Sunday, April 29, 2007

Developing Face-to-Face Networking Skills :: Idea #3

Standing and doing nothing in a room full of people that all seem to have something to do is an isolating and uncomfortable feeling. But it does happen--get stuck too long standing alone and your instinct to flee REALLY starts to kick in. You glance at the door more and more and the reasons to leave RIGHT NOW sound better and better. STOP! Don't give into a self-defeating instinct.

Remember how smart you were? Before driving over to tonight's meeting you grabbed a small stack of business cards that you'd collected at previous events (maybe 5 or 6) and stuffed them in one of your pockets for just this moment.

Now that you find yourself stuck and wondering how to get past this spot, you reach into your pocket and pull out your stash of cards. Holding them in both hands you begin to study them one at a time. To anyone in the room glancing your way you appear to be doing your networking homework and hard-coding facts into your head about people you've already met this evening.

What you're really doing is thinking about your next move. From time to time you look up and glance around considering where your next conversation will begin. Suddenly the spark is back--you know your next move. You confidently put the cards back in your pocket and stride into the crowd ready to engage.

Congratulations! You are one stride closer to being the successful face-to-face business networking guru you've always aspired to be. Tally-HO!!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Developing Face-to-Face Networking Skills :: Idea #2

Since I'm talking about ideas specific to just starting a conversation with someone I don't know (see last post) here is a conversation starting idea that may have some merit; Offer someone a pedestal to stand on.

I was at a reception for an association of middle market financial advisor's and found myself standing almost alone near the entrance. A gentleman I had not met was standing nearby. I glanced at him (we made brief eye contact and offered each other a quick smile and one of those "hey" head nods)... then looking his way again I closed the distance between us and asked, "Didn't I see you last week when you were on that panel discussing how to negotiate company valuations? By the way, my name is Bruce."

His response was a BIG smile and an engaging conversation. After telling me that it wasn't him on the panel he volunteered where he worked, what he did, and his thoughts on the reception we were at.

So why did that approach work so well? Because I started the conversation by elevating him to a position of importance. He was an instant celebrity (within the context of the professional situation). Even though he had not been on the panel mentioned, I was telling him he looked important. My question promoted him from "wallflower" to "King of the Room". Yes, it's good to be a King.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Developing Face-to-Face Networking Skills :: Idea #1

Walking into a room packed with people you do not know can be daunting! "How will I know whom to meet?" "How can I cover a room with so many people in it?" Here's an idea that has worked for me.

Anyone I meet is my personal, relationship scout. Everyone in the room will be spending time, just like me; making old and new connections, starting conversations and collecting information.

As I talk with people I meet I ask them whom they've met. Sharing knowledge like this can make the "hunt" a whole lot swifter; maybe even more fun.... Challenging situations are always easier with an ally. Trading knowledge helps me to be more efficient and sometimes is the fast-track to an important introduction.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Event

It is such a little thing in print--"black tie optional", but for many a huge question to answer. Here is the answer I offer when asked, "what do I wear?"

First, if you are being honored, will appear at a podium or are part of the group / association / committee that organized the event your choice is simple; Wear a tux/evening gown. Go formal all the way (within good taste). If you are not one of the people described above DO NOT go "black tie". Consider these wardrobe choices instead.

  • A plain, dark blue (I mean DARK blue) or black business suit (matched jacket and trousers). No pinstripes or pattern materials. Definitely never a sport jacket.
  • A collared solid white or solid, very dark blue dress shirt. Shirts with two-tone collars are not an option. Do not wear a shirt with a traditional button collar. That is a work shirt, not a dress shirt. The shirt material should be smooth (linen) vs. rough (oxford). A shirt with french cuffs would be preferable. My preference in cuff links is always "braided knots" but if you wear metal of any kind go for understated.
  • Black belt and black, lace-up dress shoes. Any kind of loafer (slip-on) or wingtips are not acceptable. Stick to a smooth-toed black lace-up.
  • A solid color or dark patterned tie. This is not the occasion for a colorful "fun" tie, club ties, or a bright "power" tie (sharp reds, bright yellows, etc.).
  • Wear a "dress" watch if you own one. This is not the time to wear a digital sports watch or giant-faced, multi-function chronographs.
  • A simple, dark suit as described above, or, a simple black dress. This is not the place a flashy and colorful cocktail dress. Always think, "understated".
  • If you wear a suit a plain white or solid, skin-tone enhancing blouse is appropriate. Avoid colors or patterns that are too loud or bright.
  • Nylons or stockings are in the realm of personal choice. If you wear them match your natural skin-tone or light black (not patterned).
  • Dark shoes with moderate heels (1 1/2 - 2 inches). Again, style is a personal choice but lean toward "understated"
  • Minimize jewelry. While "somber" is never a good choice, "elegance" is always appreciated.
  • A smaller purse that matches your suit/dress choice. If it has a strap the strap should be thin.
The idea here is to look appropriately distinguished and dressy with class. While it is always a matter of personal choice, the way we dress, the first thing most of us want to do is to "fit in". Once you have accomplished that the rest is up to you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tickets, Tickets, I've Got Tickets!

One of the lifeblood networking tools of a business law firm is tickets--season seats at everything worth seeing within the region of an office. Great relationships are born from creating great experiences for clients and referral resources--good seats at fun events are always well remembered. While it is not my favorite thing to be the keeper of the tickets, especially during a playoff for a local team, the reward is well worth the effort for the attorneys and myself. Here are a few tips on managing tickets, allocation, and other things that come with the territory.
  • While most firms do include ticket costs in their business development budgets be sure to notify users of the cost of the seats they occupy on any given day (something I am about to implement). Letting individuals know the true cost to the firm for their outing serves as a great reminder for moving relationships forward.
  • Create policies about how, when and whom can use the tickets, then stick to them. A defined, fair, playing field will negate most politically motivated allocation disagreements.
  • Never (if possible) let a seat go empty. At my firm if a partner can't use the seats on any particular day I offer the tickets up to associates, then to either my Rolodex of important business development resources or to firm staff. Providing a great experience at any level, internal or external, will be rewarding to the firm.
  • Package your tickets when they are handed out. At my firm I have ordered special plastic holders and lanyards (when appropriate) emblazoned with the firm logo. People appreciate all things more that arrive in a "special" package.
  • Don't make tickets available for allocation too early. At my firm tickets are made available for any month 10 days before the offered month (May tickets are made available on April 21, etc.). Putting the tickets on the market too early will result in lots of cancellations, or tickets going unused after being spoken for without confirmed guests.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of which person received tickets and who they invited as their guest.
  • Promote, promote, promote! I send out messages about ticket availability that not only state tickets are available, but also promote the event(s). I figure that if I can't get my people excited about going how will they get their invitees stoked.
  • Don't sweat it if tickets actually go unused. It happens. If you have done your diligence promoting availability then, O.K., job well done. At my firm the cost of season seats to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is in the low five figures (for incredible seats by the way). For that sum we will create a great experience for 300+ clients and referral resources. Believe me, it will pay for itself and then some!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Protecting the Culture of Your Firm: Conflict Between Rainmakers

It is an obvious fact that any one person cannot get along with everyone. In most instances it is relatively easy to navigate these differences--that's life. But sometimes we are thrown together (in work and away) with people we would choose to avoid. As in any workplace a law firm is no different. The larger the firm the greater the possibility. If the people in conflict are senior rainmakers the impact can be devastating to say the least.

This morning I participated in a roundtable of senior leaders in my business community as they discussed this very issue. One of the most revealing comments came from one gentleman I particularly respect. His comment was, "In any firm/company culture the people will sink to the lowest bar." An amazing insight!

As a marketer I am always working on creative ways to motivate people to higher goals--I look at the top rung and try to bring everyone with me. I know that most management teams are doing the same thing. Set a goal and shoot for over-the-top.

But, to protect the culture of a firm (and therefore its reputation in the market) marketers and leaders need to also concern themselves with what is the lowest line of expectation. What is the minimum of behavior that can be tolerated? Then, once that line is drawn, stand up to anyone and everyone about that line in the sand.

While differences will always exist, being disciplined about standards of conduct will always produce the best long-term result.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Speaking Engagements for Attorneys--Don't Just Speak on Lawyering

One of the most commonly discussed business development tactics for attorneys is to secure speaking engagements and panel seats. The search is for groups and events that want to hear about a legal topic, preferably something that demonstrates the expertise of the lawyer talking.

To this kind of thinking I say a hearty, "Nay" (well--kind of hearty). While it goes without question that lawyers are the best experts to talk about legal stuff, there is so much more a lawyer could talk about to win alliances and new business opportunities. Try to stick with me on this. Lawyers are renowned for much more than performing legal tasks. Lawyers are seen as:
  • Business counselors and coaches - "Here are my choices. What do you think?"
  • Connected VIPs - "You know so many people. How do you do it?"
  • Mentors - "How can I advance my career and climb the ladder as you have done?"
  • Business leaders - "How can I run my business in a better way?"
  • Philanthropists - "How can I get involved in my community and make a difference like you?
  • Teachers - "Help me understand this trend or that" and, "Could you offer me your insight?"
When in search of speaking engagements do not limit yourself (lawyers) to sharing the knowledge of what you bill for. Think also about the topics you've become adept at in the course of serving your clients and developing new business. Venture this little bit outside your "box" and you'll find engagements galore and an immediate spike in opportunity.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Law Firm Marketer Visits the Eighth Grade

Next week I'm scheduled to appear at Career Day at the McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, CA to give a presentation to students about the job I do--legal marketing. I envision a room full of eighth graders looking at me and thinking, "OK suit-guy, this better be good."

It would be different if my career was as a stand-up comedian (just do a routine), or a juggler, or sports player, or a police officer, but I'm a marketing guy. What I do is fun for me but can I communicate my passion in any way that will be interesting and engaging to eighth graders?

For the next several days my head will be cooking as I mull this over and put something together. What I come with I will share here. If anything it might provide a good chuckle for my MC readers. And of course, if you have ideas feel free to share!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Large or Small, the View From the Middle of Any Herd is Holistic

I was reading post comments about Maxthon (a new IE-based browser) at digg this morning, and well down the string was this wonderful comment; "Besides the fact that it uses the IE engine, it only runs on Windows. A big limitation with many people migrating to Linux/Mac." What a wonderful illustration of shouting from the middle of the herd! Currently the Linux/Mac market share is somewhere between 2% and 4% against the 96% plus machines running Windows-based platforms.

The commenter, based on what he/she can see from their seat is amazed that anyone would consider switching to a browser not supporting Linux/Mac users. This is one illustration of how we use limited experiences within our "bubble" to project expectations holistically.

This phenomena has huge implications for law firm marketers and is a valuable lesson to be learned in moving our firms forward. It is human nature to make broad assumptions based on narrow experiences. When attorneys do not comprehend expansive new programs it is because they have no point of reference outside of their own experience. The same is true for marketers trying to comprehend an attorneys passion to do things a certain way and not consider other "fresh" alternatives.

The ONLY way to deal with this is to educate first, then propose. Stop using only the experiences of the legal industry to illustrate and measure. Stop relying on, "this is what other law firms are doing" and start sharing strategies and stories from other industries and professions. Start finding ways to show what other "herds" are doing--don't go to 10,000 feet, or 20,000 feet -- go to 100,000.

In the movie, "The Gods Must Be Crazy" a Sho (African origin) in the Kalahari desert encounters technology for the first time--in the shape of a Coke bottle. He takes it back to his people, and they use it for many tasks, none of which have anything to do with the designed purpose of the bottle. In the larger quest of the movie the Sho encounters Western "civilization".... A lesson for marketers and attorneys.

It is important to establish a common reference before different "herds" can establish common goals.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Truth and Perception - Be Careful About What People Might Perceive

I am running a testimonial advertising series featuring some of my firms many wonderful clients. One such client offers secure document destruction as one of the many services they provide corporate clients. Document destruction is becoming more and more important as an ethical necessity and often a legal requirement. However, to feature a law firm in an advertisement that implies destroying documentation might not be the best path -- in consideration of the current environment of public opinion about corporate wrong-doing.

As a non-attorney I am not nearly as sensitive to the pain of mistrust that my attorneys are feeling in this environment. While I see the good of a service that protects rightful privacy my attorneys feel the imaginary bullets of jaded stakeholders and storming advocates.

In the case of this particular advertisement I am glad my attorneys feel free to express their fears and open my eyes to a potential PR nightmare. While the truth of the clients service is accepted as a great thing, the perception of a law firm needing that service is still open to suspicion.

Remember that to some of your audience, perception garners greater belief that the truth itself.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Get to Know People Like an Eight Year Old Would

When my youngest daughter was 8 years old we were living in a small complex of townhomes. I knew very few of our neighbors except what might be detected when driving by and seeing them coming and going (very SoCal unfortunately). My daughter on the other hand knew just about every person, young and old, and would regularly check in with all of the news from our neighbors. Simply amazing! She had no fear of walking up to fellow residents and asking, "So... what are you doing -- what's your name?"

All of my 8 year old's were just that way -- satisfying their curiosity was a far greater impulse than any internal fear of feeling silly in front of a stranger.

Two weeks ago I was at the annual LMA conference attending a dinner of legal marketers from the West Coast. Between the salad and main course I could no longer resist the temptation to get up and say hello to all of the many people I did not know. So, turning my own 8 year old loose, I walked around all of the tables and one person at a time I introduced myself.... Being curious is MUCH more fun than being fearful. Since that evening I have gotten several emails from individuals at that dinner. Totally COOL and TOTALLY connected!

The lesson here is ginormous for marketers and attorneys alike. Honor your urge to act curious and you will be miles ahead of your competition. The simple act of being curious will win you friends, information, and a larger community of people that know whom you are.

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