Updating Your Marketing Strategy
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
Back in 1980 when I started practicing law, lawyers touted this client development strategy: “Just do good work.” Even back then, that sounded naïve and simplistic to me, but perhaps it had validity when there were fewer lawyers competing for clients. The number of attorneys has almost tripled since then, yet I still hear experienced lawyers give newer lawyers that same business development advice.
The legal world has changed, however, and the old ways need a makeover. This article will provide a few ideas for updating some well-worn (and perhaps worn-out) business development strategies.
Focus on the Client
- Old Strategy: Just do good work.
- Updated Version: Give good customer service.
The old strategy recognizes that it is easier and more cost-effective to get additional business from an existing client than to reel in a new client. You already have made it past the first barrier of getting the client to trust you enough to hire you. In addition, you have had the opportunity to learn about the client’s needs, so you can easily identify additional opportunities.
To hire you again, clients must perceive that you do good work for them; however, in today’s highly complex legal services market, many clients are not equipped to judge the quality of legal services they have received. Therefore, they often base their decisions on whether they received good customer service.
Clients know whether you promptly return their calls, whether you get the work back to them when promised, whether you understand their business, whether you keep them informed and avoid surprises, and whether you truly care about them and their concerns. So, while you are focusing on those important legal details, don’t let those equally important client relationship details fall by the wayside.
Clients who are satisfied with the quality of legal services they have received may share your name with colleagues when specifically asked for a referral. However, clients who have received great customer service often will volunteer your name—and they may even brag about how well they were treated.
Don’t forget one last element of good customer service: keeping in touch after the case has wrapped up. You must reconnect with your clients now and then; even though your clients likely will remember the high-quality service you provided for years, in time they may forget your name. An in-house lawyer told a story about being very satisfied with the service the company had received from a lawyer in another state. When a similar matter came up three years later, the firm wanted to hire the same lawyer. Unfortunately, the file had been archived off-site, and no one could remember his name or locate his contact information. Because the lawyer had failed to even send a holiday card, he lost future business.
Build a Connection
- Old Strategy: Give speeches and write articles to demonstrate your expertise.
- Updated Version: Additionally use speaking and writing to develop relationships with potential clients.
Speaking to the Bar at continuing legal education programs and writing for Bar journals are still good ways to raise your profile in the legal community. If a potential client asks another lawyer about your reputation, that lawyer is more likely to assume you are a good lawyer if she has heard you speak knowledegably. By the same token, a lawyer who doesn’t practice in your field may refer a client to you because he has seen your name repeatedly in seminar brochures. Lawyers have built their reputations that way for decades.
However, to become directly exposed to the people who have the authority to hire you, you also should pursue opportunities to speak at the conferences and industry association meetings your clients attend. It’s easier to whip up speeches and articles for members of the lay community (once you learn to drop all that legalese). They don’t want a bunch of legal arguments and case citations. They want practical how-to advice, information on risks and benefits, and real-life stories that resemble their own situations.
Use Writing to Open Doors to Dream Clients. To take it up a notch, use writing as an avenue to meet and build relationships with prospective clients. For example, you can call a prospect you don’t know and say, “I’m writing an article for Widget Manufacturers Quarterly, and I want to make sure I’m addressing the issues and concerns that manufacturers like you have. Would you be willing to give me ten minutes and a little of your advice?”
Even better, seek quotes from your dream clients on the topic. It is likely they will appreciate the opportunity to gain publicity and to be characterized as an industry leader. Be sure to let them know they will have the opportunity to approve the quotation. This approach gives you several more opportunities to contact them by phone and e-mail. For example, you can e-mail the draft of the section in which the quote appears, and then call for approval. You also can e-mail the version of the article you sent to the editor, and then later send a copy of the published article. You can follow-up with a request for feedback or perhaps invite them to lunch as a thank-you. Even if you don’t get that lunch, you may find that the next time you introduce yourself to your prospect at an industry conference, instead of getting a polite “nice to meet you,” you will be greeted with enthusiasm.
I must give a nod to Mark Maraia and his book Rainmaking Made Simple for this clever way to open doors to new client relationships. While I have had a similar experience when I subsequently introduced myself to someone I interviewed for an article, I hadn’t thought about designing the article to give me the opportunity to meet a target client.
Use Speaking to Meet Prospects in Person. The same technique works for speaking. Speaking has an added advantage because you can invite the prospect to your talk. Encourage the prospect to come up to say hello before or after the presentation. Perhaps then you can arrange to meet for coffee or lunch during a break at the conference. If your prospect will not be attending the conference, you can offer to forward the handouts or PowerPoint slides from your presentation. Ask your prospect to specify other topics of interest that will be presented at the conference. You can contact the prospect later to share the highlights or your notes on those topics.
During your speech, always announce that you will be available for questions after the conference or during the break. You can extend your relationship with people who approach you by asking for their card and offering to call to provide a more in-depth answer when there is more time the following week. You also can offer to send them some additional information. Each time you make contact with potential clients, your relationship with them becomes stronger.
Position Yourself as a Specialist
- Old Strategy: Tell the world about the myriad services you offer.
- Updated Version: Develop a niche of expertise, and market to that audience.
Some of you may worry that I am suggesting you turn away business when what you want is more business. Rest assured, you can still handle everything that walks in the door, if that’s what you desire. You can’t effectively market to everyone, however. After you bring in clients by niche marketing and do a great job for them, you have the opportunity to tell them about your other services.
An effective marketing effort spotlights you as the ideal lawyer to help your prospect with his or her unique problem. Although the problem may not be unique to you, it is to your prospect, and he or she wants someone who is an expert at handling such a problem. Think about it. If you injured your knee, would you seek out a general practitioner? Most of us would want an orthopedist—preferably one who specializes in knees. Specialists get more business and can command higher fees.
Niche marketing establishes you as an expert. It helps your prospective clients find you, and it also helps you know where to find them. When you narrow your focus for marketing purposes, you can more easily identify:
- the trade journals your prospects read;
- the industry associations they belong to;
- the key words they use when performing an Internet search for legal services;
- the conferences they attend;
- other providers who serve the same market and who may be referral sources;
- the most powerful market influencers;
- the places where they tend to gather; and
- the issues that concern them most.
Such information will help you to pinpoint your speaking, writing, networking, and advertising efforts, maximizing the return on investment of your marketing time and dollars.
An article in the May 3, 2004 issue of Texas Lawyer illustrated the power of a well-defined narrow niche. Attorney Kimberlee Norris established a niche of handling sexual abuse cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses. Within months of starting her marketing efforts, she had more than 1,500 cases from which to choose. Members of her target market passed her name around in Internet discussions. She got great free advertising because she demonstrated specialized knowledge about their narrow area of concern.
More recently, the July 2013 issue of the ABA Journal profiled a Covington & Burling lawyer who helps protect against the plundering of shipwrecks. He still handles other kinds of litigation, but he got national publicity because of his narrow niche.
- Old Strategy: Answer the question, “What do you do?” with “I’m a lawyer.”
- Updated Version: Give a brief memorable response about who you help and how you help them.
Back in the 1980’s, most people were impressed when you said you were a lawyer. Today, they groan or yawn. If you want to be remembered, get more creative. I know a litigator who sometimes says he is a “proctologist in the courtroom.” A bankruptcy lawyer describes himself as a “corporate undertaker.” A mediator describes himself as a “trial lawyer turned peacemaker.” Some of those descriptions may be a bit too colorful for many of us, but people remember them and repeat them.
To make your professional self-description more memorable, you can use elements of humor or surprise, although it is not necessary to be so clever. Use words that evoke concrete images to improve memorability. A plaintiff’s lawyer says he helps the Davids of the world fight Goliath companies. A tax lawyer says he helps keep the government’s hand out of your pocket.
Another memorable way to introduce yourself is to describe your service in terms of your solution to their pain or problem. A family lawyer says she helps parents get divorced with less pain for themselves and their children. A bond lawyer says she helps hospitals and schools get built. If your listener needs that solution, or knows someone who does, they will remember you much better than if you just said, “I’m a lawyer.” They will probably ask you how you do that, which gives you an opportunity to tell a success story. Stories enhance memory, too.
Whether you are a budding new attorney, or a gray-haired veteran, revamp those “tried-but-no-longer-so-true” business development strategies. Get out of the old rut and onto the right track by trying out some of these tips.
Updated and adapted from the author’s article originally published in the September 2007 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. ©2007-2013 Debra L. Bruce