Why market on price?

There’s no doubt that price is a factor in most buying decisions. However, price is not the only factor, and it doesn’t have to be the most important factor. Consider this:

If you want to command a higher fee, deliver extraordinary quality, convenience, service, and value. How to do that is a long conversation. How do your clients judge quality? What does convenience look like for your clients? How can you create additional value for your clients? And finally, how can you provide client service in a way that produces quality, convenience, and value? Answering those questions typically requires some digging, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

Here’s the deeper thought, though…

If you market (primarily or exclusively) on price, doesn’t that in effect concede that you don’t deliver extraordinary quality, convenience, service, or value?

Do you need a CRM?

Relationship development is a key part of any business development initiative. That’s why we put so much effort into meeting new people, getting to know them, and following up with them over time. But how do you gather and track the relevant must-know information about your contacts?

Enter the CRM: the Client (or Customer) Relationship Management system.

(One prefatory note for the rest of this conversation: if you’re working in a larger firm, you may have access to the firm’s CRM and consider that sufficient for your purposes. Before you reach that conclusion, find out how easily you will be able to extract your contacts’ information should you leave the firm. If it’s at all difficult, given the reality of today’s professional world, don’t rely exclusively on the firm’s system.)

A CRM is most often software (local or in the cloud) that organizes contacts and information about them, but it need not be highly technology-driven. Some people successfully use spreadsheets, Outlook, Evernote, or even a Word file. CRM software offers functional advantages.

Here’s a list of features and attributes your CRM system should include:

  • The system must be accessible from wherever you are.
  • The system must be secure.
  • The system must be a centralized and easy-to-update repository for contact data, including address, email, and telephone as well as business and personal interests.
  • The data within the system must be sortable (so you can identify people who are located in a city before you visit, for example).
  • The system should include a tickler function to prompt you to follow up with clients and contacts on the schedule you define.
  • The system should track your communications so you can see when you last spoke with a contact and what you discussed.
  • The system should allow for easy import and export of your data.
  • Optionally, the system may save a library of resources you can use for follow-up contacts.
  • Optionally, the system may include some automation to streamline your efforts.

Two of my favorite CRMs for small firms or for individual use are Contactually and Less Annoying CRM.

Why might you not want to use a CRM? If you won’t keep it updated, a CRM may do you more harm than good. Otherwise, a CRM is a good investment to facilitate building your network.

Lessons from an airline

Airlines have been in the news quite a bit lately, and not in a good light. As I was scanning Facebook recently, I ran across this article sharing a 2015 story about a Southwest flight that had pulled away from the gate when a passenger’s husband called the airline trying to let his wife know that their son had sustained a brain injury. The article goes on to detail the many kindness Southwest extended to the passenger.

Nice story. But how is it relevant to legal marketing?

The relevance lies in the comments to the Facebook post sharing the story. Over 1000 comments as I’m writing this article.

Comments to Facebook posts made by “news-ish” pages are generally the cesspool of the Internet. But the comments to this post are striking (and educational) because of the uniformly positive tone, with only a handful of dissenters. Two themes recur in the comments:

1.     “I would know this story is about Southwest even if it hadn’t been named!”

2.     “I love Southwest! Southwest is amazing!”

Let’s look at why each of these themes matters for you as you’re thinking about your firm.

First, “I would know this story is about Southwest” reflects Southwest’s strong branding. It tells us that Southwest has crafted itself in a way that’s instantly recognizable to the purchasing public.

There’s something about Southwest that sticks with customers. Maybe it’s the fun staff (videos of announcements on Southwest flights go viral on a surprisingly frequent basis), the kindness shown to passengers (which results from employees’ authority to do the right thing for their passengers), their no-upcharge prices (no extra fees for checked bags, no change fees, etc.), or their just-plain-niceness.  There’s a quality about Southwest that makes it instantly recognizable.

Compare this to typical law firm branding. So many firm websites use the same concepts, even the same words: years of experience, highly educated, ranked, prestigious, innovative, client-focused. In fact, a common consultant exercise takes “About us” or practice group descriptions for several firms and asks the client to identify which one is from his or her firm; the client only rarely succeeds because all the samples sound so similar.

Law firms brands on the whole aren’t instantly recognizable. 
In fact, they’re so similar that distinguishing one from another is difficult.

The problem here is that it’s impossible to stand out from competitors if you should just like they do. Your branding must speak directly to your core client and create a strong impression. Southwest has clearly succeeded on this front. Do you? Does your firm?

Second, the hundreds of “I love Southwest!” comments show that people feel strongly about Southwest. They have a relationship with the brand. Many people who commented recounted their own stories about Southwest, whether stories of dramatic kindness or more ordinary positive experiences.

This is what delighted customers do: they share their stories. (It’s also what disgruntled customers do. We don’t want that.)

You may be thinking that it’s more challenging to delight a legal services client than an airline customer, and you’re right. Free snacks and humor in the delivery of the service won’t cut it for legal services clients.

What might delight your clients? Ask yourself what the biggest snags tend to be in a representation. The most common usually revolve around time: how long does it take a lawyer to respond to an email or telephone call, how much time does the attorney leave for a client to review work product before a deadline, how long do clients wait when they come for a meeting? Iron out those snags to remove friction, and share your resolution with your clients to create positive expectations.

Then ask what your clients value. If it’s time, can you offer a streamlined communication process or even a legal-adjacent service that would save time? If it’s money, can you create a client service package that provides certainty for your clients and profit for you? If it’s information, can you spot what your clients would like to know and create a system for making sure you convey that information?

Client delight is unique, and it won’t necessarily be feasible for you to delight every client. If you work with small business clients, for example, you might aim to delight your larger or high potential clients while providing excellent, friction-free service to clients who come for smaller, routine business formation matters.

Here’s the lesson to learn from Southwest: when your clients feel strongly about your (or your firm’s) brand and when they’re delighted with the service they receive, they’ll want to talk about you. And that’s the route to a strong practice built on referrals and a long-term clientele.

To connect with potential clients…

Knowing how to approach a conversation with a potential client can be a struggle. You want to know what his or her concerns and objectives are, but how do you make sure your potential client understands what you’re about and why you’re the right choice to handle the matter?

Here’s the best two-sentence guideline I’ve ever seen:

To get the big biz dev project done…

One truism about practicing law is that there’s never quite enough time. That’s especially true in two business development-related instances:

  • When you’ve succeeded in securing a substantial amount of new work and you have to figure out how to get the billable work done without losing biz dev momentum, and
  • When you’re working on a large biz dev project such as completing a book chapter (or a book or even a weighty article), launching a new website or a newsletter or blog, designing client service materials, etc.

Let’s focus on the second of these challenges: the big project. Having survived law school and some years in practice, you no doubt know all the tips about breaking a large project down into bite-sized pieces, mapping out the ultimate objective and interim goals.

What if, despite your scheduling time to work on the project at the end of the day or on weekends, you just aren’t making progress? It’s time to take two steps.

First, ask yourself whether you’re committed to this project. It’s ok to change your mind, so long as you acknowledge the change and know what you’ll do instead. Having an outstanding goal that never gets closer undermines drive and confidence in the ability to reach that goal. Don’t do that to yourself.

Second, rearrange your day so that you spend at least a half-hour at the beginning of the day working on your big project. That rearrangement (while perhaps inconvenient) recognizes the priority that you’re placing on the project and ensures that you’ll make consistent progress. This is, of course, a valid time management approach for any priority project. It’s particularly useful in the context of business development because it creates a specific time slot and time pressure for an activity that may otherwise lack either. (In other words, it’s blocking space in your day for a task that is important but not urgent and, in doing so, creating some urgency around it.)

Take a look at your schedule today. Is your first task of the day one that’s important to growing your practice? If not, rearrange.