Chewing on Their Leg for Business

By: Sharon Berman,

Published: The Leadership Exchange, Greater Los Angeles Chapter – Association of Legal Administrators

In professional services, it may take as many as 12 additional “touches” to move a prospect from a first meeting to signing on the bottom line. The process may take even longer if the first contact was not designed to discuss business but rather occurred during a chance encounter, such as a golf tournament, plane ride or charity event. In fact, research points to the fact that only 25 percent of prospective clients are ready to make a buying decision at the time of their first contact with one of your attorneys; the other 75 percent may not need your firm’s services until a year or two down the road. So what’s a professional to do?

The crucial aspect to turning prospects into clients, or getting business from new referral sources, is to nurture the relationship and maintain top-of-mind awareness, without, as one client put it, “always chewing on their leg for business.” Building the relationship falls into three areas where your attorneys will need your support and encouragement: prioritizing, being valuable and being persistent.

1. Prioritize

 

Building a relationship based on one conversation takes significant time and energy. Because only a limited number of prospects warrant that investment, begin by creating an “A” list of targets. You can send a quarterly email or mailing to a broader “B” list, but your “A” list demands more high-touch, frequent and meaningful contact.

One way to do this is to keep your eyes open for venues where your prospects might be approachable, such as conferences at which they are speaking. Do your homework, and ask questions as a member of the audience. Then, reintroduce yourself to the prospect afterwards. Another means of “touching” A-list targets is to invite them as your guest to a seminar or conference that you think would be of interest to them. Although one of your firm’s events could be an appropriate venue, the prospect may feel less pressured at a function organized by someone else, such as at an industry event where an executive will be speaking.

2. Be Valuable

 

Think in terms of what interests the prospect — what would they consider valuable in terms of knowledge, relationships, etc. — rather than what your firm has to offer. What did you learn about the prospect’s business or personal concerns during your first meeting? For instance, if the individual is interested in wealth management or leasing contracts, you might forward an article or podcast on the latest trends in those areas. If the person is a watch collector or children’s soccer coach, send a relevant article or link to an article.

Results from a research study, particularly proprietary research by your firm, can be attention-getting provided they relate to the prospect’s interests. If you don’t have any research of your own, locate and send something to which the target can relate. An alternative is to summarize and forward the high points of a conference in the prospect’s industry you have just attended. Similarly, a white paper you have developed recently (or a year or two ago, if still relevant) might be welcome if the prospect has an interest in the topic.

You can also be valuable by introducing your prospects to others they might benefit from meeting. For example, you could introduce them to other clients they might clique with, or, if you discovered during your initial meeting that you have a mutual acquaintance the prospect has not seen in a while, you can help them reconnect by hosting a lunch or other get-together. If the prospect is new in town, introductions are particularly welcome, and position you as a valuable resource.

Doing a small project for free is also a great way to add value. Without giving too much away, you can complete a small task that demonstrates your ability. It could be a worthwhile investment in getting new business.

3. Be Persistent, Systematic, Disciplined, Rigorous … and Patient

 

Building a relationship takes time, and many attorneys give up too early. Those who are disciplined and patient gain the advantage and ultimately the business.

One way to keep the process moving without appearing to be “chewing on their leg” is to mix communication vehicles. In other words, don’t always communicate with your target through one medium. After a few emails, send a letter (yes, a letter), a piece of company literature or an article accompanied by a short handwritten note. Many people still appreciate phone calls though they may not respond by phone, so don’t hesitate to leave a message. It humanizes your approach and leaves an imprint of who you are.

Also, remember to personalize. For example, include your A-list prospects on your broader mailings/emailings but personalize them. Handwrite a note saying something particular to them. Don’t just let them be included as a part of a mechanical distribution.

If you are lucky enough to have another opportunity to be in front of the prospect, such as at a lunch meeting, be prepared. Use your law librarian’s research or the Internet to brush up on what the prospect and his or her organization are doing so you can talk knowledgeably about the company (e.g., recent merger activity, new partnerships, new business) or industry trends. And, in case you are asked what is new with you, be prepared to talk about activities that showcase your experience and knowledge.

Consider following up on some of the items you have sent the prospect (articles, newsletters, podcasts, etc.) to touch base and to call attention to how they are relevant. For example, if you discussed how companies in the prospect’s industry protect their intellectual property, you could point out that the article you just forwarded describes several methods and state that you would be happy to answer any questions about them.

Calendar your follow-ups in your contact management/customer relationship management system. As soon as you have completed one follow-up step (e.g., an email, phone call, etc.), make a note of it, and get the next one on the calendar. Don’t rely on memory or your follow-up may slip through the cracks.

Turning Potential into Profit

 

It takes time to build and nurture relationships, and your time and energy are limited. How much effort you invest in a particular prospect should depend on how much potential you see in pursuing the relationship. What are the chances that the target will eventually use your services or refer others? Even an “ideal” client may not be worth pursuing if the company exclusively uses a relative’s law firm. However, if there is potential, don’t give up. Even a year or two of strategic follow-up may ultimately prove worthwhile and bring a significant ROI to your practice.

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.


Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.

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