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Marketing Brain Fodder

Perspectives on Strategic Marketing, Communication and Values in Today's Marketplace

For Marketing Results, Don’t Let The Cart Get In Front Of The Horse

Posted in Business Development, Marketing, Strategic Planning

This is one of the great challenges of marketing — keeping the cart in its place.

After all, the cool stuff is in the cart — the engaging, interactive, attention-grabbing things that everyone talks about.

And then there is the fact that all of the things that should come first can be tedious, and for most, just aren’t that much fun. (On the other hand, everyone enjoys providing opinions on the colors in the logo, the font size on the website and the copy in an ad.)

So it’s understandable that we’re easily distracted by the visible, tangible elements.  But if marketing efforts are continually unwieldy, frequently derailed, and rarely take you where you intended, chances are good you’ve allowed the cart to come before the horse.

Putting First Things First

Successful marketing seldom begins with a focus on the high-profile elements of an executable plan. Start by focusing on the catchy tag lines, high-end production, and copy points, and — absent a fat budget and a time-frame flexible enough to cover short-term missteps — you’ll likely watch as your campaign goes nowhere.

In a crowded, noisy marketplace, how do you make a dent? How do you reach your audience if you don’t have an Apple-like budget?

Keep the horse squarely in front of the cart.

In practical terms, this means begin by knowing who your target is. Specifically. For professional service providers this means the name of an individual with hiring authority. Or, as noted below, an individual (or group) that is part of a relationship map leading to the hiring authority. In this context, an industry rarely qualifies as a target. Nor does a company. A target is the person vested with the authority to subscribe to your services.

With the target identified, it’s time to invest in listening. This is the market research piece of the process. A highly functioning listening platform will reveal what your target cares about most, and help you create a relationship map that leads to connection and conversation.

It isn’t sexy. Nobody hums the jingle. It isn’t the focus of black-tie award ceremonies, and doesn’t lead to hanging out with celebrity spokespersons.

But it is the key to marketing success.

Smart targeting takes time. It requires a strategic foundation. But if you’re not putting appropriate resources here, you’re essentially hoping the market targets you.

And listening is just plain difficult (if not downright intrusive to practice and processes you have in place) — especially when you have killer-products / services. The natural tendency is to skip the listening part, and jump right in with your elevator speech, talking points, or list of offerings.

But targeting and listening are where the journey is measured, and roadblocks and detours anticipated.

For every enterprise or professional service practice that wrestles to gain visibility, differentiate itself from the competition, and get the most from each resource invested in marketing, these two steps change the equation.

Invest in this less-than-glamorous roll-up-your-sleeves work, and all that stuff in the cart becomes much more relevant and effective — primarily because it will hit the target.

A Blog Anchors Your Online Strategy — Here’s Why…

Posted in Business Development, Communication, Leadership, Marketing, Social Media

McKeown_Kevin_LI 2014Note: Kevin McKeown is a colleague, a friend, and a thought leader on blogging, social media and leadership. I hang on his content, appreciate his contributions to any conversation, and asked him to share the way he thinks in the form of this Guest Post.

Eric, thanks for asking me to share why I believe a blog needs to be the anchor of a professional’s online strategy.

I think of my blogging as the locomotive and other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ or even email newsletters as the train tracks. I use these tracks to share, distribute, and amplify my blog’s reach. I deeply believe that to own your blog is to take control of your professional destiny. And, I’m not the only person who believes this.

Here’s a triad of influencers (Clark, Singer and Hyatt) making different but related points that underscore the case for owning your blog:

1) Blogging Is More Essential Than Ever

…[F]or organizations and individuals that want to be known for their ideas, the clearest–yet most underrated–path is through blogging. It hasn’t been buzzed about in years, but it’s more essential than ever…

If you want to shape public opinion, you need to be the one creating the narrative. A fascinating study last year by Yahoo Research showed that only 20,000 Twitter users (a mere .05% of the user base at the time) generated 50% of all tweets consumed. A small number of “elite users” sets the conversational tenor, just as in the general world of blogging.

An article lives forever on the web and will be seen around the world.

SM Connection CycleNowadays, we’re measured by the quality of information — not its brand name. If you create high-quality content, you legitimately may become a source as powerful and trusted as the “legacy media.”

Writing is still the clearest and most definitive medium for demonstrating expertise on the web. …In an information-hungry world, there will always be a need for expert content. And there will always be more readers and “retweeters” than there will be creators.

If you want to have an impact, you might as well be the one setting the agenda by blogging your ideas.

Read: If You’re Serious about Ideas, Get Serious About Blogging by Dorie Clark (HBR)

2) Blogging Answers The Long Tail of Search And Social

When you set up your blog as a “hub” for your social strategy, you are best positioned to benefit most from all that top-of-funnel awareness.

With a blog, you have assets to feed each stream in a way that when you do something that matters, you won’t have to worry so much about changes in platforms. You are free to step back and focus on the big-picture things that matter, like an editorial vision.

…Blogs let you think user-centric, not platform-centric.

Blog PhotoWithout blogging, it is difficult to build an ever-increasing amount of content to be discovered via search engines and shared via social. …[E]ach time you publish a blog post, you make it so significant that the industry takes notice.

A perfect example of a brand doing this well is Tesla. Each time they have news, their blog is the central place where it’s shared and whatever is published is amplified not just by social but media of all types. It’s worth following them as an example of a brand that understands the importance of self-publishing and a model you could follow.

Call it blogging, digital publishing, or whatever you prefer: you’ve been able to publish your own ideas, in any format you like, wrapped in your own template, with full access to analytics and ability to monetize how you see fit (or use it to generate organic leads to equal revenue later) and distribute across search, social, and email since the Web existed.

…To give your best content over to someone else as the canonical place makes as little sense now as it ever did. To amplify and share your ideas in OPPs (Other People’s Platforms) in a way that adds value and is efficient for you is the smartest path to digital success.

Read Why Blogging Still Matters: Data, Distribution, and Ownership of Content by Adam Singer (ClickZ).

3) Build Your Blog On A Home Base That You Control

…[W]hen it comes to your platform, you can’t afford to build your house on a rented lot. And Facebook continues to teach the same lesson.

Like Twitter, Facebook is an important part of my platform. But it’s not integral. It’s too fickle for that. Owners make rules, not tenants. And Facebook owns the lot.

Facebook, Platforms you don't controlI was an early adopter and advocate of social media. I still am. But I encourage everyone interested in growing a platform to begin with a home base that you control. Use other services to expand your reach, but build your house on your own lot.

Few things in life are truly stable, but some things are more stable than others. I bought MichaelHyatt.com in 1998. It’s been through a lot of iterations, but it’s always been mine. Ownership provides stability because you set the rules.

This means that you post your primary content on your own blog.

Read Don’t Build Your Social Media House on a Rented Lot by Mike Hyatt

How Did I Evolve Into A Blogger?

I started listening online via Twitter to gain perspective and enhance my professional development. I began to tweet but a 140-characters wasn’t enough. I turned the digital dials more in my favor by blogging. Plus, the act of listening to blog well helped me understand the conversation around the colliding forces of social networking, leadership and the business of relationships.

Over time you’ll realize that by calling out others in your posts, you facilitate a level of connection that fosters the relationships necessary to extend your knowledge and network. The people I cite have colleagues, associates, friends and family who will share my posts across their social circles if my content is good.

So, I find that by anchoring myself online with a blog, Google sees the signals (E.g. my posts being shared on social networks) and rewards me with better search results. Today, my blog is not just a tool for fostering and developing business but also a creative outlet for my writing.

Conclusion

22london-marathon_4-articleLargeBuilding an online persona that equals or exceeds your offline reputation is a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on quality content and long-term connections. As Adam Singer says, “What’s popular is typically easy, but what’s easy isn’t always what produces the best results.”

To reiterate:

  • Blogging is more essential than ever.
  • Blogging answers the long tail of search and social.
  • Build your blog on a home base that you control.

Make sure you own and control your blog like comments from Clark, Singer and Hyatt advocate.

How are you developing your online persona? Do you control the platform that serves as the hub of your digital presence?

LexBlog LogoKevin McKeown (@KevinMcKeown) is president of LexBlog. His blog is Leadership Close Up. LexBlog empowers lawyers to increase their visibility and accelerate business relationships online. With LexBlog’s help, legal professionals use their subject matter expertise to drive powerful business development through blogging and social media. Visit LexBlog.com. LexBlog also hosts LXBN, the world’s largest network of professional blogs. With more than 8,000 authors, LXBN is the only media source featuring the latest lawyer-generated commentary on news and issues from around the globe. Visit LXBN.com.

A Marketing Lesson For The Price Of Breakfast

Posted in Business Development, Customer Experience, Marketing

Everyone has a story like this. Many of us have more than one. But I’m still taken aback when it happens.

I left my room in a well known national chain, and headed down to the quasi-high-toned restaurant attached to the hotel.

Truth be known, the restaurant is probably a reluctant player in the whole breakfast thing. It’s an operation of one of the big name restaurateurs in the area, and wouldn’t strike you as the kind of place that would think an egg worth scrambling, much less care to mess with an omelette. But proximity to the hotel likely weighs in the decision.

Road warriors know the drill. Frequent-staying comes with a (little) perk here and there. This particular stay included complimentary breakfast. So, heeding mom’s counsel, I aimed to enjoy the most important meal of the day. Along with a cup of black coffee (mom would not be particularly proud).

But this early morning experience was about to be all about the restaurant — not about the customer. When I presented my breakfast certificate, I could tell something was awry.

Clearly perplexed, the waiter flagged down the manager. They whispered between themselves, and then the manager articulated (?) the dilemma. “You only have the yellow copy of your breakfast coupon.”

I felt reprimanded, and I knew not why.

She provided explanation. I should have presented a two-part certificate — the yellow, which lay before us, and a white version, which I reasoned must have become separated 17 floors and 10 minutes away.

For an instant the manager appeared to wrestle with the issue. What might be done? I explained that I had checked in the day before, would be here all week, and the hotel might be able to verify my creds.

But this wasn’t part of the plan. And process won out. Without the white copy of my certificate, this high-end big name restaurant had no way for the server to get credit for having served me breakfast.

I didn’t want that to happen. And since this was clearly my fault, and the morning schedule did not allow time to retrieve the stray white certificate, I meekly copped to my shortcoming, and asked for permission to charge breakfast to my room.

At this point it might be fair to note that I frequent both the hotel and the restaurant. Or, I used to frequent the restaurant. Sometimes 3 or 4 times in a work week for lunch or dinner.

But the experience they consistently deliver says “We are special — and you are oh-so-fortunate we are here.”

This was an excellent reminder that — whatever our endeavor — the experience we deliver will eventually trump a reputation, a quality product / service, and any glossy ad or eloquent marketing message.

Scores of restaurants serve a pretty darn good breakfast.

And in today’s market, the experience you deliver IS your marketing message.

Making “Client-Centered” More Than A Marketing Copy Point

Posted in Customer Experience, Marketing

Everyone talks about being client-centered.

Those who back up all the talk with real substance are rare.

The legendary father of advertising, David Ogilvy, was so committed to acting in the client’s best interest, that in the early days some thought the preoccupation a product of eccentricity.

On one occasion in the late 1950′s he and his team had been invited to make a presentation and pitch for the advertising and marketing account of Greyhound Bus Lines. When Ogilvy entered the pitch room, in true Mad Men fashion the art boards of a competitor’s creative presentation stared him in the face.

When it came his time to speak, Ogilvy turned to the assembled Greyhound execs and informed them that, though confident and proud of the presentation he and his team had created, the ideal solution to Greyhound’s advertising needs had already been presented — by one of his competitors.

Hence launched the successful and long-running Leave The Driving To Us campaign.

David Ogilvy didn’t build one of the most successful and decorated advertising agencies in the world by making a habit of selling work for the competition. But he did have the reputation of consistently acting in what he believed to be the best interest of the client.

Yes! We Are Client Centered (Really, We Are)

If it could be spoken into existence, we would all be masters in the art of being client-centered.

Peruse websites and marketing collateral and it is clear that the idea of coming at things from the client’s point of view is deemed worthy of marquis status.

But as anyone truly committed to it knows, client-centeredness is not as simple as crafting a headline and a few eloquent proclamations. Even award-winning attempts to script it into the offerings of a service organization often come up short when tested against what clients say and believe.

Why? Because client-centeredness is an attribute that either resides at the core of an organization, or tends to be easily brushed aside when push comes to shove in decisive moments.

When present, the client-centered attribute is manifest in experiences that communicate far more effectively than the best website service description ever written.

The Path To Trusted Advisor Status

I’m betting most of us remember a handful of times when the experience we received transcended any tangible marketing claim or promise. With deference to that old adage, we possess first-hand knowledge that experiences speak louder than words. 

Yet, it is easy to do precious little beyond talking about great client service. If we talk about it long enough, maybe it will be real!

Two things are worth noting. First, the experience you deliver IS your marketing message. Talk about it in collateral materials, announce it on your website and proclaim it until you lose your voice; but if what you say doesn’t align with the experiences you deliver, one message will be loud and clear — your game is all talk.

Second — the only real path to trusted advisor status is to consistently deliver an experience that demonstrates the client’s interests and concerns are paramount. Nothing will differentiate you in the market place more emphatically or more quickly.

And just in case it sounds like I’m suggesting your written message doesn’t matter, let’s pause. I believe in the power of the pen. I have been a writer since before I had a career. This is not a suggestion that the content on your website isn’t important. It is to say that when marketing content doesn’t align with the market’s experience, no amount of award-winning prose will help.

Client-centeredness is not a copy point. Copy points don’t live, and they are easily dismissed or forgotten.

Being client-centered is the byproduct of a core belief. And as is so often the case, the communication of core beliefs is most profound when seen and experienced. It is a fortunate consequence for the rare few who operate from a client-centered position that the experiences we deliver are memorable, differentiators and the most articulate marketing message possible.

Want To Instigate Dialogue and Lead? Choose Your Words Carefully.

Posted in Art of Listening, Communication, Leadership, Marketing, Values In Today's Marketplace

Words matter. If the goal is to connect and build bridges, you’ll choose them carefully.

They set tone, dictate parameters and conjure experiences that shape interpretation.

The right words can comfort, support, strengthen and inspire. They can tap into memories and stir new dreams.

Yet, for all their power, they are imperfect and incomplete. Packaging and presentation can have everything to do with how words are received. To further confound, meanings can change right before our ears.

And, as we learn early, they can do big-time damage. That playground ditty many of us learned — “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” — that’s wrong. We learn the handful of epithets sure to cut any conversation short.

Remembering Mom’s Advice

My mother was always big on the way we used words. In her view, words like stupid, idiot and ignorant had no place in the conversations of a family. They did nothing to build bridges. Slang (not to mention expletives) signaled what mom thought to be a limited command of the language — if not laziness. Experientially she underscored the admonition “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

Mom believed a positive spirit was the best way to connect with others. And the words we choose should be indicative of that spirit.

I suppose it is her influence that echoes when I’m tempted to call someone a derogatory name. (Not suggesting I don’t give in — just saying I still hear her voice when I do.)

And maybe this is why I feel such discomfort with how quickly we seem to fling nasty names and ugly characterizations at those with whom we have differences.

Whatever the source — and whether right or wrong — I’m weary of what seems to me to be little more than playground name-calling, accompanied by a conviction that he who talks loudest, Wins — from playground to boardroom to media feed.

If Conversation Is The Goal

Conversation — honest give-and-take — is one of the joys of friendship, and a basic element of community. It adds dimension and fabric to relationship. It broadens and deepens experiences.

At a pragmatic level, it is essential to partnership, collaboration and leadership.

Anyone that knows me knows I enjoy a good debate. But increasingly I find myself shying away from interactions with those who see nothing good around them; who are quick to point out inadequacies; who are convinced they (and those who agree with them) possess the only right view. In my experience at least, there is little real dialogue with these friends or colleagues; their mission is singular — to fix what is wrong.

Where this spirit persists there is little exploration or intentional listening. And decidedly limited progress.

The possession of a point-of-view, a big voice (or potent amplifier), and a pulpit is no guarantee that a message has what it takes to resonate, instigate dialogue and influence direction.

So, to the degree an old dog can learn, I’m trying to listen for common ground, choose words carefully, and abide by mom’s advice — if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.

The Issue With Messages That Fail

Posted in Communication, Customer Experience, Marketing

Maybe — just maybe the single biggest issue with messaging that fails to generate the desired response is the degree to which it is closer to fiction than fact.

Heretical to suggest such a thing, I know; few of us set out to deliberately mislead. But hang with me.

What might some messages look or sound like if terms like client-centered had to pass a truth-test before insertion into marketing content?

What if, before we could boldly proclaim client-centeredness, we were forced to at least consider the implication to clients of significant operational initiatives?

Or what if, before a culture could be characterized as warm and collegial with no room for (euphemism alert) jerks, we had to actually call-out the jerks in our midst?

The Audience Knows

Sooner or later (and in most cases, it is sooner), the audience — internal or external — instinctively recognizes the unaligned, never mind the fabricated message.

It may be the by-product of service that doesn’t stand-up in the marketplace. Or the sum of actions indicative of a lack of respect. In any case, when words — however eloquent — fail to align with experience, the message will eventually be dismissed.

The Power of Alignment

What if an all-knowing monitor-of-bull were able to delete messages that fail to align with intention?

My friend Roger Hayse recently spotlighted the six law firms appearing on Fortune’s most recent list of 100 Best Companies To Work For In America. And while it goes without saying that no institution is perfect, the fact is that these firms are almost certainly intent on an ideal. This intention is manifest in priorities. And actions taken.

Whatever we’re marketing — ideas, programs, services or products — it eventually becomes very difficult to hide a disconnect between what we say and what we do. And once recognized, no matter how creative or poetic, this message will never create positive action, generate a desired response or move the needle in the right direction.

Just saying it on the website doesn’t make it so.

And if you’re hoping the articulation of a marketing message will suddenly make up for product, service or strategic deficiencies, expectations are about to be dashed . . . again.

An “Aha!” Moment In Law Firm Sales

Posted in Business Development

A Guest Post by professional services sales innovator and law firm sales & marketing leader, Steve Bell.  ______________________________

A correspondent recently asked me: “When did you have your first ‘Aha!’ moment about law firm sales?”

It’s a great memory, and it actually occurred long before Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice became a pioneer in the legal profession and asked me to serve as director of sales.

The Real Beginning — An Accidental Volunteer

The path that led me to professional service (and eventually, legal) sales goes further back than I care to admit. I was an Associate National Director of Marketing at Price Waterhouse LLP — long before the merger with Coopers & Lybrand.

The legendary Price Waterhouse Vice Chairman of Tax, Pete Hart, was – appropriately — asking revenue questions of International Tax partners, who had put together many elaborate marketing brochures, staged numerous wonderful educational sessions, and traveled abroad with international tax planning concepts. (Any of this sound familiar?) But, in spite of great investment and much activity, the group wasn’t “connecting the dots with the cash register” as well as Pete would have liked.

“Who,” Pete asked, “will follow up with the people who attended the seminars to meet with them face to face? Who will make phone calls to the people receiving the fancy brochures to see if they have any questions?”

In old World War II movies, there are scenes about the unwilling volunteer.  In these scenes, a commanding officer asks for volunteers to step forward.  Inevitably, a newbie stands still while the wizened hands all take steps backward.

Those scenes remind me of how I “volunteered” to make the move from professional services marketing to sales; I “volunteered” by not declining to do so.

Fortunately, I’d had some professional services sales experience prior to joining Price Waterhouse, and, in addition, at Price Waterhouse I was able to participate in Miller-Heiman’s “Strategic Selling” courses.  So, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready.

The focus of our fledgling sales effort was to “connect those dots”, and we began scheduling follow-up meetings with potential clients.  Thankfully, my training had equipped me in the art of connecting, and the science of keeping opportunities on track. And, over time (the sale of professional services rarely occurs overnight), we were able to achieve some of the conversions Pete Hart knew to be critical to success.

“Sales” began to develop some strong roots at Price Waterhouse as well as other accounting firms, as the accounting profession caught wind of the possibilities. Sales became a critical competency in the professional services arena — eventually (albeit, with reluctance at many turns) the idea has crept into legal.

By Any Name, It Is About Connecting The Dots

Each of us at some point in a career faces the very practical questions Pete Hart posed to the Price Waterhouse Tax Partners — who is going to take the steps necessary to connect with prospects?

Whether marketers, business developers, strategy architects, accountants or lawyers — few, if any of us can afford to wait for the market to come to us. If you’re reluctant to lean on the “S” word, think of it as simply connecting the dots between the needs of your prospects and the service and counsel you can deliver.

When it comes to efforts that hit the bottom-line, that’s the “Aha Moment”.

Steve Bell is the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of the law firm of Womble Carlyle. He has deep experience in professional services business development and sales, and previously led the sales efforts at Grant Thornton and Price Waterhouse. He is a legal marketing thought leader, innovator, speaker, and also serves as Marketing Vice Chairman, Americas of Lex Mundi.

Follow Steve on Twitter. And find him on Linked In, here.

3 Keys To An Authentic Voice — The Building Block of Social Media Marketing Success

Posted in Art of Listening, Communication, Marketing, Social Media

Dispute its reach if you like. Bemoan its shortcomings. Even refuse to participate (if you dare). But Social Media has exploded. And the reason should capture the imagination of anyone marketing a service or product.

How so? Because for all the hype, falderal, misuse and criticism swirling about, Social Media is, simply, about the dynamics of community.

Hence some confusion. And the challenge.

Is it community? Or is it media?

If media, complete with the prospect of reaching the masses, we immediately focus on the message. (A mistake in its own right; but that is another discussion.)

Community, on the other hand, is about neighbors, conversations and collaboration. It is about building relationships.

Social Media is both. And (this is one of those good-news-bad-news notes) it gives everyone in the community a voice. This is the reason for the explosion. And the source of difficulty.

The Challenge of Authenticity

The universal availability makes the social community a noisy place.

So if you aspire to communicate and market using Social Media, the first job is to develop a voice that will rise above the noise, and resonate with the target audience.

This is not unique to Social, of course. Students of speech will remember the story of Demosthenes, the orator of ancient Greece. To overcome an impediment that made it difficult for his audience to listen, he practiced achieving clarity of speech with stones in his mouth.

Then along came tools that could broadcast a message to the masses — which often only serves to amplify the challenge. Recall the story of King George VI, popularized in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech.

The fact is that not even pivotal moments or profound content can guarantee a message will connect. Or be received.

And now Social suggests we deliver a message 140 characters with millions of other messages swirling about. Or via a Vine or an Instagram. And who knows what a “Like” or “endorsement” really means?

Top 3 Keys To An Authentic Social Voice

If you spend time in any social community you’ve likely encountered the social broadcasters — the messengers too busy dispensing canned content to be bothered with conversation or collaboration.

You also know it when you encounter an authentic voice.

What is the difference?

I recently had the pleasure of doing a guest spot on the popular weekly Twitter program for marketers, MMChat. (If you’re a marketer, you might enjoy participating — check it out every Monday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern, using the hashtag #MMChat.) The topic was the Keys To Developing An Authentic Social Voice. It was a lively exchange, and here are three ideas to emerge from the conversation.

1. Listen Intently. As opposed to an initial preoccupation with what you will say, begin with a focus on listening. Pay close attention and your market is likely to reveal precisely what it takes to become relevant, what resonates with them, and what is dismissed as noise.

2. Engage With Your Market. This is the DNA of social communities. And one of the most dynamic forms of engagement is to participate in the dialogue and agendas most important to your market. This is the most basic form of collaboration. And supporting other authentic voices allows you to leverage their resonance and credibility.

3. Deliver Value. This is about more than the service, product or solution you’re marketing. Social is about building and nurturing relationships. Relationship is about trust. Trust has roots in giving. Seek to understand your Targets’ needs; then provide a solution. This is the ultimate in delivering value. And by the way — the value you deliver may have little to do with the product or service you ultimately provide. Value is defined by the community. Want to be part of the community? Understand what it values.

Social Media presents challenges, to be sure. But the more voices vying for attention, the more authenticity differentiates, and rises above the din. Practice these three keys with consistency, and your voice becomes more and more authentic. And this is the beginning of a marketing message that connects.

The Legal Service Value Conundrum: Who Is The Beholder?

Posted in Art of Listening, Business Development, Client Feedback

A Guest Post, by lawyer, law professor and process consultant, Larry Bridgesmith

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — Margaret Wolfe Hungerford , Molly Bawn, 1878

Our son was born with orthopedic challenges which required him to be in thigh high casts from the day he was born. He was also born “sunny side up”, or face first. As a result, his bruised and swollen face and both legs in casts made him look like the loser from a brawl in the nursery.

What surprised my wife and me was the worried and sorrowful glances our friends cast in our direction when they first saw him. In our eyes he was as handsome as our own Prince George. (Which is exactly what he turned out to be.)

The question of value pricing is all the rage in legal services circles today. As is the case in the determination of beauty, the issue is – who gets to decide what constitutes “value”?

The Client’s Perceptions

Long before the Great Recession of 2008, client dissatisfaction with the price of legal services was mounting steadily. It has not slowed.

Globally, the realization rate for billed legal invoices stands at 83%. In other words, despite the rate reductions  and discounting that law firms have implemented, 17% of all legal bills remain unpaid. That is an enormous economic loss or “unappreciated value”.

If we require tangible evidence, the metrics tell the story; the client determines value.

Like beauty, the determination of value is largely subjective. What’s missing is the means of agreeing upon value between client and attorney.

How is this possible in law when outcomes and the steps needed to achieve them are so unpredictable?

Defining Value in Legal Services

It requires conversation, listening and reaching agreement.

  • Conversation – Every legal engagement begins with the lawyer/client conversation.  This is not earthshattering.  What might be novel is how much depth is required to determine exactly what clients want and need to achieve their goals. The lawyer who can take time to determine with clarity “what’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” and “what does success look like?” has gone much further than most to explore how the client determines value. Helping the client answer these critical questions provides the lawyer with a road map to assure a successful outcome measured from the client’s perspective. Advice and counsel, the lawyer’s stock in trade, comes to bear to help the client understand the obstacles and options to better define the journey to achieve the client’s objectives. A significantly different beginning point has been achieved: one with the end in view.
  • Listening – We lawyers are notoriously urgent.  Cutting to the chase and getting to the bottom line are characteristics in our DNA, and often a great skill set to possess. However, at the outset of an engagement this innate urge must be throttled. It has been said, the greater the ego need, the smaller the ears.  That’s why elephants have such big ears.  What do they have to be afraid of? By learning to listen to our clients, their stated and unstated needs, fears and expectations, we significantly improve our ability to satisfy them.  We need to be secure enough to listen to the answers. In spite of a tendency to make quick assumptions about what is best, only the clients are able to ultimately define need. We must learn how to become the master of the question.  Not interrogation or cross examination, but open ended inquisitive questions designed to learn what our clients need and expect. Our clients are our colleagues; and we need to understand, as best we are able, what they need from the engagement. If they are corporate clients, who are the internal clients (stakeholders) they must satisfy and how would they define success? This listening process leads to the all-important engagement letter which defines the terms of the engagement, the scope of the project (and what is out of scope), the terms of payment and the means by which changes in scope are to be negotiated going forward.
  • Agreement – As simple as the above process sounds, it is difficult and contrary to the basic nature of most legal engagements today. The collegial, collaborative relationship established at the outset of each engagement defines value as the client and attorney determine it to be (not simply as assumed by the lawyer). Most importantly, it is not a static contract, it is a living agreement which matures over the course of the engagement. Done well, the agreement between lawyer and client results in the pre-negotiation of each invoice before it is received by the client. There are no “45 day surprises”, or invoices which lead to refusals to pay for unexpected legal fees. The original scope of the engagement only changes through conversation, listening and agreement. It’s a cyclical process. The process defines value.

The practice of law should return lawyers to the role of trusted advisors.  Our business cards can label us “Counselors at Law” again. Realization rates can approximate (but never fully achieve) 100%.  Less waste. Less unrealized income. More value.

Legal services value is neither binary, nor exclusive.  It is the collaborative and mutually agreed upon outcome of great lawyer and client engagements.

It is not rocket science.  It is just good customer relations.

It can be beautiful.

Larry Bridgesmith has practiced law for over 35 years. He is a conflict management professional, a professor of law at Vanderbilt School of Law, and a consultant to businesses and law firms in process improvement and profitability enhancement.  He is a co-founder of ERM Legal Solutions which provides legal pricing and planning software solutions to legal departments and law firms, and he brings deep experience and credibility to the discussion of the business of law.

Connect with Larry on Linked In here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Marketing, Business Development, And The Pursuit of Better Conversations Online

Posted in Business Development, Marketing, Social Media

You might be able to reach everyone.

That’s the siren-song of the digital innovations that turn everyone into a publisher or broadcaster.

Perpetuated daily by something new gone viral — video of a pet, or a baby, or a stunt — it is a fantasy that slowly morphs into — hey, maybe this is possible.

We watch with analytics-envy as the Like, Share and View numbers mount. And — admit it — in spite of our skepticism, we begin to scheme.

What would it take to create something that might go viral?

It is insidious. Not because it can’t happen; but because each time we are seduced into reaching for the masses, we take our eye off strategic targets. Never mind the fact that we likely settle for an irrelevantly low common denominator.

If More Is Better, It Is An Easy Game To Play 

In order to rack up views, the editors of a respected professional service firm’s blog actually began creating the most provocatively searchable titles possible. The goal? Supposedly, the buzz might generate valuable media attention. (Want to pile up clicks? Figure out a way to use the words “wet t-shirt contest” in your next blog headline. Your analytics will never look the same.)

But in our guts, we know that Page Views are not the measure of success.

As an old marketing guy I can appreciate a touch of P.T. Barnum at the right time; but when we begin to artificially manipulate content to accommodate search strings, never mind the inclusion of salacious tags solely because they will garner “views,” we have one or both of the following problems:

  • we’re not sure how to create content that instigates conversations around a value proposition; or,
  • we’ve completely lost sight of the target.

In a recent post — In search of meaningfulSeth Godin had a message for anyone creating content for the purpose of marketing:

If it’s not worth subscribing to a particular voice or feature or idea, if it’s not worth looking forward to and not worth trusting, I’m not sure it’s worth writing, not if your goal is to become meaningful.”

For the professional service provider, turning a connection into what Godin terms a subscriber is about having a series of better conversations. Better than price. Better than data on a CV. Better than the guys across the street.

In case I need to say it — this is not to suggest that depth of experience and other curriculum vita are not important. Nor is it an argument against the value of key words and quality SEO.

It is to suggest that the instant the content that really speaks to your target gives way to a contrived phrase created for what amounts to fake “optimized” search results, we may be in danger of missing the point. Further, content that does not deliver a measure of value does little to differentiate — hence, little to really market the services of a firm.

Highly effective marketing messages transcend analytics, connect with strategic targets, and deliver something of value.

Why do we value content? Because it is the DNA of conversation. And better conversations are the lifeblood of thriving relationships.

Digital has torn down walls and changed the arithmetic, to be sure. Social media presents real opportunities. But when it comes to business development for the professional services firm, the challenge is still about smart targeting, and an investment in the stuff of relationship. Because one relationship is worth more than a thousand page views.