If your firm has been around for a while, how has it changed? Let’s say you’re in a mid-sized Canadian city and the firm has been in existence since the 1970s. Chances are that at least one set of partners has retired from the firm and new recruits have brought new interests (and new clients) into the firm. New industrial developments on the outskirts of town have yielded new clients, who in turn have referred other new clients from even further out of town. Before anyone has realized it, your firm is serving clients province-wide, yet you’re still promoting yourselves as Anytown’s Advocates and thinking of yourselves as a local firm. Your marketing initiatives are restricted to the local media, local legal associations, and local business groups. Makes sense? Of course not.
In my last column, I said that before you can develop a marketing strategy for your firm, you need to answer seven questions. I dealt with the first two (What does our firm do? and Who do we do it for?) in that column (Marketing Strategy: First, Ask the Right Questions). In this column, I will focus on the next three questions:
- Where are our clients located?
- When did they first come to us?
- Why do they stay with us?
Where are our clients located?
Is your firm serving local, regional, national or international clients? If you see yourselves as a local firm, you might be surprised to find how many of your clients come from outside of your immediate area. If so, it may make sense to promote your firm regionally. At all points on the spectrum from local to international, there may be other prospective clients in those areas where your existing clients are located and where your firm is already a known quantity. The point is, you can’t assume that you know: as with all marketing decisions, you have to do the research first.
You might wonder why client location matters for marketing. After all, with today’s technology, you can serve clients in your jurisdiction wherever they’re located, can’t you? One of the six Ps of marketing is Place: the easiest place to market your services is where you already have a critical mass of clients. When you know where your clients are located, you know where to target your marketing activities.
There are unserved legal needs everywhere, but the lowest hanging fruit is the easiest to pick. Using what you’ve found out about your clients’ industries, you can often foresee their legal needs. For example, if a larger national company has taken over a smaller local one, they may well be looking for new premises, or drawing up new staff contracts, or redoing contracts with local suppliers. Even if the national company continues to use its national law firm, there will be a lot of local suppliers and staff looking for legal help.
When did they first come to us?
In my last column I talked about knowing who your top clients are. In the last five years, how many of them are repeat clients? How many of them are new clients? If most of your top 25 clients are repeat clients, you have a stable business—but don’t sit back! The minute someone becomes your firm’s client, they become someone else’s prospect.
If most of your top 25 are new clients, hang onto them! Having to replace clients all the time is an expensive practice to maintain. All of this tells you to whom you should be directing your marketing efforts: existing clients should be Number 1 on your list.
For practice areas where repeat clients are less likely (Family Law, Litigation, to a certain extent Wills & Estates) you can perform the same exercise with your referral sources: are they continuing to refer work to you? These people are as important to you as your clients—and in many cases, they are your clients.
Why do they stay with us?
Will your top 25 clients be with you next year? Do you know which other firms they use? What do you know about their plans for the future?
Client retention should be uppermost in the mind of anyone aiming to keep a law firm profitable. The very best way to retain clients is to have them using more of your services than the one that first brought them to you. The more of your services a client uses, the less likely they are to leave. And that’s the next part of your marketing strategy: cross-selling (see my column “When Lawyers Leave: Client Retention Strategies”).
Knowing which other law firms your clients use actually helps you to cross-sell if you do it right. Many lawyers find it uncomfortable to talk to clients about other law firms—and for good reason. The tightrope you walk is fixed between Law Society regulations on one side and maintaining good professional relations on the other side. Badmouthing the competition is against the regulations and is downright stupid if the other firm is in a position to refer work to you. So you tread carefully: “Great firm, we know them well, they refer work to us when they have a conflict. However, they don’t do intellectual property.”
Knowing your top clients’ plans helps you know what legal services they might need—are they going to expand? Merge? Sell? Litigate? Again, it’s a delicate conversation because clients may have good reasons for being tight-lipped—and they know why you’re asking. So again, tread carefully: have an off-the-clock meeting with two stated goals: to find out “how we’re doing” and to “see if we can look ahead to protect your interests in whatever you’ve got coming up.” When the emphasis is on taking care of the client, it’s much easier to be proactive.
Final thoughts on marketing strategy in my next column.