I know a lot of attorneys who aren’t comfortable with business development. They fear they will appear to “sales-y”, they don’t know the “right way” to do it…whatever the reason, that familiar, overwhelmed feeling turns to fear, which leads to avoidance and the business of bringing in new clients just doesn’t get done.
Fundraising is another overwhelming, feared, and, thus, ignored task for many of us who serve on philanthropic boards in our communities. I know because I am one of those people. I chaired my first philanthropic event earlier this year and raising money was a daunting task. Luckily, because of this same board service, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraising training session conducted by Gail Perry. While the training was two days after my event, I realize that my fundraising career is only beginning and the lessons will serve me well.
I also recognized the obstacles and objections board members feel regarding fundraising are similar to the obstacles and objections attorneys feel about business development. The parallels between Gail’s strategies for effective fundraising and those helpful for attorneys engaged in client development are far more than what I’ve captured here, but I thought these two points she made would be a good place to start.
1. Take the money conversation (“making the ask”) off the table.
One obstacle for attorneys in developing new business is fear that they don’t know the “right way” to ask for the business – the right thing to say, the right time to say it…you get the idea. We can think of a million parts of the process that are unfamiliar and thus stop us before we start. Gail used the term “friend raising” when describing the activities we needed to be engaged in as board members. The same is true for attorneys and business development. At the end of the day, people want to do business with their friends, so get out there and start making some. (Preferably after identifying your target audience given your area of practice, but if you are just starting in business development, it’s important just to get out there.) Don’t let your fear of closing the sale be your excuse to not get started.
2. Your elevator pitch includes: 1) WHAT you say; 2) HOW you say it; 3) Taking time to shut up and listen; and 4) Follow up.
Part One: What You Say: Gail reminded us to have a “for example” story when discussing the good work our nonprofit does in the community. Do you have a “for example” story that highlights how your services solved or helped your client avoid a particular problem they were facing? If not, it’s time to get one. (For more on messaging, see my previous post on the topic.)
Part Two: How You Say It: Gail’s points on HOW you say something really resonated with me, probably because I am struggling with my nerves around public speaking, and I’ve been reading a lot about how you deliver your message is just as important as the substance of the message itself. The same is true for attorneys meeting one on one with potential clients. Talking apologetically or with trepidation about the services you offer doesn’t instill confidence in someone you want to hire you. You don’t have to go on and on, but have a clear, succinct message about the types of problems you can solve and the benefits to clients you serve.
Part Three: Shut Up and Listen: This is crucial. I coach attorneys on the importance of asking questions, lots of questions, including thoughtful follow up questions to show you are listening, during a meeting with a prospective client. Gail gave us four magic words to use when we were sitting across from someone who could potential be a “friend” to our nonprofit: “What are your impressions…” Attorneys can use these same words to gain a better understanding of a potential client’s top priorities, pain points and/or stressors.
Attorney: We are working with many of our clients on ways to manage and mitigate the risks associated with the tremendous amounts of customer data they are collecting via their websites. Late last year, we gave a presentation on cyber-liability and were overwhelmed with the number of questions we received from the audience, as well as the follow up from attendees. What are your impressions on similar risks associated with your business?
In this one statement, you’ve done a few things: 1) Educated the potential client on a service you offer; 2) Shown the urgency the attendees from your presentation felt about this issue; and 3) Opened the door for him or her to let you know how the issue affects his or her company on a daily basis. Maybe they have an attorney already working with them on address these risks…at least you know. But maybe they’d love for you to come in and conduct a training for their employees. Or help update their internal policies and procedures.
Part Four: Requesting Follow Up: Again, listening for follow up is key. One thing you DON’T need to do is bring a stack of marketing materials about every service your firm offers to an initial meeting. I repeat, Leave the folders at your office. At best, they will end up in the back of a file drawer, at worst, the trash can.
You can take the opportunity to better understand what keeps the person up at night or some other smaller problem that you may be able to help them solve. More than likely, it’s not going to be a problem your legal expertise can solve. However, if you listen for the purpose of understanding how you can make that person’s life even a little bit easier, you can follow up with a solution, suggestion or resource and build rapport with your new contact in the process. And building rapport is what its all about, whether you are cultivating relationships with potential donors for your nonprofit or potential clients for your firm.
Fundraising, Developing Business & Dating: It’s All Really the Same
As they say, business development is a lot like dating: you don’t go out on a first date only to ask someone to marry you over dessert. Building relationships with potential clients or referral sources takes time, confidence, and a self-awareness of the value you (and your firm or board) have to offer. Gail’s training reminded me of this as I was struggling with fundraising as a board member. I recently followed up with Gail to see if she conducts business development training for lawyers or other professional services providers. Turns out she does and we’ve scheduled her to speak to our attorneys later this summer. If you are interested in learning more about Gail Perry and how you can hire her to speak at your next firm event or board meeting, visit www.gailperry.com.