Pathways Overlooked (Issue 518)

In which we are reminded that bringing cookies(or some attention)  to the receptionist may not be a waste of time after all.

My long-time family attorney, Al, retired from his practice about two years ago. He left with characteristically little fanfare, sending me and his other clients a letter indicating that he was retiring and selling his practice, and that he would be happy to pass my files to attorney X to whom he had sold his practice.

The two years following my receipt of his letter passed quickly. My needs during that period have been simple, our wills and other estate plan elements have been fine for the moment. I met with Attorney X and was not too thrilled with him.

Recently, feeling the time had come for new documents, I asked several attorney friends in town for recommendations. None of their recommendations lined up with each other. Some of them were too far away. Some of them came with caveats. And bottom line, there were just too many choices.

However: one of the attorney friends recommended that I contact my former family attorney’s paralegal, Susan, who is working at a firm a short drive from my office. “Call her,” he suggested, “she will probably have soft copies of your documents and she might have ideas about who you could speak with.”

So I called Susan and I said, “Susan, I need an attorney. You know me, you know my family, you know the legal community locally.  I’m wondering if you could recommend someone you think would be a good fit for us.”

So, recommend she did and now I have the attorney I need to complete the estate planning work on the plate before me.

All of which led me to marvel: like the primary nurse practitioner or practice manager in a medical practice, or the receptionist or office manager in a professional services company, or the executive assistant in a larger company, Susan-the-paralegal had developed a significant Rolodex through her work with Al. Her network and personal connections would be somewhat different than his, and they are both important. Her knowledge of Al’s clients and his knowledge of the same clients overlap and are complementary. Hers is more “people” and “relationship” oriented because that was her connection with Al’s clients. She also knew which attorneys’ offices functioned well and which didn’t.

Referrals are the life blood of any business development strategy. It is tempting, to those of us with big egos, jammed calendars, and big sales goals to gravitate toward “the big guns,” the men and women who are the senior people in their practices or companies, the movers and shakers, the owners. And with good reason beyond ego gratification. Their networks, if well developed and aligned with our sales strategies, can be very powerful.

However, we ignore at our peril the knowledge and networks embodied by the executive assistants, office managers, and practice managers of the world who interact frequently with other community members and who know, often from personal experience, who could be a good fit and the “stories behind the stories” that can be so useful to us as we network through geographic communities or communities of practice. Further, they are ignored by pretty much everybody so they can be eager to help.

Bringing cookies may not fit our sales styles or dignity.  Developing relationships by paying attention to them might.

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