The marketing director of a New York law firm told me about a meeting with the general counsel of a Fortune 50 company. His department had produced an advance briefing document for the lawyers, with details about the company and the people who would be involved. The marketing director participated in the interview and told me of his embarrassment when the first question asked by one of the partners was, “So, what were your revenues last year?”
This was embarrassing and frustrating because: (1) They already knew the company’s revenue — it was in the briefing materials; and (2) the answer was irrelevant. It was several billion dollars. What was the purpose of the question?
Having productive meetings with prospects involves a lot more than showing up and following up. Much of your success will hinge on the preparation you do before you get there. Here are some thoughts on researching your targets.
What Should You Know?
First, look for information about the entity. Obviously, it’s easier to find information on large, public companies than smaller, middle-market or privately held companies or professional services (e.g., accounting firms). Still, there is a wealth of public information on most companies at your fingertips (or those of your firm’s market researcher, CI specialist or librarian). To the extent you can, learn about these issues:
- The business — what the company does, number of employees, revenues, locations, clients/customers, competitors, divisions/departments
- Business risks, priorities, hot buttons and issues — data security, business imperatives, diversity, overseas markets
- Legal needs, relationships and priorities — geographic expansion, unionization, current counsel, past litigation, lawyer board members, in-house counsel situation
- Key players — executives, decision-makers, outside advisers, prior associations with the company
And, while it should go without saying, run a conflicts check.
Second, find out what you can about people in the organization and, in particular, the person or people with whom you will be meeting. I suggest you look for both personal and professional information. You can decide later how — or if — you want to use it. Examples would be career history, common contacts and outside interests.
How Do You Find It?
There are myriad sources of information about people and companies, and many are very easy to access.
- The company’s website. In addition to learning about the business, you can read about new developments, press releases or product and service information.
- LinkedIn. While it is helpful to look at a company page, LinkedIn is particularly useful when researching individuals’ backgrounds and career paths, and determining common connections.
- Twitter. One lawyer found his target had a Twitter account. Interestingly, the gentleman had never sent out a tweet but he followed 26 others — all related to the Boston Red Sox.
- Google. A simple Google search can provide any number of insights into the people — speeches they’ve given, articles they’ve written, events they’ve attended — and the company.
- Your firm’s CRM or client database. Use this to find out if any of your colleagues have relationships with the entity or people.
- Case data. Most firms have access to PACER, CourtLink, Westlaw or other databases that provide information on a company’s legal matters.
- Business data. Most firms also invest in resources to obtain company information, such as Mergermarket, Dun & Bradstreet and Hoover’s. If not, Business Wire is a free source for full-text news releases, multimedia and regulatory filings for companies and groups.
What Do You Do with It?
This is the most important step in the process. The goal of having information is to make your meeting more productive. Here are three ways to use it.
1. Determine potential legal needs. After reviewing your research results, develop a list of issues that might be worthwhile discussion topics. Obviously, the best issues will be those where you have or your firm has strengths.
2. Prepare questions. Use the information you gathered to develop informed questions, such as, “How is the integration of the new facility you acquired in New Jersey working out?” You may not want to reveal everything you learned (if you’re worried about looking like a stalker), but you can still ask leading questions.
3. Anticipate potential objections. Let’s say, for example, that you will be meeting with an associate general counsel who was a casual contact in law school. Her risk is, if she introduces you to the general counsel or sends you a matter to handle and you don’t do a good job, it will reflect poorly on her. Risks and objections are things you will want to address, either subtly or head on.
Planning for a meeting means more than selecting the restaurant or deciding who will drive. It means doing enough due diligence to steer the conversation toward areas where you can help. The ability to do that will only come with proper preparation.