Marketing Don’ts

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that some lawyers are making mistakes that will undermine their efforts.  These mistakes go beyond the five foundational business development efforts decsribed in The Reluctant Rainmaker that are so insidious.  These are short-sighted decisions that may seem smart in the short-run but will cause great damage over time.

Marketing Don’t #1:  “It’s all about me” newsletters.  A lawyer I don’t know subscribed me to his mailing list, using two of my email addresses.  That’s bad form (and probably illegal) in itself.  Absent a business relationship, all newsletter subscribers should be subscribers by their request.  (And just in case anyone reading this article is worried, the offending lawyer does not subscribe to my newsletter.  I checked.)

The newsletter is short and well-written, but it only recounts what honors and accolades this lawyer has received since last he wrote.  Since I don’t know this person, I have no interest in what he’s done, especially since I see no connection with his activity and my business.  Even if he were an acquaintance, an entire email about “me, me, me” is unlikely to hold my interest.  I’ve received this newsletter two or three times over the last year (I didn’t unsubscribe because I wanted to see whether and how the newsletter would change over time — but it hasn’t) and I have yet to read a substantive article or even comments that are directed to the reader.

The take-home message for you who send newslettersMake sure there’s something that’s designed to be helpful for the reader.  Yes, share your news, and let your readers know that you’re up to good things, but don’t let that be the sole focus (or even the primary emphasis) of your newsletter.  Write for your readers, not at them.

Marketing Don’t #2:  Skipping relationship-building on Facebook and Twitter.  This week, I’ve seen the same mistake repeated on both Facebook and Twitter:  making a connection and immediately asking for business.  (I’ve also been subscribed to a lawyer’s newsletter simply by virtue of having made the online connection — see mistake #1 above.)  Would you walk into a networking meeting, meet someone for the first time, and ask for business while you’re still shaking that person’s hand?  I seriously doubt it.  Don’t do the equivalent online.

Relationship-building online should follow a similar trajectory as relationship-building in the “real” world.  Meet (or make the connection online), explore areas of mutual interest to discover what you have in common, whether you like each other, and whether you’d like to have a business relationship.  That process can take minutes or months.  But it’s only when that process is concluded (or well underway) that it becomes appropriate to look for referral opportunities.

Even better, of course, is bringing the process to culmination by asking how you might help the person you’re getting to know.  One of the best, and most under-utilized, questions you might ask a new contact (virtual or in-person) is, “How would I recognize someone I should send to you?”  If you ask this question of someone who is likely to be a good referral source, you will almost certainly have the question returned to you.

The take-home message for you who network onlineMake connections online, but don’t skip the relationship-building phase.

Marketing Don’t #3:  Don’t forget that you must invest in your practice to see it grow.  In talking with some lawyers recently, I’ve observed a perception that this is not the time to be spending money on business development.  I’ve heard that it’s time for a shoestring budget, that it would be foolish to spend money on client entertainment or sponsorships or attending conferences, and so on.  Some lawyers are holding the purse strings so tight that their metaphorical hands must be going numb.

I’m certainly not going to suggest spending money willy-nilly, nor would I ever recommend a lawyer extend him- or herself beyond the bounds of sound financial decisions.  However, choosing not to spend money can be a short-sighted decision made from fear.  Growing a practice does require making smart investments.  Just like no wise lawyer would choose to go with a typewriter to save on the costs of using a computer, no wise lawyer would reject a practice-building opportunity simply because of a financial investment.

That doesn’t mean that you need to make the Bentley-level investment every time; sometimes the used Chevy is perfectly adequate and perhaps even a better choice.  If you notice yourself thinking that an opportunity is just right except for the cost, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s the financial outlay?
  2. What outcome might I see?
  3. What’s the likelihood of that outcome?
  4. What’s the financial investment-to-payoff ratio?
  5. What are the non-financial benefits that would likely accrue?

The take-home for lawyers considering a practice-enriching investmentConsider not just what an opportunity costs but also what results it is likely to offer.  Not all opportunities will be right for you, but don’t allow yourself to miss out on something that offers an advantage simply becaues it comes with a price tag.


Sway:  The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

Nobody likes to lose.  With our self-selection to be competitive and to be risk-averse, lawyers perhaps tolerate loss even less than others.  According to the Brafman brothers, authors of Sway:  The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, the more meaningful a potential loss is, the further we will go to avoid that loss, and the more likely it becomes that we’ll be swept into an irrational decision.

This irrational tendency is well illustrated by the story of a wealthy stockholder who held the great majority of his assets in a single stock.  His financial advisor recommended selling a set percentage of the stock every month “to take the emotion out of the decision” and to create increasing diversification, but the stockholder declined.  He did sell about 10% of the stock at $47, but he held as the stock dipped to $42, having decided that he would sell when it hit $47 again.  Of course, it slipped lower — to $38, and the stockholder decided he would sell when it hit $44.  Alas, the stock continued to drop until it ended at 12 cents per share, and the once-wealthy stockholder had lost nearly his entire investment.

The cause of the loss is no surprise:  loss aversion plus commitment.  The same cause is responsible for irrational bidding in an acution designed by Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman.  He auctions a $20 bill in class with two rules:  the bids must be in $1 increments, and the runner up must pay his bid even though she receives nothing for it.

The bidding goes quickly to the $12-to-$16 range, at which point bidders realize that everyone is bidding for the same outcome and drops out, leaving only two bidders.  These two continue long past the point of reason, neither wanting to be the sucker who pays close to (or more than) $20 for nothing.  The record bid?  $204 for a $20 bill.  Each bidder’s commitment to the effort plus the desire to avoid loss brings on irrational behavior.

The authors identify irrational behavior at hand when we’re able to make a diagnosis, such as choosing the best job applicant or selecting high  potential leaders.  The Brafmans show that when we brand or label individuals, they tend to become “psychological chameleons” who take on the charateristics of the label.  For example, a study that followed Israeli soldiers through training arbitrarily assigned the soldiers as having high, regular, or unknown “command potential.”

The officers were required to learn each soldier’s “command potential” ranking, and in testing after the 15-week training course, the randomly assigned high “command potential” soldiers outperformed the others by 22.7%.  (We’ve all heard of similar examples of students underperforming when labeled as “slow learners” or “troublemakers” and excelling under the tutelage of a teacher who refuses to recognize those labels.)  The moral?  When we label others, they pick up on our subtle messages and cues and, as a result, they take on the characteristics of the label.

What’s in it for lawyers?  Sway illustrates that even when we fully believe we’re operating entirely from logic and reason, irrational psychological influences can undermine the logical perspective we believe we hold.  This recognition is critical for lawyers who may be swayed by these irrational influences in practice, whether while representing clients or while managing their own businesses.  Even more, lawyers must be aware of their clients’ illogical, irrational emotions and perceptions that can undermine rational decision making.

Rainmaker Renaissance!

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Becoming an effective networker is mission critical to growing and sustaining your practice.  Business development is not typically a “quick fix” activity; you can’t expect to meet someone today and get new business from that person tomorrow.  (Exceptions do, of course, exist — but don’t count on them when the survival of your practice is at stake.)  You must build relationships with your clients, with potential clients, and with referral sources since the majority of your business will likely come from those sources.

Beyond maintaining and growing existing relationships, you’ll also want to expand your circle of contacts.  Your business development plan will help you to identify where your ideal clients and referral sources gather, and that in turn will tell you which meetings and gatherings to attend.  As you look at invitations you receive or announcements of meetings, ask yourself whether the kind of people you want to meet will likely be there.  You must identify the groups that are most likely to include the people you want to meet, and you need to be prepared to start conversations and then to develop and maintain the relationships over time.

Is it better to attend every possible event where your ideal clients and referral sources are likely to gather or to focus on developing relationships that seem more likely to yield business?  There’s a place for both.  Sometimes it’s helpful to investigate new groups and to see who goes to what kinds of meetings.  But be aware that it always takes more than one or two meetings to get established and to start developing relationships that may lead to business; if you just attend once or twice and then move on to another group, chances are that you won’t see any results.  I recommend that you identify no more than two or three groups (potentially only one, depending on your other commitments) that appear to be a good fit for your objectives.  Commit to attending regularly and participating in the group activities for six months, and then evaluate your results.

At the end of the day, building solid relationships will always be more effective because people generally prefer to hire and work with those they know, like, and trust.  You don’t get to know, like, and trust someone immediately, so it’s important to invest time in growing relationships.  That comes through repeated exposure and through consistent follow-up.  If you fail to follow up with people you meet and develop relationships with them, you might as well not bother networking.

The more consistent you can be in your networking, the more successful you will likely find yourself to be.  Most of the time, relationship-building and business development is much like farming — you’ll find that you have to do the equivalent of preparing your field, planting your seeds, nurturing them as they sprout, and then harvesting.

Want to enhance your business relationships quickly, starting right now?  Make a list of top contacts.  This list should include clients and former clients, referral sources, and warm contacts with whom you haven’t done business yet.  Then choose your top 3 to 5 from this list, perhaps the people who’ve been instrumental to growing your practice and those with whom you haven’t been in close contact recently.  Take those people to lunch or dinner, or at a minimum, have a telephone call to catch up with them.  Find out what’s going on with them, how business is going this year, and what you can do to help them, whether that’s legal work or something else.

These conversations are concentrated and intentional, and they can lead directly to additional business.  Why?  Two key reasons:  first, you’re enhancing or delving back into a relationship that already exists.  Your contact already knows, likes, and trusts you, so you’re not starting from ground zero.  And second, you’re opening conversation in a way that allows you to focus on what your contact needs, and then you’re doing your best to meet that need.  If the need is legal and within the scope of your practice, you have an opportunity to land the business.  Even if not, you’ve shown yourself to be a helpful resource.

Tending to your relationships will certainly pay off for you in the long-term, if not immediately.  Review your business development plan to ensure that you have a systematic approach to connecting with your contacts on a regular basis and make sure to block out time on your calendar to make it happen.