Stuck in the lunch loop?
Throughout June Russell, Nicky and I spent a lot of time at a lovely conference venue on the edge of a lake in the Cotswolds, helping a client in the world of professional services with a series of big Academy events for their troops. We were each speaking to audiences of about 100 to 150 delegates at a time. All tremendous fun, although utterly exhausting.
My topic was relationship building - as part of the business development process. So, as I delivered this talk fourteen times last month and spent a fair bit of time handling questions on the topic from a couple of thousand delegates I thought that I might share a couple of observations.
1. Relationships are at the heart of the business development process
You go out and you network; with some of the people that you meet you will want to form and develop a business relationship; and then, when the time is right, with some of them you will get the chance to sell them some of your lovely, shiny, high-value professional services.
So you need to be out there meeting people and, where appropriate, following-up. That requires you to allocate time for this in amongst hitting your fee, utilisation and chargeable time targets. And you need to get organised in your approach - list of all your key contacts, system to regularly review and grade this etc.
2. Relationship Building is a process, not a one-off event
Note that I said in point 1 "when the time is right...". Occasionally you get lucky: they have a burning need for your services and don't already know or use anyone who does what you do; they've just fallen out with their existing professional advisers etc. But most of the time it will take you weeks, months and sometimes even years to develop the relationship to the point where you will actually get any work from your contacts. You need to be persistent, but not pushy. I think most professionals chuck it too soon. Don't expect instant gratification. Be in it for the long term.
3. Don't hard sell, but... sometimes you do actually have to ask!
But don't think that point 2 means that you never have to ask for the work. Sometimes you do. It's all about: time; timing; and relationships. You need to invest time in staying front of mind with people, keeping in touch, helping them out wherever you can (reciprocity is a powerful lever of influence). You need to consider the timing - is this the right time and place to ask? And you need to consider where you are in the relationship - are you at the point where it would be acceptable to ask for the work?
So please don't "hard sell" - which for me means either jumping to the "selling" phase too quickly or, in the face of being asked to back off a bit, you keep coming. But, please don't get yourself stuck in the "lunch loop". I have nothing against coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks etc. but I work with a lot of professionals who are screamingly obviously at the point in their relationship with many of their contacts where it would be perfectly acceptable to ask if they could come into their contacts' offices and meet with them and some of their colleagues because they'd love to find a way to do some work together. But they don't ask. They just keep on consuming the calories and putting on the pounds.
4. Learn to love "no"!
This point is a big one. Not everyone that you meet out there when you're networking will want to get into a business relationship with you. And not everyone with whom you develop a relationship will become a client. Sometimes you will be rejected. Get over it. It doesn't make you a bad person. And "no" is rarely "no, never". It's usually "no, not at the moment because...". And if it really is "no, never!" then that's fantastic. Because then you know where you stand. Exit gracefully and graciously. Next please. It's a numbers game.
I wish you good luck in developing your relationships with your various contacts and clients. And of course don't forget about your colleagues within your own firm. The whole process of networking, relationship building and selling applies as much internally as externally.
Stuck in the Lunch Loop
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about the author
Michael Fleming is our Head of KWC Legal. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.