Catching attention, building connections

I recently spent nearly two hours sitting at an airport gate, sitting about 5 feet behind a stand with Delta American Express card representatives.
 You’ve probably seen these stands:  a table to the side of a concourse, with various promotional freebies, application forms neatly stacked, and one or two hawkers, trying desperately to get people to pause and fill out an application.

Annoying, right?  I drowned out the hawker’s calls.  But as I sat reading, I noticed that more people than usual were coming up to this table, and they were staying longer than usual to talk with the card rep.  So I started listening.  And I re-learned something useful.

The average hawker bombards passersby with the “great offer” they simply “can’t pass up”.  But this rep focused on individuals and engaged them:  “You, miss, in the red shirt!  Where are you headed today?”

Some people ignored him, but over and over, people paused, walked to the stand, and talked with the rep.  Some told him about their travel delays.  Others told him about the jobs they were traveling for or the family they were leaving behind.  Several soldiers told him what it’s like to be on leave from duty in the Middle East.  And the marketer listened.  He asked questions and empathized.  He was genuinely present with the people who were talking with him.

After he’d heard some part of their travel story, he’d weave in his offer:  “Man, wouldn’t you like to get an extra 10,000 miles so you can get back to see her more often?”  Sure, the rep was trying to get people to apply for a credit card, but he was doing it by connecting with people, by building a relationship, albeit a brief one.  And almost without exception, the people who stopped in front of the display filled out something, whether a credit card application or a Delta mileage program application.

Observing this guy reminded me of a Maya Angelou quote:  “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What I saw was the power of listening and genuine, though brief and superficial, connection.

The contrast was clear when he went on break and another pusher took his place.  This hawker didn’t engage people,  He threw out half-hearted, “Sir, don’t you want some extra SkyMiles today?  It’s a great offer!  You can’t pass it up!  Sir, you flyin’ Delta today?  We’re giving away 10,000 SkyMiles free — for nuthin’!”  But the busy passengers did pass by the table over and over without stopping.  Those who did stop received only the sales pitch, and I’d guess this vendor’s application completion rate was much less than half of the other man’s.

Small sale or large, connection really does pay.  And it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of effort.  It simply requires genuine presence.  Not a bad reminder while waiting in an airport.

How can you apply this insight?  Write your website copy or the introduction to an article from your target read’s point of view.  When talking with a potential client or referral source, ask questions before you talk about your experience and qualifications.  Make it your practice to seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

The Powerful (Marketing) Message You Should Deliver Daily

The statement “I’ve got your back” is one of the most powerful business development messages there is.  When you have someone capable and attentive on your side to offer assistance and cheer you on, you’re likely to be more willing to undertake new, difficult, or risky-feeling activity.

Consider this:  a child learning to walk or to ride a bicycle will often look to a parent to be sure that someone is there to encourage them if they waiver.  We applaud speakers and those receiving awards as a way of saying, “Good job!”  And we’ve probably all called a friend for support after being rejected by a potential client or date, or a job opportunity.  Just about everybody appreciates encouragement and support.

There’s another side to “I’ve got your back”, too:  someone capable who’s in the trenches with you, ready to help.  And that’s where “I’ve got your back” goes from a source of feel good emotional support to a do-good, hands-on promise.  That’s also where it becomes a powerful business development message.

Think about your client’s perspective.  Whether your clients are legally sophisticated large companies or individuals who have never worked with a lawyer or legal problem before, every client wants to know they’re in capable hands.

More importantly, clients want to experience being in capable hands.  That means, for example:

  • Having a lawyer explain the heart and the context of the legal matter, to an extent that feels comfortable to each particular client, and knowing that the lawyer fully understands and appreciates the relevant law and its impact on the client.
  • Having a lawyer who’s proactive in flagging new issues and opportunities
  • Getting calls and emails promptly returned by the lawyer or a knowledgeable staff member
  • Knowing the status of the matter, including the reason for delays or quiet periods in a representation
  • Being billed clearly and appropriately, in accord with expectations
  • Receiving emotionally intelligent communications, whether that’s congratulations or an explanation of what went wrong and why (this is the feel-good side in a business context)

When you convey that you’ve “got a client’s back” through your actions, you’re laying the groundwork for great client service.  You’re building a relationship that’s characterized by respect and support, in the context of legal skill.  That service not only keeps your current clients happy but also creates the potential for repeat business or referrals.

You might choose to say, “I’ve got your back” (or more businesslike words that convey the same message), but your actions must back up your words.  If not, your statement will backfire:  your actions will demonstrate that you don’t have the client’s back and, almost worse, that you either don’t realize that fact or you’re willing to lie about it.  (This, I believe, is one root of many lawyer jokes and the usual low standing of lawyers on lists of trustworthy professions.)

How can you demonstrate and perhaps say that you’ve got your clients’ back?

From your own perspective, working with someone who’s “got your back” as you undertake business development activity (which may be unfamiliar and feel risky, at least at first) can be a key factor in your success.  It’s the flip side of the points above, substituting marketing for legal knowledge and skill.  When you have great support, you get a cheering squad, a listening ear, a brainstorming partner, a source for new ideas and insight, needed resources, and more.

Here are a few ideas on how you can get the support you need:

  • Join forces with one or two colleagues who are also working to grow their practices
  • Join a rainmaker group (or create your own)
  • Use social media for accountability and support
  • Hire a consultant or coach

If you’d like to join a group of colleagues, check out Chapter 1 of The Reluctant Rainmaker (pages 26-30 in the print edition) for specific suggestions of how to find or create the right group.  And if you’re looking to hire a consultant or coach, let’s talk and see if we’re the right fit.

Blog Posts You MUST Read

I keep up with dozens of blogs (legal and otherwise) on a regular basis, and I like to bring the best of the best to you periodically.  Without further ado, here are the top five posts that I’ve read in the last few weeks.

  1. Why Being Told “No” is Actually the Greatest Motivator (Peter Shankman)  Shankman founded Help A Reporter Out (HARO), which I’ve highlighted in the past, and I enjoy his block for its insights into non-legal marketing.  He’s also a good storyteller as you’ll see in his post, which starts with an ode to the excesses of Dubai.  The post ends with ways to use a “no” answer to help you move forward.  (Think in the context, of course, of business development.)  While I don’t agree 100% with his perspective (sometimes a “yes” is not available at a particular time), his advice overall is spot on.  Read this especially if you find yourself frustrated by near-misses with new business.
  2. Welcome to the Year of the Snake:  13 Law Practice Resolutions for 2013 (Adrian Baron)  I was introduced to Baron’s The Nutmeg Lawyer through another favorite blog, Cliff Tuttle’s Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk.  Baron is a sharp observer with a funny streak:  “According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2013 is the year of the snake.  As such, I believe it should be a great year for attorneys, car salesmen, contractors, and DMV employees.”  This post offers some insightful ideas for improving the way you practice, as well as some commonly-overlooked common sense.  For instance, tip 3 reads in part:

    Pay attention to your support staff.  How does your secretary answer the phone?  Does he or she simply say ‘Law Office’ or do they mention the firm’s name?  How do they greet clients when they walk in the door?  In my own practice, we instruct our staff to greet clients followed with a “somebody will be right with you.  Can I offer you coffee, tea or cappuccino?”  I actually purchased an easy to use cappuccino machine that uses a disc system.  Sounds goofy, but you would be surprised at the effect something so simple has on clients.

    (For my thoughts on greeting clients, see this post.)

  3. Will LinkedIn endorsements effect search results?  (Kevin O’Keefe)  I have a confession:  although I appreciate the endorsements I’ve received on LinkedIn, I absolutely loathe the endorsement system itself.  Allowing a 1-click endorsement facilitates quid pro quo skill recognition, often from those who have no way to judge the strength of the skill being endorsed.  However, the system is apparently here to stay, and after reading this post, I decided that I’d better learn how to use it.  After you read O’Keefe’s post, check these posts for more information (or this one to laugh).  I’m still not a fan, but I’ll be updating my skills list in the next few weeks.
  4. Actually, it goes the other way (Seth Godin)  If you’ve ever wanted to throw in the towel on business development because you’re not a “born rainmaker”, read this 5-line post right now.  And then read it again.  And then print it out and tape it to your monitor, your telephone, or your forehead.
  5. Nurture Your Network for Success (Steven Taylor)  Very often when I ask new clients about their network, they’ll insist that they don’t know anyone who even might be “useful”– but that’s equally often incorrect.  If you’d like a more robust network (and, really, who wouldn’t?), look to this post for suggestions.

Want more resources like these?  Follow me on Twitter (@juliefleming), where I share 5-10 useful posts and articles every day.  (And please say hi–I enjoy conversational tweeting, too!)  Don’t want to see that much from me?  Wait until next week, when I’ll reveal how to receive a more focused stream of information.

How Else May I Help You?

While visiting Wyoming last summer, I had an epiphany that made owning a home there possible:  I could buy a duplex.
 Renting out one side would not only give me the cash flow to pay for the property, but it would also alleviate the problems of wintertime absentee ownership.  (Love Wyoming though I do, this Atlantan is not cut out for months of snow!).  I browed through a few listings but didn’t see anything suitable.

One day, I asked my contractor an offhand question:  is it difficult to divide a single-family home into a duplex?  He explained that it depends on the home, asked why I wanted to know, and offered to look at listings with me and tell me what he could about the ease of making a house into a duplex.  As we looked at listings and talked and he explained what the considerations are (and also how to tell the difference between an easy-to-fix deal and a moneypit that looks promising), I could see my dream coming to fruition.

I could also see that I didn’t have all the necessary knowledge to make it happen, and that he did.  I have contacts in Wyoming and could easily have found a good local contractor to help me choose and renovate a property, but because Oldrich (my contractor) has been so helpful and so clear, he became the only logical option for me.  We hopped on a plane in late October, selected the right properties and put in offers.  Thanks to Oldrich, I got the house I wanted, in the areas I wanted, for less than half the going rate.  We’re planning the renovations this week, and the next week he and a crew will head back to Cheyenne to get it done.

Bottom line:  because Oldrich listened to my question and offered to help beyond a simple answer to that question, I’m getting the result I want and he’s getting additional business that he would not have had otherwise.  We both leave happy.

What does this story have to do with legal business development?  Simple:  there’s always another opportunity to assist a client (or former client), but you have to be prepared to identify and seize the opportunity.  Sometimes you’ll get more billable work, sometimes you’ll be able to make a referral to another lawyer, and sometimes you’ll be of assistance in some other way.  One thing is for sure:  when you watch for opportunities and lend help, you’ll build relationships with your clients.

What can you do to identify an opportunity to help a client?

  1. Initiate conversations with your clients (and former clients) so that you are in a position to know what’s going on in their businesses and lives.  If you rely exclusively on the representation and cease communication when it’s completed, you won’t be privy to other circumstances in which you could help.  Note that, of course, not every client will want to engage in conversation.  Some clients will want a transaction rather than a relationship.  Even so, stand ready in case an opening appears.
  2. Listen and clarify.  Often, a client will ask a question (as I did of my contractor) that suggests the need for some additional assistance.  If you’re busy, it’s easy to answer the question without exploring the underlying context that could reveal the need.  The better approach is, of course, to ask any questions necessary to be sure you understand the situation.
  3. Determine how you can best help.  Sometimes that’s offering additional legal assistance.  Be clear that doing so in the appropriate situation is a service to your client, and don’t fall into the trap of feeling awkward.  Otherwise, offer referrals or contacts, and be prepared to follow up.

While these steps are simple, many lawyers are so focused on the matter on their desk that they fail to notice hints of other needs.  Others feel such discomfort with selling that they hold back on picking up on a potential need and offering help.  And yet others fail to make it a practice to keep in close enough touch with clients and former clients, eliminating the opportunity to offer help before it even starts.

Ask yourself these questions…  How open are you to hints (intentional or otherwise) that clients drop and questions they ask?  Do you have a process that allows you to stay in touch with former clients and periodically check to see what’s going on with them?  How comfortable are you with offering help, and is your network strong enough that you know or can identify someone who can help your client if their need is outside the scope of your practice?