Lawyers: Can you Build Relationships with Data?

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Over the last few years, data has become more and more popular a subject, as we try to quantify everything to do with our businesses. “Please don’t make me try to quantify my relationships TOO!” I can hear you opining. But I promise, the goal is a worthwhile one.

What is always our goal when it comes to any business development or relationship development tactic? Maximizing the benefit and maximizing efficiency, right?

In order to do that, it makes sense to implement the use of data, even in your relationship development activities.

Now, I’m not talking about requiring you to create algorithms for your clients (though, I’ll admit that I’ve seen what some firms have done to map the relationships of their lawyers and clients, and it’s pretty spectacular and fascinating, as well as being incredibly useful). What I’m talking about is implementing a couple of simple ideas to ensure that your current relationship development efforts are giving you the best bang for your buck, so to speak.

Before we dive into those techniques, let’s talk briefly about why data works. You may remember our post about the zombiefication of content marketing, which references Shane Snow’s piece on combatting content zombies. In Snow’s piece, he talks about Netflix’s original success, which was predicated on their move from offering streaming of other companies’ television shows and movies to purchasing their own show for the first time – House of Cards (this was pre-scandal Spacey, remember).

Through its data, Netflix knew three things: People who watch Kevin Spacey movies tend to watch all the way to the end. People who watch David Fincher movies tend to watch lots of David Fincher movies. And people who watch the British House of Cards tend to watch it all at once and all the way through.”

With that data, giving House of Cards the greenlight seemed like a no-brainer. And Snow confirmed “Based on the number of new subscribers Netflix picked up because of the show, the company’s $100 million bet paid off in under three months, according to analysis by The Atlantic.”

Netflix isn’t making predictions with a crystal ball. They’re using lots of data, that they have access to based on their existing customers, to predict future consumption behavior. And entertainment isn’t the only place where this makes sense. Snow says:

A relatively small number of super loyal subscribers paying Netflix $8 a month is more profitable than a huge number of viewers tuning in to a commercial on CBS. In the same way, a relatively small number of loyal readers or viewers can be worth much more to a brand than a bunch of one-off ad impressions.

This is the way the future will work in every content medium, not just television. The creators and companies that make smart use of data and tech will have a huge advantage over the rest.”

This works with content too, and it can work with your business relationships. Why? Because you’re being strategic about them. Not in an icky way, but just in a way that maximizes the value that you’re offering and ensuring that you’re meeting with and connecting with the right people again and again.

Let’s take an example – there’s a certain networking event that you enjoy going to, and you usually see the same group of people there whom you enjoy spending time with. But they aren’t potential clients or referral sources – you just like them as people. Although they’re fun, you’re not maximizing your networking opportunities by spending time with them that’s designated as business development time.

You may wonder what’s wrong with that type of hit-or-miss networking, and the answer is, well, three-fold. The short, first response is “nothing” – there’s nothing wrong with it. If you simply enjoy hanging out with this group of people, and it’s only a bonus if work comes your way, then great! You’re already meeting your needs. But, if that’s not the end goal here, then there are two things wrong with it:

  1. You’re a busy person. There’s no point in spending time as a billing lawyer developing relationships that aren’t going to absolutely maximize every ounce out of that networking time, right? That’s not to criticize those relationships – if you like those people, find non-networking time to spend with them.
  2. If you network strategically to ensure that you’re adding value to the relationships that you want to develop, then they are equally not going to be interested in investing time in you. You also have to be valuable to your audience, or they’re not going to engage in the follow up – they’re also busy people, with a tidal wave of things coming at them daily. So it’s to your advantage to be as efficient as possible in delivering what you want to them, in a way that’s valuable to them.

How do you do that? With data.

  • Start with some analysis: Take your top ten clients, and identify how you met them. Was it a referral? Did a current client introduce you? Did you meet them at a networking event? Identify if there are patterns, or if it’s totally random.
  • If there are patterns, start repeating more of the activities that led to meeting those clients (if your goal is to get more new clients). If your best clients come from referrals, identify where your best referral sources are. Does it make sense to set up more lunches? Should you be going to alumni events or reconnecting with law school friends? If your goal is to get more business from current clients, find out where they are spending their time, and how you can maximize those relationships.
  • While in-person relationships are the goal, don’t forget about other ways to stay in touch, and use data here too. How do your connections like to stay in contact? Which clients prefer email or the phone? Which clients are texting or using Slack? Which of your referral sources use Facebook messenger? You may need to keep this information in a spreadsheet or use some other form to track the data effectively.
  • Start to track your activities over time – you’ve identified patterns, and you know what your goals are, so start to repeat events that you believe will lead to success and then follow up with yourself to see what works. Did setting up more lunches with referral sources lead to more referrals? How many lunches did it take? What was the return on your investment? How many networking events did you have to go to? Tracking those types of metrics will help you to see at a glance what activities are working effectively for you, and which you should skip for more efficient tactics.

There are a couple of points that I’d like to emphasize:

  • Don’t get hung up on technology: Whenever you’re doing anything involving data, it can be tempting to get hung up on finding the right tool to track your activities and successes – don’t. The important thing ISN’T the tool; it’s identifying what works and what doesn’t. It can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet. If you start to find yourself spending more time looking for the right technological solution to be the silver bullet to your relationship building activities, you need to go back to basics.
  • Measure AND repeat your successes: This is important enough to bear repeating. It’s about looking at what your connections really care about – it may surprise you to see which activities are really working when you start to track them. Those lunches that you believed to be so successful may not be resulting in substantial enough work coming in, even if you really like the guy you’re meeting with. Maybe tweaking the research you do before a networking event that you attend regularly increases the return you get because you connected with your top markets instead of just the people you enjoy chatting with. Engage with the data to see what works then to maximize the efforts that you’re putting in. Rather than insisting that your relationship building efforts will work because you’ve put in the effort, put in the effort to give your relationship building efforts a chance to work.The goal here is more than just making yourself popular; it’s creating sustainable, long-term relationships with clients who will return to you again and again.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t try out new events and ideas, or even your tried and true favorites that don’t usually yield big results. But the idea is to build on what’s successful, what your connections show they want over what you *think* they *might* want, to make the most efficient use of your time and theirs.

If it’s good enough for Netflix, shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

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