GPSolo Magazine - March 2006

Practice Management
The Art of Feel-Good Rainmaking

A major reason many lawyers fear the rainmaking process is that they feel they have to be something they are not—namely, salespeople, in the traditional sense of the word. For a highly skilled professional, this thought is, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, downright distasteful.

No question about it, you and your firm provide the very best service to your clients. And isn’t providing topflight service the ultimate form of marketing? So then, what’s the problem? Only that without an ongoing and ever-increasing number of quality names that you can add regularly to your prospect list, you’ll eventually run out of clients. That’s a discouraging thought.

Then again, it doesn’t have to be that way—not if you know how to continually build your client and referral base.

The building process begins from this central premise: All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.

That’s it, plain and simple.

Opportunities constantly arise for you to get to know new people. Perhaps at a local business event, a charity function, or myriad other places. And, whether or not the people you meet might ever be actual prospects, chances are good they know some people who very well might be.

It’s been documented that most people know about 250 other people. Therefore, every single time you develop a relationship with one new person who eventually feels as though he or she knows you, likes you, and trusts you, you’ve just increased your personal sphere of influence by a potential 250 more people. The key is to bring the people you meet into your network in a way that is professional, ethical, effective, and non-intimidating.

The concept of networking is often misunderstood, so let’s put it in correct perspective with this definition: Networking is simply the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships. It’s far removed from the stereotypical slick-talking folks who aggressively shake hands and pass out business cards to everyone with whom they cross paths. When practiced consistently and correctly, with the needs, wants, and desires of the other person in mind, it can dramatically increase your referral business—and you need never feel as though what you’re doing is less than professional.

Let’s say you’re at an event and meet someone for the first time. What do you do? Many lawyers feel that they need to do most of the talking and, if they’re going to promote their practice, that they must show how intelligent and successful they are, tell how respected their firm is in the community, and even ask pointed, personal questions to discover the other person’s needs. What this typically accomplishes, more than anything else, is to make the other person nervous and defensive. Instead, let the process unfold naturally, in a way that allows the prospect or new referral source to enjoy the conversation as much as, if not more than, you do.

How? You still want to ask questions—but not just any questions. Try “feel-good” questions. These are simply questions that put the other person at ease and begin building rapport. These are inquiries that will not come off as invasive or intrusive. On the contrary, by their very nature, they make other people feel good—about themselves, about the conversation, and about you. Remember, all things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust. Feel-good questions are the first step to accomplishing that goal.

So what are some appropriate questions? In my own arsenal, I have ten favorites. But the truth is that you typically won’t have the time or necessity to ask any more than just two or three, so let’s look at the top ones.

An excellent way to lead off is to ask people how they got started in their particular line of business. Think of this as the “Movie-of-the-Week” question because most people love the opportunity to “tell their story” to someone. From the second they begin their response, be sure they can see that you are actively listening and interested in what they are saying.

A good second question is, “What do you enjoy most about what you do?” Again, you are giving them something very positive to associate with you and your conversation. This is much better than asking the alternative, “So, what do you hate most about what you do . . . not to mention the wretched life you are so obviously living?” (Okay, I know that no one would ever literally ask that question, but keep in mind that it isn’t just what we ask, it’s also how we ask it.)

You’ve now begun to establish a nice rapport with your new prospect or referral source. You are focusing on him or her, as opposed to you and your awesome services. This person is starting to feel good about you and has enjoyed answering your first two questions. Now it’s time for the one “key” question, and here it is:

“Gary, how can I know if someone I speak with might be a good prospect for you?”

With this one question, you’re accomplishing two things. First, you’re continuing to establish yourself as being different from other lawyers, who often only seem to want to know, “How can you help me?” Instead, you are letting people know that your interest is in helping them. And that is always acceptable to a person, as long as you are, and are perceived as being, sincere.

Second, because you are asking for help in identifying their prospects, people will gladly supply you with an answer. And the fact is, nothing builds trust and credibility with prospects or potential referral sources more than actually referring business to them whenever possible.

So, your conversation has ended and you never even brought up your practice. Good for you. Hopefully, though, you have procured the person’s business card. Notice I didn’t say, “Hopefully, you’ve given the person your business card.” Why not? Because she doesn’t need it or want it right now (unless she has directly asked for it), and because you have hers, you are in the position to follow up correctly and systematically.

By the way, if you are speaking with people who are not involved in the business world, that’s fine, too. Simply gear your questions to them and their unique situations.

Whether meeting new people in a one-on-one situation or meeting people at small or large formal gatherings, following the system outlined here can help you to quickly build your prospect and referral list with high-quality contacts. And you’ll do it in a manner that is enjoyable for both you and the people you meet. You’ll never again have to feel that discomfort in the pit of your stomach, knowing that you have to nervously and clumsily approach someone whom you don’t want to approach and who, you can just sense, does not want to be approached.

 

Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals, speaks to professionals on relationship leveraging. He can be reached via www.burg.com.

For More Information about the Law Practice Management Section

- This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 42 of Law Practice, October/November 2005 (31:7).

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