Date Your Way to Cross-Selling Success
Earlier this year, a CMO friend asked for help designing and delivering a two-hour session on business development at the annual women partners’ retreat. Business development had been a topic at every retreat for a number of years with mixed success, so the CMO, Tara Weintritt and I decided to identify five influential women partners and ask them to describe what “success might look like” at the upcoming retreat. Their responses were remarkably consistent:
- “Don’t lecture to us. Generic hypotheticals never work.”
- “Give us practical advice—suggestions and tips that we can use in business development.”
- “Help us learn more about each other and our different practices.”
Taking the advice to heart, we designed three small group activities including a modified “speed dating” exercise that, based on the feedback, received the highest marks.
Product knowledge, or knowing the capabilities and expertise at your firm, is an essential part of business development. A great lawyer should, in addition to many other attributes, know the practices, experiences and personalities of the other lawyers at his or her firm in order to better cross-sell, or introduce clients to colleagues in different practice areas in an effort to expand the type of work the firm provides to those clients. Simple. The strategy only works, however, if more attorneys know—truly know—the strengths of their colleagues in other practices and offices. This can be a tall order for firms of significant size.
For the uninitiated, speed dating began as an exercise for singles to meet others one on one in a quick, non-threatening environment. Each couple exchanges ideas and personal history for a few minutes before moving seats and meeting someone new. The moves in speed dating are vaguely similar to musical chairs. Every few minutes, everyone moves one seat either right or left EXCEPT the anchor people, who never move.
We arranged the chairs much like a chess tournament with individuals sitting across from each other at a long table. We randomly divided the partners into groups of 10, five pairs each, and instructed the group to devote two minutes to each partner in the pair. After four minutes, the pairs switched.
By dividing the entire retreat into groups of ten, we were able to keep the exercise to approximately one hour. Not surprisingly, a few partners were not ready to move at the end of the four minutes. They needed little encouragement to arrange follow-up discussions, some of which involved introducing colleagues to clients. Ah ha! Cross-selling!
The speed-dating concept is a great business development tool (and it’s also a great way to practice your one-minute elevator speech). Try it periodically at practice group meetings, potentially with groups of three. Give specific instructions for different sessions. Examples might include:
- Describe your best client and why you like working with that client.
- What do you consider your strongest personal attribute?
- Which colleague do you enjoy working with most?
Cross-selling works only when partners have product knowledge. Speed dating is a fun, effective way to help them gain that product knowledge and, in the process, improve their own cross-selling success.