If you’ve tried to develop new business with a male referral source and your intentions have been grossly misinterpreted, you know it can be tricky to navigate the murky waters of modern day marketing. In order to successfully develop new business and steer clear of awkward situations you have to consciously set the right tone. Read through the following ideas to figure out how to set that tone when it comes to developing new business with members of the opposite sex.

Who To Talk To:

In order to figure out who to target when marketing yourself, put together a list of potential and existing referral sources. Separate the men from the women — but don’t ignore the women’s potential to send business; you should network with them on an ongoing basis.

Look at the list of men you created for those whose interests are immediately suspect; specifically, the ones whose body language, tone and approach all suggest a hyper-sexual attitude.

Cross these men off the list unless it’s absolutely essential to deal with them. Initiating marketing activities with a man in this group is likely to be interpreted as clear evidence of your sexual interest in them. So steer clear, or, if you have to deal with this person, bring a wing-person (more about this later).

Attempts to capitalize on the enhanced interest of this individual have to be handled with great care. If he sends you business he may have enhanced expectations of how you can reciprocate. A savvy woman can deal with this to a point, but it probably won’t end well and may negatively brand you in the process.

Next, look at your list for the group of men whose politically correct social skills may mask their real interests and make them a little harder to detect. This is the group that can take you by surprise. Look for subtler versions of the behaviors associated with the first group and proceed with caution using the tips in this article to mitigate the opportunity for misinterpretation.

Then examine your list to see if it contains any men who appear reasonable, respectful and comfortable with gender-equality. These men are out there and represent the level-headed people you want to deal with as much as possible. This will be your go-to group. Focus on them first.

What To Say:

No matter who you’re initiating a marketing activity with, set the proper context for your meeting by outlining what you have in mind. Give them the agenda upfront. Phrases like: “Let’s get together for a cup of coffee – I’d like to learn more about your business and tell you about mine for networking purposes,” or, “I’d be interested in building a networking relationship with you” can be very effective.

You can also say things such as, “My firm is interested in networking with you,” or “I think our firms serve the same types of clients – why don’t we figure out if we can refer clients to one another?” The use of this arms-length terminology depersonalizes the invitation even further.

If, despite your efforts to set the right tone, a man still misinterprets your intentions, you can be frank with him and say something such as: “Let’s be clear – I’m here because I want to develop business with you, nothing more. If that doesn’t work for you, let’s not waste any more time talking about it.”

If you want to take a softer approach and let the guy down more easily, you can say: “I’m sorry if I’m somehow sending the wrong message. My intentions are to network with you because I think I can help your clients. If that works for you, let’s talk about how we can make that happen. If not, we don’t need to take this discussion this any further.”

Feel free to put your own spin on any of these conversations – just have a few phrases in mind for when you need them and be prepared to make an exit when you do. Once a sexual overture has been made, it’s hard to salvage the conversation and sitting there just prolongs the awkwardness. Gracefully exit as quickly as possible.

When To Say It:

Initiating a marketing activity is most apt to be misinterpreted if it sounds anything like a date. So don’t go in that direction. Both the setting you choose and the timing you select are important. The less “date-like” the setting and the earlier in the day, the better. Here are some activities you can invite a male colleague to that are harder to interpret as a date:

  • A breakfast meeting or “coffee” at a place popular with business people
  • A lunch meeting at a brightly-lit restaurant frequented by business people
  • A charity event in which the participants compete in an athletic event, help build something or serve food

You can also take the educational approach and offer to host an informational session at the prospect’s office, led by you (plus someone else if you need the buffer). If you offer your expertise to a referral source’s team by leading an informational session at their office (updating them on new laws, new guidelines or new risks to avoid, for example), you have the chance to demonstrate your expertise in a business setting and build a following among his team members. Keep in mind that sometimes team members send referrals, bypassing their boss. You can foster this by sending cookies or Starbucks gift cards to them by way of thanks. This could be a breakfast or lunch meeting that involves food, such as a “Lunch and Learn” session. Men do this kind of educational marketing all the time and it’s a great way to demonstrate your expertise.

In addition to these ideas, let’s not forget marketing that is very inclusive. Any event to which you also invite the referral source’s girlfriend, wife and/or children is unlikely to be misinterpreted. Even if the extra invitees don’t come along, the fact that you included them in the invitation sends the message that you know they exist.

Use A Wing-Person:

Your options really open up if you initiate an activity in which a partner, paralegal or other colleague is involved. An invitation to dinner or cocktails is not likely to be mistaken for a date when it includes other people. Create marketing alliances with some of your co-workers and agree to help each other avoid potentially awkward situations.

Marketing From Afar:

You don’t always have to be present to win. There are plenty of opportunities to market yourself from afar. If you set it up correctly, you can earn major marketing points while staying away from the event itself. The success of this depends on knowing the interests of your referral sources, so this will only work with people you know but are trying to cultivate. Examples include the following:

  • Give tickets to a highly desirable sporting event that you know the referral source would be interested in. Call, text or email and say something such as, “Our firm has season tickets and we have two tickets for the game on Thursday night. I know you and your son love basketball. If you can use these tickets, please go and have a good time with your son, on us.”
  • Give tickets to a museum or theatre opening that you know will interest your referral source. Invite the referral source and include a family member, using a variation of the aforementioned invitation.
  • Give presents instead of your presence. When you get a referral from someone with whom you don’t want to physically be present, send a gift. Make it something that resonates with that person’s interests. It says you care — without you being there.
  • The same remote approach applies to someone you’d like to cultivate from afar. If you follow them in social media, reach out to them virtually when they post something that deserves acknowledgement. You can cultivate a relationship with them virtually, at least at the beginning.

More Ideas:

Attend a “BNI” (Business Networking International) type networking group that’s filled with serious business people intent on giving and receiving referrals. They are active nationwide and their members are very interested in referral marketing. They’re not likely to misconstrue your intentions when you show up at that 7 a.m. breakfast meeting. Best of all, the referrals they send don’t come with any expectations other than the hope for reciprocity.

Some Basics:

Dress appropriately and make sure your clothing doesn’t send the wrong message. Usually, the more skin that’s showing, the more misinterpretation will occur. Short, tight, clingy, cleavage-revealing clothes will sabotage your efforts if you want to present yourself as a professional. You may be of the opinion that you should be able to dress however you like and it’s the other person’s problem if he misinterprets it. But if you want to be taken seriously and your clothing is sending a different message, you suffer the consequences. Pay special attention to what you wear when marketing because men are highly responsive to visual cues and have a tendency to take them more seriously than verbal ones.

Here’s another tip: drinking a little too much while attending marketing events may be good to calm your nerves, but it can send the wrong message. Being even a little inebriated is not perceived as professional and signals to the rest of the world that you’re a bit out of control. Some men will interpret even slight tipsiness as an open invitation. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t happen. But in this world, save any over-the-top partying for trusted friends who are outside your professional world. Don’t make alcohol-fueled mistakes while marketing yourself and your services. Your attempts to brand yourself as someone who inspires trust and confidence will suffer. It’s not fair, but men can get away with a lot more bad behavior in this arena.

In Conclusion:

The ability to bring in business translates to power and leverage in a law firm. If your goal is to remain a low-level associate, then not marketing is a great plan. But if you want to progress in your career, you must demonstrate the ability to develop new clients. In many firms, the ability to bring in business will take you much further than your legal skills alone.  In most firms you can’t become a partner without the ability to originate work. So, do yourself and your career a favor: be resilient, embrace the small set-backs you’ll have and experiment with a few of these tips to market smarter.

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