The foundation of a strong law practice is a strong referral network. Even your best clients probably don’t need you all the time. This is particularly true for litigators. But what is a strong referral network and how do you build it?
Fundamentally, a good referral network starts with a focused marketing message. It is difficult to generate referrals if you do not have a clear idea of who you want to serve and what services you want to provide. (Who are you, who do you do, who do you serve, what have you done and how do you differentiate yourself from other lawyers?)
Having a well defined niche is important because it helps you communicate what you do in a way that is memorable (so that it is easy for happy clients and other professionals to pass your name along at the right moment). Having a niche also helps you think more strategically about who you might want to cultivate (e.g. other service providers who serve the same clients).
Beyond this, understand that not all referral sources are created equal. Some individuals are more apt to make referrals by nature. Look for the people in your network who are always trying to be helpful and have the ability to think outwardly (and don’t forget to be someone who is always on the lookout to make your own referrals).
The other day, I was playing squash with a retired doctor who happens to be the “helping type”. We play pretty regularly and have lots to talk about. But on this particular day, he started asking me questions about what I do. I told him that I consult with lawyers and other professionals on marketing and he immediately began telling me about some of his family members who he thought could use my services. He volunteered to introduce me and I graciously accepted. While this has not yet turned into an engagement, I did end up speaking to one of his relatives who may hire me to coach his daughter. The key here is that my squash partner wanted to help and was able to introduce me to a potential client.
It helps to identify happy clients who are willing to make referrals. When I conduct client interviews for law firms that have institutional clients, I ask the question, “What is the likelihood that you would refer Smith and Smith’s services to someone else?” If the answer is a 9 or 10, then I know this is an individual that the firm should further cultivate.
If a lot of your clients are individuals (or unlikely to use your services more than once), send them a survey at the end of your engagement. Ask them how happy they were with the services you provided and on a scale of one to ten, how likely are they to refer your services to someone else. If anyone gives you a 9 or a 10, see if they would be willing to write a testimonial for your website or mention your name to others.
Blizzard of 2013 is a good reminder of the importance of being prepared. Things would have been much worse here in Massachusetts, if the Governor had not queued up all the necessary road clearing resources and banned all cars from the road so that the cleanup work could be done.
While a networking meeting is not a blizzard, going unprepared to meet a potential client or referral source is a missed opportunity. The best rainmakers know this. It doesn’t have to take long; but it is not a step you should skip. Click here to read more.
Storytelling is key to selling professional services. And you don’t have to be a great story teller. If you take the time to come up with a few anecdotes that illustrate what you do, you are more likely to be memorable. Our brains are wired for stories. If a story is “good”, it will illustrate to the potential client or referral source, that you can handle the kind of problem they have or are likely to encounter.
In deciding how to market your services, remember that less is more. Understand that having a niche will make you more memorable. It will help you differentiate yourself from other lawyers. If you are known for doing a certain kind of work, you are much more likely to get referrals.
Being known for something does not preclude you from taking other kinds of work if it happens to come your way. But take the time to define your ideal client and build all of your messaging around that niche.
The diagram below illustrates the concept of focused marketing. Talk about the clients you serve in the red circle. Accept matters that are in the brown circle; but do not invest marketing time and energy into trying to get that work. Finally, make sure to reject or refer out work that falls into the green circle.
My latest LPM tip in the MBA’s Lawyer’s eJournal.
If you are willing to take a more objective look at how Obama and Romney have conducted themselves during the first two debates (to the extent that this is possible), there is a lot that is worth emulating. There are also more than one or two cautionary notes. Here are my top 6:
1. Your level of enthusiasm matters a lot when you are trying to sell yourself. In the first debate, Obama looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. He looked down at his notes and he did not project good energy. In the second debate, he seemed much more engaged and interested in getting reelected. When you are out speaking with prospective clients and referral sources, project interest in what you do.
2. Resilience is key in selling. Being able to recover from your marketing mistakes is the difference between ultimate success and failure. Prior to the first debate, most pundits were already writing Mitt Romney’s political obituary. But his performance in the first debate clearly had a big impact on the polls. It is too early to know how the second debate will effect the polls; but after his first debate drubbing, Obama demonstrated a lot of resilience and came back with a much stronger performance.
3. Getting lost in the weeds does not help your messaging. If you want a prospect to understand what you do (and more importantly, if you want to be memorable), distill your message down to shorter phrases and stay away from intricate detail. Several times during the second debate, Mitt Romney’s message became much weaker when he started getting too deep into the details.
4. Preparation is critical. The lawyers who are best at marketing their services spend a lot of time preparing before they meet with prospects, give a presentation, etc. Both candidates did a lot of preparation for the second debate. They knew what questions might come up and they had well prepared answers that they could adapt to the actual questions. It showed.
5. Listening is just as important as speaking. If you want to learn how you can be helpful to your clients, let them do more of the talking. It is only by listening that we learn what really matters to our clients and referral sources. If your body language says that you are formulating your next thought rather than listening to what the other person has to say, you will lose some credibility. In the second debate, both Obama and Romney talked over each other and at times, seemed to be bursting at the seams to say something. While the Democrats were looking for a more engaged and forceful President, I don’t think either Obama or Romney were at their best when they were trying to interrupt.
6. Don’t be afraid to tout your successes. Many lawyers consider it bad form to brag about their accomplishments. But if you have an accomplishment that illustrates why a client should hire you, you should make sure to bring it up. Obama failed to do that in the first debate. But clearly, his advisers explained to him the importance of touting his accomplishments and in the second debate, we heard much more about what Obama had done.
The words you choose to describe your practice are of course important. But we communicate a lot more through our facial expressions, tone and demeaner. More in my latest LPM tip in the MBA Lawyers e-Journal.
In deciding what companies may be good targets for your legal services, should you avoid companies that have established relationships with outside counsel? Not according to new research reported in the American Lawyer. There are plenty of ways to “unseat the incumbent” including competing on price, something which until recently did not seem as important in the legal sector.
Why do attorneys find it difficult to sell? Is there something intrinsic in a lawyer’s personality that gets in the way when they try to market their services? What are some of the ways that lawyers can improve their sales effectiveness and overcome these natural barriers?
I was recently interviewed about these topics on the Legal Talk Network by Jared Correia of MassLOMAP . In the interview, I discuss with Jared some of the ways you can get past your own natural obstacles and build the practice you want. Click here to listen to the podcast or subscribe to this and other LTN podcasts through iTunes.
A big marketing challenge for law firms is to figure out how to speak with one voice. Unlike businesses where the products or services are easily described, a law firm may offer a broad mix of intangible services. So even a partnership with five attorneys might have the expertise to handle over two dozen types of matters.
In reality, however, there is no effective way for five lawyers to communicate two dozen services to the legal marketplace. A successful marketing strategy needs to be considerably more focused. Rattling off 20 things when someone asks what you do is simply not effective. It does little to differentiate you from any other law firm; and it ensures that you will be completely unmemorable.
A better strategy is to do some assessment and planning and decide where you might get the most return on your marketing investment. In other words ask yourselves:
Businesses in most other industries (including accounting firms and other professional services providers), understand the importance of taking the time to do this kind of planning periodically.
Unfortunately, many law firm partnerships never take the time to have these discussions. A lot of law firms operate more like an association of service providers who share expenses. Each lawyer stays in his or her own silo and not much is decided on a firm-wide or even practice group level.
But a group of lawyers can market much more effectively as a firm. By focusing on the “best opportunities” and by getting every partner on the “same page”, a firm can increase the likelihood that its message is getting through the noise. And with the increased competition in the legal marketplace and the explosion of email marketing and social media in the past decade, this is no easy feat.
So how does your firm measure up? Have you taken the time to survey the partners in your firm and come up with a consensus about where the firm should focus its marketing energies? Do you all describe the firm in the same way? One place to start is to use a marketing audit tool that appeared in Law Practice Magazine several years ago. If that doesn’t move the conversation forward, then maybe it is time to get some outside help.