Thursday, October 11, 2007

Technology Tools for Client Development, Part 2: Alumni Online

Old Friends
In the world of professional services, if you want low-hanging client development fruit, you need to market to people that already know you and trust you. Short of that, market to those that knew you and trusted you once upon a time. Save time by using the Internet to track down former clients and colleagues and keep them in your virtual embrace. Of course, “to google” someone is a phrase that now probably qualifies for The Oxford English Dictionary. But, that’s not the only way to find and reconnect with people from your past that might be willing and able to help you build your practice.

Classmates: One of the online tools I access frequently is my business school alumni site. At, I tap into a complete database of all MBA graduates from the school. I can narrow my search by name, city, work organization, graduation year and many other factors. My undergraduate alma mater, University of Michigan, has a deal earlier with an online networking service, Affinity Engines, which also provides private label online social networks for the alumni associations of Stanford University and The University of Southern California (USC). If you haven’t yet mined the alumni directory of your educational institution, get busy. Reaching out to old friends is not only fun, its very good business networking. “Hey, Joe. It has been too long. I would like to catch up with you. Maybe there are some ways we can help each other professionally after all this time?”

Clients: Please tell me that you are keeping in touch with your former clients (assuming that you did respectable work for them). Think of them as “Alumni Clients.” It isn’t too late to track them down and reconnect. They liked and trusted your performance in the past, they may be in a position to employ your services in the future. Here’s where LinkedIn can be of use. Search tools like Google or databases like Hoovers can help. So can a quick e-mail to others who might know the location of your former client.

Colleagues: Whether they are from your current firm or a previous one, your prior business colleagues share a strong common bond with you. They can be your best source of new business if you manage the relationship well. Some firms invest heavily in this form of marketing. The other day, my wife got an invite to join her former Ernst & Young colleagues on their alumni site. McKinsey & Company uses its elite alumni network as a recruiting tool (that is, “join us and you will be part of the club for life”) and as a business development tool. McKinsey alum are often loyal to their former firm when hiring consulting firms for the companies they go on to lead. And, it works the other way around too. We’ve got one client that is a specialized consulting firm McKinsey-spin-off and they do 100% of their work as a result of McKinsey and referrals from Alumni. Many companies now have their own alumni web sites (some authorized and some not). Check to see if your corporate alma mater has an alumni web site and, if not, perhaps you can start it – putting yourself at the center of the alumni information flow.

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