The Opportunity Seed: Leverage Your Benevolence for Better Alliances
by David Ackert
(County Bar Update, January 2006, Vol. 26, No. 1)

 

The Opportunity Seed: Leverage Your Benevolence for Better Alliances

 

By David Ackert at the request of the Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. Ackert is a principal at The Ackert Advisory, a business development training and coaching firm. He can be reached at david@ackertadvisory.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

 

Traditional sales techniques are frowned upon in the legal profession for good reason. Imagine law firms hanging posters in their lobbies stating, "We're having a new client special—Get 50% off our standard retainer if you sign an engagement letter today!" On the other hand, current solicitation parameters often leave attorneys with only the most obvious marketing strategy of "Let's do lunch." While it's important to put in face-time with current and potential allies, the strategy is time-intensive and rarely leads to business. Without a good follow-up mechanism, you may never see them again, let alone their referrals.

 

In a perfect world, lawyers would give at least one referral a week to trusted allies, who would reciprocate regularly, and consistent referral streams for one another would result until the end of time. But that's another universe. In this one, it can be a challenge just to come up with one good referral for each of our most valuable colleagues. And given that it takes a few interactions to build the trust required to make a referral to a new ally, the process becomes laborious. In thinking about this, consider that the word "referral" is not synonymous with "lead." It can take the form of a thoughtful gesture that strengthens the alliance. The key is planting "opportunity seeds" for the easiest kind of referral—content.

 

Opportunity seeds are unobtrusive questions posed during a networking dialogue, designed to produce a follow-up action. They require little effort to plant, and they can blossom into goodwill and referral business. Here are some examples:

 

"Have you ever read Nonstop Networking? It's a great book."

 

"I'm so glad tax season is over. My accountant is a godsend. Do you know George?"

 

"Have you ever heard of The Bottom Line? It's a useful resource for business development ideas."

 

Regardless of whether these topics lead to further conversation, they set you up as a giver when you e-mail a link to the Nonstop Networking Web site, George's number, or The Bottom Line.  And simply the fact that it was offered reflects well on you as someone who is well informed, invested in an alliance, and understands the concept of a two-way street. It's even more impressive if you mail a copy of the article with a handwritten note on a personalized note card. Since the advent of e-mail, it is a rare professional who will bother with such old-school thoughtfulness.

 

To set up the process, copy your favorite content from magazines that apply to multiple professions, such as Forbes or The Wall Street Journal. Prepare a personalized note card for each of your networking meals that day. This way, it will require nothing more from you than a little bit of mindfulness during the networking lunch and a few seconds that afternoon as you write "Great speaking with you—I thought you'd appreciate this" on a note card. This can serve as your signature follow-up policy.

 

The opportunity seed also can be used to glean an appropriate gift idea to reinforce client loyalty. The next time you have a conversation with clients, rather than opening with the usual "How was your weekend?" chitchat, try an opportunity seed instead:

 

"Have you seen any good movies that you would recommend for me to see with my kids this weekend?"

 

"Would you happen to know of any good restaurants in the area where I can take my spouse for a romantic dinner?"

 

Your clients' responses will help you get to know them better and provide the perfect gift—a DVD or dinner certificate—when you win their cases. They will mention how attentive you were when they speak with colleagues, and you will benefit from the public relations.

 

If most attorneys added up all the hours spent on networking every year, the value would exceed a good retainer. Use the opportunity seed to tip the scales of reciprocity in your favor. It helps maximize your precious time and sets you apart from those competitors who network without the consistent practice of benevolence.

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