Cultivate Relationships with High-Profile Partners

Collaboration can feel like a risky gambit: it requires up-front investment but the rewards only flow in over time.   Our research has turned up ways to speed up the payback period for collaboration:  Certain strategies can lower professionals’ perceived costs of collaboration and help them to reap more benefits sooner.  This post focuses on people who have yet to build their own reputation inside their firm – perhaps, newly elevated partners or lateral hires.  How can they use collaboration more strategically to increase their personal benefits from collaboration while reducing costs?

One strategy, for example, is to cultivate relationships with high-profile partners who can bring you onto collaborative projects with prestigious clients, knowing that the higher the status of their network the more influence those people have on others’ perceptions.  Get yourself on the radar of partners who can benefit from your expertise and help you build your capabilities and your revenues.  How?

  1. Target specific clients and their relationship partner. Chris, a partner in the New York office of a global law firm uses this tactic:  From discussions with colleagues or articles in the legal press, she gleans ideas for how her expertise in data privacy might be used more broadly in a corporate client’s strategy.  She then researches companies that her firm already serves, and writes a one-page memo to the account manager client relationship partner outlining what she can offer specifically to that partner’s client and how her expertise solves a particular problem.  Chris admits that the effort takes time, and not all of her colleagues are receptive to what they see as self-promotion. But some are extremely grateful, and enough of them welcome the offer that the tactic has so far resulted in multiple joint pitches for new work, and a couple of ongoing relationships with partners.
  2. Respond to RFIs. Here’s the idea from one partner:  “We have internal system called Global Request that people can use when they have an opportunity or client question.  To get input from others, he can write a specific request to a subgroup or the whole firm.  Our firm has thousands of professionals, and several hundred partners.  If you send to all partners, then you get 3-4 responses on average.  If you can an answer which is well articulated, then next time you have this topic, you go directly to them, which is a benefit for both of you. But unless you have provided feedback and insights on 20-30 global requests, you aren’t likely to see benefits in terms of work referrals. I pushed myself to try to answer as many queries as possible — whenever I had anything to add, I tried to share it or at least refer them to someone.  I pushed myself more than just when it was convenient.  I got an amazing response to my inputs, and it resulted in getting called to help on a specific proposals, presentations, etc.”
  3. Initiate the relationship. Another way to work with influential colleagues is to invite them onto your own client projects. Kevin, a veteran consulting partner, transferred from a boutique telecommunications firm to a generalist firm so he could apply his operations expertise to a wider array of clients. Soon after joining the new firm, Kevin identified three partners who were widely seen as prime players in other practice groups.  He invited each to lunch, but before dining spent hours conducting due diligence – studying their published papers, reading up on their clients, and talking to partners in his own practice who’d worked with them.  Within his first year, Kevin found an opening to hold joint meetings at his client with each of those partners; one developed into a small but promising stream of work. The three partners grew to appreciate Kevin’ deep expertise and client-handling skills.  And they learned of his long-term intention to stay at the firm and build a thriving business.  Over time, those partners began telling others of their impressions of him, and his prospects began to develop for work on others’ clients across a range of industries. The initial trick, Kevin explained, was for him to learn enough of others’ domain expertise to be able to identify specific opportunities for them in his own clients and credibly start discussions about those opportunities.

Do you have other suggestions for how junior partners, lateral hires, service partners, or anyone who needs to build their internal reputation can cultivate relationships with high-profile partners?

As ever in this Idea Space, please feel free to leave your comments below.  If you have an especially sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share  (perhaps one that I could disguise and use in the book, or at least learn from), then please email me directly on hgardner@law.harvard.edu

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