Correction: This article has been changed to correct a misattribution of the first quote.
Two weeks ago, I attended the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s “unConference” in Boston. There, a number of venture-capital partners participated in a panel discussion billed as the “Top 5 things a VC thinks (but rarely shares).” Some of these “things” apply directly to the way lawyers should pitch themselves to prospective clients.
• “In the first two to five minutes, we decide, yes or no, on 90 percent of the projects we are presented,” said Sean Dalton of Highland Capital Partners LLC. Those first few minutes are make it or break it, so how do people mess them up so badly? Truth is, many of them may be dead in the water before they have even started. Two important things that VCs take into consideration before the meeting begins are: Who referred this deal to us? And what does their LinkedIn profile tell us about them?
• Who refers you matters. “We have one entrepreneur named Cheng Wu who has developed over $1 billion in start-up value, and he sends us about one referral per year. We pay very close attention to the projects he sends our way,” Jo Tango of Kepha Partners said of the chairman of Azuki Systems. Most rainmakers derive most of their business from a few key referral sources. Who refers business to you?
• Do you have an unfair advantage? “The other thing I look at is the LinkedIn profile,” Tango said, “and I ask myself, ‘What gives this person an unfair advantage over the competition?’ In other words, what information about this entrepreneur’s past would lead us to believe he has a high probability of success over his competitors?” This is an important take-away for lawyers writing online profiles and pitching to potential clients. What have you done or accomplished that puts you in a category of one? Are you the only arbitration lawyer with a doctorate in psychology? The only real estate lawyer with 10 years’ experience in city planning? Highlight these “unfair advantages” over your competitors.
• Know your audience. “We are always very surprised by entrepreneurs that pitch ideas to us having no idea what types of projects we are looking for,” Dalton said. This is a common criticism of attorneys, too — that they only talk about themselves without taking the time to understand their audience. “I don’t want a pitch. I want a conversation,” Dalton said.
• Be likable. If entrepreneurs aren’t likeable, the VCs agreed, the deck is stacked against them. I make this point to clients all the time. Studies show that people buy from people they know, like and trust. You have to be trustworthy to get the meeting. But to get the business, you have to be somebody the client is convinced he or she might enjoy working with.
The ideas shared by these venture capitalists weren’t new; they really just represent the fundamentals of good sales. Lawyers may not like to admit it, but they are out there selling, just like the entrepreneur with a business plan and a dream. In both cases the stakes are high, so you better come to the table ready to make a great impression quickly.
Adrian Dayton is an attorney and author of the book Social Media for Lawyers (Twitter Edition). His website is adriandayton.com.