Fly on the Wall is a really good description for a consultant sometimes. I think that is my favorite part of my job. A lawyer at a firm I've worked with for years suggested the term today when I shared an anecdote with him.
"Anecdote" per Wikipedia: A brief tale narrating an interesting or amusing...incident...to reveal a truth more general than the brief tale itself, or to delineate a character trait or the workings of an institution in such a light that it strikes in a flash of insight to their very essence.
I love that: strikes, in a flash of insight, to their very essence.
As someone privileged to observe numerous firms, I'm going to offer periodic "Fly on the Wall" postings to share anecdotes in their original context or their expanded context. Tonight's is this:
Referral Sources Within Your Own Firm: Cross-selling Killers
As this lawyer (experienced, but new to this firm) embarks on his first, formal Individual Marketing Plan, I advised as to the importance of starting off on the right foot "marketing" internally--to make sure his plans include creating positive impressions with the other professionals in his firm.
In his area of practice, Estate Planning, his success can be tremendously enhanced through referrals from other lawyers in the firm. Conversely, his success can be greatly impeded if few or no referrals come from his colleagues.
I recently observed (though certainly not for the first time) a scenario in which a particular firm partner is rather socially challenged and exudes negativity. As one would imagine, she is not very good at developing business. In fact, because she is ineffective at selling, she's highly dependent upon referrals.
She receives a lower than normal number of client referrals because of her attitude. And though a couple people in the firm do send some work her way--she is very proficient, after all--most would rather not have her directly interact with their clients. Those partners would rather refer that work to another firm before sending it to her.
Meanwhile, her small client-base is shrinking and her charge hours are much lower than her goal. The firm beats up on her for billing too few hours and spending too long doing the work she does. She is annoyed that nobody is fixing the "firm's marketing problem." She thinks she'd benefit from a direct mail campaign or other formal marketing efforts for her services.
A professional in another firm often complains openly to partners and team members about how much he dislikes his work. He comments about what a bother clients are when they call him. And he expresses, in a way that doesn't suggest he has the initiative to change it, that he doesn't really know how to do some of the tasks he is charged with.
The firm has written initiatives to develop the practice area in which this professional is a key player. The plan relies on other partners cross-selling this partner's services to their client-base. The firm hasn't had much success, though. Can you guess why?
Both of the above scenarios are classic examples of really bad internal marketing.
I've long believed the biggest barrier to cross-selling was "trust" lacking on the part of the potentially referring partner because of his or her perfectionist traits. But I now see that the introduction and trust both come easily if the receiving party merits it and does a good job demonstrating, internally, they are the best person for the job.
If you fairly are new to the professions, and haven't developed bad habits yet, take heed! Or, if you've been around awhile and want to increase cross-selling referrals in your specialty area, here is some advice that may help:
1. Recognize that whether or not you convey confidence and competence to your colleagues in the office (basically your attitude and approach toward work) dramatically impacts the future likelihood of those colleagues entrusting their clients or friends to you. (Even what you say in a partner meeting matters!)
2. Know that social skills are every bit as important as technical skills. If you could benefit from some enhancement in this area, a place to start might be amazon.com under "business social skills"...
3. Don't complain to peers or managers/partners about doing work, clients, your direct reports, insufficient skill level on your part or on the part of your team, or anything else over which you should, under normal circumstances, have the ability to improve or influence. Increase your skill, build or trim your team, and if you need to, pick another more stimulating practice area.
4. Be as positive and confident around your co-workers as you should be around an external referral source or client.
5. Be sure to do all of these things outside the firm as well!
In both of the troublesome scenarios I described above, isn't it a shame the owners won't be forthright with each other about the real causes of the problems?
Instead, they try to throw money and time at the problem, investing in marketing efforts and plans that won't succeed without the major behavioral changes that go undiscussed.
A great book about corporate honesty (and a very quick read) is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni.