Failure to Follow Up: Building Solid Relationships to Enhance Client Outreach

By Sarah Abreu and Lisa Rory, business development managers at Venable LLP

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Building a foundational relationship is one of the biggest challenges we face in opening the door to new work. The best way to do that is to maintain ongoing communication. But in order to do that, you need to have a reason to reach out. And in the time of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to stay on someone’s radar.  

By showing genuine curiosity about the person and their business, finding commonalities, and offering ideas, you can pave the way to regular communication and open the door to new work opportunities. When working with your attorneys, emphasize the following tactics to help them build relationships, and by extension, their books of business.

Who am I talking to? Build a relationship foundation by showing an interest in the person outside of their contribution to your bottom line. Be curious and learn about not just their role, but also their career progression and trajectory, what areas of pro bono are meaningful to them, and what they like about their company and industry. Ask about their family life, hobbies, passions, and interests. Pro tip: They should spend 60 to 70 percent of the time talking during each conversation.

Who are they talking to? In order to advance the relationship, teach them about yourself. They need to know and like you too – and you can’t advance a one-sided relationship. Share an interesting pro bono case; talk about some of your hobbies, passions, and favorite teams; talk about why you like the firm you’re with or how you ended up in your area of law. A little goes a long way when you show your humanity and share a bit of your personal life. 

Where do I go from here? Use these conversations to help you bring insight into the relationship and spot opportunities for outreach. Knowing more about your prospects and clients allows you to better identify ways in which you can connect. Make appropriate introductions to people who can help them solve a problem. Share a topical alert or article and why you think it’s of interest. Offer them a speaking opportunity, post content on LinkedIn and react to people’s posts, or build a CLE program for them. On a personal level you can share content of interest too. Keep a dialog open to sustain regular interactions so you can ask if there is more you can do. 

As a side note, people appreciate being helpful. So, ask for a simple or easy favor, recommendation, or opinion to show you value their input (e.g., “I’m looking for a book recommendation on ‘xyz’ issue. Have you read anything that you’d recommend?”).

Use your toolkit. During the pandemic, one of your most important tools is your cell phone.  You can use it to call, Zoom, or FaceTime people. You can record short thought-piece videos to post on LinkedIn while using a binder clip as your tripod. You can stay on top of your calendar and send emails on the fly. Your phone also can help you to automate replies and check-ins. Schedule regular call-back reminders and mark birthdays or anniversaries.

LinkedIn also has become the de facto trove for client intelligence. Follow your clients’ businesses and connect with people in their network, monitor your newsfeed to look for opportunities to reach out and spot changes in employment, use the platform to push your content, and monitor your inbox.

Leverage your marketing team. You also may have access to a marketing and business development professional at your firm who can assist you with research on your contact and help to find appropriate firm content to share. They also can help you connect the dots on hosting a webinar or CLE and push out alerts you may be interested in writing. Finally, they can talk through resources you can use to set up news alerts on contacts and industries. Talk to your marketing and business development contacts about what you are trying to accomplish – they are your ally. 

By guiding lawyers to enhance their knowledge of client contacts, you can help build worthwhile relationships that are easy to maintain through regular communication and outreach.

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