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October 12, 2005

The two most important words in legal marketing and sales: Don't stop

In my book AdverSelling®, the 26th and last sales principle is “Don’t stop.”

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when most companies were slashing advertising expenses, Procter & Gamble increased their advertising, to experiment with a new medium: radio. To increase listener involvement and loyalty to radio programs, they invented the concept of dramatic serial programs such as Oxydol’s “Ma Perkins,” Camay’s “Forever Young,” and White Naptha’s “The Guiding Light.” Each program was sponsored by a different brand, and they acheived such great success that they became known as “soap operas.” Procter & Gamble refused to stop when faced with a down economy, and they ended up building one of the largest corporations in history.

Seventy years later, Procter and Gamble is still succeeding with this relentless long term approach. In China, they’ve invested over $1 billion in 17 brands including Head & Shoulders shampoo, Cover Girl makeup, Pampers diapers, and Pringle’s potato chips. In every category in which they compete, Procter & Gamble is the leader in the Chinese market. Except for Tide laundry detergent. But don’t worry, Tide is number two, and Procter & Gamble won’t stop.

Research suggests that for lawyers, “don’t stop marketing” applies not just to current clients, but also to former ones. According to Harry Mills’ Rainmaker’s Toolkit (page 95 in number 3 on my Amazon list of the top 10 marketing and sales books for lawyers):

“Research shows:
The chances of selling to an existing client are better than 1 in 2.
The chances of selling to a lost client are 1 in 3.
The chances of successfully selling to a fresh prospect are 1 in 8.”

Other experts would quibble over the exact ratios, but all agree that it’s much easier to sell to people who know you than to sell to strangers. The conclusion is obvous: when a law firm first begins to try increasing sales, much of the initial effort should be aimed at existing clients, until you have 100% of their legal business in the areas you can handle. In fact, you shouldn’t stop even when you do have 100% of their business. In today’s competitive environment, many other firms are trying to force their way in, and you will need to put in more and more effort to protect what you have.

For large firms, one way to enhance relationships with current customers is with client service groups that systematically solicit feedback on past performance. My June 16 posting in this blog (No A plus’s, but lots of new business) talks about the positive effects of the 50 client service teams Akin Gump started in the past two years. Watch future blogs for more on this topic.

The second implication of Mills’ figures is less obvious: If you dust off the list of clients you’ve lost over the years, and reach out to them once more, you’ll have a good chance of earning some back.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this particular principle is that on Saturday I’ll be celebrating my company’s 20th anniversary. Twenty years is a very long time for a small business. When I started the company in 1985, the Rolling Stones were middle-aged.

I can remember going out to dinner with my wife six months after I had rented my first office. I had not yet signed a single customer. There was one client that I’d been talking to for months, and I kept thinking I would sign, but for one reason or another the decision was always delayed. I asked Pat whether she thought I should give up on being an entrepreneur and look for a job. She said to give it a little longer. Five days later, the client signed and I began hiring my first employees.

That’s when I became fully aware of how long marketing and sales efforts can take, and how unpredictable they can be. So as long as there is hope that a sale can occur, just keep pushing forward. Until you start looking like the Rolling Stones. Then you should stop.


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