Most lawyers would never even consider arriving in court or at a major negotiation without adequate preparation. And yet, when it comes to a business development lunch or a networking event, those same lawyers don’t think twice about “winging it”–preparing, if at all, in the cab en route to the meeting.
Is it any wonder that many business development lunches and networking events can seem like a waste of time? Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of preparation to dramatically change the outcome of these events.
For great results, simply follow this four-step process for making the most of your marketing opportunities.
Step One: Determine your objective for the meeting.
When I ask clients what their objective for a marketing meeting is, they respond, “To get business.” In all but a few circumstances, this is probably an unrealistic goal.
Unless the person you’re meeting with has a specific need, or the relationship is very well developed, “getting business” is just not going to happen. In fact, there are four basic types of marketing meetings, and “closing the business” is just one of those. Here are the other three:
- Relationship building
- Information seeking
- Referral requesting
After you’ve determined the type of meeting you are having, you should set your specific objective for the meeting.
Examples of appropriate objectives might include the following:
- Learning who is involved in decisions about whom to hire as outside counsel.
- Determining what work is done in-house and what work is done by outside counsel.
- Finding out something about the person you’re meeting with, either personally or professionally, that can be the basis for future contact.
Step Two: Conduct the necessary research.
Before your meeting, see what you can learn about the person you are meeting with and his or her company. You could:
- Do a Google search for background information.
- Research the types of cases that have been filed against the company in the last year.
- Ask people in your network to tell you what they know about the person you are meeting with.
Step Three: Develop a list of questions.
Consider your objective. What questions will help you reach that objective? Remember that your questions should center on the person you’re meeting with; they shouldn’t be veiled attempts to “sell” your services.
For example, if your objective for the meeting is to determine who handles the company’s employment work, you might ask these questions:
- How do you handle employment disputes?
- How do you decide whether to handle them in-house or send them out?
- When you send them out, do you have a particular firm you like to work with?
- Are there employment issues about which you feel your counsel doesn’t have the expertise you would want?
Step Four: Map out a follow-up strategy.
Long before you’re sitting face-to-face, you need to decide on a next step. This next step won’t be etched in stone because you never know exactly what will happen at the meeting, but creating your follow-up plan *before* the meeting has several advantages:
- It helps you think about your next steps with the person you are meeting with. Without future contact, the most likely outcome of your meeting is… nothing.
- It ensures you will discuss the issue on which you want to follow up.For example, if your possible follow-up is to extend an invitation to a future firm seminar, you might discuss the seminar during your meeting to gauge potential interest.
Or, if you want to be able to send articles concerning an issue of personal interest, you might focus your conversation on discovering those interests.
- It prepares you to ask permission to follow up.You might say, at the end of lunch, “I really enjoyed spending this time with you. Would it be OK if I called to set up another lunch in three months?”
Or, “Would you be interested in receiving our monthly newsletter? I think you would find it of value.”
Once you’ve gotten permission, you’ll be more comfortable actually following up.
- It helps you keep the ball in your court. That way, you can make sure the next step gets taken!For example, if you anticipate that the next step after your lunch will be to set up a meeting, keep control by asking, “If I don’t hear from you within two weeks, would it be OK to contact you about setting up that meeting?”
Or, “Why don’t I give you a call next week and we can set up a time to talk that’ll work for both you and your partner.”
Before your next one-on-one marketing event, take yourself through the four steps. Set an appropriate objective, research the person you’re meeting with, create a list of questions, and map a follow-up plan. You’ll quickly find doing this will become second nature as you see for yourself what a difference a little preparation can make.