Edge International


Trade Associations, Conferences, and Events: Creating Warmth and “Reach” Out of Thin Air

Trade Associations, Conferences, and Events: Creating Warmth and “Reach” Out of Thin Air

“Oh, how I hate cocktail receptions . . .” “If my practice group leader berates me about attending more trade association events I think I’m going to scream . . .”  “Ever since my first day of kindergarten, there are few things in life I hate more than walking into a large room of people I don’t know, knowing that I have to spend the next few hours in that room trying to make small talk . . . ” These are some of the refrains I hear from law firm partners who are struggling to (what I call) build up their funnel of relationships and dialogue. It is true that many partners spend too much time at the wrong large group events, and hanging out at cocktail receptions can be an affirmatively bad use of one’s time as a lawyer trying to develop business. With that said, as with most bus dev strategies, a focused and effective exposure to the right large group environments can pay off handsomely over time.

Why Do It?

Client cultivation is a game of both quantity and quality: you’ve got to do enough of the right things to create an effective portfolio of activity capable of producing yield. The same is true of large group involvements, whether they be industry sector trade association events, cocktail receptions, etc. From a quantitative – or rather, efficiency – perspective, if you focus on doing corporate and real estate work for convenience store operators, for example, it could make good sense to attend a trade association event of large independent convenience store owners and operators. Among other things, seeing members of your prospect universe coalescing in one place over a concentrated period of time is very efficient for you. Moreover, qualitatively speaking, or from an effectiveness perspective, it can also pay off in spades to be seen at a trade association event. When you attend an industry event attended primarily by non-lawyer industry people, you are signaling to the industry that you “get them.” All legal work in your practice may look the same to you – but to convenience store owners, their particular transactions are unique to their industry sector, and they would like to work with a convenience store professional who happens to be a lawyer as opposed to the converse.

So . . . What Do I Do?

Lawyers have a disserving view of what trade association and event related involvements are supposed to accomplish. While events are helpful for profile building and establishing differentiated expertise, the goal here is to put yourself in a position over time to have a portfolio of individual discussions/meetings with real prospects, and connectors to prospects. That’s it! If your attendance at a particular event doesn’t serve that goal, then you might not want to participate.

Given that we want to set the table for well qualified individual dialogue with prospects and connectors, below are a few tips relating to event/conference participation and strategy:

A Note on Trade Associations

Creating “Warmth” Out of Thin Air

If you follow the above approach you can get in dialogue with a rich population of prospects and connectors – so-called PPIs – without having the benefit of an introduction through others. In other words, you can create “warmth” out of thin air! Conferences and trade association involvements can be very leverageable if you use them the right way. So go ahead: create some “warmth,” and get close to your market!

Mike White

was a practicing attorney for seven years prior to founding and operating two enterprise software companies — Sirius Systems (sold 1997) and MarketingCentral (sold 2007). He owned and managed ClientQuest Consulting, LLC for 10 years serving law firms. He holds an AB in History from Duke University and a JD from Emory University School of Law.