By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis
Years ago, while having lunch with a friend, I spotted a potential referral source I wanted to meet, dining at another table. He’d been profiled in a local magazine recently and I had long wanted to make his acquaintance. I gestured for the waitress and said, “Can you find out what he’s drinking?” indicating that I wanted to send over a drink. Upon receiving the drink he politely nodded his thanks to me, no doubt puzzled about who I was. I went over to his table, stuck out my hand and said, “I just read an article about you and I’d like to introduce myself.” We started talking and in the brief conversation that ensued, he invited me to a fundraiser he was hosting. I accepted his invitation and we’ve been friends ever since.
That’s how you think and act like a marketer. When serendipity presents you with an opportunity you capitalize on it. And when serendipity doesn’t present you with an opportunity, you create it.
presentation_2578929.jpgWhen Susan, a family law attorney in North Florida, left her old firm to open her own practice, she didn’t bring many clients with her. As an inexperienced marketer, she was understandably anxious about how she’d find new clients. Through clever positioning, however, her future clients would find her. After considering all her options, Susan opened her new office next to a popular day care center frequented by young professionals. If you know anything about the demographics of divorcing couples — and Susan definitely does — you know that divorce among parents with small children is unfortunately very common. That those busy working parents had to pass her office every day on their way to pick up their kids was a brilliant form of passive marketing. Her convenient new location did half the marketing for her. She then stepped it up a notch and introduced herself to the owners of the day care center and was soon conducting workshops for day care center owners and staff around the county.
Both of these stories illustrate the point that to think like a marketer, it helps to be somewhat creative. My willingness to introduce myself to a stranger was made possible by the fact I’d read about him and targeted him as an influencer long before we met. Without the nuggets of information I’d read, I wouldn’t have had any common ground to venture out upon. Likewise, Susan could have opened her office in a building full of attorneys. It would have been the expected thing to do and she agonized over her decision before committing herself. Fortunately for her, she saw beyond what was expected and made an out-of-the-box decision that plunked her down in the path of future clients.
Creativity can come in the form of spontaneous urges, but often it’s backed-up by a great deal of thought and preparation. To prepare yourself to maximize your marketing opportunities, do two things. First, take time to review your referral source list each week. Second, while you do this, ask yourself the question: Who should I cultivate this week?
If you don’t have a referral source list to look at during this exercise, you are at a serious disadvantage. Some of our clients claim they keep these lists ‘in their head,’ but to our way of thinking nothing beats an actual list that you can pour over, notate and tweak as referral sources come and go. So if you’re someone who lacks a list, get busy and put one together. Instead of doing this manually, print a report showing all your cases for the last year, ranked by fees starting at highest and ending with the lowest. Your bookkeeping software probably has the ability to do this — many of them can generate a range of reports that far exceed what most people utilize. Then, using information noted in your files, your case management software and/or your memory, write in the referral source next to each case. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a list of referral sources ranked from the most productive to the least. From this you can create a list of top referral sources who send your best business and a list of secondary sources who send lesser business. Once you’ve done this pre-work you can review and isolate those you want to cultivate. Hand off the list to your secretary or marketing assistant so she can schedule lunches, dinners or other events with these people when you prompt her. Stash your referral source lists in a file where you can easily retrieve them the following week
When you begin the cultivation part of this effort, what you plan to do will be different for everyone on the list. It may mean calling a colleague to say hello and catch up; it could mean inviting several others to lunch. It might mean asking a referral source to attend a sporting event or sending thank you notes to those that recently referred business. Any number of different activities will serve the purpose of being in touch with or getting to know your referral sources better. What you do is up to you. But do something — with increased contacts to referral sources comes increased top-of-mind awareness. Increased top-of-mind awareness correlates directly with increased referrals.
We have one talkative client who is so fervently committed to building his practice that he keeps his list of referral sources in his planning folder at the office, on his cell phone and in his computer database. In addition to scheduling three marketing contacts a week — every week, he uses his commute to and from the office to stay in touch with his ever-expanding network which includes a number of clients who have become great referrers for him.
He’s made it a Friday afternoon ritual to plan the upcoming week and review his list of referral sources. Monday mornings might work better for you, but whenever you do it, allowing time for this new habit supports you in thinking like a rain maker.
Here are a few more habits that will have you thinking and acting like a rainmaker:
Add at least five new names to your list of contacts every month.
One of our attorney clients serves on the welcoming committee of his local bar association just to meet new members each month. He takes them out to lunch and spends time learning where they came from, what their practice areas are, and what long-term goals they’ve set for themselves. Many productive referral sources have developed out of this effort, and not surprisingly, a few new friends.
Send a mailing to your contact list once a quarter.
We have a number of clients who send hard-copy and e-mail newsletters, though we have others who reject the long form of a newsletter and send post cards containing tips or reminders. Another client sends a legal update, which he authors himself, to all of his referral sources once per quarter. He works hard to ensure the topics are relevant to his intended audience.
Start showing up at your bar association lunches every month.
Bar events are obviously good to attend if most of your referrals come from attorneys. When you attend these events, work the room greeting existing friends and referral sources, but try to sit with new people when you eat. This way you can expand the number of new attorneys that you befriend. Keep your eyes open for any attorneys in practice areas that have proven to be good sources for referral. Also, join alternate bar associations and organizations for which you might qualify, such as the Women’s bar, the Hispanic bar, the African-American bar, the Trial Lawyers bar, the Inn of Court, etc. We recommend you participate in the American Bar Association primarily for the educational opportunities and opportunities to meet others in your field. It is most beneficial, marketing wise, to those who want to gain national exposure for the out-of-area referrals that may come their way (though these may be few and far between unless you are in a niche that few others occupy).
Show up at high visibility events every week that are likely to be attended by current or potential referral sources.
Sponsoring a table at charity events provides a great reason to invite referral sources to have dinner with you. Other historic, community or trade-specific organizations have live and silent auctions, galas, car rallies, tournaments and gatherings of all sorts. Find out what charities or causes your referral sources support – participating in their activities gives you one more reason to interact with existing referral sources and positions you to cultivate new ones.
Send out appropriate cards.
Send thank you cards to anyone that refers business, even if the client didn’t hire you. You want to reinforce the fact that they thought of you. Also, scan the newspaper and any trade journals or websites you read and forward or clip articles of interest to clients and referral sources. Send the articles out with a quick note relating that you thought this might be of interest to them. This is a tiny action, which requires little effort but lets people know you’re thinking of them.
Practice your laser talk as often as you can.
It’s easier than you think to work your laser talk, or pieces of it, into conversations. Keep in mind most of your family and friends, other than your colleagues, have no idea what you really do all day. Educate them: there may be well-connected people in this group that can carry the message of your firm far and wide.
Focus on referrals from clients.
Develop the habit of asking for referrals. Use a version of the “good patient” strategy which doctors have used for ages. Say, “You’ve been an outstanding patient (client) and we enjoy working with (or helping) people just like you. If you know of anyone else that could use our services please let them know about us.” The clients you’ve helped probably like you and want to contribute to your success, but may not think of referring others to you. Remind them gently and in a complimentary fashion.
After all is said and done, probably the most significant habit which will support you in thinking and acting like a rainmaker is to be, in the words of Glenn Finch, a Senior Practice Advisor, “eternally optimistic”. When it appears that your marketing efforts are not productive, make up your mind to stay proactive and committed to reviewing your list and initiating contacts every week. Your network will not produce if it is not developed and you develop it by being in regular contact with those who can send business or who can influence others to send business. Progress is slow at first, but as time passes and you gather momentum it trends upward dramatically. Take time to invest now in the future of your firm.