Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How to Find the Right Referral Network

One of the attorneys at my firm emailed me asking about the wisdom in joining a particular networking group. The group had invited this attorney to join a new chapter. "Would this be a good group to join?" was the attorneys query. It got me thinking about the different kinds of organizations that are out there and their value as a relationship development opportunity for an (business) attorney. Here is my take (speaking from the prospective of law firm opportunity):
  • Community Centric – associations that focus on unifying all businesses within a geographic area. Examples include Chambers of Commerce, regional chapters of leads/referral groups, and Toastmasters. The active members cover the whole spectrum of business types and professional levels in a community. In a smaller town setting a Chamber (for example) could be just the place to grow a network. But in larger towns and metropolis areas the diversity of companies and players become so great that the prospecting and relationship development opportunities are significantly diluted. For every true prospective relationship that can be found, 100 are passed up.
  • Industry Centric – associations focused on unifying all businesses within a geographic area that are in a specific industry. Examples include software councils, manufacturing associations, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. These organizations are important for enhancing the perceived eminence of a firm but have a lesser value for developing new business for a specific attorney. Typically new business development happens when attorneys evolve individual relationships to levels mentioned below.
  • Profession Centric – associations focused on unifying all professionals of a certain skill or job description within a geographic area. Examples include CalCPA, local Bar associations, and CEO Roundtables. In these settings an attorney has the ability to focus on true decision-makers in the area of law they practice. In most cases the service providers and buyers are well matched for productive referral relationships.
  • Target Centric – associations of varied professionals focused on a defined buyer profile. Examples are not public knowledge... and yet they are. In my marketplace I know of at least a dozen groups I'd like to be a part of but cannot. And I run several of these groups that others wish they could join. Target centric groups are created by individuals focused on a specific buyer and are willing to share their contacts and leads with others that will not compete with them. Everyone in the group (usually 8-12) is willing to open their rolodex to help others and expects the same in return.
Each of the groups above have real marketing value. But in the context of growing a pipeline, right now, the last is the sure money. My advise to the attorney that emailed me was to look at the last several transactions he/she had been involved in, write down the names of the players involved, and form a target centric networking group with those players.

We all want to be known more broadly, but that is the purpose of building a firm brand. If we wish to develop a relationship network that builds our pipeline... the smaller the group, the greater the reward.