“My sister-in-law’s cousin just qualified as a home inspector. Could I ask you to reach out to your network to recommend her?”
An “ask” like this creates one of the most awkward dynamics imaginable. Let’s see why.
Every referral earns or spends social capital. In a case like this, unfortunately, there’s plenty of downside, but not much upside. Why? Because every referral carries an implied endorsement - in the case at hand, if the young lady turns out to be a dud, it’s on you.
When confronted with an “ask” of this nature, you need to do a clear-eyed risk analysis. If the downside risk makes you feel the least bit queasy, don’t act against your own self-interest just because you’re too shy to refuse. I mean, what would you say if I asked you to lend your Lamborghini to my teenage nephew for a bush party?
No need to be brutal in refusing. You have a relationship with the asker to protect. Depending on the circumstances, one of these might be helpful:
1. Say “No”, but do it gently. Explain how big the “ask” is - your network is at the core of your business and it is a precious and delicate thing. Mention the Lamborghini if need be.
2. Offer to make a neutral introduction, a community bulletin-board sort of thing: “The daughter of an acquaintance has just broken into the home inspection business and is looking for opportunities. Suzanne would be happy to chat with you and can be reached at 123-456-7890.”
3. Offer to sit down with the young lady to help her develop her own network in the same hardworking fashion that you have done. Be a good mentor, even giving her leads, but make her do the work.
4. If you really have to go out on the limb, do the same due diligence that you would if you were going to hire her yourself. Get and call references, look at her work product, and judge for yourself before you put your credibility on the line.
(If this series has been useful, or you'd like to see a discussion of some other aspect of referrals, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Norman Bowley - www.purposeful.ca
A friend and former colleague recently pointed out to me that one of the trickiest areas of communication for professionals has to do with referrals. Referrals in and referrals out.
Most professionals and entrepreneurs live and die by referrals. Existing clients may be the bread and butter, but new clients represent growth and diversification.
Compared to advertising, cold-calling or buying books of business, referrals provide a stream of clients who are (generally) pre-qualified as to economic and professional value; that is to say, referrals tend to pay their bills and provide interesting work which can enhance your reputation.
The problem is that the ecology of referrals is a very delicate one and the management of referrals received and sent is very sensitive.
I won’t specifically get into “how to get referrals” -- you need to speak to my friend Michael Hughes, the “Networking Guru” about that! Our discussion will be about the management and etiquette of the referral relationship and dealing with referrals in and out.
As entrepreneurs and professionals, you need to discriminate as to the clients you want. Good clients will make you, and bad clients will break you. Knowing this, the very first principle of referral is that you want to receive and give good referrals.
Who are the good clients?
A simple but powerful tool for assessing the value of a client is the A-B-C-D grid. In various iterations, it has been around forever. Here’s my personal take on it:
The “A” clients are a dream-- causes no grief, but provides both profit and professional satisfaction. They are to be treasured. The “B” clients provide less profit and satisfaction, but are not costly or difficult to maintain. With skill and patience, we turn “B” clients into “A” clients.
Parenthetically, keep in mind that the grid must fit your business. If you are an aspiring criminal defence lawyer, Jack the Ripper, facing hanging, could be an “A” client.
Everyone understands that you should never take “D” clients, but it is the “C” client who is deceptive. We look at the profit they can yield and overlook the grief they cause us and our staff. More important, “C” clients tend to be disloyal and treacherous, and when you stop coddling them or can’t satisfy their intemperate demands, they will turn on you. If you have them, ditch them, and never allow another one through the door.
So, this takes us back to referrals. Sending somebody a “D” client is an insult. Sending someone a “C” client is like giving them herpes. You should avoid doing these things. If you don’t have a good feeling about the individual or the subject matter, take a pass. Let somebody else look bad. The Lawyer Referral Service and the Yellow Pages are perfect for this.
Whether it’s a matter of karma, “being a mensch” or just having personal ethics, make sure the referrals you send out are good ones. To paraphrase the Golden Rule, “Refer unto others what you would want referred unto you.”
Cultivating Your Referrers
Dealing with in-referrals is one of the trickiest, yet most beneficial, aspects of any business. Good referrals are hands-down better than clients who find you from advertising or surfing the internet. Referrals come through the door predisposed to you and your services, and tend to be less price-sensitive.
The most important thing you must do with your in-referrals is to look after your referrers. In order to do this well you need to monitor the process-- nowhere is Peter Drucker’s adage more true: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Never leave this to chance. Without tracking in-referrals, none of the following can be achieved.
Once you have a good handle on who is sending you what, you are able to begin to respond to your referral sources. And the first thing to do is evaluate them, using the ABCD grid discussed in the last Friday Briefing.
Just as you would with D and C clients, you will want to rid yourself of D and C referrers, although perhaps not as abruptly. Referrers who send you undesirable clients, or who send them with lots of strings attached, should generally be discouraged. You won’t do this without first thanking them for their good intentions and diplomatically explaining why their referred clients are not what you are looking for. By having this discussion you may actually convert the C referrer into a B referrer.
Your B referral sources need to be treated like gold and your A referrers as diamonds. Here are some of the keys to doing that:
1. Reflect well on them. By being stellar yourself, you endorse their referral to you and you make them look good.
2. Treat the referred client as special. Sometimes a token discount is appropriate, but always go above and beyond.
3. Speak well of the referrer. The word will get back.
4. Promptly and sincerely, thank the referrer. This is true even if the referrer is you business partner.
5. With your new client’s permission, report back to the referrer in a professionally appropriate fashion.
6. Make the referrer part of your “team”. Consider doing outreach events together.
7. Hold “thank you” events for your best referrers, let them know that they are special to you.
8. Thank the referrer in tangible ways-- take them to lunch or to a hockey game, send a Christmas basket or a bottle of good wine, let them know that they are appreciated. Some professional bodies limit the quantum and nature of such gifting, but within your parameters, don’t be chintzy.
But the most important rule of all? It’s this: If you want plenty of good referrals, above all else you need to show yourself worthy of the trust, that you are the “go-to” person in the field, and that referrers are actually doing their friends and clients a favour by sending them to you.
Norman Bowley - www.purposeful.ca
Edward Jones, the investment dealer, just placed an ad on a website that connects to their proprietary blog post on Elevator Speech Techniques. Here is the link. I commend it to junior professionals. How does it apply to lawyers? Let's look at the 5 tips and apply them. Just like in the Advocacy Club.
1. State your goalThis means to make a plan. We are talking about chance encounters of anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. How do you plan for that? You know the opportunity will occur and recur. So, think about what you will say if you meet someone you want to impress. Start by identifying your unique value proposition. You are not "just" a lawyer. You have areas of competence. You have a way to resolve client problems. You have experience dealing with certain issues. Use a few sentences to describe your model client, what you will do for that client and what makes you different. With this, you know who should hire you and why. That is a good start.
2. Explain yourself
Whatever your goal, express it by replacing "I am a lawyer working with XYZ" with your value proposition. Perhaps, "I help real estate clients through their transactions painlessly." Or, "I enable family law clients achieve win-win solutions". Think it through. Why would someone retain you? Yes, include your firm name. But that is not the selling proposition. You are.
3. State your proposition
When you explained yourself (above), you made the introduction. Now, sell yourself. How do you do what you claim? Express your technique in a few sentences. It can be difficult to shorten a business model to a couple of sentences. Figure out how to do it. Then practice in front of a mirror. Practice on your friends. Practice on your colleagues. Record your pitch on your cellphone and listen to it. Carefully. Ask for feedback. Whatever it takes, make it simple. Make it heartfelt. Make it effective. You say that you are a lawyer? Well, persuade.
4. Show your personality
This is not easy in a 30 second presentation between the third and fifth floors of the court house. Use simple language, short sentences, speak slowly, and look your interlocutor in the eyes (don't stare!) That is about as good as it gets.
5. End on a high note
This really means to end on a note that encourages further engagement. You might hand over your business card, but that rarely convinces anyone. Better, you should ask for their business card. Take a moment to study it. Really care about what you are reading. Make a comment about it. And bonus- it helps you remember their name.
Then, follow up with a (handwritten?) note that has your contact information and a link to your web presence. I am not a fan of using a "call to action" in an elevator speech. Meet, present and then follow up later. That is the formula. You cannot close the deal in a couple of minutes. All you can do is open the door to a further interaction.
6. Be consistent
There is no sixth point in the Edward Jones blog post. But there should be one. Make sure that your web presence is consistent with your elevator pitch. For example, don't stress a pit-bull reputation on your website and sweetness in your elevator pitch. Don't stress your informal attitude in person, and show a serious black business suit on your website. Be consistent.
Many elevator speech opportunities occur at cocktail parties. For tips about how to handle yourself there, check out Eugene Meehan's blog post here.
For more tips and techniques about professionalism, check out the podcast interviews at Chat with Lawyers.
By John Hollander, MBC Law Professional Corporation
Welcome to the Advocacy Club's guest blog. Here you will find mentoring tips and techniques from some of John Hollander's students and associates.