Farewell To A True Professional

IMG_0450When I met Henry Gilchrist he was in his mid-seventies. Those of us that came along in those days weren’t around when he was doing deals for Texas oil man Clint Murchison; or as he conceived and structured a unique funding deal to create Texas Stadium; or while he was point person on high profile issues for the Dallas Cowboys.

But no matter the time or place, anyone privileged to work with Mr. Gilchrist knew they were dealing with a consummate professional.

His reputation as a corporate lawyer preceded him. But the characteristic that made him a rare breed of professional was the way he treated a person. Any person. Partner. First year associate. Secretary. Or member of the staff.

Henry Gilchrist passed away Saturday, May 6 at the age of 92…just eight months after he finally retired.

There are scores of stories that underscore the humanity of this gentle lion. One of my favorites was told to me during an interview with Roger Hayse, who worked with Mr. Gilchrist for more than 25 years at the law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist.

As the business manager and financial officer of the firm, Roger was made aware that the firm’s honor-system approach to a snack closet was, in short, getting ripped off — falling short of collecting the appropriate sum for chips, candy and the like. Upon closer examination, Roger detected that enormous amounts of chewing gum were being scarfed up at an impossible pace.

In order to put a stop to the gum-thief, Roger planned to lock the heretofore unlocked closet, forcing anyone wanting a snack to request the key and handle payment with an assistant.

It was during a meeting with Mr. Gilchrist, as Roger proudly outlined his plan to put an end to this chewing gum expense, that he came face-to-face with the priorities of Henry Gilchrist.

“Roger, that sounds as it it will solve the issue of employees taking snacks without paying. But I want you to let me know the day the lock is on that closet; that will be my last day with this law firm. I will not be part of a firm that tells its employees they are not trusted.”

People were drawn to Henry Gilchrist — corporate giants, entrepreneurs, and your average run-of-the-mill guy in marketing. Being a great lawyer was part of the equation, for sure. Having his name on the letterhead opened doors, no doubt.

But Henry Gilchrist never lost sight of the value of an individual. He quietly helped and encouraged wherever he saw the opportunity. In victory as well as in difficult hours his humility was palpable. And he treated everyone he met with respect and dignity.

This is the stuff of the consummate professional.

Rest In Peace, Henry. Your influence lives on.

Waiting (And Hoping) For A Silver Bullet

Large Silver BulletTo the degree that it is human nature, it is understandable. On the other hand, to the degree that it is a distracting resource drain, it significantly limits effective business development.

“It” is the search for a Silver Bullet.

From social media to the newest technology, from what’s hot in creative execution to the flavor-of-the-month strategy or consultant, the hope that something new holds the key to what ails us may be the reason we always seem to be starting over. Needed focus gives way to fits and restarts with every new “opportunity.”

Sure…there are times when being athletic enough to shift direction in order to pursue a new opportunity can be an asset. But we shouldn’t mistake it for a strategy.

In a recent spot-on post Kathryn Whitaker speaks to a preoccupation with the next big thing…at the expense of doing the right thing as it relates to current tasks and opportunties.

Notwithstanding the value of innovation, often what is at play here is the hope for a faster, less painful approach to the difficult (not to mention, time consuming) work of connecting, listening, and building productive relationships.

In moments when you wonder at the advances made by competitors, or are mystified by an inability to leverage your investments in business development, consider these two simple tenets:

  1. Focus wins.
  2. An important measure of strategy is how often you resist the siren song, and say No.

Few organizations are flexible enough to make any progress while reacting to every great opportunity. Before we alter course in order to take advantage of the next big thing, consider that while we might refer to it as opportunistic, we may have a business development strategy that is little more than waiting (and hoping) for a shiny new silver bullet.

Who Is Really The Smartest One In The Room?

three chimpanzees having a meetingEveryone has amazing insight.

It’s true. At some point, on some topic, almost everyone will have a moment of clarity worth sharing.

The challenge, at least as it relates to productive dialogue, is that many of us believe the frequency and scope of the insight we possess to be so grand as to warrant the lion’s share of attention in any given room.

But when was the last time any of us was engaged in an interaction — profound or not — where the objective of everyone in the room was to listen, intent on learning?

If you’ve been in that kind of room it probably left a mark. There is dynamism there. When gaining (versus sharing) insight is the goal, ideas flow easier. Solutions serm to emerge more quickly. But listening rooms are scarce. After all, territory must be staked. Turf marked.

An Idea

Pick the most stressful or contentious interaction you’ll face in coming days. What would change if the objective of everyone involved was to listen? No agendas. No winners or losers.

There are plenty of reasons not to go down this road. Where’s the practicality? Someone has to lead. And besides, I’m expected to come to the table with a point-of-view, experience and expertise.

But what might happen if I were to become a point of listening?

If you want to introduce a rare dynamic into difficult conversations, try making a point of listening rather than worrying about sharing your point of view. Unless you’re in unusual company, no one really hears — or gets — your point of view anyway. Not because it isn’t brilliant; but because while you’re talking we’re only half-listening as we formulate what we’ll say next.

(Double down on the above paragraph if the objective of the one doing most of the talking is to convince, convert, defend or defame.)

And if the fear is that listening displays weakness or affords unfair advantage to another’s point of view, consider the possibility that there’s not much listening going on in a room where the primary concern is winning.

Real listening is an intentional and difficult act. It stems from a commitment to learn, and a relentless search for a bridge that connects us…even over enormous chasms.

When I believe my insight is ultimate, and that the room is best served when I broadcast my point of view, I should not be surprised when the only ones paying attention are those who share my view…and nothing changes.

There is rarely a shortage of talk. But when the talk accomplishes little, there may be a shortage of intentional listening.

In relationships with family, co-workers, friend or foe, maybe the key to the change and progress we seek lies in having the courage and discipline to listen…to find the elements necessary to build a bridge to the next conversation.

The Most Important Conversation Yet

Yellow speech bubblesIf you want to test the viability of your approach to business development (or maybe even the quality of your most valued relationships), few questions will reveal more than this one: “Have I built a bridge to the next conversation?”.

When considering business development and marketing efforts in today’s environment, the temptation — in fact, the easy thing to do — is invest significantly in opportunities that create visibility. A big media push, a social media presence, email “blasts” at the drop of a hat, killer events, sponsorships, even charitable contributions — the tendency is to do whatever the checkbook will absorb. We need to “have our name out there.”

The issue is not that these channels aren’t viable, even valuable when it comes to growing a potential market. They are. But visibility alone rarely equates to effective business development.

The problem is the degree to which visibility efforts — advertising, social media posts, event sponsorships and the like —  exhaust the business development or marketing plan. Write the check. Get our name out there. Then sit back and wait.

And wait.

Here’s What Is Missing

Talk to any rainmaker, and (usually sooner rather than later) s/he will make the point that business development boils down to relationships. People hire those they know and trust. And unless you’re aware of a way to get to “know and trust” absent some interaction, then creating visibility and awareness is only the first step in the process.

Relationships (hence, successful business development efforts) revolve around a series of multi-faceted and on-going interactions. Some are professional. Some will almost certainly be personal.

If you’re not having ongoing conversations, you might want to take stock of the relationship.

Sure…not every piece of business you get will be connected to a great relationship. If you’re present in the marketplace, are building relationships and the reputation that accompanies excellence, you’ll increasingly find yourself in the right place at the right time.

But long-term clients — those that stick with you through thick and thin, and call you no matter what, do so because they trust you.

So make your visibility play as robust as you possibly can. Then be certain your plan maps the investment and action steps necessary to build a bridge to the next conversation. Otherwise you’re doing little more than hoping something prompts your target market to come to you. And this is increasingly rare in a competitive and volatile marketplace.

Strategic marketing — a smart investment in efforts to connect with carefully selected targets — includes a plan of action that facilitates on going dialogue. Conversation after conversation.

Because in the context of relationship, the next conversation is the most important one yet.

My Market Used To Come To Me!

Thumb twiddling

“Describe your ideal target client,” I asked.

After shooting me a look that said that is the dumbest question I’ve ever heard, the law firm partner said, “My ideal client is the next person that walks into my office or calls me on the phone in need of a lawyer.”

Translation: “My market comes to me.” Because of the school I attended, the experience I’ve accumulated, the firm in which I’m a partner, the reputation I’ve built. And because that’s the way it has always been — go to law school, hang a shingle, do good work…for decades that was the formula for the creation of a solid practice.

That conversation took place nearly twenty years ago, in the early days of my first law firm business development gig. Boy have things changed.

The new normal has turned into the status quo.

But for many professional service providers one thing that hasn’t changed is the belief that if I put the right pieces in place and do good work, the market will sort through all the competition, and find me.

Few will argue that the market isn’t what it used to be. And outstanding professionals wake up each morning wondering what to do.

But if the only time we turn attention to marketing, business development or sales is when there is a fear things might be slowing down — or worse yet, after the slow-down has begun — three things are likely true. The actions taken:

  • are reactive in nature, and therefore not strategic;
  • solve few, if any of the short term challenges, and none of the real issues;
  • are decidedly frustrating.

And you’re still left hoping the market will walk through your door.

When the strategic identification of opportunities is given twenty minutes at a meeting once-a-quarter (whether you need it or not), don’t expect change. If plans to pursue specific targets aren’t part of a regular focus, call it what you will; but the approach to organic growth is to hope the market comes to you.

If integration or cross selling is left to chance — meaning there is no framework or process that ensures steps are taken that match capabilities with needs — don’t hope to magically benefit from the relationships your partnership enjoys with key clients.

If a system for religiously gathering and assessing feedback from clients and prospects does not exist, don’t be surprised when good — even long-term clients — leave you in favor of individuals or teams that are proactive in the marketplace.

If succession isn’t the subject of on-going conversations long before senior partners are about to retire, don’t be surprised when future leaders in your firm are restless, and when long-term clients evaporate as an inevitable changing of the guard takes place inside the client’s organization.

If innovative conversations around inclusion and diversity are initiated only in the wake of market pressures, be prepared to lose ground to others, and to have the same conversations year after year.

Pick Your Cliche

Put your money where your mouth is. We measure what matters. What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.

Take your pick.

The truth is that an organization concerned with strategic growth reflects this in its priorities. Not once a quarter, or once a month, or when it looks like budget might be missed.

Where the dynamics of marketing, business development, sales and organizational development are understood, the disciplines are not bound by a department. Nor are they confined to bullet-points on an agenda.

A marketing culture, an enduring brand, and growth through strategic business development efforts are not the byproducts of occasional conversation.

And the enterprise interested in seeding such a culture succeeds by virtue of the proactive attention requisite to the highest priority.

Wondering How To Turn Connections Into Relationships?

netIf you’re marketing something, you’re likely investing resources in the development of connections. Social strategies, networking events, content marketing efforts…there is a long cafeteria line of tools, strategies and processes designed to get you connneted.

Then what?

Business development is about relationships. Not connections. Or fans. Or followers. Real honest-to-goodness-relationships.

Today’s tools make establishing a connection relatively easy. Building a relationship is a different story. And no matter how effective the visibility strategy might be — no matter how many followers, fans or subscribers you have — if the next part of the equation isn’t in place, we’re missing the real opportunity.

Do it right, and a single event can yield scores of business cards. Devote some time and it is possible to connect with hundreds of thousands via social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Add a budget to the mix and it is possible to put together a list that would tempt any marketer to play the numbers game.

But if the goal is to build a professional service practice, it is a mistake to think a connection is anything more than a start. Relating with a target client  almost always requires two things — dialogue and shared experience. And for many this is where it gets tricky.

If we misunderstand what constitutes dialogue, or underestimate the critical role it plays in building and maintaining relationships, we’re in for a long and likely frustrating journey.

Is Anyone Listening?

The problem — or at least part of the problem — is the way we think about marketing communication. We invest significantly in the delivery of our message — web sites, email marketing campaigns, and YouTube videos that, with varying degrees of effectiveness, present what we do and how we do it.

Even when the story is well told, this is more often than not one dimensional message dissemination.

(Sidebar: attempts to infer relationship in a message delivery device — like dropping in a line at the beginning of your email that says “Hi Eric…I hope you’re doing well” — are transparent and ineffective.)

Relationship requires listening. Efforts that fail to get beyond the connection phase and deliver measurable ROI are likely lacking a listening component.

In fact, the most effective messaging begins with intentional listening. For years the successful marketing organization has invested in researchlistening — designed to identify what might prompt the market to buy.

Effective professional service marketers and business developers create and facilitate opportunities to hear and understand the target client’s story.

This is where the investment in connections pays off. Engage your connections as opposed to constantly distributing your story. In the midst of skillful and intentional listening connections become clients, and clients become real fans.

What do we do to leverage our connection efforts, and turn contacts into relationships? It begins with investing at least as much time listening as we invest in the creation and delivery of our message. If you want to see measurable results from the investments in making contact, begin with intentional listening with a few carefully selected targets.

In fact, ask the right two or three questions, listen closely, and the market will tell you exactly what it takes to move from contact to relationship.

If Business Development Seems Like A Mystery To You…

Open door to dark room with bright light shining in. Background Illustration.Successful business development is not a big mystery. Anyone who has been seriously working on the issue for very long has a good idea what is required. Precise process can vary. Termonology can differ; but it is not rocket science. In substance, in virtually any arena, business development is about the same thing.

Create visibility and deliver value to a target market; listen and learn what drives your target; and then connect the value you provide with what your market cares about.

Sure, you can leverage efforts by being more strategic (and we’ve explored it plenty in other posts); but follow the above formula in a sustained fashion and you’re on your way.

There are plenty of resources that will provide advice on some of the questions. What does a viable target look like? How do you decide where to network? Should you blog and/or engage in the social media arena? Should you speak? Where should you speak? What should you write about? What do you talk about at those networking functions?

It is easy to find good advice and helpful tools.

So, if the formula is simple; and support is readily available, this begs a question. Or two.

Why do we find ourselves repeatedly struggling with what to do and where to go with our business development efforts? Why do we feel like we’re continually starting from scratch?

If business development isn’t rocket science (it isn’t), and if the nuts-and-bolts of a good plan are easily knowable (they are), why aren’t we making any progress?

If you’re thinking it is because the budget isn’t big enough, or the market just doesn’t know we’re here, or our website is the wrong color combination, or rates aren’t right — and the list could go on — if this is what you’re thinking, I’m betting business development will continue to seem mysterious.

Here is what is missing most of the time — business development just isn’t important enough.

Soften the language if need be. But the issue is often as simple as this just isn’t a priority. Until time is short.

You know you should make it a priority, but it is impossible to find the time. Until all you have is time. Intellectually it is not difficult to process the fact that waiting on the market to find you, or depending on others to send you work is not a good long term strategy. But the truth is that even with a slow-down here and there, things have worked pretty well.

And networking, speaking, writing, planning and doing the other things that you sense you should do is uncomfortable and difficult.

Most of the time the fact is that it simply hasn’t risen to an appropriate level of importance. The platform isn’t burning. Yet.

Not everyone is a rainmaker. But here’s what I’m fairly certain of: anyone committed and disciplined enough to begin by investing four hours a week can make this the year that the business development light comes on.

That’s not all it takes. This isn’t the BD version of “get-your-six-pack-abs-in-five-minutes. We didn’t say it was a piece-of-cake. We said it isn’t rocket science.

Where to begin?

Here are four ideas we’ve seen work for others.

1. Take stock of your network. Business development is about relationships. Your acquaintances, connections, friends and colleagues are your greatest assets. Create a list in a systematic way. But don’t put it off. Get your contacts in order.

2. Identify three (3) initial targets. Study the list of contacts you’ve whipped into shape, and pick three that can hire, refer, recommend and/or coach/counsel you. Choose wisely (smart targeting is a predictor of future biz dev success).

3. Initiate strategic visibility by connecting dots. Do some research and be creative here. If you’re beginning from scratch think about the content your targets are concerned with. Brainstorm around the people and organizations your targets are connected to. Then begin searching for ways to connect those dots. A communication plan that calendars specific action items is a valuable asset.

4. Don’t give up. Working on your list isn’t fun; and it won’t feel like progress early on. But stick with it. Building relationships, figuring out ways to deliver value and stay connected isn’t second nature to most of us. And (unless you are lucky) you won’t see much progress for a while. But stick with the four hours a week.

Two things will happen. Making the investment will become something a little closer to second nature. Or at least a part of your routine. And you’ll begin to see ways to leverage opportunities. You’ll find ways to convert those four hours into the time it takes to grow a practice.

The first step to business development success is to make it a real priority, devoting time and energy as if the future of your practice depends on it.

And this time next year you won’t be starting over. Again.

5 Keys To Productive Conversations

people talking to each other silhouettes set 9Where change is the objective, there is little value in having the same conversations over and over. Eventually, the glazed-over-eyes should be a dead give-away: no one is listening. If the goal is to connect, here are five ideas that will instigate more productive conversations.

1) Avoid the devils you know. These come in all shapes and sizes. They may legitimate, or the ghosts of mountains made of mole hills. And while understanding the past is one of the ways to avoid repeating it, conversations that begin with the problems of yesterday rarely last long enough to break new ground. Progress is born of shared aspirations. Better conversations search for common ground.

2) Pass on the blame game. Everyone plays it. So much so that the language of blame (or CYA) is able to masquerade as analysis. Conversations designed to affix blame are almost always a waste of time.

3) Change the conversation. Insist on engaging in the same debate, making the same case, offering the same retort, and we should expect the same result. Want to stand a discussion on its ear…maybe make progress? Drop pre-conceived agendas. Try a new goal — to build a bridge to the next conversation.

4) Be about a Solution rather than a Win. Conversations designed to convert or win rarely change anything. Whether on a personal level, in the workplace, or in the most convoluted of socio-political environs, solutions to multi-layered challenges cannot be summed up in sound bites or measured in winnable moments. (Revisit #3, above.)

5) Listen more than you talk. To the degree that conversation is what we put up with in order to make our point and present our agenda, communication will almost certainly be limited. Real conversations begin with intentional listening – where the only agenda is a relentless quest for common ground.

All of this flies in the face of a communication strategy that says create your message and stay on point no matter the topic or specific question. Dialogue is hard work. It is not media or camera-friendly.

What if we resolved to be a part of better conversations? If just you and I were to commit, what opportunities might be discovered?

That Negative Client Experience Could Be A Real Business Development Opportunity

Everyone has experienced a client / customer experience nightmare. Call it whatever you like; the fact is that almost every enterprise is going to have a bad day. What is done in the wake of the experience is the real stuff of being client / customer centered.

The Bad Experience

Since the first time we wandered into the Chartres House, it has been one of my wife’s favorite spots in the French Quarter. Nice corner location that opens to the sidewalk (Chartres & Toulouse), and a Cajun & Creole menu (I’m partial to the fried green tomatoes).

A couple of weeks ago we stopped in for Friday night dinner, and it wasn’t good. Specific details don’t matter that much here. Suffice to say that service disappointed and the food did not measure up.

Unwilling to let the bitter taste simply linger, my wife went to the website and wrote a pointed, but objective account of the experience.

The Good

Almost immediately she heard from one of the managers. What was communicated was simple. No excuses. No equivocation. Anything less than complete satisfaction was unacceptable. How quickly could we return so that he could erase the bad memory?

I was not that up for returning one week later; but we did. As instructed, when we arrived at the hostess stand we asked for Josh. It was clear the hostess was expecting us. Josh had saved a primo table, and we enjoyed what I’m certain were the top servers available.

Josh stopped by the table a couple of times. He didn’t overdo it, but he made it clear that he appreciated the second chance…that they were committed to making things right, and he was going to do everything possible to return to that top spot on my wife’s list.

And he did. Service was A+, the food was excellent, and Josh picked up the tab. Toward the end of the evening we found out that it was his first week on the job. He hadn’t even been in charge when we had our less that excellent experience!

That night cost the restaurant the price of our drinks and dinner — including an order of fried green tomatoes — and one of the best tables in the house for a couple of hours. And it won a raving fan — not because they have good food and decent service; we expect that. But because of the experience delivered…even when things went off the rails.

By Contrast, The Ugly

The Chartres House experience reminded me of an opportunity that was botched by another restaurant. Check Deborah McMurray’s Law Firm 4.0 Blog here for the tale of a steakhouse that did nothing. (And to my knowledge, none of the three of us have returned.)

I’m not good about voicing dissatisfaction or filling out those “Tell-Us-How-We-Did” surveys. Most of the time I’ll simply move on, give someone else the next opportunity to win my business, and seldom return to the place that failed to meet (or exceed) expectations.

This experience reminded me of two important points.

  • The value of honest client feedback — especially from those who, for whatever reason, might just move on to the next provider without ever voicing their disappointment.
  • A problem or complaint is an opportunity for a different kind of conversation — one that dares us to do more than simply talk (or write) about serviece.

Thanks to Josh at the Chartres House for the reminders.

You’ll Never Get A Fan To Be Objective

whistle of a soccer / football referee, free copy spaceA fan will always see things based on the color of the uniform. A catch? Were the receiver’s feet inbounds? Did a knee hit the ground? What holding — that wasn’t holding!

Facts are defined by what helps my team.

On the day after, sports talk radio thrives on the debate that is fueled by these alternate views. One caller is confident the slo-mo replay shows one thing; another sees it exactly opposite.

For three hours on game day the only thing that matters is that my team win. Everything related to the contest is seen through that prism.

When the call doesn’t go my way, the refs are biased, unfair or blind. We never get a break. When we lose on a close call, the fix was in. When we win, it is because we somehow overcame a stacked deck.

I love sports. I have always enjoyed competition, and the back-and-forth that used to characterize sportsmanship.

On the other hand, I’ve never much enjoyed being around or engaging with the fanatic who sees only the color of the uniform.

Call me naive, but I have never understood how we can embrace the violent offenders, repeat abusers, and unquestionable bad citizens as long as they help my team win.

Sure, pro sports is a business. But let’s be honest — that is a comfortable excuse. Seems like situational ethics.

In some venues winning at all costs has become the only thing that matters. And before you stop me, this is not the “winning is the only thing” that Vince Lombardi spoke of. We conveniently overlook the context of Lombardi’s comments — focus, determination, hard work and sacrifice.

Fanatic debates are good for coffee breaks and happy hours.

Until alignment with a particular team, or tribe or party predetermines the position we take in conversations that matter.

When perception is constrained by the belief that winning at any cost is what matters most…when my views are defined by what favors my team, when we’re no longer talking about a 3-hour contest between the lines, we’re not talking about fun and games anymore.

A thought: if we really care about moving the ball…if we hope to communicate with anyone other than those who already agree with us…conversations must transcend the color of the uniform.

LexBlog