By Sara Holtz
With all the hubbub that surrounds the close of the year and the holiday season, it might seem like December is a write-off as far as business development goes. But it is, in fact, a wonderful month for building relationships and keeping in touch with your clients. The rewards can be very real, as one of my coaching clients shared with me.
In early January, she received a call from the chief operating officer of a major client company who she hadn’t spoken to in about four months. The COO began the conversation by saying how touched he was that my client had taken the time to write a personal note on her Christmas card. Then the COO asked her to work on a high-profile project worth approximately $750,000 in legal fees.
Maybe she would have gotten the work anyway, but her note helped make sure that her firm was front of mind when the COO needed to pick up the phone. A pretty good return for a $2 holiday card, a 37-cent stamp and about two minutes of effort.
If you’d like to make an impression on your current and prospective clients this year, following are some tips for making the most of your holiday contact.
If you’re sending holiday cards, add a handwritten note of two to three sentences. It only takes moments to add a personal sentiment, but it goes a long way in making your card stand out in the eyes of the recipient.
To further stand out from the rest of the pack, be sure to get your cards in the mail early so they arrive before the flood of other holiday cards.
When giving gifts to key clients, select presents that match the recipients’ interests. Books and magazines related to personal interests and hobbies (be it scuba diving, gardening or World War II) are always nice. For other ideas, turn your assistant loose for an hour with The Giftionary: An A-Z Reference Guide for Solving Your Gift-Giving Dilemmas … Forever! by Robyn Freedman Spizman. Also, here are some terrific gift ideas I’ve heard from my clients:
Sending a chair masseuse to the legal department of a major client.
Giving safety goggles with the firm’s logo to a product liability client.
Providing a holiday cooking demonstration for women clients.
Sending coffee gift cards for the coffee shop in the lobby of a client’s building.
Sending food items that are identified with the firm’s locale, such as grapefruits from Florida and biscotti from Pittsburgh.
And speaking of food, consider treating good clients or referral sources to a nice lunch or dinner with you during this time. If clients are in a distant city, send a gift certificate to a restaurant in their area. (Zagats.com can help you locate one.)
If you are planning on attending any holiday events, keep these pointers in mind:
Evaluate invitations based on the likelihood that clients, prospective clients and referral sources will be there.
Set a specific objective for each event. You might decide to reconnect with a former client, meet two in-house counsel or conduct informal market research.
Invite a client or prospect to attend the event with you. Even if they don’t accept, it has given you a reason to contact them so you stay on their radars.
Formulate a response to the inevitable question, “What’s new?” Highlight something you want to promote about your practice, such as an interesting matter you’re working on or your firm’s recent merger.
Don’t linger with people you know, unless they are clients, potential clients or referral sources. As one of my clients said, “If I’m talking to one of my partners, we’re both wasting our time.”
Prepare three topics to talk about in case there’s a lull in the conversation. Or, better still, think of three good questions you can ask people you meet.
What good does it do if you connect with all those people at holiday events but don’t stay in touch? Follow up with an article, an invitation to lunch or just a “nice to have met you” e-mail.
Also, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get in touch with someone you haven’t talked to in a while, you can make it a New Year’s Resolution. You can always start the conversation with the flattering: “My New Year’s Resolution is to get back in touch with some of my favorite former clients. You were at the top of my list. How are things going?”Whatever you do, don’t let the holiday season slip by without taking advantage of the special opportunities it presents for business development.