The InsideCounsel SuperConference ended May 6. If you are reading this column after May 6, and you have not done your conference follow-up yet, then I want you to do so today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Today.
I have two essential best practice thoughts on conference follow-up. First, the sooner the better for follow-up, while introductions and the conference itself are still fresh in the target’s mind. Second, it is never too late to engage in follow-up activity. If you have not done so already, please read part one of this series to understand my use of the word “target.”
Here are my suggestions for effective conference follow-up:
Follow-up starts at the event itself. Take notes on your target. This includes points the target makes during his or her presentation, the details of any introductory conversation you are able to have with the target and any general observations you can make about the target (“drank red wine at reception,” for example). Perhaps the wine observation strikes you as over the top, but glimpses into what someone likes or dislikes can become useful. When do you capture this information? As I sit down for a breakout session, I quickly write down anything I learned from conversations or observations during the previous session, break or meal period. I will also take notes that evening before going to bed, challenging myself to relive specific conversations. I do not take notes during break periods, as these windows of time are best spent in conversation or pursuing conversation.
If you did not take notes after your conversations, tax your memory banks and do it right now. Always remember rule two of follow-up–it is never too late. Many attorneys procrastinate on follow-up and don’t do it at all, even though follow-ups offer a tremendous opportunity for you to stand out.
Effective follow-up includes real substance. Follow-up is a one-two punch. The first punch is an e-mail that gives your target real information on a topic of interest. If you enjoyed a quality introductory conversation with your target at the conference, then try to provide information that naturally flows from your dialogue. This does not have to be legally related. For example, if an upcoming trip to Phoenix came up in conversation, send a “nice to meet you” note accompanied by a review for a great new restaurant in Phoenix. If your introductory conversation with the target was brief and failed to reveal a personal or work-related interest, then use the topic of your target’s breakout session for your follow-up. For example, if your target discussed executive pay, find an interesting think tank policy analysis of the Obama Administration’s approach to this issue and attach that to your “nice to meet you” note.
Once you have an idea of what your target finds interesting, it’s not too difficult to find an article, recipe, court opinion or golf tip that will catch your target’s attention.
The second punch is a phone call. Discipline yourself to make the call exactly one business day after sending your e-mail. Most successful GCs and AGCs are quite “Type A” and get through their e-mails daily. Whether or not the target responded with a “thank you, it was nice to meet you too” e-mail, a phone call is usually necessary to move the ball forward. You will be pleasantly surprised by how many law department leaders take the call. Reference your e-mail if you did receive a reply. Otherwise, don’t assume that it has been read. Simply state that you sent along a piece of information you hope Ms. Big will find useful. Then, forthrightly state that you would like to present yourself or your law firm, and ask if Ms. Big would be willing to schedule a meeting for that purpose. Be ready for the objections: “We’re not hiring,” or “We’re not entertaining new counsel proposals at this time.”
Respond to the hiring freeze reply by saying, “I understand. I’d like to set the table for when I might be helpful to you, and (if this is true) I’m happy to help in an independent contractor role to give you the flexibility of another resource.”
There are many options for addressing the “not now” response if you are a private firm attorney trying to land new business. If you are a law firm attorney seeking tips for turning follow-up into rain, call or e-mail me anytime. Since this column has more of an employment orientation, however, I won’t get into detailed rainmaking tips here.
Keep your objective simple. Your one and only objective is to secure a meeting. It does not matter if that’s a formal interview, a coffee get together or a lunch. Getting a “yes” to coffee is usually easiest. The coffee meeting is attractive for the target because it is informal and not time consuming. Nonetheless, you may get resistance. It can be difficult to get on a general counsel’s calendar, as these top decision-makers are superb time managers and resist any activity that might be considered an inefficient distraction. If you hear hesitancy and your gut tells you that a version of “thanks, but no thanks” is about to come from the target’s lips, don’t be afraid to show a little proactive assertiveness.
Confidently say, “I promise to make 20 minutes with me a valuable use of your time.” Try those exact words. They are powerful. Many targets will ask why and give you a chance to pitch yourself. So, remember the key to a successful pitch. Don’t actually pitch yourself and make the target listen to a monologue about all of your wonderful experience. Instead, use the pitch opportunity to tell the target how you might make her life a little easier, or save her department money, or help her company address a business objective. Make the pitch about what you can do for the target, not about who you are.
If the answer is “no,” accept that graciously. I can’t tell you how many attorneys just keep talking once they have someone on the phone, as if that will help. Don’t be the person who comes across as desperate or needy. Thank the target for her time and move on to the next target. Try again in a couple of months, repeating the one-two punch: useful information followed by a phone call. As far as timing goes, trust your gut when deciding if additional follow-up feels like polite persistence or pushiness.
What if the target is not local? Most people fail to recognize the power and mystique of travel, especially to exotic locations like Wichita, Kan. or Birmingham, Ala. If you are unemployed and willing to relocate, here is an excellent opportunity to stand out. Why not offer to “stop by” for a cup of coffee? Although general counsel in small market locations are as busy as GCs in large cities, they are more likely to make time for visitors. A willingness to go to them on your dime can make a great impression. Even a GC in a major market may take notice of your offer to travel for a meeting.
Here is the most likely objection you will hear: “Since we don’t have an opening right now, I’d feel badly if you traveled all this way just for an informational cup of coffee.” Now you have two options. One, minimize the guilt hesitation by having another reason why you will be in the area and suggest that it’s not a big deal, your expectations are realistic. Done well, this strategy is very effective. Two, take the Honest Abe approach and say you don’t mind the minimal investment of a plane ticket or long car ride, that initiating a relationship with Company XYZ is important to you. Some targets will respond well to that and say “okay.” Others will shut it down, fearing that an “okay” under these circumstances will create expectations that the target is not prepared to fulfill.
Follow-up with targets you did not meet. In the first part of this series, I offered advice on how to meet your high value targets at the conference. Nonetheless, people flow at a conference cannot be neatly controlled. You may fail at actually meeting one or more of the speakers or attendees you wanted to meet. Can you follow-up with a person you did not meet? Yes, absolutely. It’s the same one-two punch I outlined above, but with a simple caveat at the beginning of your communication. Try in your e-mail: “I enjoyed your presentation at SuperConference, thank you. I’ve attached an article on (insert topic here) that you might find interesting. Since we did not get an opportunity to meet at the conference, let’s do so over a cup of coffee next week.” Add one sentence, no more, on who you are, followed by one sentence on why meeting with you could be valuable for the target.
Next month, please come back to read the final installment of this three-part series: “You Got the Meeting! Now What?”