Are You Falling Down on Following Up?

by Kimberly Alford Rice on September 22, 2013

Rice Kimberly AlfordOf all the marketing initiatives that are critical for lawyers to commit to, the most basic and seemingly obvious is the “sin” of omission – – the failure to follow up. We have worked with lawyers who have spent innumerable hours and thousands of dollars chasing after new clients and prospects but have largely been unsuccessful in retentions because of a gap in their business development process: following up. Do any of these example ring familiar?:

  • A very sociable corporate partner attended numerous networking events a month, engaged easily with others attending, handed out business cards, but rarely received calls or new clients as a result. Because of her frustration, she curtailed her networking activities and short-circuited this important business development action step.
  • A New York labor and employment boutique law firm hosted an annual educational program which featured leaders in the field and attracted high level CFOs and HR professionals to the event. They received high marks on all aspects of the events but few, if any, calls from prospects.  Members of the disappointed team deemed the effort a “failure” and asserted that seminars don’t “work” to get new clients.
  • The managing partner of a Connecticut firm received a referral from a trusted client who was searching for new counsel in this attorney’s “sweet spot” of legal practice.  The partner attended a prospective client interview in which he thoroughly espoused all the ways his firm could save this prospect’s firm significant amounts of money, given the specific legal issues at stake.  Day after day, the managing partner didn’t receive a call or email to discuss retention and getting started.  Why did this prospect waste his time was the only thought the frustrated managing partner ruminated upon.

While each of these examples highlight effective marketing initiatives (targeted networking; educational seminars; in-person client interviews), they all share the same flawed result: lack of follow up and planning.

A Follow-Up Re-Do As part of the business development process, lawyers must recognize and integrate into their “SOP” (standard operating procedures), action steps that extend beyond “showing up.”  By leaving out the planning and following up components, lawyers are short circuiting the process, leaving money on the table, and becoming more cynical that marketing actually “works”, however one defines that. To examine the first example above, the more effective steps of action would have been:

  • Request an event registration list so that the lawyer could have identified several targeted folks “of interest” to seek out and engage.  It would be very effective to gather some background information (a quick Google search) about the target companies to make conversations more meaningful.
  • With a little research in hand, the lawyer arrives to the networking event with a plan of who she plans to engage, who she intends to connect, and how she will spend the next several hours.  This is work, not an opportunity to have a few free drinks and yuk it up with firm colleagues whom she sees every day.
  • Practicing effective networking techniques, this sociable lawyer knows that it is essential to be more “interested” than “interesting”, so she exercises active listening techniques by asking open-ended questions of her networking partners to learn more about their businesses and challenges.  From this, she receives a number of “high impact” business cards which she will use to follow up after the event.

The steps described above take very little investment of time, but will yield a very different experience which can lead directly to a new client retention or, at minimum, a new business connection for referrals. Contrasting the legal profession with corporate America in developing new business, one only has to examine the models of each.  Corporate America devotes billions of dollars every year to “sales and marketing”, to the process of cultivating and nurturing new prospect relationships leading to a “sale”.  The typical sales process may involve innumerable “follow ups” before a sale is actually consummated. The legal profession historically has played a reactive role wherein new clients (new sales) seek out the law firm to engage them.  It is unwise in these ultra competitive times and a poor business model to continue this practice.  If lawyers are the ones seeking new business or even additional work from existing clients, the obligation falls upon them to pursue it and continue to make contacts until they are  directed otherwise.  (Remember, studies show that it takes at least 7-10 “touches” to become top-of-mind with clients and prospects).

Difference Faces of Follow Up Though follow up can take many different approaches, the overall non-negotiable component involves any action step which provokes the other party (existing client, prospect, etc.) to want to continue contact with you. You are focused on cultivating and nurturing a relationships which will ultimately be mutually beneficial and add value. A few examples of effective follow up include:

  • Brief thank you emails following an event (networking, educational programs, or entertainment).
  • Handwritten notes of congratulations for personal or business accomplishments.
  • Links to a relevant news article in which your contact would benefit.
  • Personal visits to a client’s work site to deliver a work product.
  • Invitations to social events, professional organization programs, or business workshops.

The more lawyers engage in marketing initiatives, the most important task to remember is to plan appropriately before taking any action what the follow-up steps will be, who will take them, and in what time frame. Treat this component of the business development process as you would a client obligation and coordinate your calendar with all parties involved.  It is in this step that the revenue will be found, the meaningful business relationships will be established and robust practices will be built.

Kimberly Alford Rice is Principal of KLA Marketing Associates, a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. As a legal marketing authority, Kimberly helps law firms and lawyers develop practical business development and marketing strategies which lead directly to new clients and increased revenues. Kimberly also provides career management services to lawyers in transition.  She may be reached at 609.458.0415 or via email at kimberly@klamarketing.net. To learn more, visit www.klamarketing.net.

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