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 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 ways to make more time for Business Development

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Tougher times have created a bigger impetus and desire for business development in many firms – both in the pro-active targeting of new clients and defensive hard yards to “protect what we’ve got”.  However, the ability of some professionals to re-frame and re-orientate their time and efforts from an overweening ‘production’ or fee-earning emphasis can still be lacking.

Holding pattern, treading water, rabbit in the headlights – call it what you will, but change has to happen for these individuals.  Here are three areas of exploration to help answer the question: “What should I be doing?”…and a free resource to help you generate ideas for implementation.

Plan your approach.  Rather than bluff (and often worthless) exhortations to “get out there and sell”, a simple taking stock and priority-making is the most useful start-point for productive activity.  This should focus on the three trusty planning precepts:

  • Where Are You Now? (the current revenue/work position, constituents and health of your contact base, areas of strength, market-focused activities etc.)
  • Where Do You Want To Be? (set targets for contact and business-generation, client type, internal/external mix etc.)
  • How Will You Get There? (make a short-term action and achievement plan, with time frames, assistance/support required etc.).

A smart and varied mix.  Part of your action plan should involve a range of marketing and business development activities focused on the key areas for development (e.g. external business sectors, key internal personnel).

At this stage, many professionals can have a quite narrow definition of what constitutes productive activity: basically lunch/entertainment and networking events. Whilst these are very useful, they are not the full story. From observation of best practice, we have totted up over 50 other (mostly external) contact marketing activities that work. If you would like to receive a free copy of this encyclopaedia, email eureka@peoplescope.com.

Small chunks to make big ones.  Proper planning and implementation is about realism and the avoidance of feast or famine.  The latter can be typified by professionals who embark upon a furious campaign of business development activity that grinds to a halt the moment they become in any way “busy” with doing work.

What is usually required comprises a drip-feed of activities that does not, in itself, require large amounts of time but that adds up to a significant whole, so that even “busy” professionals can maintain it.

These are the so-called 1 per cents that sports coaches often tout as the main difference between success and failure.

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.

How to stand out in an “all the same” world

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“There is absolutely no differentiation in the market at all – you all look the same”*
(*Christopher Digby-Bell, quoted in Legal Week, June 1 2015)

Post-2008, competition in most branches of the professions has never been hotter.  There is no shortage of other providers vying for your clients’ business: it can be difficult to choose from the service offerings and claims made.  You have got to be stand-out to win.  Unfortunately not enough are it seems.  So time for three things to consider that can help you to be singular and make the most positive impact.

Point of Difference…what’s yours?

“I’m a tax adviser….corporate lawyer…..architect….engineer etc.”   A lot of professionals we meet are PoD-free zones.  They find it almost impossible to articulate what their Point of Difference is…what makes them beneficially and attractively different to those who share their basic nomenclature.  So they all tend to look and sound the same to clients.

Why?  For some it’s about “not blowing your own trumpet” as they perceive it; for others it’s the “better mouse trap” syndrome (surely the world will naturally beat a path to the door of my expertise?) or an inability to recognise what they do that is of real value to others.

Almost everyone we have ever met has a PoD in them somewhere.  They just need help in thinking/talking it through, and expressing it punchily in ways that are most relevant to those they seek to attract.

You gotta tell AND show

“You have got to be more business savvy.  When you say you know and understand my business what I want to hear is not only do you understand it but you have real experience of it” (ibid.)

Claims are everywhere – but what clients most often want is EVIDENCE of experience.  Despite their professed focus on the E word (lawyers especially), many professionals are singularly averse when it comes to providing it to clients (“what if I get it wrong/breach confidentiality” etc. etc.).    All it takes is a relevant story told confidently and convincingly (What did they need?  What did you do?  What was achieved? How did you make a difference?).

It’s simple.  Just ditch the excuses and do it.  You will stand out.

 The one where the talk was actually walked…

This is a true story about making a difference and the positive impact gained from not being the same.

Two firms were involved in a pitch to a potential client.  Their Points of Parity (service attributes shared with each other) were equal in number and type.  Both promised outstanding client service and speed of response.  Both produced attractive documents and convincing presentations with real examples of their experience.  During the presentation dialogues, some interesting and unresolved issues were raised by the prospect with both firms.

So who won the day?  Back at their offices, the partners of one firm breathed a collective sigh of relief for their considerable efforts, reviewed their performance and waited for a decision – which they lost.  The other, equally-taxed firm went away and, within two hours, had emailed their advice on the unresolved issues to the client – and they won.

By being the values they claimed to espouse, they were different…and victorious.

Business Development Resolutions Part 1

Another year…and another set of business development challenges. It may be increasingly a ‘given’ that BD is important to everyone, but there are still common gaps between aspiration and reality that have to be bridged. Individuals at all levels can benefit from some simple actions that will contribute significantly to their proficiency and achievement. We’ve identified three below from our experience. There are more – so next time we’ll offer up three more for your consideration.

Get the picture(s)
There are a number of pictures here. The big picture is a firm’s overall direction and strategy: if they don’t exist then nobody should be surprised if professionals (and other ‘actors’) are heading in all manner of unproductive pathways and dead-ends. If they do, then individuals need to ask themselves “are my efforts being targeted properly?” – and it is the responsibility of the firm’s practice and other leaders to ensure that this alignment is happening by engaging with their people.

At more micro levels, professionals can struggle to get their business development activities in perspective. Sometimes, this is because they have no specific goals to achieve. Elsewhere or in addition, they underestimate the size of the active contact base and legwork that is required to achieve new client or customer wins. It doesn’t happen without consistent effort. In all this and more, they often need help…..

Get a mentor
This is “It can be a lonely business part 1”. Quite a number of professionals we meet do not feel they are “natural” business developers: they didn’t get where they are today by doing it, it wasn’t what they signed up for etc. For them, it can feel like a pretty solitary place to be. But it’s what you do about this that is the key.

Certain individuals we know have actively sought out (the firm’s) good BD professionals and asked for their help or advice. That often works. Recognising the need, some firms set up and run their own mentoring or coaching programmes that formalise and organise such activity; others invest in specialist outside help to achieve the same goal. Both of these can work too. But whichever method you choose, if there is a clearly-recognised demand, the biggest crime is to do nothing.

Get a buddy
And here is “It can be a lonely business part 2”. On a day-to-day level, we have observed a more productive and enjoyable time to be had when going about their business development activities (networking, conferences, seminars etc.) for professionals – particularly less experienced ones – who team up. That doesn’t mean that they hang out together rather than get the BD work done. It does means that they use each other for assistance, advice, support, and learning on the job. If they get on, it can work very well. And it makes the task much less of a lonely one.