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"Business Development: Three Strategies More Important Than the Elevator Speech"

December 22, 2022

Stephanie Friese's article "Business Development: Three Strategies More Important Than the Elevator Speech" in Daily Report

Daily Report

"Business Development: Three Strategies More Important Than the Elevator Speech"

By Stephanie Friese

Business development is about more than a good elevator speech. In fact, I would place the elevator speech a few notches down the list. Knowing who your gatekeepers are, leveraging a process and committing the time to network are significantly more important to originating and maintaining a healthy book of business.

The Gatekeeper

The most important part of business development is prioritizing the activities that best leverage our efforts. At the top of that list is networking with gatekeepers. While the ultimate goal is direct contact with potential clients, connecting with gatekeepers often is the most effective way to accomplish that.

Gatekeepers are the people who give our potential clients advice at the moment just before they need our services. Gatekeepers already hold positions of trust with our potential clients, and since people do business with those they trust, referrals from gatekeepers automatically hold credibility with our target clients. Additionally, this approach takes far less effort than a cold call would. The key is determining where our target clients are getting advice and what type of professionals are providing it.

Every practice area has its own set of gatekeepers. For example, a tax attorney’s target client is the taxpayer, but since the accountant is the gatekeeper who will refer the taxpayer, tax attorneys may spend more of their business development hours networking with accountants. A commercial real estate attorney’s client is an asset manager or real estate developer, but the broker has contact with potential clients who are entering new marketplaces and need local counsel, so the broker is the gatekeeper.

Most practice areas have more than one category of gatekeeper. If you need guidance on this, ask successful business developers in your practice area from what types of professionals they get most of their business.

Attorneys in other practice areas also are gatekeepers. An estate planning attorney will have clients who need real estate advice, and general real estate attorneys can refer clients to attorneys who practice in zoning and bankruptcy. Even attorneys who practice in the same substantive area in different states are gatekeepers since their clients may need local counsel elsewhere.

While in rare cases gatekeeper relationships are reciprocal – as with residential and commercial real estate attorneys who often can exchange referrals – typically they are not. While we always will be looking for ways to return a favor, we also must become comfortable with this lack of reciprocity. Instead, as service providers, we serve as resources for gatekeepers. The assurance for gatekeepers that their clients will be well cared for is more important to them than the promise of returned referrals. After all, the ability to refer clients to other trusted service providers will strengthen gatekeepers’ relationships with their clients.

The Process

Once you know your gatekeepers’ roles, make a list of those who fall into these categories and develop relationships with them. This may take some thought and perhaps a shift in mindset, but it’s not as difficult as you may think. Ask friends and co-workers to introduce you to relevant contacts. Listen carefully when meeting new people, and don’t be shy about asking them for introductions. Every time you connect with a gatekeeper, ask them if they know others who are gatekeepers for your practice. When you have lunch or dinner with a new contact, aim to walk away with one or two other potential contacts.

Be sure to track how often you contact each person on your list – which should be at least a few times per year – and the nature of the contact. You might send a link to an article, make a phone call, meet at an event, send a thank you note or gift, or connect over lunch or dinner. Not every contact has to take a substantial amount of time, so aim for consistency while respecting your contacts’ schedules.

We can only change what we can measure, so it also is helpful to track from whom you receive and to whom you send referrals. As you continue to network, you will be able to refine your list, removing gatekeeper categories that don’t work for you in practice and adding new ones.

There are certain best practices to help establish trust and confidence when meeting a gatekeeper. I will cover this next time, but for now, be assured that it’s not too complicated.

The Investment of Time

The time spent nurturing gatekeeper relationships works the same way as saving money: Invest as much as you can as early as you can. The more you put in on the front end, the more it pays off in the future. If you can afford to network for three meals a day, do it. If you can afford to make only one short phone call a day, do that, too. We must never be “too busy” to invest in our futures.

For networking to be effective, it is important to develop as large a network as possible. This requires a substantial investment of time outside normal working hours unless you have been hired in a specific business development role. How do we have time to network while also doing our substantive work?  It helps if you love both because successful attorneys work more than eight hours per day. One of the reasons I do business only with people I like is because networking, in order to be fun, should be spending time with friends and developing new friendships. It takes time, but it shouldn’t always feel like work.

Invest as many hours as you can before you have a family. After that, you will need to figure out ways to network within the overlap on the Venn diagram of obligations. Until then, the sky is your limit!

Now stop reading, go meet some people and pick up new business along the way!

Stephanie Friese is co-managing shareholder in the Atlanta office and chair of the Real Estate Practice Group of Chamberlain Hrdlicka. She can be contacted at (404) 665-1220 or Stephanie.Friese@chamberlainlaw.com.

Reprinted with permission from the December 22, 2022, edition of Daily Report © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com.