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.

Three tips to boost your internal network

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Traditionally, a lot of attention has been given to encouraging professionals at all levels to “get out there” and make contacts in the market place – and why not? – but with a lesser focus on the internal side of such activity. No doubt, many assume that this will happen anyway: but often it doesn’t….or at least not enough of the right stuff.

It has always been important to connect with colleagues in other departments or practices to generate more opportunities to do business with clients. This is even more the case now with renewed activity for mergers, acquisitions, team hires and the like, and firms getting bigger and more complex all the time. But whatever the situation, the whole firm has to add up to more than the sum of its parts to be successful. Here are three things that can help.

WHO do I need to know (more)?  Good internal networking is a planned approach. For some, the temptation can be to just launch themselves everywhere with everyone….quickly to run out of steam when nothing is immediately achieved. Decide where co-operation for your expertise and skill areas will bear most fruit and prioritise the individuals and teams that matter most. This is usually a long game, so stay positive and persevere if nothing instant occurs: and don’t be distracted by those who are most welcoming if they do not fit this bill, unless they are connected to those that do.

Let’s get visible!  From who, now focus on planning and doing the WHAT. You are undertaking an internal marketing campaign that should include as many relevant opportunities as possible to achieve exposure and face time – so stuff like:

  • Presentations: look for relevant slots (e.g. departmental or team meetings) to deliver short, punchy content – what I/we do, how we do it, who we do it with, what we can do together and offer you – or address relevant, topical issues for your audience and their clients.
  • Social gatherings: these could be informal or formal events, lunches (coffee/tea for those who are busy), one-to-ones etc.
  • Client marketing: take those topical issues above and volunteer content for the firm’s blog, newsletters, events, and other external promotional activity, making sure that your efforts are broadcast internally as well.

Give (as well as take)  Digging out new chances to serve clients of the firm through colleagues must not be a one-way street if you want to succeed. The two related essences of any good networking are reciprocity and trust: demonstrate that you are happy to share your knowledge and contacts so that others trust you with theirs. You will soon find out who shares this philosophy and are deserving of your efforts…..and who doesn’t.

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 more rules for networking excellence

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So your professionals know why they are at the seminar.  Now all they have to do is  perform.  Most of them know the drill backwards when it comes to the work that they do.  Unfortunately, many lack such a drill for business development when attending your expensively-wrought events.

“I don’t know what to do”  “How do I talk to someone I‘ve never met before?”

Here are three things to help at the ‘crunch’ points.

Upon entering a room….panic, make a bee-line for the safety of your colleagues, or just look like you’d rather be anywhere else.  That’s how many behave when entering a room full of strangers.  There are a number of tactics to employ to help achieve the aim (meet new people, develop prospective client relationships etc.) and to give confidence.  Like them all, this one is very simple.  Most events contain people who are in exactly the same boat as you and your people.  They are often alone, don’t know anyone, nervous, uncertain of how to behave – and very grateful when someone talks to them.  These wall-flowers represent the best opportunity for first conversations.  So target them.

Breaking in  There’s someone you want to meet – but (s)he is engaged in conversation with two others, and has been for some time.  What do you do?  Well first, you need to assess the intensity of the conversation (body language here is the indicator).  If it looks heavy, then best to try another time.  If not, approach and join the group, making eye contact first with its members, listen, and then join in if you have a contribution.  Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that – but not much.

Breaking out   Being stuck with someone – who is not relevant as a potential client or intermediary and/or is just plain boring – appears high on many people’s networking nightmare list.  The best get-out clause we know is to tell a palatable truth.  For example: “It’s been nice to meet you, but there are a number of people in the room that I must talk to before they leave, so I’m going to have to go”.

James Newberry is a coach and trainer who helps professionals do more business.  Have a look at http://www.peoplescope.com to know more.

Three rules for networking excellence

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If there is one subject guaranteed to get the business development discussion juices flowing, then that is networking. Given that much of a typical firm’s promotional focus can be devoted to this activity, we are not surprised. Unfortunately, it remains a source of frustration to many. If only they could do it better, then we might gain more new clients. If only the professionals wouldn’t see it as a peripheral activity not worthy of much effort. If only, we could even get them all to turn up on time!  Here are three simple questions to ask/things to remember that can help develop your excellence.

Why am I here?  An existential question related to networking. Sadly, many professionals we come across never feel any of its angst – and that’s the problem. If they did, they might think harder about the time they waste at expensively-staged seminars catching up on office gossip or just looking vacant or lost. Good networkers know why they are there (nine times out of 10 to make contact with prospective clients or contacts) and act upon it; good networking firms drum this into their professionals, train them, and give them measurable aims to achieve.

Do they know about us?  One of the biggest barriers to excellence in a room full of people you don’t know is your knowledge – or rather the lack of it – about your own organisation!  As firms get more and more specialised, so diminishes the ability of their people to talk (and show an interest in things) outside of their own specialist box. So choose two types for your front-line networking teams: those with a broad enough knowledge of what you do to talk credibly (without being an in-depth expert), and/or those with enough knowledge of “the man or woman who can” to allow them easily to refer a prospect.

Trust me, I’m an…..accountant, lawyer, surveyor, consultant, attorney, engineer whatever. And we wonder why no-one finds us interesting!  The best networkers that we have met put real thought into how they are going to make a vital first impression, before they get in the room. They make what they do sound interesting, even intriguing, because they know that they have only a few seconds in which to make an impact.

James Newberry is a coach and trainer who helps professionals do more business.  Have a look at http://www.peoplescope.com to know more.

3 tips for more productive Christmas parties

Christmas parties are not a traditional hothouse of good networking.  Indeed, the accent can be much more on other things……like getting a bit “merry”; creating karaoke hell for other party-goers; falling asleep in the lift/elevator; or attempting to photocopy various hidden body parts for the embarrassing amusement of others in the months to come.

This is a pity because the sheer volume and concentration of partying at Noel offers much potential for those looking to make new contacts or refresh old ones. But there are some specific issues to address if we are to make the most of such gains. For those willing to give it a go, here are three pointers for capitalising on the merry mayhem of the season…that don’t stop you from enjoying the event.  They apply to most seasonal business celebrations – whether internal or external.

Be the early bird…. being fashionably late to the average Xmas ‘do’ doesn’t tend to work if you want to network.  For the obvious reason that latecomers will usually be faced with a wall of inebriation from people who will talk varying degrees of nonsense that they are unlikely to remember afterwards!  Get there within the first hour and work as hard as possible before you and the rest of the party hit the wall.

Get invited to other parties – one of the most persistent moans is how ‘unjoined up’ are the various departments of many organisations.  Clients often have complex needs that cross departmental boundaries and so which can remain unfulfilled, and opportunities to do more business with them are lost.  Seasoned operators make sure that they get invited to or attend as many other parties as possible in the firm (as well as their own), where getting to know colleagues within them will deliver most return. The same goes for celebrations in relevant external organisations – in particular, those of other providers, suppliers to the firm, clients/customers, and so on.

Have an aim (or two) – this is one of the biggest universal truths of doing business and so it applies here. If you are networking, set yourself a few specific aims and achieve them early.  Make sure that they are business-like and so very different to some of the usual festive ones (e.g. “meet at least two new contacts” rather than “sink as many tequila slammers as possible in the first 30 minutes”). That way something useful will be achieved…and you can then still enjoy the party.

Christmas Party Pointers

Yes, it’s that time of year again, folks. Mistletoe, silly outfits, enthusiastic eating and imbibing in carefully selected venues amongst colleagues, friends….or clients. Having seen over the years a few unfortunate slip-ups for professionals attending a client party – either as host or guest – I thought it might be opportune to offer a few rules of etiquette to guide everyone into the festive season with the minimum of fuss. In fact, if followed, a few positives could even flow. N.B. these pointers can apply equally well to your own firm’s staff party :-).

It’s all just you, you, you, you, you (not me!) People love to talk about themselves (and what they do)…but for professionals on the look-out to impress clients or prospects it’s an activity to be kept in check. In front of the mirror at home is good. Having secured the usual permissions, with your nearest and dearest is usually acceptable. During an appraisal it is self-evidently necessary.

But at a client Christmas event….we have observed some professionals (young and old) take the activity to negatively unprecedented levels: especially after a few drinks (see Pointer 2). Pinning clients to a wall with little prospect of escape is not a business vote winner. Instead, go out of your way to make your schmoozing focused on them. They’ll enjoy it and, if you do it well, you might even learn a few useful things that you didn’t know about them.

Always ‘on’ The saying, and quite possibly a legal precedent, goes that a police officer is always on duty – even when she or he is not (officially). If you are at a client Christmas event, be like a police officer in this respect. Festive social situations have a habit of lowering the usual discretions here, but it will pay to heed what our good angel always tells us – but which we can become deaf to via the “magic” of Yuletide.

Always ‘on’ means moderate drinking/other self-indulgence and knowing when to stop. That way you will impress clients and colleagues…and you won’t be the one spotted at a client party several years ago collapsed in a dishevelled heap – with a plastic flower protruding in an anatomically “interesting” manner.

Personality not push This is hardly going out on a limb, but in the context of the season, there is a particular need to break one of the usual rules. Normally, I spend a lot of time encouraging professionals engaging in social contexts with clients/prospects to find common ground, talk about them/their business and not be afraid to prompt the next step to a business dialogue – if it proves appropriate. Reticence to undertake the latter can be a big barrier.

However, I reckon the Christmas party is a bit different. It should be almost entirely free from ‘shop’ talk and be about engaging with as many people as possible to allow the force and beauty of your personality to stand out :-), because that is a key part of what clients say they buy (however cf. the caveats to this in Pointer 2!). So no, it is not the venue at which you launch out on the world’s most inappropriately timed ‘pitch’.

And finally have a happy and harmonious festive season.