What does the future hold? To quote Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” And given all the ongoing change in both the legal profession and the marketing world, it must take a certain level of foolhardiness to attempt to tackle the subject of the future of legal marketing. And yet, there are sufficiently strong indications of where things are going that I felt I was on solid ground in my recent presentation, “The Future of Law Firm Marketing and Business Development.” Of course, I wasn’t predicting the imminent end of the world, or even The End of Lawyers (although I did mention Richard Susskind’s excellent and thought-provoking book of the same name).
The theme for the June 9 presentations at the Denver Bar Association was The Future of the Law, and the format was in the style of the tech-industry’s fast-paced, five-minute Ignite presentations. Obviously, it’s absurd to try to address such a complex topic in such a superficial way. But it did make it fun. And even given the mandated 15-second limit for each slide, and the speaker slip-ups and the lack of time to correct misstatements, some points worth considering can nonetheless emerge within the Ignite format. But don’t just take my word for it; see what you think and share your thoughts.
Before FedEx, there was Federal Express and its game-changing Unique Selling Proposition.
The “Unique Selling Proposition” is a concept that’s close to the heart of marketers everywhere. The USP is a shorthand way of describing what every product or service desperately needs: a meaningful point of distinction, a way of differentiating it from the products or services of its competitors. In a crowded marketplace, a well-defined USP is truly critical, because without it, no product or service offering can expect to stand out.
Back in the early 1980s, Federal Express became famous for its groundbreaking Unique Selling Proposition, which guaranteed that the firm would deliver a letter or package anywhere in the United States overnight. The promise contained in the company’s tagline, revolutionary at the time, now seems almost quaint: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Dated as that may sound today, 30 years ago it set Federal Express apart from every one of its competitors, and in a very significant and meaningful way: In the days before “overnighting” a document became standard practice, and more than a decade before email and the web became commonplace, nobody else was able to make that promise.
However, when I talk about the concept of a Unique Selling Proposition with attorneys, I often get blank stares. Granted, it’s a marketing concept that’s not taught in law school. But there’s more to it than that. For many lawyers and other professionals, it seems, well, unprofessional – and even flat-out wrong – to think of themselves as providers of services that must be marketed and sold. It is the profession of law, after all, isn’t it?
But – given all that – might there be something in the Unique Selling Proposition concept that could be helpful to lawyers in these competitive times? What if we rebranded the USP as the Unique Lawyering Proposition™?
I was at a networking event recently where the organizers drew a business card from a fishbowl to select one lucky attendee. They then provided that individual with a full two minutes to sell the crowd on their company, their services or themselves.
It turned out that the individual whose name was drawn was unemployed. What an opportunity, right? Here was the chance to sell himself before a room full of well-educated, well-connected people from a diversity of professions and industries. But how did this individual use this opportunity?
Well, basically, he squandered it. He talked about what he did at his old job in mind-numbing detail, and then he talked some more about what he did at his old job, and then he finished up by – you guessed it – talking about what he did at his old job.
And the worst thing was that he did such a deep dive into what he did at his old job – without ever explaining what he did at a sufficiently high level for this intelligent, but diverse audience from many different fields – that many of us were left speechless.
You see, ironically enough, when this guy had finished talking for two minutes about what he did at his old job, none of us could even tell you what he had done at his old job. Nor could we tell you what he wanted to do in his next job, or what he felt he was unusually qualified to do, or what he was passionate about or with what particular companies or organizations he was hoping to do this activity at some point in the future.
Okay, all that is not entirely true; I did glean some idea of what he does. As my mother says about any guy who labors in the technology sector, “He works with computers.”
“There are no second acts in American lives.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
“As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Who are your heroes?
I’m a firm believer that heroes are not just for kids. Everyone should have heroes – and the more, the better. All of us need that inspiration they can provide, whether our hero is a decorated war veteran, a champion basketball player, a boss, a parent or someone who has surmounted great odds in life.
So, let me tell you about one of my newest heroes. Her name is Libby James and a few weeks ago she ran the Bolder Boulder 10K in 49:19. That’s a 7:56 pace for 6.2 miles, which would be quite good for almost any of us, but did I mention that she’s 73 years old?
If you’re not a runner, it may not jump out at you just how amazing that is. Maybe this will help: She was the 822nd finisher out of 25,851 women of all ages. And just so you don’t have to do the math, that’s in the top four percent of all women finishers. At age 73.
Spring in Boulder means the end of ski season and the beginning of running season. Of course, the hard-core Boulderites have been running six times a week all winter long, but even in my younger days, I never had the sufficient commitment to running that was necessary to claim membership in that elite group.
So, for me, the vanishing of the ice and snow from the trails brings with it my annual fire drill to get in shape for the Bolder Boulder. For those of you unfamiliar with the BB, it’s one of the largest and most celebrated 10K’s in the world, with over 55,000 participants in 2009. The race takes place throughout downtown Boulder every Memorial Day, and it features live bands, dancing grannies or other entertainment on nearly every block. It finishes up at CU’s football stadium with a picnic for all, military jet flyovers and paragliders. It’s truly a blast.
The Boulder Flatirons
And all that’s a good thing, unless you haven’t been running all winter long, which means that you have just six weeks from the last day of ski season to running a 10K in peak form. (And since this is Boulder, your peak form had better be good.)
At any rate, in my younger days, I was able to put together a few runs in April and May, and I’d be more or less ready for the Bolder Boulder. However, as I discovered last year – after an eight-year sabbatical – it’s not so easy anymore. Somehow, over the course of that time away, I had lost a minute off my pace, and that was on top of the time I’d lost over the previous several years.
This is when the acronym long used by computer programmers comes to mind: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. When you’re over 40, a few training runs over the space of a few weeks will get you just that: very little return on very little effort. Meaning that even if your body was able to quickly overcome a certain slackness in your training schedule back in the day, those days are long over, and only a disciplined approach will help you find success post-40.
You may be familiar with the time-honored marketing maxim that it’s eight times more difficult, time-consuming and expensive to find a new client than it is to get additional business out of a current client.
So, given the compelling opportunities waiting to be targeted in and around your current clients and harvested through exceptional client service, why do so many of us, when we’re thinking about biz dev, focus only on those with whom we do not have a current business relationship? That is, why do we spend valuable time in the inefficient pursuit of a 12-point elk that we just know is somewhere out there in the wilderness, even as we refuse to make a priority of returning our current clients’ phone calls in a timely manner or otherwise making their client experience as positive as possible?
This behavior makes even less sense when we consider that by taking for granted our current clients, we increase the probability that they eventually will tire of what seems like a one-sided relationship and decide to look for someone who treats them better.
In fact, that’s exactly what happens all the time in the world of legal services. As Sally Schmidt says in Business Development for Lawyers: Strategies for Getting and Keeping Clients, there’s a big difference between client satisfaction and client loyalty.
Schmidt describes a Harvard Business Review-published study entitled, “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value.” Its authors found that between 65% and 85% of customers who had left a particular service provider reported that they did so despite being either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with the services performed by the firm.
And why should this be important to you? Because it means that you need to focus on more than just satisfying your clients. Your clients are looking for more than simple satisfaction; they are looking to be delighted.
Delighted. That’s a strong word. Or maybe it seems like a weak word, one that perhaps you would never use. How often does anyone use the term ‘delighted’? Yet, isn’t that how you feel when you’ve had an excellent dinner out? Not only was the meal delicious, but there was something else – maybe several things – that together made for a delightful experience. The ambiance, the attention to detail, the customer service that went above and beyond the expected.
So, how would you describe your client service? Better yet, how would your clients describe it? Do you know? We’ll discuss the importance of client audits another time – and in future posts we’ll examine some of the essential steps to building excellent relationships with your clients – but for now, think about the ever-increasing competition in legal services and what that means to the future of your business.
How are you differentiating yourself and your firm from your competitors? Exceptional client service can be a decided advantage to a law firm, because it can mean the difference between clients who are merely satisfied and those who are truly loyal. You want clients who are both. Delight them.
Do you consider yourself someone who welcomes new challenges? And are you willing to take on the commensurate risks? Even if you nodded affirmatively to both these questions, you nevertheless may be in need of a larger glass.
We all know that attorneys are trained to be risk-averse. And, of course, a degree of risk aversion is frequently a necessary element of being a good attorney. Your clients want to be able to describe a business deal or other opportunity to you and be able to count on you to be the one person who says, “But have you thought about this?”
Yet, there’s another side to that propensity for risk aversion – simply put, it gets in your way when you think about taking risks.
In his entertaining and thought-provoking book, Marketing the Legal Mind, Henry Dahut suggests that it’s not just whether your glass is half full or half empty, but that the size of the glass itself is equally important. For it’s the size of the glass that determines how much opportunity there can be in a given situation. And the size of the glass therefore determines the amount of risk that you’re willing to take.
If we choose to take on small challenges, the risks will be small, but so will the rewards. As Dahut says, this is the proverbial dilemma of wanting big things, but thinking too small to get them. Which is a fundamentally inconsistent type of thinking. And that doesn’t sound very lawyer-like, does it?
Yet, how many of us do this? We choose the safety and comfort of success – even on a relatively small scale – rather than taking risks and exposing ourselves to defeat. But these days, there are much greater risks in not taking risks. Those who choose to stay where they are because it is easy and comfortable are those most likely to be carried off by the fast-moving current to someplace hard and uncomfortable.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Now, more than ever, her words resound with the truth. We must move outside our comfort zones. What does this mean to you? Only you know. But you’ve probably been thinking about it for some time. Is it finally putting together a marketing and business development plan that works for you? Is it becoming a rainmaker and a leader in your firm? Maybe it’s taking the firm you manage to the next level – or in a new direction? Or could it be venturing out on your own?
Whatever it is, don’t limit yourself. Get a bigger glass. And choose a challenge worthy of your ambitions.