One of those old truisms that floats around, no less accurate for its long tenure: everybody likes buying stuff, nobody likes being sold to.
It’s a seeming paradox – you’d think that buying and selling would be a perfect match. Except that lots of the time, the selling being done is terrible and gets in the way of what would otherwise be a pleasant buying process. See also, buying literally everything online so you don’t have to interact with a salesperson.
Stuff happens in our brains when we shift into sales mode: the other person (the prospect… how’s that for dehumanizing verbiage?) becomes just an obstacle to get around or go over, and the sale itself becomes the goal. A process that should bring two people together reaching a shared goal of matching a good product that solves a real problem, all too often drives them further apart. Buyer and seller eventually see each other as an impediment to their individual goals. Opportunity lost.
This drawing people apart, this sense that selling (or marketing, as we will discuss for the remainder of this article) is an activity that is inherently negative, selfish, and, well, kind of slimy, that ultimately is the problem. It feels bad. And in the confines of developing business for a law practice, it can feel unprofessional and unbecoming.
You take this the slime factor and add it to the high percentage of lawyers who identify as introverted alongside the extremely high percentage of lawyers who have a calendar of commitments that could charitably be described as punishing, and you have a perfect storm for creating marketing resistance. The fake equation of this works out to:
Marketing feels slimy + natural lawyer bent toward introversion + zero free time = no marketing
Math checks out. Trust me.
This is a significant lost opportunity for a law firms that are staffed with brilliant, funny, engaging (and expensive) lawyers who would sooner 127 Hours their arm off rather than serve time at a networking event. And these brilliant lawyers would be the firm’s best salespeople if you could just get them to go out and talk to people about the excellent work they are doing.
I had lunch with a managing partner the other day on this very topic. He has a great lawyer who lives in a city with endless business development opportunities in the industry where they represent folks, but he just can’t get the lawyer to market. As we talked through the issue a bit, I finally said, “you’re never going to turn the non-marketer into a marketer, so you can just remove that from your to-do list.” I believe that bit of insight to undeniably right, but it’s also incomplete.
Incomplete, because you don’t need your brilliant, introverted lawyers to turn into extroverted marketing monsters prowling every bar association happy hour handing out cards like an hyperactive slot machine. You don’t even want that. Remember… nobody likes being sold to.
Instead, if you can focus on modestly adjusting the three variables of my very mathy equation above you may be able to tilt them just enough to lower the lawyers’ marketing resistance enough to get the ball rolling.
Objection 1: marketing feels slimy
This is both the hardest one to adjust and the most important.
A lifetime of being a human has taught your brilliant lawyers what marketing looks like and feels like to the… prospect. The problem is that great marketing, the kind of marketing that builds successful law practices, is more subtle and less common. It may never have been modeled for your lawyers before, or if it was, they may not have even registered what they were seeing because the interaction was so authentic and easy.
Good business development for a lawyer means finding, building and nurturing relationships with folks who are in a position to refer business to the lawyer. When it’s done right, it should feel awfully close to a friendship. Except your friends get to be your friends even if they don’t send you business. Your referral sources are only referral sources if they actually refer you business.
If your lawyer has at least one friend in their life, they have the raw material to do develop referral sources. Developing referral sources is a relationship-based and long-term undertaking. Save the quick fixes for the shake weight guys. Once your lawyer builds their list, stay connected and maintain those relationships through text chains, or fantasy football leagues, or Taylor Swift concerts, or lunches, or whatever ties authentically bind them together as humans to those referral sources. In short, treat them like people, not like prospects.
Objection 2: identifying as introverted
When non-marketing inclined lawyers think about developing business, they conjure images of awkward cold calls, endless rejection, and standing alone against the wall at some networking event in a hotel ballroom where they are the only one who doesn’t know anyone. No wonder they resist… that all sounds awful.
The key with helping introverts overcome marketing resistance is to lean into the things they are open to doing rather than trying to get them to do activities they hate.
A lot of the time, a lawyer who would rather run a cheese grater over their forehead than go to a networking event might be perfectly willing to write some blog posts commenting on recent developments in the law, or write a white paper to distribute to the firm’s clients, or some other digital effort that doesn’t require them to make small talk with strangers.
Another good hack is to help lawyers find opportunities to work with other lawyers or professionals at bar associations by focusing on volunteer opportunities for committee service. Many lawyers who are introverted (myself included) feel more comfortable with the small group dynamic and working together as a team on a shared outcome with defined roles – precisely the kind of situation offered by committee service. After a few weeks or months of committee work, the lawyers will have effortless developed warm contacts, and will rarely walk into a networking event for that association again without seeing several familiar faces.
Objection 3: zero time available
This is the most common barrier to marketing that lawyers sight, and the most straight-forward to overcome. Law firm managing partners know that they get the behaviors from their teams that firm incentives drive. If you want a behavior in your firm that you’re not getting – like systematically marketing a practice – start by looking at the incentives that are structured around that behavior in your firm.
You can start by paying origination credit to lawyers for work they generate – it is a pretty essential first step, but not enough generally to overcoming marketing resistance. Some options to consider: counting marketing hours the same as productivity hours for compensation formulas (up to a sustainable limit, of course); business development mentoring with senior members of the firm; and revisiting compensation percentages for origination vs production to make sure they support the firm’s values and vision.
For my money, the highest leverage change to make here to focus on the process as opposed to the outcomes. What you’re trying to do is change behavior to unlock untapped potential in your lawyers. If the lawyers expect their marketing efforts to be unpleasant and fruitless, no wonder when they look at the calendar they see no time available.
If you focus on rewarding the process – reinforcing doing the marketing work as opposed to just rewarding the outcome – you are much more likely to spur some folks into motion who would otherwise succumb to the resistance.
The potentially revenue you can unlock for your firm by getting some of your gifted, but not marketing-oriented lawyers to start marketing is one the greatest resources you have. It would cost little to try and if your firm gets even one or two lawyers to start developing business, it will be the highest ROI you will get on your marketing efforts all year.