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BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH NON-CLIENTS

It’s a typical scenario. You meet someone new at an association meeting or networking reception. You have a nice conversation, get a business card and return to your office. Now what?

For many lawyers, taking the next step with a prospective client is a formidable challenge. Of course, there are passive activities that can and should be done, such as adding the person to your contact list, putting him or her on lists to receive appropriate firm materials like newsletters or seminar invitations, etc. But if you are interested in truly advancing the relationship, you will need to make a personal effort to follow up.

Your objectives in moving forward are two:

  1. To position yourself as a resource, so the prospect concludes that having a relationship with you provides value; and
  2. To start building a personal relationship, so the prospect sees you as a trusted friend or authority.Some activities will accomplish one objective; others will contribute toward both.

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I have outlined below 20 different action steps that can be employed to follow up with new relationships, from the more passive to the more aggressive. What you do will depend on your personality, your comfort level, and how well you know the prospective client.

TWENTY NEXT STEPS

  1. Fire off a follow-up note. Send a personal (hand-written) note saying it was nice to meet the contact, and mentioning something specific about the encounter or discussion you had.
  2. Send some follow-up information. Better yet, think of something that would be of interest to send the prospect related to your conversation,
    such as an article, form, checklist or white paper.
  3. Invite the contact to participate in a firm activity. Don’t rely on the firm’s institutional invitations to open houses, seminars or roundtables;
    make a personal call. In some instances, you can create an event specifically to engage one or more good prospects, like a roundtable discussion with some existing clients in the same industry.
  4. Send substantive firm marketing materials along with a personal message. A firm newsletter with a note saying, “Thought you might
    be interested,” will actually get reviewed.
  5. Interview a prospect for an article. Let’s say you are writing a piece for your local business journal on legislative proposals that will affect
    small businesses. You could interview your new contact as a source, include a quote, if appropriate, and send a copy once it’s published.
  6. Offer to provide some free information. Let your prospective client know that you are willing to give a little helpful advice at no charge,
    whether it’s a budget number or a response to a quick question.
  7. Invite your contact to participate in a survey. For example, you could develop a questionnaire for people in the real estate industry about
    their economic predictions for the next year, and include prospects as well as clients in the process. Of course, you should then provide them with the results at no charge.
  8. Ask the contact to provide you with some input. If you have plans to write an article or give a speech, ask your prospect for topic ideas.
  9. Look for ways to use or recommend their products or services. If a prospect owns a restaurant, patronize the establishment. If prospective clients offer services (e.g., consulting, technology, accounting), put their names on short lists of potential suppliers for the firm’s, or other clients’, needs.
  10. Invite the prospect to lunch or dinner. Be prepared to ask about business or professional areas of mutual interest.
  11. Ask the contact to be a speaker or serve on a panel for a firm or outside conference. In addition to allowing you to work with the prospect, you will be helping him or her professionally.
  12. Invite the person to join a group that would be of interest. This could  be  an  association,  a  committee  or  even  a basketball league.
  13. Offer to review some company information and provide feedback at no charge. Depending on your practice area, this could be the company’s business plan, a standard contract or an employee handbook.
  14. Make connections for the prospect. Offer to introduce your new contact to an accountant or a colleague, for example.
  15. Invite  the  prospect  to  be  on  a  planning  or  steering committee. If your practice area is considering offering a seminar series for financial institutions, for example, you could invite a new banking contact to serve with a group of other industry clients or prospects to help devise the program format and content.
  16. Ask the prospective client to co-present at a seminar with you. Working side by side with the contact to develop and present the material will help you build a relationship while demonstrating your substantive expertise. This also positions the prospect professionally.
  17. Entertain your contact. Invite him or her to play golf or attend a ball game with you.
  18. Ask the prospect to co-author an article. (See #16)
  19. Offer to come to the contact’s place of business to provide some  free  training  or  conduct  an  audit  at  no  charge. This gets you into the business and playing the role of a counselor.
  20. Ask if you can take a tour of the company. Showing an interest in the prospective client’s business, whether it’s a car dealership, office building or construction site, will demonstrate how you like to interact with clients, make you seem accessible, and likely give you some information that could be useful in developing the relationship further.

CONCLUSION
Presuming the circumstances are right for a prospect to become a client at all (needing your services), it still takes time to turn someone from prospect to paying client. Forwarding a relationship with a prospective client requires sustained follow- up and interaction.

When selecting your follow-up activities, the most effective will be those that allow prospects to become invested in your firm or your relationship, make prospects look good or advance their own interests, and provide added value—information, activities or even fun.

 

Sally Schmidt

Sally J. Schmidt is President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc. in Edina, Minnesota, offering marketing services to law firms. The company’s consulting clients have included over 400 law firms throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, New Zealand and Australia, ranging in size from two to over three thousand attorneys. Reprinted from December issue of Law Practice with author’s permission. sallyschmidt@schmidt-marketing.com.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPersonal Development

About the Author: Sally J. Schmidt is President of Schmidt Marketing, Inc. in Edina, Minnesota, offering marketing services to law firms. The company’s consulting clients have included over 400 law firms throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, New Zealand and Australia, ranging in size from two to over three thousand attorneys. Reprinted from December issue of Law Practice with author’s permission. sallyschmidt@schmidt-marketing.com.

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