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Personal touch helps win highly profitable corporate clients

It’s a first-class presentation, but the corporate business goes to another firm. What happened?

The big balloon deflator is that most corporations have their hiring decisions made long before the beauty contest. The winner is almost always the firm that has developed a relationship with the company beforehand, and the selection process is naught but a friendly formality.

To make rain, the firm has to put its efforts more on people than presentation. The best marketing is done via long-term relationships. Attorneys get the majority of their business through personal referrals. Yet sadly, most attorneys don’t understand how to develop the personal relationships that lead to business. Simply by sharpening up their people-building skills most attorneys can double their business.

Court the periphery people

Contrary to what most firms think, developing a relationship with corporate targets is a matter of backing into the business as opposed to approaching the corporate representatives directly. The best results come from developing friendships in the right places, with the right places being the individual professional service organizations that already serve the corporate organizations where the firm has interest. Those are services such as accounting firms, banks, and real estate companies. They already have business relationships with organizations and so have the corporate ear. Get them to drop a word here and there about the firm, or about an individual attorney, and the door starts to open. Also, those organizations aren’t in competition with either firm or corporate client so there’s every possibility of building a positive relationship with them.

A matter of friendships

Courting the potential referrers means getting to know them personally and on a nonbusiness level. Don’t go to them and try to sell. Instead, work to develop honest relationships with them, which essentially equates to making friends. That may sound like a waste of marketing time. It’s not. It’s the personal relationships that build professional trust, and trust is essential to generate referrals, because for professionals, giving the business nod is a significant event. Their reputations are on the line.

How can the firm prove its expertise to them without a sales pitch? Do it indirectly by trading war stories. Talk with them about their own businesses, and in the process, tell about legal situations the firm or individual attorneys have encountered and how those situations were resolved successfully.

Casual conversations of that sort paint a good and memorable picture of what the lawyers do and that they are good at it. However, while talking about doing good business, the one thing never to do is to appear inundated with business. Many attorneys do that thinking that it makes them appear superior in talent and greatly in demand. When someone asks “how are you doing?” they respond with “I’m running ragged” or “I’ve got so much going on.”

That may impress other attorneys. But someone outside the profession reads it another way. To the outsider sitting there ready to put in a word to the next corporate client, it says the attorney is too busy to take on any new business.

Not just foul-weather friends

Relationship building is not a one-shot venture. The attorneys who successfully get business through their social contacts maintain those contacts steadily. It’s not just knowing those people that counts; it’s the consistent contact that generates the introductions. Many attorneys are mercenary about it. They court their referral possibilities during the lean times and then when things get busy, they quit for a while. Then the business slows, and there they are again — hungry and looking for business, and those hard-made earlier contacts smell the desperation.

People-focused presentations too

The personal touch continues on into the actual corporate presentations. When the contacts are solid, when the good words are dropped, when the firm is ready to make the sale, the winning approach stays the same: back into the business. Don’t give the standard “ain’t-we-wonderful routine” where the firm spends most of the time reciting a litany of its successes. Talk instead about the corporation’s legal needs. That audience isn’t there to judge a beauty contest; what it wants is a presentation focused on the issue it’s facing.

Research the client

Do some homework. Research the corporation’s business history. Find out what its legal issues have been in the past and what approach it has taken to resolve them. Then explain the firm’s perception of the current needs and tell how the firm’s particular expertise will support the company’s goals and needs. Show the firm’s track record in those areas. Don’t kill the corporation with theatrics. Many a firm gets over-prepared on the colors and graphics and goes in with presentation that’s more flash than substance.

The audience isn’t impressed with all that. Those people are sitting there thinking they will end up paying for the marketing efforts. Engage in personal discussions with the members of the selection committee. Mention the referrers. After all, the firm got there by way of a personal relationship. Continue along the winning path.

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