Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cultivating the Right Business Development Network

At law firms, just like any professional service firm, the partners, attorneys and business development teams rely heavily on personal relationships in the business community to keep their pipeline full. I have found that being able to focus on specific types of relationships in my networking groups, depending on the needs of my attorneys and the firm, has been invaluable in accelerating new business activity. Here is my take on the types of relationship circles and where they are most productive.
  • Client Only: This is a networking group of clients only. Typically all share the same approximate title. This group gets together to discuss shared business issues and seek answers to tough questions. Creating this type of mentoring/professional growth opportunity with a group of clients is a tremendous way of bonding the clients with the firm. It is a perfect value-add for a new client or for a client relationship on the ropes.
  • Client and Prospects: Much like the group above, this group, by adding prospects, becomes a tremendous testament for proving why my firm should be their next choice... plus, through client participants, have a built-in cheer leading section. Of course, the group is never about "selling" my firm -- it's about bringing value to the executives.
  • Referral: This group is the most common for me. I identify a buyer (e.g. CEO, CFO, or CG), then locate other service providers selling services to that buyer. Then I invite one active business development person from each service category to meet regularly to share their business development activities and relationships. Unlike the first two categories (which focus mostly on strengthening existing client bonds) this type of group is purely about surfacing new introductions and helping others sell more, faster. I have facilitated at least a couple dozen of these groups in the past 10 years and have realized millions of dollars in new client billings.
  • Legal Peers: This a tough group depending on the type of firm you work at. The group includes lawyers that compliment the services of my firm without crossover. If the right lawyers are in the mix a significant amount of relationship and client sharing can occur.
  • Hierarchy Peers: This group is definitely about personal, professional development. The most successful groups of this type has been "leaders" groups. I bring together the top person at several professional services firms and turn them loose on discussing management topics. How to handle people; how to lead; operational challenges; etc. The bonding of leaders almost always turns into a collaboration of firms/companies.
  • Community Interest: Here is another tough one. The challenge here is to find people that are equally, highly involved in community-interest activities, and, successful business leaders or business relationship hubs. I have found that this type of group is most effective in smaller cities or townships. Often the most successful business people are looking for a way to "give something back". Being a unifier around a common cause is almost always reciprocated.
No matter which group you're putting together remember that the key is meeting consistently, and enabling trust to develop between members. Keep the groups small (7-11 max) and hold the group members accountable to the purpose of the group. Build the right groups and the rewards are always satisfying.

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