Collecting Contacts Continued: Ranking

In my last post, “Five Tips on Building Your Personal Contact List,” tip number 4 for new associates was to rank your contacts. The concept of ranking contacts is not new. And many of us practice this informally as we intuitively know who our key contacts are, those people that you remain in touch with constantly, some perhaps every day.  But then there are those that you talk to less frequently and some that seem to have dropped by the wayside. The problem is that those forgotten contacts may be valuable to you in the future. Implementing a systematic ranking system will help you keep in touch with these contacts.

Create A Systematic Approach

In my previous post, I suggested implementing a system of levels using “A Level,” “B Level,” and “C Level” to differentiate your contacts. Or if three levels is not enough, use four or five. You decide based on your own goals of how many people to track and the frequency of your calls.

For example, below is a possible communication strategy for a five-tier ranking with each level representing a specific tactic for call frequency.

A Level = Once/Week (or more)
B Level = Once/Month
C Level = Once/6 months
D Level = Once/Year
E Level = Never

To be successful your strategy must be practical and fit within your workload. Set realistic targets for your levels. Let’s say you decide that in addition to all you A Level contacts, you’re going to add three additional calls or touchpoints a week for your B, C & D Level contacts. Your strategy could look like this: two calls per week for B Level and alternate a call each week for C and D Level contact. (Note: I am omitting E Level contacts because they will never be scheduled for a call.)

Contact Touchpoint Schedule

Contact Touchpoint Schedule

When you extend this pattern over the course of a year it equates to forty-seven contacts. The brake down by level it looks like this:

B Level =   8 (2 per week)
C Level = 13 (twice a year)
D level = 26 (once a year)

Using a ranking approach forces you to apply critical thinking on your time allocation for business development efforts. And it also makes you evaluate the relative value of your contacts to your future book of business.

Putting It into Practice

There are two phases to implement this concept. First you need to identify and rank the contacts that are important to your business development efforts. Secondly you must integrate this philosophy into your daily workload.

Identify & Rank

Identifying your contacts is a simple process of printing out your contact list and marking up your key contacts. Start with your A Level contacts, the ones you are likely already reaching out to regularly.  These should be easy to identify. Next review the remaining contacts to identify the next forty or fifty contacts, depending on the number you settled on your communication strategy above. These will become your B, C and D Level contacts. I suggest that you identify them all at once in a first pass, and then assign ranking. Ask yourself, “Out of these fifty contacts, who are the 8 most important to me?” These become your B Level contacts. Then split the remainder into two, the C and D Level contacts.

Schedule Touchpoints

Now it’s time to put your plan into action, and this is where your firm’s CRM can help. Most CRM systems have a task scheduling or reminder feature to help you manage your communications.  They also allow you to record your activities so you can easily see when the last time was that you reached out to a contact and what was discussed.

For example, InterAction from LexisNexis lets you create reoccurring reminders. You can add a reminder on a B Level contacts set for the first Monday of each month. And another for the first Tuesday of each month, and so on with each of your selected contacts. Now all of your touchpoints are scheduled and will appear automatically in your inbox at the appropriate time.

The reminders include the persons contact information, their address, email, and phone numbers, and the summary of your last contact, provided you entered that touchpoint as an activity.

Recording Touchpoints

Adding activities is a great aid to help manage your relationships, especially with those contacts you have infrequent communications. Enter notes and comments specific to your conversation or meeting so that it’s easy to recall your last conversation a month from now or six months down the road. The activity can be specific to a business conversation but could also be more personal, like plans for an upcoming vacation, which provides an ice breaker for your next call. The goal is to capture information that will allow you to continue developing the relationship.

So here are the three basic steps you can employ to rank your contacts:

  1. Develop a systematic ranking approach and communication strategy goals of how many calls per week you want to make, making sure it fits into you existing workload.
  2. Identify and rank your contacts based on your communication strategy targets.
  3. Implement your strategy as part of your regular workflow and log activities to help maintain relationships.

 

 

Five Tips on Building Your Personal Contact List

A recent LMA webinar discussed tips on how to develop business development skills in new associates. One of the tips was to collect contacts to build a business development list. This is excellent advice. As the webinar slide advanced to the next screen, it occurred to me that there’s more behind the process than simply collecting contacts. I’ve been collecting contacts for many years and it’s become second nature to me. But that may not be the case with a new associate fresh out of law school or any new professional.

Why Collect Contacts?

From a practical point of view, your contact list provides you basic information to connect with the people you know. You can quickly look up their email address or phone number when you need to connect with them. But good contact collecting and maintenance habits can convert a convenience tool into the foundation for your business development efforts. So here are my five quick tips to help you build that foundation.

  1. Enter Complete Information
    This may seem obvious but with the advent of smart phones it’s so easy to add someone to your contacts by saving only their email address of mobile phone number. Take the time to circle back to that contact and complete the rest of the contact fields including job title, company name and address. It may not be apparent right away but these data points become very helpful down the road. In a few years, you might be scratching your head when you look at a lonely phone number in your contacts and the only clue you left yourself was that his name was “Bob.” If Bob is someone you have frequent contact with, then there is no problem, you know who he is. But if he’s an infrequent contact having all his contact information quickly answers the question.

  2. Enter Notes
    Take the time to add useful notes to the record that will aid you in establishing a relationship, which is the whole reason to collect contacts. Some of the obvious notes will be spouse and children’s names, favorite activities or sports teams or other interests, and when and where you met. This last bit took me a few years to figure out on my own. It’s especially helpful if you are connecting with someone you have infrequent contact with. It will trigger your memory of the context in which you began your relationship. Perhaps it was a conference, a reception or a party. Or maybe you were introduced by another colleague. All of this information is helpful in establishing rapport quickly at a later date.
  3. Categorize Your Contacts
    Most contact apps allow you to make use of a user defined field, a data field where you decide what information you want to track. This is a perfect way to separate your contacts into tiers or groups. One simple categorization is business vs. personal. At some point in your career you will be asked to share your business contacts with the firm’s CRM tool. Having this category makes that process much easier. Other categories you might want to consider would be industry, role or even school.

  4. Rank Your Contacts
    Another, more useful categorization, is to rank the importance of the contact. For example, you might adopt a system where you label each contact as either an “A,” “B,” or “C” level contact. The “A” level contacts are the ones you talk to all the time. “B” might be someone you’d like to connect with every couple of weeks. And “C” might be someone you’d want to reach out to at least once a year. You can decide how to rank and define your ranks to match your own style. This is most useful in making sure you maintain connection with your less frequent contacts. For example, you can search for all of your “B” contacts and scan the list for those you haven’t talked to yet this month. Or look at your “C” contacts and decide which ones you might want to call, or send an email too, or set up a lunch date to reconnect.

  5. Purge Old Contacts
    F
    inally, every year you should scan through your contacts to see if there are any you need to remove. Every contact is an asset and provides you with value. Some are extremely valuable while others have no worth at all. And if a contact has no value it should be removed. Personally, I am very cautious about deleting contacts because you never know when your paths might cross again. But there are those that you can remove with confidence. For example, last year I finally deleted a software sales rep I met one time 20 years ago at a product pitch. I didn’t buy the product and the company she worked for is no longer in business. Clearly there is no value in this contact to me so I purged it. (Notice that I was able to determine this because I wrote good comments in my notes field.) Other examples could be people that have left the, retirees, and, unfortunately, deceased individuals.

Collecting contacts is valuable advice to anyone entering the work force.  But to build a solid foundation you need to enter clear and complete information, and make pertinent notes for future reference. Then you expand by categorizing and ranking your contacts, leveraging your list for your personal business development strategy. Finally, remember to keep your list clean by periodically purging obsolete contacts with no value.

Why Can’t We be More Like Amazon.com?

Yesterday I used Google to search for model and pricing information for a K-cup brewer. The search results pulled up various vendors, both brick and mortar and web only retailers. Amazon.com was one of the vendors that came up in the results with several of their partners offering products that caught my interest. So I ended up visiting 2 or 3 Amazon.com pages in my research. But I wasn’t ready to buy yet as I was unsure of what model I wanted, so I didn’t make a purchase.

This morning I have an email from Amazon asking if I am interested in something from their Coffee, Tea & Espresso department. The email includes images, pricing and links to several of the models I looked at as well as a few extra models I hadn’t considered. And the prices appear to be the best price available for each of the models presented. Amazon’s database tracked my interests as represented by the products I looked at and put together a custom offer for me. I have to admit that as a marketer I am impressed with how effective Amazon demonstrates an integrated database marketing strategy.

Database marketing is fundamentally about collecting relevant information about your target market and then using that data to drive the sales cycle. Leveraging database technology in sales was developed by catalogue and direct mail marketers in the eighties. The PC revolution provided a flexible and affordable platform for innovative direct marketers to capture, process and analyze large amounts of customer data. Direct marketers used this data to identify which segments were profitable and to customize offers to separate segments based upon their psychographic profile and/or previous purchases. Amazon has integrated this philosophy into their web storefront technology.  Based upon my viewing habits they identified what products I may be interested in purchasing. They then took this data and automatically constructed a custom offer and sent it to me via an automated cast email.

So why can’t legal service marketers be more like Amazon?

I think we can.

In our business our potential clients browse our website for two reasons; credentialing and education. Those interested in our credentials are browsing pages on our practices, locations, experience and attorney biographies. And those looking for education they will seek out articles, white papers, blogs and events on the subjects that interest them. All of these elements can be turned into data points that could be captured and recorded in the CRM database.

In order to accomplish this you must first identify which elements are important to the sales cycle. For example, is it important when a contact visits your Real Estate practice home page? What if they also click on a few real estate attorney bios? And then visit your experience section looking up what your firm has done with REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts)? Such behavior would tend to make one believe they have an interest and perhaps a need for real estate legal help with regards to REITs. If your website were to track and record each of these hits and record them as marketing touchpoints, you could process and analyze the data to identify individual needs that match your offerings.

The most important step – use the data to drive the sales cycle

This is where the Amazon email is so exciting. They tracked my interests, recorded my touchpoints in their database, identified their product offerings that best matched my needs. then they used this data to send me a custom offer. Granted the selling legal services is very different than a coffee brewer, but law firms could do this too for their product offering.

In the legal environment example above the equivalent would be tracking the contact’s interest in REITs. Based on this single touchpoint you should at least add the contact to your REITs mailing list to make sure they receive future marketing communications on the topic. But if your data collection strategy is robust you may have additional data points that could trigger other actions as well.

  • Is the contact an employee at a current client company or a targeted prospect company?
  • Does the contact have an existing relationship with one of your attorneys?
  • What’s the contact’s job title?
  • Has he or she attended any of your Real Estate related events? How many?

The answers to these questions could trigger specific actions from your firm just like my interests triggered a response from Amazon. For example, if the contact has an existing relationship with an attorney that attorney should be notified of the interest so he or she can reach out to the contact if appropriate. Or if the contact is an employee of a targeted prospect company the record should be added to a VIP list for the practice

Your response depends on your objectives and business development strategy.  The point is that there are data point that you should be collecting and then leverage that data to drive your marketing program.

By the way, I did make my selection and purchase as a result of the Amazon email. So I know first hand that the strategy works.

D&B’s Data as a Service (Daas)

I attended a Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) preview on their new DaaS product, D&B360 (Twitter account @DnB360). The basic concept is that a connection is established between your CRM database and their database to allow access to their demographic information. Company records in your database are then uploaded to their service where their software goes through an extended match process. The result is a screen that lists your matched contacts and their recommended match. The tool lets you scan up and down the candidate company’s family tree so you can select which one best matches with your knowledge of the client or prospect company. Once you select the match, D&B maintains the connection between the two records and will automatically update your data on a schedule you set.

We subscribe to D&B for the current manual process where we upload a file set to them and then they process the match and recertification process on their machines. And then a few days later we receive a file in return that we import into our database, updating our records. The benefit of D&B360 is that once the match link has been set, you do not have to touch that record again. It will always be current. And the process reduces the amount of resources we dedicate to the process quarterly to manage the export, import and subsequent reconciliation. So DaaS has great potential for any organization that’s either currently using D&B’s data, or for those that wanted to but don’t have the resources or expertise to develop the back-end processing necessary to integrate it manually.

A more strategic benefit is the future ability to tie other third party data into your CRM through D&B360. For example, let’s say you’re interested in the Fortune 1000 list. Your current option is to go to Fortune magazine’s website and print out a list of the companies. Then search through your data record-by-record to match up Fortune’s company list with the companies in your CRM; tagging those that match and adding new records for those you don’t already have. And if you did this process last year you’ll also need to identify those that dropped of the list so you can “un-tag” them in your data. But if D&B has already identified the companies in their data, which they have, you’ll be able have your records updated automatically, including those that have dropped, and add the ones you don’t have into your CRM. It can’t get much easier than that.

Obviously this represents a fantastic potential revenue stream for D&B. One they have the connection established to your CRM they can become the conduit to add meaningful data to your system, without the pain and suffering of a manual match process. But you benefit as well because now you can have access to data sets and demographic data that you couldn’t have before.

I am optimistically excited about the prospect of this product in my operation. But I also have some reservations or issues that I need to examine closely before I sign on the dotted line.

First issue is price. This was understandably not addressed at the group demo. Since DaaS changes the way in which we process data completely I am certain that the current pricing model becomes antiquated. My hope is that since this new approach to delivering data also improves the efficiencies on their side by eliminating the semi-manual batch match and recertification process, that the pricing will remain comparable or even less than what I pay now. They do have a significant upfront investment to recoup but I think they will experience stronger long term subscriptions as their service becomes tightly integrated with your CRM. And they have so much more opportunity to sell additional third-party data, like the Fortune 1000, that they didn’t have before. But we’ll see. I think over pricing the product would be a mistake as they’ll reduce their market penetration which will stifle the acceptance and growth.

Second issue is how much resources will I need to dedicate and what skills do we need. The phrase “80% out of the box” was used in describing how D&B360 integrates with specific CRMs and it’s up to the customer to build the remaining 20% using the CRMs API. Now that sound useful as it can potentially open up new possibilities for customizing your application. But it’s not clear yet what the real impact on my system will be. I need to learn what baseline features I would expect and need will require custom programming by someone in my organization. And do I have that resource or am I going to have to plan and budget for outside help. The upside is that there exists the opportunity to customize your CRM. For example, lets say I search for records in the DaaS cloud to identify a target market segment. I would then like to automatically pull those selected records into my CRM in a mailing list, updating those records that I already have and inserting those that I don’t have. I am positive this is not an “out of the box” feature but would be a very desirable.

I have more issues and questions, but it’s very early in the process yet as they have yet to officially announce that they will integrate with my CRM, InterAction. I am confident they will, especially if they want to sell into the legal market. Once they do and we start seeing one-on-one pre-sale demonstrations I’ll be in a better position to evaluate the service and how it can or cannot fit in our organization and what it will take to implement.

I’ll post more on this product as I learn more later in the year. And, as usual, I welcome and comments or feedback.

Is it Necessary to Track Social Media Communications in Your CRM?

We’ve had internal discussions recently on whether or not the new social media tools such as RSS feed, tweets or blog subscriptions, that circumvent traditional CRM database tracking present a problem to your marketing strategy requiring changes in your communication tracking tactics. Or do they represent a new order of marketing communications that one can leverage but not worry about recording in your CRM.

The trick is to balance end user needs for quick, targeted information with the firm’s desire to collect and track information.  We don’t have a perfect solution yet but my thought on the subject is as follows.  With regard to tweets, RSS feeds and blogs, I don’t perceive a need to track every single user.  Wed have lists of thousands of contacts and only a small percentage are actually important contacts to the firm with regard to business development and managing the client.  The rest are using the firm’s communication to to learn while the firm benefits from increased brand awareness. Both end user education and brand awareness are valuable marketing tools, but I don’t believe you need to worry about tracking them.

Rather you should spend you effort on tracking the qualified leads that are critical to growing and maintaining your business.  For marketing communications this generally equates to event management and tracking. These folks have responded to your offer for one-to-one education (in-person or webinar vs. newsletter, alert, blog, etc.)  These folks represent the first cut of contact qualification and they are the ones we need to worry about tracking in our CRMs.  From these you want to identify the truly qualified contacts and step them through the sales pipeline via other targeted marketing efforts of attorney business development activities.

As a practical matter we still manage thousands of contacts in our mailing lists for newsletters and alerts. But this is a achieve economies of scale in processing broadcast emails, as well as ensure consistency in meeting ethical and anti-spam guideline. In truth is all of our communication were switched to new social media with email subscription or following Twitter accounts, we would not lose any value.  Look at your lists and see if you can evaluate the worth of any of those contacts.  The ones that are valuable should be targeted and exist elsewhere in your system so that if you deleted the newsletter list you would still have the influential contacts in your CRM.  And your business practices should be designed to funnel in the non-tracked contacts, such as blog subscribers, into your CRM when they raise their hand to start the qualification process, such as registering for an event.

Now the problem lies in the fact that it is nearly impossible to politically to delete newsletter lists and marketers are established in their existing work process and will resist change that that threatens their daily work habits. But I believe in the long run this is the direction firms will follow as social media matures and firms become more sophisticated in allocating their marketing resources for business development tracking.  Think of the hours saved for marketers if they no longer have to push marketing communications to thousands of contacts that are not critically important to the firm. Instead they can focus their time and energy on the percentage of contacts that can make a difference to the firm’s success.

 I’d like to see what others think on this topic as we are in the midst of changing and shaping our policies during this social media revolution.  My opinion above is certainly not the only one out there. And it have been evolving over the past few months and will likely continue to change in the months ahead.

Tracking Referrals in your CRM

Referrals are one of a law firm’s key sources for new clients and tracking them in your CRM provides a useful tool for creating networking opportunities as well as collecting valuable data for analysis. There are two types of referral data. First there are the people or contacts that are part of the referral network. These are the relationships that you map out in your CRM. Then there are the actual referral transactions. Track these as inbound and outbound referral activities.

 Relationships – The Referral Network
The contacts in your database that are part of a referral transaction or potential referral transaction comprise your attorney’s referral network. Each referral transaction has three relationships. There’s your attorney and his or her referral contact. Then there’s the relationship between the referral contact and the party in need of service. This as the referred contact. Finally, once the referral has been made, there exists a knows relationship between the attorney and the referred contact. If it’s for an outbound referral, chances are your attorney already has a knows relationship as the referred contact is part of their contacts. If it’s an inbound referral, then the attorney will add the referred contact to their PIM and establish a new known by relationship.

Mapping these relationships takes effort but it’s worth the effort. It will improve your Who Knows Whom search capabilities as your CRM now has additional connection points to calculate possible relationship maps. And it provides the base data for creating referral network reports.

Referral Network Relationships

Referral Network Relationships

It’s important to remember that these relationships are connecting people contacts and not companies. This may not be obvious at first but consider this scenario. If an attorney has a referral connection at ABC, Inc. and that person takes on a new position at XYZ, Corp., The attorney no longer have a tie at ABC, Inc.. But as the contact’s employment relationship link gets updated to his or her new employer the attorney now has a referral relationship at XYZ, Corp.

 There are several referral reports that leverage the referral network relationship data, such as a listing all of the referral contacts by attorney by office. But one the most useful reports lists referral contacts and the attorneys that know them by the referral contact’s company. This can be useful to evaluate the strength and depth of your referral network.

 Referral Activities
There are two types of referrals; inbound referrals which an attorney receives from their network, and outbound referrals they give out.  Track each with a separate activity type in your CRM. Set a standard syntax for entering your referral summary. This makes the list view in the CRM and your reporting data meaningful. The summary should at least provide the nature or area of law, and the referred contact’s such as, “Labor negotiations for Whatchamacallit, Inc.” Most of your reports will already include the attorney’s name and the referral contact’s name and company. So having this information in the referral activity summary completes the transaction’s key elements at a quick glance.

It’s also important to add all contacts that are party to the referral to the activity. Each referral activity should have five contacts attached.

  •  Attorney Name
  • Referral Contact
  • Referral Contact Company
  • Referred Contact
  • Referred Contact Company

 Note that attaching the company record to the activity is a change over the process for recording the referral network. The referral activity is a snapshot of the transaction at the time it occurred. So adding the referral contact’s company at the time of the referral records the actual history. Lets take a look again at the ABC, INC. vs. XYZ Corp scenario but from the point of view of the referral activity. . An attorney’s referral contact gives the attorney an inbound referral when he is employed at ABC, Inc. He later changes jobs and takes a position at XYZ, Corp. Having ABC, Inc. attached to the activity accurately records the transaction as it happened.

 The importance of this is evident when you produce your referral reports. For example, one of the most powerful reports lists all referral activities by referral company (referral contact’s associated company record). Since the activity has the referral contact’s original employer record attached, it accurately displays all referrals received or given by it’s employees. This report is very useful when meeting with strategic referral partner companies as you are able to demonstrate what referral business has been given and received . This lets you discuss your relationship with the company in very specific terms.

 Managing the CRM Data
Setting up a system to capture and report referral data is useless unless there’s also a process for entering and managing the data.  The best model we have discovered is to assign a main referral contact within an office to whom the attorneys can route all their referral data. A central contact eliminates the need to rely upon all of the attorneys or their assistants doing their own data entry. And since it sometimes can be challenging to decipher the information they forward, this contact point needs to understand the business well enough in order to translate the information into the appropriate CRM relationships and activities.

 The reports also become an important tool. As the data grows in your CRM the reports will show who has been active with regards to referrals. Attorneys that are active but have not been participating by submitting referral data to the contact point will be excluded from the report. I have seen an office partner meeting where the office managing partner distributed a referral activity reports and attorneys who had not participated to date immediately pointed out that they also had referrals, to which the managing partner instructed them to provide the details to the central contact for data entry. So the managing partner used the report internally to improve data collection and the completeness.

Summary
There are two referral data types to track in your CRM system; the referral network and referral activities. The network describes the relationships between the attorney, his or her referral contact, and the referred contact that’s part of the lead. Each referral transaction is recorded as either an inbound activity or an outbound activity, depending on whether the attorney is receiving or giving the referral. Be sure to record the referral and referred contact’s company records to referral activities to create an accurate history of the transaction. And the most effective approach to managing the data is to have each office managing partner assign a central contact point to receive and enter the office’s referral data.

Searching for Companies Using CBSA and CSA Codes

One of the most basic search criteria we often use to target companies for our marketing communications is geography. This is especially true when promoting a local event at one of our offices. You want to reach out and draw clients and prospects that work within a reasonable distance from your office as they are most likely to travel to your location to attend the event. Many folks will create a mailing list based on the company’s address using city names or zip codes as part of their selection criteria. But this is inefficient as most major urban areas are so large that these criteria are too unwieldy to manage. It is much better to take advantage of the governments coding system for defining your target geography.

The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) creates and maintains a code standard to define cities and urban areas to enable consistent reporting from all of the governmental agencies. Marketers can take advantage of this coding system as a way to identifying geographic target markets that is much easier than building a long list of zip codes or city and neighboring suburbs. They define the urban areas  by evaluating not only the proximity of neighboring cities but also the social and economic connections of nearby cities and counties.. Socially you can imagine that for a city such as Chicago that you will find Bears football fans in communities well  beyond the city limits. The number of surrounding suburbs and “collar” counties where locals will turn on their TVs Sunday afternoons and root for the Monsters of the Midway would be considered part of the Chicago urban area. And economically you can easily imagine a similar broad geographic band around the Chicago area where businesses will recruit employees or find local suppliers for goods and services.

For years the two types of codes we used to define these geographic areas were the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA) codes. But these are now obsolete as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) replaced these with two new designations in 2003. We now use Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA) and Core Statistical Area (CSA) codes. The CBSA is the basic code that’s used to defined urban areas and the CSA code is generally assigned to the larger urban areas. CSAs are comprised of multiple CBSAs that have grown together to create a larger metropolitan area. The dark green border around Chicago on the map bellow shows the extent of the Chicago CSA. Notice that it is made up of three CSAs; Chicago-Naperville-Joliet IL-IN-WI  CSA, Kankakee-Bradley IL CSA and the Michigan City-LaPorte IN CSA. These are marked off by a slightly thinner green border.

Chicago CSA in Northern Illinois

Chicago CSA in Northern Illinois

 

Source: State-based Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Maps November, 2004
http://www.census.gov/geo/www/maps/stcbsa_pg/stBased_200411_nov.htm

Using CBSA & CSA Codes in Your CRM

In order to create searches in your CRM based on CBSA and CSA codes you first need to load the codes as part of your company contact record or as part of its address data. Which one depends upon on how your system manages address data and how you use your address data. For our system we decided to load these codes as additional information fields on the company records based upon the location (zip code) of the primary mailing address. The codes are readily available online from the OMB website, but we license a monthly update from Zip-Codes.com. It’s very inexpensive and saves time. They provide us with a monthly update file that we run against our database. The codes  themselves don’t change but there are frequent changes in the included zip codes, which are maintained by the USPS. There will be some major changes soon once the government completes it’s work on the 2010 census.

 We don’t append this data to the individual people records in the database. Instead we modify our searches so the we find the people who work at companies whose code matches the target area.  For example, the logic of a search for inviting folks to a seminar in Chicago sounds like this:

           All people whose associate company’s CSA is 178

You may want to consider appending the codes to individual records if you plan on targeting people for individual tax or estate and trust practices.

Naturally the Chicago query would be a little more complicated as we would further refine the search with demographic criteria such as company size or industry codes. We append that data in a separate process with data we license form Dun & Street.  I’ll discuss that concept in another future article.

 References

Combined Statistical Areas and Component Core Based Statistical Areas, November 2008, with Codes

Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Wall Maps, November 2008

State-based Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Maps, November, 2004

Don’t Follow Blindly

Don’t follow blindly has always been good advice even before Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools. And it’s even more important these days where following or friending without a strategy can become a marketing nightmare.

I first became aware of the potential problems when I innocently used the word “p*rn” in a tweet on Twitter. I forget the actual message but it had nothing to do with the sex industry. Within seconds I receive several emails announcing new followers. So I clicked on the link to check out their profiles and was surprised to see that they were fictitious accounts set up for escort services. They are rather easy to identify as they feature provocative profile pictures, have a high number of folks they follow with almost no one following them, and have only one or two tweets they have sent out. The tweet will have a short URL that leads to their website promoting their services. Lately Twitter has been very active in flushing these folks out and I frequently land on a page announcing that the account has been suspended, “nothing to see here, mosey on.” If the account is still active I will actively block them.

Obviously these folks are using search software to automatically follow folks based on keywords. Not all of them are in sketchy industries. I have a friend that was tweeting about how much she and her family were watching the “NatGeo” channel. Almost instantly she received a message that National Geographic was now following her. I haven’t researched these tools yet but I suspect there may be ways to employ them for marketing legal services. I also suspect there may be ethical reasons why attorneys and firms shouldn’t use them as well!

So the first rule is to never follow blindly, always check out the account before you follow someone new. I know many folks are into trying to ratchet up their follow and following counts but you don’t have to play that social networking game. Remember your goal is to use these tools to brand yourself and drive your business development activities, not to win a “high score.”

Second, evaluate the contact to see if he or she is relevant to your goals. Check out their profile and open the link to their website. Most folks provide the link as part of their profile. You can easily tell if they are a spammer or even a direct marketer using Twitter to promote their products or services. Don’t forget that you may have interests outside of business and chose to follow folks not related to the legal industry. I follow several accounts related to science and space, camping and Scouting. Just remember that anyone can see a list of who you are following, and that includes and escort services you may have robotically followed back. (This accentuates the blending of what’s business and what’s personal in social networking).

So why bother be so selective? At worse, your account may become the target of spam attacks. I know of one account where the owner routinely followed everyone that followed him. He did this as a social networking courtesy, “Ill follow you if you follow me.” His account is now flooded with direct message spam, thousands of messages. Remember that people cannot direct message you unless you follow them. It’s really no different that email spammers. Their goal is to gather your account ID so they can flood you with messages about their “offerings.” This poor guy has been working with Twitter to try to stop the torrent of unwanted messages but I fear he’s fighting a losing battle. His only recourse will likely be to abandon his account and start all over with a new one.

Having to erase your account is a marketing disaster. If you have been tweeting for a while you have built up a decent following of folks interested in your tweets. You lose all of them with a new account. Most of them you have no other way of contacting them other than through Twitter. Are you tracking your key contacts twitter ID and other social networking accounts? You may want to start so you can rebuild your following if you have start over. Another problem of starting over is that you lose your original ID. You have spent a lot of time branding that account. It’s how many folks on the net know you. Worse yet, it may even be your company brand and now you have to walk away from that account ID as it becomes unusable.

Twitter and social networking is still rather new but it’s growing up quickly. This is evident by how quickly the spammers have infiltrated its service. It’s a shame that we cannot just innocently tweet away on the internet anymore. But that’s the nature of the beast these days and we all must learn how to protect ourselves and our online identities. So make sure you practice safe computing with Twitter and don’t follow blindly.

I’m No Longer Two-Faced

Previously I reported on how I created two separate Facebook accounts; one for my personal social network and a second for a more business related social network. But after months of neglect I have decide to deactivate the business account. I found that it was just too much of a hassle to maintain two separate accounts, and I tended to gravitate to my “personal” account almost exclusively. With other social networking tools competing for face time (pun intended) I just stopped managing two different personas.

Throw In The Towel?

But I haven’t given up on the concept of Facebook being a valuable business development tool. But you must be very selective on who you friend and what you post. I would reserve Facebook to only those contacts you already know and have a strong comfort level that they will accept your personality. Because even if you are very cautious about what you post, you cannot escape the likelihood that some very personal information will eventually make it’s way to your home wall or someone else’s wall.

It could be as innocent as an old high school or college buddy posting and tagging pictures of you from some frat party. (Tagging is when thy click on your image and enter your name so folks viewing the picture know it’s you!). Or perhaps you and you family share comments about a birthday, graduation or other family oriented life event. There is nothing inherently wrong with that information, it’s just that it opens your personal life up to business contacts that you ordinarily wouldn’t share. There are some security settings where you can restrict what information is visible, but sometimes these settings can create a false sense of security. If you post a comment on a friends page, and then another person who is not your friend but shares your first friend comments on the same thread, he or she can see you comments. So you had better think twice before you post comments.

So Why Should I Use Facebook Anyway?

But the same issues that may lead you to be leery in “friending” business contacts can also be the exact reason why you want to friend them. You will gain insight into their personality. Collecting birthdays is an obvious benefit. But you can easily start to pick up on facts about family members, spouse & children’s names, school events, extra-curricular activities, likes and dislikes. If you pay attention you can harvest a wealth of information. Now you can leverage this information to initiate conversations or use to deepen relationships as you blend personal information with business conversations. Good salespersons are expert at this technique as are experienced rainmaker attorneys. That’s why lunch meetings, sporting events and other social gatherings are used to strengthen business relationships. With Facebook you can gather this information on contacts without expending the time and money on lunch or golf.

Enter What You Learn into Your CRM

Be sure to leverage your CRM as you gather this information. At the very least you should be entering bits of information in your email address book notes so you can refer to them when you plan a call or meeting. Ideally you should condense the most pertinent details in a shared notes field so that your colleagues on your team have good data when they make or receive calls. You don’t need to share everything as that may tend to be spooky if it isn’t worked into the conversation properly. You may have a valid conversation entry point as you can say “I noticed on your Facebook status that your daughter just graduated, congratulations!” But a colleague who is not on the contact’s friend list should never use  that type of data. But you could add data such as A favorite sport team or hobby. Then your teammate can lead with “John tells me you’re a big Notre Dame fan…” This also highlights the importance of identifying the source of your notes in the CRM, even your personal notes. You should always make note of the date and source of the information. This let’s you frame it’s use properly, such as referring to Facebook in the first example, or by allowing others in shared notes to cite their source of the information.

For example, for a personal note the entry may look like this:

 “5/27/09 From Facebook: John commented on his daughter’s graduation from Notre Dame with a degree in sociology. He graduated from ND and is a booster of their basketball program”

Whereas the shared note may look like this:

 “5/27/09 from Bill Vannerson: John graduated from Notre Dame and is a boster of their basketball program.”

Documenting shared notes like this allows the reader to refer back to you if they have questions or need clarification.

Alsonote that you can also learn valuable tidbits by looking at the contact’s profile for what Facebook groups they are “fans” or “friends.”  Again, take the time to convert this knowledge into CRM notes so you have access to them in one central application.

At all times you should respect the privacy of your contacts and be extra careful with sensitive information. Misuse of this information, even if it’s made public on Facebook, can be disastrous you your relationship if the contact is offended or even scared by your approach.

Facebook has a valid business development role for attorneys, but you must

  • be very cautious on what you share about your life,
  • select your friends very carefully (some things never change),
  • be alert and pick up valuable relationship building clues, and
  • record what you learn in your CRM software.

So What’s Your Social Media Strategy?

By now most folks have heard the buzz on the streets about social media and social networking, and many have been jumping on the bandwagon in order to capitalize on the latest Internet craze. But why are you updating your Facebook status, sending tweets and adding entries to your blog? The ultimate goal is to develop and maintain relationships with those who can either provide you with business or provide you with referrals that can lead to new business. But as is often true with any new technology many folks are using these new tools like taking scattered shots in the dark without a clear sight on their target.

Most long-term profitable work comes from culturing a relationship with the client or prospective client where he or she has a high degree of comfort and confidence with the attorney’s ability and, equally important, their commitment to serve their needs. Traditionally attorneys cultivate these relationships via face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and e-mail. These tools still exist and are not replaced by the new social networking tools. Rather the new tools should augment these tools by:

  • Extending your reach to create new relationships
  • Extending you capability to deepen existing relationships

Think back to your Marketing 101 class and you may remember the acronym AIDA that stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. This is referred to as the Model of Consumer Behavior, also called the Hierarchy of Readiness. This model can be applied to business–to–business marketing as it describes a basic behavior exhibited by all decision makers. The objective is to step the decision maker from the first stage, Attention, up through the final stage, Action.

AIDA

AIDA Flow

 

 

  1. First your communication strategy needs to cut through the clutter to get their attention. No one his going to become a client unless they know you exist.
  2. Once you get their attention your message needs to get their interest. You can yell, “Hey, you!” and get someone to turn their head, but you then need to get their interest so they will listen to your message.
  3. If you’re successful and have their attention and interest, your message now needs to create desire. This is where you communicate where your skills and services match their needs. And it’s convincing enough that they can envision themselves working with you.
  4. Finally, your strategy must include a call to action. You have expended your time and resources to get the prospect’s attention, raise their interest, and develop a sense desire so make sure you have a call to action in your strategy so you can take advantage of the primed situation.

Applying AIDA

Let’s apply the AIDA model to your social networking strategy. Remember, the objective is not to adopt social networking tools just to jump on the bandwagon. That would be like firing of random shots in the air without aiming. You need to evaluate each component and decide how to use them as part of your overall strategy to move the prospect from one end of the model to the other. So let’s plug in the various tools that are available and see how they might be used to develop business relationships.

Social Networking Functions Organized by AIDA Step

Social Networking Functions Organized by AIDA Step

Step One: Get Their Attention

Twitter tweets and Facebook & LinkedIn status updates are useful tools for getting folks attention. People add you to their for selfish reasons. Either they are curious about you and what you are doing or they want to build their network. Either way, you should leverage this behavior to your advantage and provide them with information that induces them to read what you have to say.

And what do you say? Many people using these tools put too much personal information on almost every aspect of their day. Your target market doesn’t really care what time you get up or that you are brushing your teeth. But they will be interested if you are attending a business related conference, or if you are passing along a bit of news that’s important to their industry, or if you are sending a link to your new blog topic on a subject that interests them. These are the types of short, headline type messages you need to send. In fact, they play the very same role in your strategy as a headline does in traditional advertising. Your objective is to get their attention to move them on to the next step, desire.

Step Two: Generate Interest

Creating interest may take more time and is difficult to achieve with tweets alone. After all you only have 140 characters and even if you are succinct and pithy it’s not likely that you are going to get someone interested with a single message. Instead you need to rely upon a cumulative effect of your tweets and status updates, what I refer to as your message halo. The combination of a body of tweets, your public bio, profiles, etc. and by tactful linking to external web pages establish your reputation and cultivates a following. This is the beginning of a relationship.

As you continue to send out your message, you are developing a body of work, you’re message halo. Multiple impressions over time in a given discipline impart a sense that you are an expert in the field, provided your tweets and status updates are accurate and of interest. After a time your audience will anticipate your tweets and updates as the content they lead to has value to them. There are two important issues regarding your message strategy to this end.

One, you need to have a regular flow of content, not too much and not too little. You need to spend enough time that your name is in front of your audience but not so much that you are simply flooding them as that dilutes the impact of your message.

Two, you must restrict your message to content that matters to your business or relationship. Do not tweet that you are brushing your teeth. No one cares and it does nothing to drive the audience towards taking an action, which is your ultimate objective. That doesn’t mean that non-business related content should be banned. Business development is dependent upon creating relationships and allowing certain aspects of your personal life to come through your messaging helps build a sense of camaraderie. In fact, one of the most overlooked aspects of social networking tool is that you can become more personable with a large group of people at the same time, many of whom you may never have met. That is a powerful tool. So be careful and very thoughtful on what impression you make through your messaging.

Other tools hat help include leveraging the features of the social networking tools such as completing profiles, joining groups, uploading bios and photos. As the audience sees this information, they begin to develop an impression about you and your interests. All of this works towards establishing a relationship. So be careful to not be too personal if such information may be detrimental to developing a business relationship. This is particularly important with Facebook where you may let your guard down and post information that could offend or turn off business contacts.

Step Three: Create Desire

Now that you have their attention and they are interested in hearing what you have to say, your strategy needs to move the audience to where they desire to hear what you have to say. Tweets and status updates cannot do this so you must now leverage other aspects of your communication strategy to elicit this response.

You should take advantage of the firm content but you also need to personalize the subject matter. After all, your goal is for them to develop a relationship with you. Passing along a firm newsletter or an alert on a timely issue have value to your contacts but they do not reflect totally on you and your ability. To build a relationship you must demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. Traditionally attorneys do this by presenting at events, writing articles & white papers and making presentations at conferences and firm events. These are still valuable tools and you should use social network tools to drive interested contacts your material. Your tweets and status updates should include links to these materials and registration information.

Another social network tool you need to incorporate is blogging. If you have your own blog you now have the freedom and flexibility to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise with less constraints associated with firm resources. But beware! If you do not have the writing skills or the dedication to provide timely content, then the use of blogs could backfire and have the opposite effect and drive folks away from you. You also must still conform to all legal ethical standards.

But if you are committed and possess decent writing skills, then blogging is were you can truly personalize the message and express yourself. You can demonstrate your knowledge but also connect with your reader on a more personal level working towards establishing a relationship. *There’s that “R” word again!) A blog has an advantage over the other channels in that it’s your blog and you are communicating directly to an audience.

Step Four: Stimulate Action

So the objective of your social networking strategy is to culminate in some sort of call to action that leads to either

  • Extending your reach to create new relationships
  • Extending you capability to deepen existing relationships

Typical responses would be to create an opportunity for a meeting, such as lunch, a telephone call, or an exchange of emails, sort of electronic conversation. In order to do this you must provide a means for the reader to contact you and specifically ask for them to participate. Salesman are taught to always ask for the sale and this is no different, ask for a response. The goal is to elevate the relationship from a non-qualified group of followers to a personal conversation that will lead to a business relationship. It’s these relationships that will eventually lead to new clients and increased business with existing clients.

Make sure you provide a business email or a link to your professional bio. Most blogging software provide for comments or even discussion boards. Discussion boards can be quite useful because in addition to elevating the relationship you are receiving feedback on a given subject matter from the contact. You are engaged in a dialog where you gain insight into their issues and problems, which you now have the opportunity to display that you understand their issues and can help solve their problems. One technique is to pose questions to your audience with the sole intent of inducing them to respond with a comment or add to the discussion thread. The purpose is to engage them in a conversation and develop a relationship.

Finally, a note about using social networking tools as a means to extend your reach and develop new relationships. Messages sent via Twitter or posted to groups on LinkedIn or Facebook are reaching an audience beyond your traditional in-house lists. Twitter also extends your reach if folks following you retweet your message to folks that follow them. So your message can reach thousands of folks who you don’t know and do not have a traditional means of identifying.

Social Networking tools alone will not get you a new engagement or expand the business you do with an existing client. They are useful marketing tools with some very unique attributes that should be melded into your complete arsenal along with the traditional firm resources and your personal, face-to-face selling. The goal is to leverage them into your mix and using the AIDA concept may be a helpful way for you to develop a comprehensive communication strategy. At some point if your social networking message catches their attention and raises their interest, and it just happens to be for on a topic that’s important to their organization and they desire help, then your call to action may get them to reach out to you so you can establish a business relationship.

A Call To Action

I’m very interested to hear from you your ideas and thoughts on this topic. Especially if you have worked with attorneys to incorporate this or similar methodologies into their personal marketing techniques. You can add a comment here or contact me directly at wvannerson@foley.com.