Articles and Interviews
Follow the Rules of Romance to Market Effectively
by Larry Bodine 2000
from Law Marketing Portal, 2000
Ask yourself: What would you do to have a one-night stand with someone?
Now ask yourself: What would you do to have a long-term relationship?
Marketing as a Seduction
“The answers would be completely different—you’d hang out in different places you’d dress differently,” said author and management consultant David Maister of Boston. “Most law firms have built their marketing plans based on ‘how to get laid.’ A lot of you are acting as if you’re trying to do a one-off seduction.” Instead, law firms should market themselves to gain long-term relationships with clients. “These are very different ways of thinking what marketing is about.”
Maister was a keynote speaker on January 24, 2001, at the Marketing Partner Forum in Scottsdale, Arizona, sponsored by Glasser Legal Works. Wandering and snorting his way through the crowded ballroom, the beloved Maister kept the audience spellbound.
“Those law firms that take a relationship approach to all of their marketing make a hell of a lot more money,” he said. “When your clients really trust you, they subject you to fewer beauty contests. You’re much more likely to get new work automatically. When your clients trust you and you take a relationship-building approach to marketing, you also get higher fees.
“Marketing is not about ‘How do I fool idiotic clients?’ A marketing relationship is, ‘How do I develop a long-term, trusted relationship with somebody who’s doing exciting, sexy things?’ Life is more than billing hours to people that you barely tolerate. Life is too short to work for idiots. Get your ass in gear and do everything you can to replace bad clients with people you like, so you can give the finger to clients you don’t like,” Maister said.
Getting Dream Business
“Clients are just like us. When you look for a doctor, you want one who listens, explains things, and doesn’t just say, ‘Bend over. Next.’ Would you pay more for this doctor? Yes,” Maister said. Similarly, he said that clients want lawyers who take a personal interest in them. The reason that more clients are hiring law firms based on price is because they can’t find lawyers who will take an interest, or at least act as if they care about the client. “Any lawyer who comes into the market who shows an interest in the clients will clean up.”
Maister said that law firms should follow the rules of romance in their marketing. “Marketing is about individuals, how to earn relationships,” he said. “What works is what affects you in your life. Ask yourself—do you have a great romantic relationship? If you do, you already know how it works.” He polled the audience to get the following rules:
The Rules of Romance—and Marketing
Honest Communication. “Honesty is essential. The slightest transgression takes you backwards a long way. You would never want to get caught in a real relationship with exaggerations or inflated statements—yet you do that all the time in marketing. Maybe it gets you laid, but if you’re looking for a relationship, you just lost it.”
Shut up and really listen. “Spend your time asking clients about them. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. How much of your marketing plan is seeking to understand?”
Frequent communication, especially when not needed. Maister encouraged partners to read the trade publication of their main clients. “By doing so your partner can call a client to say, ‘I was reading your trade magazine and I see that your competitor’s factory burned down; is there anything you’d like to do?’” He added, “You can’t build somebody’s trust if you don’t keep up with their interests.”
Be supportive and understanding. Treat clients gently instead of critically. “How do you tell the client he was wrong and have him thank you for it? Ask yourself, ‘How do I phrase this so that it comes across as supportive?’ There are a few of us who find the right words instantaneously, but most of us have to think about it overnight. You might get caught off guard, and you’ll feel you need to prove you’re worth $250 per hour, but you must be more focused on the relationship than the present moment.”
You have to actually care about the relationship. “If your partners say, ‘Do I have to care?’ your reply should be, ‘If you do care, your life will get better. If you don’t care, it’s going to be harder.’ What works in marketing is actually caring. For example, see if you can you actually ask sensible follow-up questions and keep a conversation going for 30 minutes?”
Becoming a Trusted Advisor
According to Maister, a lawyer’s goal is to become the trusted advisor of his or her clients. He identified four characteristics that influence trust:
- Credibility, which is not the same thing as competence. “You may be skilled in your field, but can you apply it to your client’s world? To see you as credible, a client needs to feel not only that you’re a great lawyer but that you can bring your expertise into their world.”
- Reliability. A large part of being trusted is that a person can be relied on to act in a certain way. “Brilliant people who are unreliable lose my trust,” Maister said.
- Intimacy. “You don’t need to know the names of your clients’ kids and send them birthday cards. But you do have to know about your client’s transactions. You also must understand that in all of your client interactions, you’re dealing with a human being and that his emotions are part of it. It’s about individuals.”
Part of getting trusted is about dependability, consistency and reliability. A lawyer’s reputation is not how well he does on a good day, it’s what he does on his worst day.
- Self-orientation. “If the client believes you are only in it for yourself, you won’t be trusted. To be trusted you must convince the other person that you will earn whatever you are paid. Somehow you have to make people believe you care about them,” Maister said.
According to Maister, most of us rate well on credibility and reliability. “It’s the last two that are less well done; not many people would get high points from their clients on being a person as opposed to a techno-nerd,” he said. “Clients fundamentally don’t trust lawyers because they think the lawyer just wants billable hours. Whether that’s an unfair belief or not, it causes them not to trust you and to watch you like a hawk.”
“Marketing works much better if you treat it as a moral point. You must know what your core principles are. Every time your core principles are tested, you have to answer the same way. At a big organization, you must decide if your firm is going to have any principles, any laws: ‘This is who we are but we don’t do certain junk,’” he said.
“Partners must ask themselves if they want nonnegotiable principles or should we run it on expediency. Firms that have very clear principles that are in fact actually lived up to make more money. Firms that don’t or who have ones that are treated expediently make less money,” Maister said.
Advice for Marketing Directors
Maister urged marketers to stop focusing on the firm, and instead start focusing on individual partners. “The best revenue generator is to work with an individual lawyer. Every marketing director must be a trusted advisor and deal with the partners’ sensitive egos. That’s how you build your power base—one by one, you get a group of partners who say you were really helpful.
“Most of your lawyers resent their clients—they don’t like them, and they don’t like the fee negotiations. They like the legal work. If you like your clients, you don’t go cruising.
“Your job as a marketing director is to work one-on-one with each partner and find out what he or she would rather be doing than this. What part of his practice would he or she get rid of? The most valuable thing a marketing partner can do is to help people find their passion.
“Without the energy, passion and desire, the command of marketing tactics is useless.”