By Kimberly Alford Rice
Special to the Legal
Taking proactive, consistent steps to build and strengthen professional relationships is imperative to developing a solid practice. In fact, research teaches us that in order to even appear on prospects' mental radar, one must make contact with them at least seven to 10 times in a calendar year. Yet when some lawyers sense they are not yielding the results they expect, they often become frustrated and simply give up. To that I say, stay the course.
One of the main character differences between lawyers who give up on their client development activities and successful rainmakers is that the latter are committing to staying the course despite lackluster short-term gains. We all "know" that there is no substitute for thoughtful efforts targeted to getting in front of qualified prospects on a regular and consistent basis. Despite that simple truth, lawyers (especially those who do not have and/or execute an integrated marketing plan) frequently employ a gunshot approach that renders few or no meaningful results.
Though I am not the greatest sports fan, I do know that in baseball if a batter hits 30 home runs in a full season of 600 at bats, he will most likely be named an All Star and receive a hefty salary increase. An important point to remember, then, is that in addition to implementing a focused approach to building professional relationships that are likely to result in increased client retentions, you must be prepared to strike out on occasion. Do not be dissuaded.
Successful rainmakers understand this concept thoroughly and embrace it. They build relationships constantly with clients, referral sources and prospects by being helpful to others and by making connections. They recognize that to build a relationship is to stay in the top of potential clients' minds when business and legal issues arise.
They also know that generating work means taking calculated risks and that only 20 percent of their activity will ultimately yield direct results. They also know that while it is critical to be strategic about where to invest their time and energy, it is impossible to know in advance which of the 80 percent of their activity will be wasted.
In many ways, direct rejection is easiest to accept. "Our company has decided to hire firm Y because they have more experience handling securities fraud" does not leave much room for ambiguity. You will not be retained. It's clear when you receive this feedback that it is time to move on. However, you can leave the door open for other types of work. Perhaps the client will retain your services when they have matters in which you do have extensive experience.
Another matter altogether, though, is the unanswered phone call or e-mail. This is much more challenging and presents some of the greatest obstacles for lawyers working diligently to build a practice.
As we all struggle to effectively manage our communications, everyone has a preference in how they want to communicate. In light of that and the sheer volume they receive, some folks simply do not respond to or even acknowledge all of their messages.
It is frustrating when someone does not respond to a message that we have sent via e-mail, left on voice mail or with a secretary; it feels like rejection. When two or three messages go unanswered, most will give up. To save our bruised egos any further indignity, we simply stop trying. However, to do so, we leave opportunity on the table.
Here is the good news: Silence is not a "no;" it can merely be the temporary absence of "yes."
Until a prospect tells you directly that she or he is not interested, you have no idea why they are not responding; and if the individual is someone with whom you really want to do business, you should keep trying.
Using a "multimedia" approach can also be helpful: send an e-mail first, then call and leave voicemail, followed by checking with a secretary, and then possibly even sending a letter -- mix up your approach. Be sure the contact is on your frequent contact list to receive articles and updates, etc.
In some ways, it is vain to perceive that a lack of response has anything to do with you. There are many reasons why someone may not be returning your call, responding to your e-mail or other communication.
Coaching lawyers over many years, I have heard countless anecdotes along the theme "I met this potential client nearly five years ago, hadn't connected in months and out of the blue, I receive a call that he has a matter he wants me to handle." Who hasn't experienced or at least heard a similar story?
In most cases, my clients were eventually retained and the new clients apologized for being so unavailable for a time. In these scenarios, the potential clients' unresponsiveness had nothing to do with my clients and they would have forfeited a new client had they not persisted.
The bottom line is this: Building a healthy practice requires you to persevere despite immediate circumstances. If you have a strategic plan of action in which you target qualified prospects in a meaningful way in a consistent and persistent manner, you will ultimately develop the business you are working for and your professional satisfaction will grow as a result of it.
Kimberly Alford Rice is principal of KLA Marketing Associates, a business development advisory firm focusing on legal services. As a law marketing authority, she helps law firms and lawyers develop practical business development and marketing strategies that lead directly to new clients and increased revenues. Additionally, she provides career management services to lawyers in transition. She can be contacted at 609-458-0415 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.