Know What You’re Selling

Lawyers’ eyes usually glaze over when marketers talk about the six Ps of marketing: Product, Position, Package, Promotion, Price, and Place. You can’t sell legal services the same way you sell soap, they declare, because the products are different. 

OK, so how would you define your product?

That’s where the fun starts. The usual first words are some combination of the three E’s—education, expertise, and experience. Well, the fact is, while each of these has a role in making a good lawyer, none of them is actually the lawyer’s product. Education is nice to have and it makes your mother proud, but it doesn’t make anything else. Similarly, while expertise and experience allow you to use your education effectively, they are not products either.

Only when education, expertise, and experience are applied to a client’s issue do you have a product.

So why am I writing about this? Because I’ve been in this business for 15 years and I still meet lawyers who think ‘marketing’ starts with listing all the services they offer, rather than first understanding what their clients want and need. I never cease to be amazed at how law firms describe themselves as client-focused, then go on to describe all the things they do—without once mentioning the client, let alone demonstrating that they understand the client’s business and legal issues!

Being client-focused means being focused on what the client wants to buy, not on what you want to sell. It’s really important to understand what the client both wants and needs, because you can’t be client-focused without it. A need is a rational expectation; a want is an emotional desire. A client’s need might be expressed as “I need you to handle this case” but what they’re thinking is: “I want you to make this go away, take this off my shoulders, give me a result I can take to my management.” In developing business for your law firm, you need to handle the wants!

Now, this is straightforward when clients know what their legal problem is. But this is where selling legal services does differ from selling soap: people usually know when they need soap. Not necessarily so with legal services: one of the hardest selling jobs is showing a client that you can solve a problem he doesn’t yet know that he has. (Note that I said ‘show’, not tell.)

It’s important to tell a story that the client can identify with:

  • Identify the problem they don’t yet know that they have
  • Show what happens if they don’t take care of the problem
  • Offer the solution

An example might be the need for a shareholder agreement when registering a new company. One of my clients wanted to put an article about shareholder agreements in their newsletter. They drafted an article in which the main message was: new companies need shareholder agreements. However, new business owners, preoccupied with getting customers and filling orders, don’t know why they need a shareholder agreement, so they may not WANT to pay you to create one for them. The marketing challenge is to create an awareness of the benefits to the client from having a shareholder agreement. In this example, I created an opening scenario for the article in which a new business doesn’t have a shareholder agreement and runs into problems when one partner later wants to take the company in a different direction, adding a couple of new partners along the way.

When I think about selling legal services, I’m reminded of the tough time doctors have selling preventive medicine, because if it works, nothing happens! You lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, take your blood pressure medication—and don’t necessarily feel any different. A lot of what lawyers are selling is prevention; in fact, if you’re looking after your client properly, you’re likely to be preventing things from happening more than you’re things making happen. For you, marketing must involve letting your clients know what they’re protected from: itemize the situations that your legal work has prevented.

So what are you selling? Be sure about your answer before you spend a single cent on marketing.

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