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 extra some 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 it 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.


Ya Gotta Say NO to Grow!

When you think about business development, do you think more of “yes” or “no”?  Most people seem to think “yes.”

  • YES, I’ll attend that networking meeting
  • YES, I’ll write that article or blog post or newsletter
  • YES, I’ll meet with that potential referral source
  • YES, I’ll get another certification or specialists’ certificate
  • YES, I’ll speak at that seminar
  • YES, I’ll serve on that board
  • YES, I’m on Twitter… And Facebook… And LinkedIn… And… And Pinterest… And Google+… And YouTube… And….
  • YES, I can take a call at 9 PM
  • YES, I’d love to meet for breakfast

And so on, until there’s a shift to… Yes, I’m spread too thin.  Yes, I’m feeling stressed.  Yes, things are slipping through the cracks.  YES, I’m burned out. 

“Yes” is undoubtedly a crucial word for business development.  Saying yes to strategic, carefully selected activities creates more opportunities that open the door for results.

But time and energy are finite.  That means you need to choose wisely how and where to spend your time and energy.

Every “yes” is in effect a “no” to one or more other opportunities.  You can’t be in two places at one time, you can’t invest your business development hours on all the activities you might like if you’d also like to have time available for your clients, your professional activities, and your personal life.

Rather than saying “yes” to everything that seems like it might possibly be a good opportunity, pause and critically evaluate the openings that come your way.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the cost of doing this?  Consider time, money, and political or relationship costs.
  • Does this opportunity move me closer to what I want to accomplish?  A strategic lunch will move you toward your goals.  A “random act of lunch” will feed nothing but your stomach.
  • What’s the potential upside?  What might you get from doing this activity?  Getting business is a significant upside, of course, but don’t overlook other potential such as developing relationships, creating exposure for yourself and your practice, or learning something that will support your practice.  Launching a blog can help you to get business.  It may also lead to referrals, collegial conversations, other writing opportunities, speaking engagements, enhanced insight into issues in your practice area, and even friendship.
  • How valuable is the potential upside?  In the blogging example above, the potential includes not just new business but also increased substantive knowledge, new and enhanced relationships, and a higher professional profile.  That’s rather valuable.
  • What’s the likelihood of realizing that upside?  You may not be able to answer this in detail, especially if the activity you’re considering is new to you, but you should have some qualitative sense of the likelihood of success. If you take up blogging, your deeper knowledge of the subject area is entirely within your control; put in the time, you’ll develop the knowledge.  That means acquiring more substantive expertise has a high likelihood of realization if you’re committed to blogging.  Landing a speaking gig is less certain, simply because it will take time for you to meet the right people through your blog, to develop the requisite perceived expertise, and for the speaking opportunity to exist before you’ll be offered the chance to speak.
  • What must you say no to, if you say yes to this opportunity?  You might give up other business development opportunities, billable time, or sleep.  You might have to give up cash.  This is another way of looking at the cost, but it puts the issue into sharp focus.  If you decide to commit two hours a week to blogging, you will be unable to spend that time in face-to-face meetings.  That may be a deal breaker or no big deal – but you’ll know only if you ask the question.

It’s easy to see positive potential and to overlook the costs.  Doing so may keep you from making strategic choices, however.  Especially if you’re newer to business development, take the time to evaluate before you accept an opportunity.  By necessity, you’ll always give up something.  They key is to make sure you’re saying yes to the right opportunities, no just every one that comes your way.

Sometimes, you’ve gotta say NO so your practice can grow.

What do you say when you ask for business?

A client recently confided that he had never actually asked for business from a potential client.  Surprised (since I knew that his $275,000 book of business hadn’t just happened), I asked what he meant, and he responded that asking for the business means saying something like, “I’d like to handle that for you.”

A flat, bold statement is one way to ask for business, but as my client and I discussed, it’s just one of a wide variety of “asks” that he could make.  Asking for business isn’t a nice way of describing demanding business, and it doesn’t have to be a show-stopper request that sticks out as an “ask.”  Instead, asking can be a gentle statement or question that affirms your interest and ability to help.

I’ve previously written about what to bear in mind when preparing to ask for business – or when you notice that you’re shying away from making a direct request.  As a foundational piece, you must be clear that discussing a potential matter is beneficial for a client (if you ask helpful questions and/or provide useful insights) and that asking for the business is a natural continuation in which you’re offering bring your skill to meet a need that you and the potential client have identified together.

In other words, there is no magic formula, you don’t have to craft a single “right” way to make your request, and you should not feel that you’re trying to put one over on your potential client.  Instead, you should listen to the potential client, ask questions to clarify the situation and your potential client’s goals and concerns, and discuss relevant experience or ideas that you have.  And then you should offer to take the next step.

With the caveat that no two attorneys will likely ask for business in the same way, consider language along these lines: 

  • Would you like me to outline an approach based on our conversation?
  • Based on what we’ve talked about today, would you be interested in moving forward? (Optional: when?)
  • Please let me know if I can help you in any way with this issue.
  • I can help you with [summarize issue]. (Optional: I’d be happy to do that.)

How many ways can you ask for business?  Limitless.  But the only effective way is to engage in productive conversation with a potential client who has a current, unmet need and to offer your assistance in a way that genuinely reflects who you are and how you relate to others.

July Reading

Let’s close July with some articles and posts you should not miss.

Every lawyer knows something about the pressures that surround the practice of law. And because business development is meaningless unless it moves you closer to a future you actually want to live, here are two articles and posts you should not miss about being a lawyer.

  • The Lawyer, the Addict This article about one lawyer who, like so many others, fell to drug and alcohol addiction, has been making the rounds. If you haven’t read it yet, stop and do so now. Your practice and life, or that of a friend or colleague, could depend on it.
  • Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Lawyers. A brief post by Cliff Tuttle, on the right reason to be a lawyer.

On the business development side…

  • Still using LinkedIn like a virtual Rolodex? That’s a mistake. Check this article for a better approach: 10 Reasons to Share Articles to LinkedIn:
  • Read Consistency and Sustainability in Selling for a refresher on some fundamentals of business development. Don’t be thrown by the “sales” language: recast this brief post into the language of business development plus client service and retention, and you’ll get the benefit. My favorite tip? “ABP” or “Always Be meeting People” – I revised the acronym’s expansion. 

What did you read this month that made you sit up and take notice? I’d love to hear!


How can you revive a neglected professional relationship?

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy to let a relationship slide. You get busy, you lose track of your contact schedule, you run out of ideas for keeping in touch… And next thing you know, your relationship has atrophied.

But, like muscle, an atrophied relationship can be rebuilt. By focusing time and attention on your relationship and maintaining consistent effort, you’ll often be able to revive a good relationship more easily than you built it in the first place.

But you might feel awkward trying to re-energize a stagnant relationship, especially if you aren’t sure that the relationship can be reinvigorated. If you find yourself about to write off a relationship, you need to be sure that the relationship can’t be resurrected. It’s easy to allow discomfort to lead you into turning a neglected but viable relationship into a dead one, and lawyers far too often write off relationships before they’re truly finished. But how do you know? Or, as someone often inquires when I’m presenting a business development workshop, Is it ever too late to rebuild professional relationships that have languished?

The short answer is that it depends on the relationship. The deeper the relationship, the more likely it can be resurrected.  If, however, you meet once and fail to follow up, or if you follow up only once or twice, the relationship will lack the firm footing necessary to allow it to flourish following a period of silence.  That said, it never hurts to try to rebuild a relationship, particularly if your sole reason for reconnecting is to re-establish communication and not to seek a favor

So, what can you do to rebuild a connection that has faded? The simplest, and often the most effective, approach is to do precisely what you would do with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time: pick up the phone and say, “I realized it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and you’ve been on my mind.  Is this a good time to talk for a few minutes? How are things with you?  What’s new?”  If several months have passed since you were in touch with this contact, you may even begin the conversation by re-introducing yourself.  (This is where my recommendation to maintain a database of contacts proves especially helpful: you don’t have to try to remember when and where you met.)  You may experience a few awkward moments as your contact gets back into the connection, but most people will pick up relatively quickly.

If, like many lawyers, you’d rather do nine hours of painstaking document review without a coffee break than pick up with phone, you do have other options. For example, you might consider the following:

  • Send an email to reconnect. You might suggest talking by telephone and either arrange a time or let your contact know you’ll be calling.  While you’ll still have to pick up the phone, you’ve created an expectation that you will call, and chances are good that you’ll avoid an awkward beginning.  If you suggest that you’ll call, though, you absolutely must do so – or run the risk of looking like a flake.
  • Send an article or other resource that will interest your contact. The resource may address a legal or non-legal issue, but it must be tied in some way to a conversation you’ve had with the contact.  Attach a note that says, “I remember talking with you about [topic of resource] at [wherever you had the conversation] and thought of you when I saw this [resource].  Hope it’s useful!”  By doing so, you not only reconnect by offering assistance, but you do so in a way that will bring your conversation back to your contact’s mind and refresh the relationship.
  • Issue an invitation. You might invite your contact to an open house or to attend a CLE or other seminar of interest with you.  If you deliver an invitation by mail or email, be sure to attach a note saying that you look forward to reconnecting. This personal touch will indicate to your contact that your interest is genuine.
  • Seek out news about your contact. This may be a more challenging approach if you’re seeking to reconnect than to maintain a relationship, but it’s worth a quick search to see whether your contact has been in the news recently.  You may find news of a professional event (an honor awarded, a trial won, a leadership position attained) or a personal event (a new marriage, a new baby, a recreational or community activity).  Such news offers an ideal reason to get in touch again.

Take a few minutes this week to review your list of contacts. With whom should you reconnect?  Choose three to five people and reach out to them.  Building and maintaining your network is always a valuable activity, and keeping relationships alive will often pay off (often in unexpected ways) over time.

What to do when you don’t get the matter

One of my clients (let’s call her Renée) had a major disappointment recently. She had been courting a potential client (let’s call it ABC Corp.) for quite some time, and all the signs indicated that she would be tapped to handle a major piece of litigation. And then, instead of returning the engagement letter, ABC Corp. called Renée to share the news that another lawyer had landed the matter instead.

Certainly a painful moment.

To her credit, Renée took the opportunity to ask what she could have done differently. ABC Corp. was pleasant and gave some answers that were plausible but didn’t quite ring true to Renée, and then the call was over.

Now what? What should you do next when you’ve lost a potential client?

  1. Find out why, if possible. Since the answers Renée received didn’t ring true to her, we stepped back to consider what the real reasons might be. Money is always a likely suspect, so we discussed how the competitor lawyer may have structured the winning fee proposal and whether/how that should affect what Renée does. We also discussed other possibilities like a long-term relationship between the GC, a perception that the other lawyer has more experience, and a few other factors.
  2. Evaluate your own performance. Would you, with the benefit of hindsight, change anything about the way you approached the potential client and matter? Would you change the make-up of your pitch team? Were there any awkward moments you would seek to avoid next time? Did you spot a way to improve your marketing materials?
  3. Determine your next steps with the would-have-been client. How far has this ship sailed? In other words, do you expect a future opportunity to arise with this client? (For Renée, there’s always the possibility of more litigation; if the matter was the sale of a business, what potential might exist with the successor?) Based on how the process proceeded and completed, should you continue to court the would-be client, should you consider asking for a referral, or should you let things lie for the time being?

    Whatever your answer, unless you decide to take no further action (which in the majority of cases is not the best decision), sketch out your next steps and put dates or time-frames on your calendar.

  4. If you’re taking the loss hard, remember this quote from Pat Summit: “Left foot, right foot, breathe.” In other words, keep going. Don’t let one loss, even a painful one, knock out your drive to build your practice.

Rejection of any kind is unpleasant, so make sure you learn as much as you can from losing a matter to help you improve your business development skills.

Happy Independence Day!

July marks Canada Day as well as Independence Day in the United States and numerous other countries.

This time of year always prompts me to ask two questions:

First, what do freedom and independence mean to me personally, professionally, politically, and culturally?

Second, what do I need to do to increase my freedom and independence, and what do I need to do to support others in doing the same?

There are many answers to these questions, but let’s limit the conversation to the professional context. This is a great time to ask where you feel free or constrained in your practice, in the way you work, in your collegial relationships, and even in the way you approach business development. If you don’t like your answer, perhaps you should choose to declare your own independence this July. Questions to consider might include:

  • Do you like your practice? If not, how might you shift your focus? 
  • Do you like your clients? If not, where could you find clients you’d enjoy? 
  • Do you like your colleagues—or do you wish you had colleagues? Is it time to build better relationships or seek out new ones? 
  • Does your business development plan fit you? If not, come up with one that does. A brilliantly conceived plan that you don’t want to execute wont help you reach your goals. 
  • Does your schedule give you the freedom you want and need as a professional, a family member, as a community member, as a professional? If not, can you find ways to use your time differently, perhaps incorporating the approach espoused by the book Total Leadership (which I reviewed here) to identify activities that serve multiple domains of your life at once? 
  • Does your life reflect your values? If not, exercise the freedom to change.

Once you’ve asked the questions and determined your answers, make a clear plan for any necessary follow-up activity. Your professional freedom deserves determined and consistent action.

Mid-2017 Law firm trends

Here’s an interesting article sharing 10 trends identified by CMOs from mid-sized regional firms.

If you’re working in such a firm, ask yourself whether you are observing these or other trends and how you might respond to them.

If you’re working at a different kind of firm, ask those questions as well as how you might compete against the “mid-sized regional firms” on the basis of these trends.

The most important of these 10 trends, I believe, is: 

  1. Relationships Are Still the Key to Success: In a flat market, the CMO’s agree that moving lawyers away from awareness and credibility activities and toward relationship-oriented activities is paramount.

Does that mean you’re off the hook for writing, speaking, and the like? Of course not. However, if you need to develop business in the short-term (as opposed to having less time pressure), you will see much better results from speaking with potential clients and your network of allies (those who will refer business to you and introduce you to potential clients, as well as opening other doors for you).

How do the trends identified in this article affect you and your business development activity?

Does social media lead to business?

Does social media activity really lead to new business? This question comes up quite frequently, along with its cousin, Why am I not seeing ANY results from my social media activity? Social media too often becomes a time-consuming, illusory activity that seems to promise results are just around the bend.

But some lawyers have cracked the code. I recently ran across an article titled The Social Law Firm Index 2016: Is Your Firm a Social Law Firm? which has some good tips based on a social media survey of the AmLaw 100. (If your firm is nowhere near the 100, don’t worry: the tips apply regardless of the size or type of firm.)

The whole article is worth reading, but let’s focus on the first “best practice”:

By remaining true to their primary business objectives and core brand messaging, social law firms are most effective at extending their reach and engaging with their target audience.
This sentence identifies four core aspects of effective social media use, each of which is implicated in any kind of successful business development activity:

  • Primary business objectives: You must have a business development strategy in place and a plan to execute it. Like any other activity, social media must fit within that strategy.

  • Core brand messaging: Having a clear brand-based message is important in any business development activity, but it’s critical in crowded social media communities. Otherwise, even if your “thought leadership” and educational efforts (two of the other identified best practices) hit their mark, your audience likely won’t remember what firm offered such helpful information.

  • Extending their reach: Effective social media activity is a way to appear in front of new people on a regular basis. Knowing whom you want to reach and what kind of content will catch the right attention is the heart of your business development strategy, and social media is one of the vehicles to use to make that happen. 
  • Engaging with their target audience: Social media is social, an opportunity to connect and engage with other users. It is not effective when used as a megaphone. Regardless of the particular platform that you’re using, your plan needs to include a way to identify individuals strategically and to connect with them in a way that moves an online relationship into offline conversation.

There’s a lot more to this article (much of it more granular that the report’s initial point), so please do read it if social media use is any part of your marketing plan. If you aren’t getting the results you want, you will likely be able to self-diagnose what’s missing.

When you plan to “try”

When confronted with a new, daunting challenge, many of us have a tendency to say we’ll try.

In the business development context, that might show up as, “Oh, I hate networking, but I know I need to meet new people, so I’m going to try attending the monthly entrepreneur’s meetup.” Or “I know I need to be easier to find online, so I’m going to try to publish a few articles this year.” Or “It’s been a couple years since I looked at my business development plan, so I’m going to do that and try to get it updated this month.” Or… Well, you get the picture.

Here’s the truth about saying, “I’ll try”:


Sometimes “I’ll try” does mean “I plan to make a legitimate and strategic effort to accomplish this goal.” If that’s what you mean, leave out “try” and just say you plan to do it. Of course there’s a risk of failure—there’s always a risk of failure—but leaving out the fuzzy word “try” may help to minimize that risk.

I urge an honest and pragmatic approach to business development. So if you aren’t fully committed to undertaking an action (and by fully committed, I mean intending to take planned, strategic, and consistent action), don’t kid yourself. You don’t have to do everything—in fact, you can’t do everything—so acknowledge what you can and can’t do (or will and won’t do) and leave “trying” on the sidelines.