How many networking events have you been to in the last 3 months?
3, 5, 10?
You usually approach the event in one of a number of states, but you tend to vacillate between:
I have spent more time than I care to remember going to networking events, and, whether they are scripted or informal, they all tend to be focused on people pitching for work or practising a elevator speech of some sort. Sometimes, and I am sure I have fallen into this category, it feels like a plaintiff cry for work:
“Please think of us when you want to buy [legal services] …”.
My raison d’être has changed over time.
In the early days, I thought I was there to sell, and sell hard, but unless you are fortunate to join a group where they limit the number of attendees of a certain category, then you will often find that you are not the only show in Town. You might find that you even share a table with more than one lawyer. From a buyer’s perspective, how do they differentiate your service when you and your opponent are saying practically the same thing?
If you want to stand out I would strongly recommend that you read Bob Burg’s excellent books Endless Referrals or The Go-Giver. For me they turn networking on its head. I won’t spoil the plot of the books but in essence it is not a question of what you can get out of the event, but more a question of putting yourself in a position where you are seen as the Go To person for referring work. In other words, you are trying to be a pseudo matchmaker rather than expecting people to say “You are the best lawyer I have ever met”, and (on the spot) instruct you.
If you do expect to receive instructions in this way, then, at the very least, you have to be prepared to put in some air miles and turn up week after week, month after month so that in the end you start to feel part of the furniture and the other attendees will feel much more comfortable instructing you or at least trying you out because by now they know you, like you and (hopefully) trust you.
But if you want to take things to the next level then, apart from trying to refer work to others, you need to focus on the follow up.
Remember the faces of the people to go with the business cards [should you take a photo?];
Send a thank you note – not email – to everyone you meet, and not just the ones you want to do business with;
Ask them if they will connect with you on LinkedIn and, if in the affirmative, connect with them [… and this is just the start];
Indicate that if you can refer business their way, you will;
Start referring work their way (as soon as you can) – this will mark you out as special from the rest of your fellow networkers;
Keep in contact with them but not by sticking them on your database and going “Ker-Boom” here is our latest offering;
Invite them to your events or speak at your events; and
Be nice to them even if they say they are using your competitor.
Networking requires a systemised approach. It is not something that should only be undertaken by a select few. You cannot expect your colleagues to always bat for you. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable, and you struggle with the whole notion of networking but, ignoring it, leaves you exposed to losing business to a competitor who is willing to put in the grunt work.
It doesn’t matter if you are a private client or commercial practitioner, all the best lawyers I have ever met were persistent networkers [and they joined a few charities along the way]. No they didn’t do all of the above, but by putting their firm out there in the market, sooner or later they were noticed.
If you are expecting to measure the ROI, then sure if you want to start mapping the process you can but, better still, give yourself a short-term goal of attending at least one event per week or every two weeks with a view of meeting 2 new people each time.
Start learning a new set of elevator lines for your pitch. Ideally, you need to rehearse some questions where you find your target client talking more than you. Or as Chris Brogan said “Grow Bigger Ears”.
Try to move away from the stock in trade stuff like “What brings you to this event?” and start thinking about questions that shows your supreme interest in the business or the person or their family.
The more you can listen the more you will learn about what is of interest to the person and their company so that ultimately when it comes to the day when you get the nod you have the insight to close the deal and retain the client over the long haul, subject, of course, to you coming up to the professional mark on your service and advice.
~ Julian Summerhayes ~