Getting real about connections

He spent the first 45 minutes typing on his phone.

My college friend Helen came to visit me recently, along with her partner of four years whom I’d never met. Tom pulled out his phone as soon as he sat down and kept it out for almost the whole evening. When we tried to draw him into the conversation, he’d respond and then return to his typing, and when Helen prompted him to talk about his work, he pulled out his phone to show us some videos related to his job. Tom has a great smile and friendly eyes, but I didn’t get a feel for who he really is. Technology prevented the connection.

Now, you’d never spend time typing on your phone when you meet someone new for business development purposes, right? But think about these instances in which one might unintentionally let technology block a beneficial connection:

  • You’re attending a conference and you spend breaks checking your email and voicemail to avoid getting too far behind instead of chatting with someone new.
  • You make a new connection on LinkedIn (or other social media) but don’t take the relationship any further.
  • You email a client or contact instead of picking up the telephone—not because you know that the person you’re communicating with prefers email, but because it’s easier for you.
  • You have a follow-up plan in place for new contacts, and it relies primarily on email or social media.
  • You’re so busy processing email during a flight that you don’t even notice the person in the seat next to yours, much less speak to him or her.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these scenarios, but if they repeat frequently, you’re probably missing out on opportunities.

Especially in the early stages of building a business relationship, you’ll benefit from making the effort to interact face-to-face or by voice. Think about the contacts you plan to make this week and ask yourself whether a visit or telephone call would advance the relationship more effectively than an email.

P.S. Mark your calendar for the next installment of the webinar series, Mastering Your Time for Greatest Profit: Blending Year-End Billable Responsibilities and Holiday Relationship Development to Build Your 2021 Foundation.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, November 19 at 1 PM ET/noon CT/10 AM PT.

Click here to register.

What if small talk fails?

Relationships are at the heart of business development. That’s true regardless of the length of your sales cycle, meaning the typical amount of time required for a potential client to move from first encountering you to hiring you. It isn’t necessary to build a deep and personal relationship in all cases, but you do have to have enough of a relationship to allow your potential client or referral source to know and trust you.

Whether your potential client first finds you online or offline, one-on-one conversation is where a true connection may bloom. Most commonly, you’ll find that the process of building a connection takes time. (That’s why follow-up is so critically important.)

You’re probably aware that small talk paves the way for follow-up contacts. Through small talk (conversation that meanders through a variety of topics at a relatively surface level), you learn more about your conversational partner. You discover mutual interests and experiences, and you start to build a common bond. Through follow-up, you develop that bond, and over time a relationship flourishes… And you’re off to other business development issues. (If small talk isn’t your strength, you’ll find plenty of resources online that can help you improve your skills and increase your comfort.)

But what about those situations in which small talk fails? Perhaps small talk isn’t culturally accepted or, despite your best efforts, your small-talk skills aren’t creating an easy flow in conversation. In these instances, you’ll need to find ways in addition to small talk to establish and deepen connections.

The Harvard Business Review article Building Relationships in Cultures That Don’t Do Small Talk offers good tips for recognizing a no-small-talk culture (something that you should already know based on your due diligence) and for adapting. The most important two sentences in the article apply to relationship-building generally, not just across cultures:

One essential piece of advice is to take a longer-term perspective on developing relationships. If you assume that relationships and rapport can indeed be developed in a matter of moments, you’ll inevitably be disappointed.

The article goes on to suggest several tactics to use in the absence of small talk, including working to ensure that “your colleagues see you as someone worthy of having a relationship with, even if it’s not going to happen immediately,” finding impersonal topics for conversation, and knowing when it’s acceptable to build personal relationships.

Use these tips when small talk fails you, but also incorporate them into your relationship-building approach even when you get things going with chitchat. The better you are at adapting your approach to your new contact’s style and the more alternatives you have in mind for building a solid foundation for your relationships, the stronger your network will be.

If you haven’t registered yet for the first session of the webinar series, “The Human Touch of Rainmaking”, it’s not too late!

The webinar is TODAY at 5 pm EDT/2 pm PDT so mark your calendar. 

Click here to register. 

What’s your agenda?

One of my favorite questions is, “What’s your agenda?” I’ve noticed, however, that we tend not to ask that question of ourselves often enough.

Setting an agenda is a classic time management strategy. If you’re looking to make meetings shorter and more productive, circulate an agenda in advance and expect everyone to come prepared. If you want to make your day more productive, set your own agenda. Of course, other issues may arise in the course of the meeting or the day, but if you set your agenda first, you’ll at least know what you intended to accomplish and you won’t lose track of necessary tasks.

Knowing your agenda is critical for networking. Meeting new people requires you to have a sorting agenda in place: do you want to meet lawyers, bankers, or parents? Are you interested in officers in closely-held businesses, or would you prefer to meet officers in public corporations? Knowing who you want to meet will help you to identify the best groups to investigate and to target the right people for follow-up, which is where the networking magic happens, if at all.

Having an agenda is the difference between effective follow-up meetings and purposeless coffee dates that accomplish nothing. If you have some idea of what you’d like to discuss during a follow-up meeting, you’ll be able to tailor your conversation to be sure that you ask the right questions or offer the right information. It’s easy to wing it for follow-up meetings, but taking a few minutes to think about what you want from the meeting will make you much more effective.

Finally, when you’re talking with someone with whom you’re considering joining forces (for marketing or to form a new practice, for example) ask them directly (or ask yourself) what their agenda is.  Poorly phrased, the question is a bit confrontational, but the more you know or intuit about someone else’s objectives, the better your decisions will be.

Take a few minutes to answer these questions (or others that fit your circumstances):

  • What’s your agenda for today?
  • What’s your agenda for your practice?
  • What’s your client’s agenda?

Book Review: UnMarketing

UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.

“Marketing happens every time you engage (or not) with your past, present and potential customers.  If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business.”

Scott Stratten is a marketing consultant who excels in viral, social, and authentic marketing, which he refers to as “unMarketing”. His philosophy is that you can share your knowledge and expertise while engaging with those who are interested in what you do, and that you’ll be top-of-mind when a need for your services arises.  UnMarketing expands on that philosophy.

In 56 short chapters, each of which is freestanding and reads almost like an oversized blog post, you’ll get an overview of “new-school” marketing. While some of the tactics shared with you may be new to you, you’ll probably get the most impact from the book’s overall flavor.  In [very] brief:  don’t lead with a “me” focus, don’t use expensive, scattershot advertising, and don’t market to others in ways you hate to be marketed to.  Instead, learn to build relationships and share your expertise so that others come to trust you.

Stratten’s focus on relationship-building and marketing by sharing useful information (“content marketing”) is appropriate for any professional. One of the most eye-opening lessons in the book comes on page two in the form of a pyramid that illustrates how people make decisions on whom to hire to provide a service.
(You can find the graphic here, on Stratten’s Ryze page.)  If you think marketing or business development primarily means meeting strangers and convincing them to hire you, you’ll experience a seismic shift from this graphic alone — and the rest of the book will show you how to take the next steps.

One of my favorite chapters deals with “new school” networking. Stratten argues that networking is best accomplished when you’re stepping into a room of people you already know, perhaps through social media, so that “[t]he event isn’t the introduction; it’s the escalation of the relationship.”  Stratten identifies the four types of people you’re likely to meet in “old school” networking:

  • The Great One: the consummate networker, who listens, connects with others, and makes sure not to monopolize the conversation.
  • The Awkward One: someone who’s uncomfortable in networking and accordingly does everything by the book.  Because this person is so uncomfortable, they tend to attach themselves to one person, and escape is difficult.
  • The Dude with Scotch: this is the man who uses hard liquor as social lubricant with predictably disastrous effect.
  • The Card Collector: the person whose primary goal for attending a networking event is to make sure that every person in the room receives a card.  Unfortunately for The Card Collector, because there’s no real engagement, no one actually wants to receive a card.

Stratten, a heavy Twitter user, prefers to meet people online before the event so that there’s a pre-existing relationship and a conversation already underway. The best tip from this chapter is to use Twitter (or other social media) to meet people before attending a conference so that you’re among acquaintances (if not friends) by the time you get there.  If you don’t use social media in this way, consider reaching out by telephone instead for a quick “get acquainted” conversation.  You’re limited to establishing pre-meeting contact with those you already know or know of, but it can still be quite effective.

UnMarketing is a delightful read in part because of the humor that Scott weaves into the book. By sheer happenstance, I purchased a hard copy rather than a Kindle version, so glancing at the footnotes scattered throughout was simple.  These are not law review style footnotes (read:  necessary but dull).  These are asides that are fun, funny, and illustrative, the kind of comments that you might imagine being delivered sotto voce as you drink coffee and learn from a regular guy who really knows his stuff but doesn’t take himself too seriously.  This is not a “guru” book, although Stratten could easily qualify as a guru in his field.

Why should lawyers read the book? Lawyers traditionally have little or no knowledge about marketing, and there’s a great deal we can learn from marketers.  Thanks to the rise of content marketing, we can draw analogies from approaches and tactics used by a wide variety of other service providers.  Lawyers are trained to be experts, and one place we often fall short in marketing that expertise is in placing the focus on our clients rather than on our own expertise, and UnMarketing offers an eye-opening perspective on why that’s a fatal mistake and what you should be doing instead.  Plus, it’s fun.  You won’t regret picking up this book, and once you pick it up, you’ll find it difficult to put down.

Weekly Rainmaker Activity 8/17/09

Studies show that a prospective client must be exposed to you 7-9 times before they’re ready to hire you.  (Those statistics are not specific to law, granted, but I have no reason to believe they’re off the mark for lawyers.)  The reasons are simple: most potential clients don’t have a current legal need, are already represented, or aren’t sufficiently familiar with you to entrust you with their current legal matter.

The solution should be clear: continue the conversations with your potential clients and potential referral sources.  That’s how you will become known, liked, and trusted — and it’s how you’ll get clients.

So, here’s your assignment this week: Look at the stack of business cards you’ve been saving (you have the stack, right?  Tucked “somewhere safe,” in a desk drawer, or near your computer?) and select 3-5 people with whom you should follow up.  Then, get in touch with them.  Offer something of value if possible — an article likely to interest them, for example.  Alternatively, just pick up the phone (or perhaps drop an email) and let your contact know you were thinking of her and want to know how she’s been since you last talked.

Some contacts will be dead-ends.  Others will hold promise for future business.  But you’ll never find out which are which unless you continue the conversation.

Renewing lapsed professional relationships

I gave a 1-hour presentation about rainmaking last week in the Chicago office of a large law firm, and following the presentation, a lawyer approached with a question: 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.  Be sure to attach a note, if you deliver an invitation by mail or email, 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.

Tips for making the host of holiday gatherings

Networking is always a popular topic for lawyers who are engaged in rainmaking, and the reason is simple: the people who know, like, and trust you will have an enormous influence on your success in practice.  And there’s no time like the holidays for networking, because so many organizations and groups arrange holiday gatherings.

If you’re an introvert and the very thought of attending a holiday gathering to develop business relationships makes you want to dive for the nearest rabbit hole, keep breathing.   Networking doesn’t have to be painful — not even for introverts.  How’s that?

Good networking involves relationship-building.  Most frequently, networking establishes the opening stages of a relationship that will mature over time.  Introverts can excel in establishing these relationships because so often, networkers are eager to talk about themselves, but introverts tend to be more comfortable asking questions and letting their conversation partner talk.  Introverts will distinguish themselves by focusing on the other person.  Ask questions like these:

  • What is most exciting in your business right now?
  • What concerns you most about what’s going on in your business or industry?
  • What do you want to see happening for you in 2009?

Asking questions and listening with genuine interest to the answers you get will benefit every networker in two ways: first, it takes the spotlight off the introvert, and second, you’ll have an opportunity to learn so much about the other person that you can connect him with beneficial resources, which he’ll appreciate.  Of course, you’ll need to say something about yourself as well (more on that in the next post) but you’ll find it much easier to talk about who you are and what you do after you’ve established rapport with a conversational partner.

A few additional thoughts on how to network well:

  • Be prepared with something to say. Know what the bignews story is, the key sports results, and have a thoughtful comment.
  • Be prepared to introduce yourself in 30 seconds, without stumbling. Use the template, I am [name], I do [kind of work] with [kind of client] so they can [get specific results].  Use clear words without jargon and invite curiosity.  If it’s boring to say, it’s boring to hear.
  • Carry business cards and have them easily accessible…..
  • ….But don’t offer indiscriminately them at the beginning of a conversation.  It’s far better to chat for a while, to know someone about the person, and then to ask for his or her business card. What if, horror of horrors, they don’t reciprocate and ask for yours? Not a problem. Send them one when you follow up after the event.
  • When someone offers you a business card, look at it before you put it away. A card is the tangible representation of the person with whom you’re speaking. Look at it, accord it due respect, and then carefully put it away.
  • Pay attention to the conversation. Don’t be one of these “power networkers” always looking over the shoulder of your conversational companion, looking for someone more interesting.
  • Listen. That deserves a separate bullet point. When your companion is talking, that’s your signal to listen to what they’re saying, not to be composing your witty rejoinder. It’s easier to be interested than interesting, and it’s also more attractive.
  • Think about how you can help the person with whom you’re talking. Make a contact, offer a lead, or just ask how you might recognize a terrific potential client/customer for her.
  • Set your intentions before you go (i.e., I will leave with 3 business cards of people I plan to contact again). Aim for quality over quantity.
  • Follow up with your contacts after the meeting.

To make the most of a networking event, you must follow up with the key people with whom you speak. Don’t overlook standard follow-up tactics like sharing a meal or coffee, a golf game, or a sporting or cultural event.  Think about other opportunities as well:

  • Check this article for 15 non-golfing ways to build business relationships.
  • Follow up with some of the people you meet at a networking event with a handwritten note, tailored to the recipient. Then follow up on your follow-up with articles, resources, and the like, that are relevant to that person. Not so much that it’s obnoxious, but enough to make the person feel that you’ve really taken an interest in who they are and what they’re doing.
  • Reserve a table for 6 or 8 for lunch or dinner after your event (if it’s a cocktail party, for example) and invite several of the people you meet to join you.

The most important approach to making the most of the holiday gatherings you attend is to engage people.  Don’t hang around with the same people you see every day or every week: make it your goal to meet new people, to reconnect with those you no longer see regularly, and to set yourself up with some new business relationships to grow in the new year.

Social networking, yea or nay: Part 2

Just a few months ago, I wrote a blog entry titled, Social networking, yea or nay?, in which I reviewed an issue of Law Practice Management that featured several article advocating the use of social networking.  Since then, I’ve networked on LinkedIn and I even set up a Facebook profile, though I drew the line at Twitter — microblogging is not for me.  Meanwhile, I’m getting pelted with Plaxo requests and trying to figure out how social networking can work for me.  My next step was to listen to a few teleseminars, on how to use Facebook and LinkedIn, and I was aghast at the amount of time people were spending.  An hour or two a day???  Is it just me, or does that sound insane to anyone else?

So I was mightily curious when I saw a recent article by Larry Bodine titled, Is the Party Over for Social Networking?  Larry starts out like this:

What if you gave a party, hundreds of people showed up, but almost nobody talked to each other? That describes the state of social networking for lawyers on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and the new Plaxo Pulse. The masses get the idea, but only the evangelists are using it.

Ah, so it isn’t just me.  Citing research by the ABA about the online networking habits of young lawyers, Bodine concludes that few lawyers (only 8% of the young lawyer respondents, who might be presumed to be early adopters of such technology) find social networking important.  LinkedIn seems to be the professional tool of choice for lawyers (at least, “old” lawyers, which I fear means those over 30 or so), and Facebook seems to be preferred for personal use and by younger lawyers.

But here’s my question: other than using these tools to update contact information, employers, and the like, what are lawyers doing with social networking?  As a teen and college student, and even into law school, I used to play online and met some dear friends that way, through forerunners of IM technology, so I’m certainly not opposed to it — and I’d certainly prefer to network online while sipping good coffee than to schlep to another breakfast networking event (usually, it seems, in the rain) in hopes of making a connection.  I just don’t get how it works.

And so, I’m going to try an experiment.  I have one more week of very heavy travel, and then I’ll have a bit of a pause, when I’ll be in my office with computer handy for most days of May.  So, I’m going to give social networking a shot for the month of May and see what happens.

As I prepare, I invite your comments.  Do you use social networking sites?  Do you find them fun and/or professionally useful?  What’s your favorite site?  How much time do you spend on social networking?  I’ll keep you posted on what I learn!

(And, an aside about the blog: one of the kinks yet to be worked out is image-posting.  They will return!)