Yesterday, I spoke about knowing your client’s business. Today’s topic is about knowing your clients.
I’m reminded of a 1990 United Airlines commercial. I found it on youtube and it’s just as relevant today as it was when there were fax machines (as you’ll see in the commercial). The boss received a call from its biggest customer, who fired the company after 20 years because the client didn’t “know” its business anymore. His remedy, he handed out airline tickets and sent his staff to reconnect with the clients.
The point is just as important today as it was almost 30 years ago. Want to keep clients? Want to get clients? Connect with them personally. Emails are great. Phone calls are fine. Personal contact trumps them all.
Here’s today’s test. I haven’t given you one yet. Promise me you’ll answer the questions honestly (to yourself, is ok). You need not fall on your sword publicly, although an interactive discussion on the subject is welcome. You may think this is a silly exercise and you may or may not agree with my conclusions or recommendations. That’s ok.
I want you to make a list of those clients and potential business referrers who have sent you an email or called you on the phone (perhaps for advice, or to discuss a case or a “situation”) in the past 10 days or who are your best sources of business. Not the company name, but the individual, the person who called or sent an email. You can stop counting at 10, if you want, but type or handwrite that list and have it in front of you before you answer the next question.
OK, I waited long enough, and I trust that you did what I asked (I haven’t asked much of you before).
Now, with that list in front of you, I want you to:
- Put a star to the right of the name of those whom you’ve seen in person in the last 30 or 60 days.
- If there is no star next to the name of the individual, put a check mark next to the name of those who you’ve seen in person in the last 12 months.
- If there are folks remaining on the list that have neither a star or a check mark, put a question mark next to those who you would recognize on the street, or at a conference (without a name tag) because you are familiar enough with them otherwise.
- Put an X next to whomever is left on that list.
My guess is that for young lawyers, the majority of those on the list have an X adjacent to their name. What does that tell you? If seven of 10 of those on the list have an X next to their names, you have established that your best clients and potential business referral sources are strangers to you. If you ran into them on the street, at a conference, anywhere, you would walk right by. And imagine if your picture, your mug, was available to them (as it is on your website, or may be on your signature block). They would see you and you’d walk right past them. Nice, huh?
In a previous post, I spoke about relationships, focusing on business referrals that come from brother and sister lawyers and friends. You should KNOW your business referral sources. I mean KNOW them as you know your associates and partners and classmates and friends. You should break bread with them, share a cup of coffee, discuss a case across a table, not just on the telephone. These are personal and important relationships that can well improve if you get to know your clients as human beings, not just as email addresses.
Just last week, I was asked to do an in-house continuing education program at an insurance company office in Western New York. We do lots and lots of these, throughout the state and country and no, we don’t charge the client for the time or expense. It is an investment in the relationship.
Anyway, I invited one of our young coverage associates to join me and help present the material. He was delighted to join me and did a splendid job.
But the venture was as important to him as it was to the client. The associate had never met the folks in that office and he was handling a passel of their coverage cases. He knew many by name and they would call him to discuss the matters, of course.
But now, he met them. Instantly, he could see that the connection grew stronger. We spoke about it over lunch yesterday. He spoke to a couple of them since our visit and he could feel that the relationship had fundamentally changed for the better. They met him, they took a measure of his ability to communicate, his subject-matter knowledge and humor, enhancing the level of that relationship.
I don’t care if your client is across the street or across the country. These are important people in your professional life and as they become friends, they become important people in your personal lives.
Offer to come by to discuss a case or provide some in-house continuing education, or simply have a cup of coffee.