I am a prospective client of your firm and I thought I would get in touch. We are looking for a long-term business partner and yours looks like the type of firm we could get close to.
As chief executive, I sit on the board of this company along with my finance director, human resources director, divisional managing directors and IT director. Our head of legal reports directly to me and tends to use people she knows in firms she used to work at.
I am passionate about this business and I like to work with people who share that passion. I do not react well to uniform approaches; in fact it makes me really angry. I tend to make a note of organisations that cold-call me, send me meaningless brochures, email me inviting me out lunch and so on, to remind me not to use them in the future.
If you want to work with us, you are going to have to earn the right. We spend a lot of money on external legal advice and we use a number of firms — one or two of them are very good. That does not mean to say the door is closed — far from it, I am a great believer in rewarding those who demonstrate their enthusiasm for our business and that includes our suppliers as well as our own people.
I will tell you how you can become a key supplier of ours — one that I would see as a strategic partner, as opposed to the myriad firms we use for all sorts of transactional work.
The first thing you need to do is to get a meeting with me — given how busy I am, you will need to convince me that it will be worth my while. The best way to do this is to catch my eye by sending things that are valuable to me and my business, things that are interesting and address top of mind issues.
You need to demonstrate that you have a really good understanding of what is going on in our industry at the moment. You also need to do your homework and understand the key issues that we are facing.
You need to get something on to my desk that tells me not only that you have a firm grip on the key issues we are facing, but also that you have some ideas as to how we might deal with them in the most effective way.
When you call me you might have to try a few times — my PA guards me well. You have to understand how many unsolicited calls she has to deal with so please forgive her if she seems a little cold. However, she heads home at 5.30pm and I am always here until 6.30-7pm.
I do not generally enjoy doing business on the phone — I like to see the person I am speaking to. I find it much easier to make decisions that way. The point I am making is do not try to sell me your services, you will probably just turn me off. Just concentrate on getting a meeting with me.
Once we have agreed a meeting my advice to you is to thank me and let me get on with my work. I would, however, follow up with an email to me and my PA confirming the date and time.
Before the meeting you might want to outline a few areas for discussion and suggest a timeframe (please do not suggest more than an hour). I am more than happy if you would like to bring someone else along if you think they will be useful — just let me know in advance. If you have anything that you have written, read or seen that you think might be useful in advance of our meeting please feel free to send it in — I will be impressed if you can demonstrate a little passion for my business even before we have met.
At the beginning of the meeting you might want to check that the timeframe we agreed is still okay — sometimes things happen in my world that I have to react to. I would really appreciate it if you make it easy for me to rearrange if I have to. Most of the time, I will agree to the time and look forward to getting on with it.
Before we go too far it would be good to know a little bit more about your firm. Do not give me chapter and verse but simply tell me who you are, the types of organisations you work with, the kind of things you do for them, the sort of benefits your clients get from working with you and also what you personally get from working with your clients. I am hoping that in those two minutes that I will hear things that I want to know more about, things that tell me you might be right for us, and things that give me a bit of insight into you and your colleague.
I know a lot of lawyers are now trained to ask questions before telling their clients and prospective clients how good they are. Of course you have to ask me questions to gain an understanding of our business and I am happy to indulge you. However, if your questioning seems to me in any way manipulative I will see that as a (rather poor) technique to flog me something as opposed to demonstrating your genuine interest in my business.
Questions prefaced with a comment that reflects your understanding of my world will impress me much more than if you simply tell me what you know. If you ask the right questions in the right way I will give you information – all you need to do is listen. You would be amazed if I told you how many people I have had in my office who have had the opportunity to make a lot of money out of this organisation but have failed because they simply did not listen. Take notes, have good eye contact, use your body language, un-bundle key words and phrases from earlier conversations and repeat them back to me. Ultimately, the best way to show me how well you have listened is to summarise the key points — you might want to do this a couple of times throughout the meeting just to make sure you have understood me correctly. Around 15-20 minutes before the scheduled conclusion time you can really impress me by summarising all the key points I have brought up during the last 40 minutes or so.
Once you have my agreement that you have captured all the key issues and that your understanding is accurate, you need to give something back. Too many times these ‘trained’ professionals sit in front of me and ask all these questions and get an awful lot out of me but do not give anything in return. I want to know your thoughts on the issues raised — I am not looking for free advice; I simply want to feel like I have gained something from meeting you. You might want to reflect on past experiences relevant to our discussion where you might have faced similar challenges and how you helped your client overcome them.
When the allotted time is up, check with me that we are alright for time — if I am engaged and can continue I will. Before you go, make sure you get me to agree to the next steps and the best way to do this is to ask me what I think they should be. Maybe I will agree to a further meeting and introduce you to someone else, or consent to provide you with additional information, or agree to come to one of your seminars. Anything like this should be taken as a success. If you try to rush me I will take it as a sign that you are more interested in flogging me something rather than helping me and developing a long-term relationship built on trust.
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