Three tips to get that net working

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So you are making connections in the firm to tap into the potential of its wider client base. What next? Unfortunately, some cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to helping dig out more work for others. This may be down to issues of recognition and reward. But for many, it appears to be about having the confidence in colleagues and in their own ability to ‘do it’ well. Here are three straightforward tactics that can help your cross selling and referral efforts.

Assess quality and gauge potential  First, focus on the best. Identify well-established client relationships with a track record of good work and mutual respect. These will be the most ‘open doors’ for your efforts and the ones most likely to succeed. Be wary of relationships that are relatively new or where there have been recent operational/other issues (unless these have been resolved to the client’s unequivocal satisfaction). Then assess the capability to gain or do more work with the client. Here is where a well-rounded knowledge of the client’s business, issues, and plans – beyond the limitations of an area or specialisation – becomes crucial.

Build confidence in you  To some, introducing others to their prized clients appears risky. What if you mess up? Combat these natural insecurities by demonstrating your competence, showing them what you do, how well you do it and what you achieve for clients. Then reassure your referrer and involve them in as many stages of the client dialogue as they wish – meetings, asking for their advice, copying correspondence, sharing proposals for input etc. And, if you are successful, make sure you put opportunities their way.

Use the 3Ps   And then we come to the deed itself.  Asking for a referral becomes about using what you know in the 3Ps of Cross Selling

  • Make the Preface (e.g. “I noticed that the company is looking at…”)
  • Pose a relevant question (“Is that proving to be an issue?”; “Do you know if they have xxxx advisers?”); and finally
  • Propose an action (“I and my colleagues in xxxx have a lot experience in this area that could help, would you mind putting us in touch?”).

The 3Ps can be applied in a wide range of contexts. But wherever they are used, you have to stick to the golden rule: the client’s interests must always come first. Doing this, we maintain credibility by avoiding random attempts to sell other services of the firm that do not make a real contribution to the client’s lot.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

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Three tips for getting more referrals

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Life is nearly always tougher when it comes to landing new clients. Trying to do more business with or through existing ones makes much more sense, potentially, because taking risks with new suppliers is still tricky for a fair number of buyers. So why are so many professionals so meek when it comes to asking for referrals?

Well, some people just don’t ‘get it’. What they don’t get is that they can and indeed should be asking their contacts for introductions to others who they can help. Others associate ‘it’ with the conduct of networking and other outgoing business development pursuits – from which they habitually run a mile. Both attitudes are business-limiting. So here are three tips to help make the most of your referral opportunities.

Recognise the potential. “Who could I possibly ask?” are the first words on some lips, as if the universe of potential referrers was but a small table of reluctant speed-daters. Just tot up who you know!  When you analyse it, the potential number of referrers for most professionals is often extremely large consisting of:

  • existing clients – both specialist (e.g. members of the legal team, Finance Directors) and in other disciplines (Sales, Marketing, HR etc.)
  • similar contacts who we have worked for (but may not be currently)
  • a bewildering array of third parties (e.g. intermediaries, other professional providers, relevant people in associations and other industry/sector entities).

Of course, not all of them are going to be ‘live’ referrers so..

…Select the best.   Prioritisation of referrers is a matter of applied common sense. So here’s an applied common sense quiz. In our selection:

  • Should we focus on a) new clients/contacts or b) those with whom we have an established track record?
  • Do we give priority to a) clients who are happy with us and/or the service we provide or b) those who have a gripe or for whom the last transaction did not go so well?
  • Finally, should we direct our efforts to a) those who are well connected both within and without their organisations or b) the work equivalents of Billy or Bertha No Mates?

When to ask.  When and in what circumstances to pop the dreaded question? Make it easy by doing it:

  • At the end of a meeting, the business having been successfully concluded.
  • Over lunch or coffee making best use of informality.
  • At a post-transaction or relationship review meeting using, as a platform, the wider discussion about the client’s current/planned business activities.

Of course, how the question is popped is another matter….

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, interim, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three “becauses” that stifle selling

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“We’ve got all these services…why can’t we sell more of them?”

This continues to be the ‘cri de coeur’ of many senior partners or directors in professional firms (and indeed much more widely).  Instead of being a revenue and profit multiplier, the inability of their professionals to spot and capitalise on opportunities to gain more work for colleagues – even from satisfied existing clients – has ruined the reasonable pretensions of many a good business plan.

Why?  Well, it comes down to some fundamental ‘becauses’ that can win the day if not addressed.  Here are three of the big ones and some food for thought and action if they are to be overcome successfully.

Because they don’t ask  This is a classic manifestation at networking events.  Professionals talk to (or rather at) prospects or contacts, seemingly unable to move outside their own narrow specialism – because they don’t feel confident or equipped to ask the right questions.

To get them client-curious usually requires a three-pillared approach: “upknowledging” so that they understand enough about what other departments do; “upskilling” to give them the selling tools to engage contacts without boring or being a put-off; and “upmotivating” to provide the encouragement and stimulus that helps overcome reticence: which leads us directly to…

Because they aren’t rewarded  “It was my contact, I had done all the ground work, but the partner just muscled in at the end, took it over…..and claimed it!”

Yes, this sort of thing should not happen….but it does and is corrosive because it stifles exploitation of the huge contact base and pool of work available to firms from the managers, associates and others who operate below senior level.

Fundamentally, it’s a leadership issue for partners and directors who have to accept that their job is to facilitate the growth of their business through others as much as themselves: no egos or personal fiefdoms.  That means encouraging and publicly praising the selling efforts and achievements of the people they manage.  It is also a firm-wide issue to ensure that the reward systems for cross selling at all levels are in place, work effectively for everyone, and are not exploited detrimentally: which leads us in turn to……

Because it’s not on the agenda ….systemic issues.  Cross selling success (or the lack of it) is one of the best measures of how open your firm’s culture really is.  It requires trust in colleagues and more leadership at all levels of seniority – both to support best practice and be uncompromising when it comes to addressing negative or self-seeking behaviours.

Without such bravery, the “becauses” will be victorious.  Do they succeed in your firm?