your competitors doing?
- How can I help you?
Answers to just two of these questions will uncover a slew of opportunities to reconnect in a helpful way later. It’s often surprising just how much people will tell us. And as a lawyer – by definition, a trustworthy professional – you’ll learn more than most. By the way, a good rule of thumb is to regard the information you collect as confidential.
So now you’re working on an issue together and you’ve offered to do something helpful. Another word of caution here: keep your promises or don’t make them at all. Better yet, under promise and over deliver, but follow through. Calendarize it, etch it onto your forehead, or ask your secretary for help, but neglecting a promise will damage a budding relationship beyond repair.
Once they’re hooked, keep the line tight and the contact warm. Follow-up on the issue with, “How did everything work out?” If you reach a dead end, ask another question from the list, or invite the person to an event or lunch and take along another person who will be a helpful contact for your prospect. Commit to conducting yourself in a relevant and genuine manner for a year – a whole year – on a focused list of prospects. After a year, re-evaluate your status with each individual, put those that didn’t pan out on the backburner, and move some more fish - er, people, to the frying pan.
Susan Van Dyke, Principal, Van Dyke Marketing & Communications, is a law firm marketing consultant and can be reached at 604.876.7769 or email@example.com.
This article was published in the December 2003 issue of BarTalk. © 2003 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.