Make it your lifestyle.

That’s it.  Simple, huh?

It is according to Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications in their 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals.  Their meditation for Wednesday of this week consists of just four words:

“Marketing is a lifestyle”.

For many lawyers that would mean a change in their behavior.  At least their thinking.  Marketing is not to be hated, nor, at a lawyers peril, ignored.  It must become part of the lawyer’s very being.

When I was the head of marketing at one of my firms, I had the privilege of having one of the most brilliant lawyers I have ever known as my mentor and marketing partner.  I remember his advice to a new crop of associates as we were introducing them to the concept of marketing as part of their orientation:

“Marketing is everything you do as a lawyer.”

He meant EVERYTHING.  How a lawyer dresses, acts in public, treats other lawyers and clients, respects the “little” people they come in contact with everywhere, staff, etc. etc. Basically there isn’t any part of a lawyer’s life that doesn’t reflect on who they are as a person and professional.

In my 27 years of legal marketing, I don’t think I have heard anything simpler or more profound, and will never forget his words.  So, if marketing is all about the whole person and their experience interacting with others, it truly is about lifestyle.

Enough said.  And in just four words.

One of my absolute favorite movies of all time is Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy. A favorite line from that classic was spoken by the captain of the prison camp (played by Strother Martin) after Newman’s (Luke’s) umpteenth failed attempt at escape and subsequent punishment. His said “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

I thought of that movie after reading Ernie Svenson’s recent post “What we (usually) have is a failure to communicate” on his Ernie The Attorney blog. Ernie wasn’t referring to the movie, but rather to himself and others (including yours truly, I might add).

He points out that lawyers, by the very nature of the profession, have many opportunities to communicate well, and need to. However, many clients complain about the failure of their lawyer to do so. If much of lawyering depends on it, what should we do to improve?

Ernie’s shares with us what he tries to do to improve his communication skills. Basically, he uses two steps that may be helpful to the rest of us:

  • First, is to recognize when you “fail to communicate effectively.” He agrees that is the hard part, but a particular approach may not be right for a given situation; and the message will not be received or welcomed because of that. Each of us needs to recognize when that happens; and
  • Secondly, “you need to listen first.” Simply put, listen so you will know what people “want to hear, what they’re capable of understanding.”

So, it behooves all of us to work on our communications skill set, if we want to escape our clients’ punishment.

 

Due to a death in the family, I’ll be doing encore posts for the next couple of weeks that some of you may not have seen from earlier years.

 

November 20, 2007 Posted By Tom Kane 
Comments / Questions (1)

Build On Your Relationships During The Holidays

With the holidays fast approaching, don’t miss out on the opportunity to building on your client relationships. Bob Weiss has an article entitled “Keep Your Top Clients in 2008” that appears in this month’s Law Practice Today

Not sure that by just sending a holiday card and a gift (to your top clients) will guarantee that you won’t lose a client in 2008, since there needs to be a whole lot more involved with your client relationships. But, remembering clients on special occasions can’t hurt; and, in fact, can help cement and even enhance an existing relationship. And don’t forget your referral sources.

Bob’s suggestions are quite simple:

  • First, create a list of your top clients, top potential clients and key referral sources,
  • Then, send each a holiday card:

·         Sign the card – and not an “auto-pen” version either, (see my post of last December entitled “Sign the Damn Holiday Card!”

·         Include a note relevant to the relationship – as least say something like “Jane – Hope you have a great holiday season – Joe”

As to gifts, it depends on your budget, of course, but you should certainly remember your top sources of your livelihood (clients and referral sources) in some manner. 

You don’t have to be told that this all takes time. It could take a day, or even more to extend the  appropriate holiday greetings for your various contacts. So what? As Bob mentions in his post, theJournal of Consumer Research concludes that what you do must“reflect the recipient’s perceived value of (the) relationship.”

Accordingly, if you value the relationships that produce your revenues, you shouldn’t give it a second thought as to whether you will make your remembrance of the holidays both personal and meaningful, as opposed to just going through the motions.

 

 

Many years ago when I moved to Columbus, Ohio, I needed a brake job on my car. I went to the dealer, and also a small shop I heard about. The mechanic’s quote was actually higher than the dealer, but I decided to use him anyway since his reasoning was sound. However, when I went to pick up my car, the cost of the repairs was nearly 25% cheaper than he had quoted because the brake shoes were less than he thought.

Okay, I’m never going back to that guy, right? Huh! I probably sent him 15 customers in the next several years (he should have paid me a commission), and I never asked again for an estimate of repairs in advance.

What brought this story to mind is an article in Trey Ryder’s recent newsletter suggesting that if lawyers instilled similar loyalty in their clients, they “would not even think about hiring another lawyer.” His story is also about his car and the value his dealer added to their relationship. Trey’s ideas for lawyers involve adding value to the client’s experience by “how fast you respond to clients, how accessible you are, the services you offer, and your staffing and client resources.”

Getting back to my mechanic story, consider this idea. Knock 10% to 15% off an invoice and let the client know you did so because the matter took longer than you thought it would or should? The client’s trust in you – and loyalty – might just grow exponentially. Do you think? 

Doing a good job for your clients, keeping them informed, not overlawyering or overbilling, treating them with respect, and visiting your clients off the clock are just a few of the ways you can bring value to your client relationships.

Jim Durham, formerly CMO at Ropes & Gray in Boston, spoke to the Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group recently and equated the phrase “Listen to Your Clients, Stupid” with the KISS truism.

Not only is listening to clients simple, it is vital IMHO.

Jim’s speech, as recounted by Julie Meyer on Law.com’s Small Firm Business, addressed successful marketing principles AKA listening to clients by providing value and seeking feedback.

Some of Jim’s suggestions included:

  • Asking clients for input to your business plans,
  • Communicating effectively,
  • Seeking and responding to client feedback,
  • Listening to clients (at least 50% of the time, I might add),
  • Showing clients you care, and
  • Offering alternative fee options.

Retaining clients basically boils down to whether they value your services, and that may equate to whether they had a good experience in dealing with your firm.

Jim also highlighted two signs where clients may not have had a good value experience:

  1. When a firm is asked to respond to a client’s RFP, and
  2. A client mentions the name of an attorney with another firm in response to the “Who is the best lawyer” you have ever worked with?

So again, how would your clients value your services?

Law firm clients often complain that their lawyers do not understand their business. It frustrates them to have to educate their outside lawyers about the issues they deal with, and which their attorneys need to understand, to represent them properly.

And that is only part of the relationship a law firm should seek with their clients. At a client meeting last week, I emphasized to a group of lawyers the importance of making friends with their clients. My point was that if the lawyer and client have a true friendship, there is no reason to worry about another law firm taking the client away.

In addition to knowing a client’s business, lawyers can build on a friendship by helping their clients prosper in their business. Ed Roach over at Small Business Branding discusses a number of ways to do that in his article “Feel the Love”, or what I might suggest shows that you’re a real friend by:

  • Talking them up to others, when the opportunity presents itself,
  • Referring potential customers to them and let them know about it,
  • “Be(ing) honest” and admit when you make a mistake (helps avoid malpractice suits),
  • Buying their products, if at all possible,
  • Supporting their favorite charities, and interests,
  • Treating everyone in their organization with respect,
  • Increasing your face time with the client (see my No. 1 Marketing Tip), and
  • Of course, delivering your best effort every time.

Now is not the time to panic. Panic can take several forms in today’s economic climate; most notably in the firing of lawyers and staff, hounding clients for payment (not smart marketing for the long term), and cutting costs excessively. That is part of the message garnered by LawPRO magazine from a panel of knowledgeable folks and reported in an article entitled “Surviving the slide: what firms should (and shouldn’t) do to ride out the economic storm.”

The panel, consisting of Ed Flitton, Karen McKay, Gerry Riskin, and Merrilyn Tarlton, provided insight on such topics as: Leadership; Human capital; Employee relations, engagement & morale; Client relationships; Marketing; Finances; Firm compensation; Operations: costs, expenses, budget; and Technology. All of the topics are obviously important and the panelists’ comments on each are worthy of a read.

For my purposes, a few of their comments specifically on marketing and client relationships warrant a mention here. Among other things it is very important to get close to your existing clients. It is vital that you know what they are going through, and determine if you can be more efficient and economical in serving them.

One interesting idea put forth by Tarlton involves putting associates in client offices for training (getting to know the client’s business better) and relationship building purposes. Also, developing creative fee structures, and conducting joint recession planning sessions with clients are additional ways to help each other get through the tough times.

Riskin advises firms to

“…do more marketing, but you (should) focus more on existing clients. Firms generally are reluctant to talk to clients in bad times… Get over that and call… It’s a time to get close to these people.”

One way to do that according to McKay is to

“[c]hange your focus to one-on-one. Pick up the phone and call your clients, go and visit them on your way into the office … but make sure they know that the visit is off the timesheet."

Again, there is a lot of good advice that the panel shares with law firms on how to survive the current downturn, and every firm will pick up valuable nuggets by reading this article.

P.S. Thanks to Mark Beese over on Leadership for Lawyers blog for the heads up on this panel and other resources contained in his post “Advice on Weathering the Storm.”

Whether you are trying to build a relationship after landing a new client, or to enhance existing client relationships, there are effective things a lawyer can do to accomplish both.

A Q&A article by Frank D’Amore that appeared in The Legal Intelligencer a couple of days ago, and on Law.com’s Small Firm Business, provides some good advice on the topic. D’Amore suggests five things that you can do to build client relationships:

  1. Get to know the client’s business and industry (the failure to do so is one of the biggest complaints that clients express about their outside counsel. One way to overcome that is to offer to spend time off the clock at the client’s place of business in a learning mode);
  2. Constantly communicate (ask clients about their preferred method and frequency of contact with outside counsel);
  3. Focus on making the client look good (recognize your contact’s personal, internal needs, and help them gain credit from your efforts);
  4. Maintain contact during “lulls in the client relationship” (even if not currently working on a particular client’s matter, keep in touch – by sending articles, newspaper clippings, e-mails, and telephone calls – and through client visits and entertainment); and
  5. Suggest networking opportunities and potential introductions to benefit your clients.

If you think of ways to add value to your client relationships, rather than just how to get more work from clients, you will find that it will provide long-term benefits to your business as well.