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6 posts from July 2008

July 30, 2008

What are the top marketing priorities in a down economy? Part 3 by Mark Usellis

Usellis-2 I wrote Part 1 and Part 2 of this series a few months ago. Today’s Part 3 is a guest post by Mark Usellis, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Davis Wright. This post reproduces a piece Mark published in the Legal Marketing Association magazine, Strategies (June 2008, p. 24). When I saw it, I thought: Everyone should read this, whether they belong to LMA or not. So I called Mark and got his permission. While we were on the phone, we also talked about his specific tactics, which I will describe in next week’s post.

Figuring out new ways to deliver value to clients is exactly what the marketing department should do. That’s true not only when the economy is soft, though it is certainly more of a priority when times are tough.

Besides clients, another important audience for your marketing department in tough times is your managing partner and CFO. Believe me, they will be delighted if, rather than proposing a higher budget for 2009 filled with all sorts of new initiatives, you propose a flat or even smaller budget but still deliver great value. In the process, you can weed out a number of low-value sacred cows that have burrowed into your budget over the years and refocus your department on things that enable your lawyers to add value for clients. You will probably improve your staff’s job satisfaction as well.

The tool for this is zero-based budgeting, which simply means that instead of using last year’s budget as a starting point, you start with a blank piece of paper. Everything has to earn its way into the budget on its own merits after a fresh analysis of costs and benefits.

If you enlist the CFO and managing partner up front and explain how this process will add value for the firm, you will likely be able to enlist them to help you fight the political battles that always accompany change.

Zero-based budgeting is a great way to wring out of the budget all kinds of random, scattershot, one-off activities that provide nothing more than a little general visibility to a poorly targeted audience and enable some lawyers to feel like they have “done their marketing,” despite not having actually talked to a client, prospect or referral source. In my first year at Davis Wright, we cut the general sponsorship budget by one-third, reduced our spending on directories and eliminated most of the advertising budget. That freed up funds to support three very substantial and targeted business development initiatives, to pay for a comprehensive positioning program and new Web site and to hire some senior staff in critical positions—all within a flat budget.

So as you approach the 2009 budget cycle, take nothing for granted. Start from zero and build a budget based on particular needs and opportunities, not on history. You will likely deliver a lot more value in 2009 while spending less. That is a result that works well in any economic environment.

Reproduced from Strategies - The Journal of Legal Marketing with permission from the Legal Marketing Association.

July 23, 2008

How to improve legal business development coaching

If you coach lawyers on business development, you probably think you could do better.  Everyone can.  But how?  Exactly what should you do to increase results?

In other professions, trainers and coaches answer that question through train the trainer workshops and certification programs.  Now legal marketers can too.

LegalBizDev has just introduced two new programs built around ten key proficiency factors that increase coaching results.  The most critical factor is time efficiency.

Above everything else, lawyers are busy. If a lawyer bills $600 per hour, one minute spent chatting costs $10.   So legal coaches must take time very seriously.  When people sign up for our Certification Program, Download CertificationOverview2008k.pdf, one of the first things we do is to send each person a digital timer to help make sure that 30 minute calls do not take 31 minutes (unless the client wants them to).

Whenever I speak to lawyers, I hold up my own digital timer at the beginning of the talk.  I always tell the audience that I can’t guarantee that they will like my presentation, but I can guarantee that I will end on time.  And when I do, I point to my timer.

Similarly, we believe that coaches should make a show about their devotion to time.  If they schedule a telecon for 10:00, they should call at 10:00, not 10:01 or 9:59.  And if the call is scheduled to end at 10:30, the first question they should ask is:  “Do you still have 30 minutes for today’s call, or should we go faster today?”  Lawyers love it.

I wish I could say they love all ten factors, but lawyers are not always thrilled when we urge them to prioritize relentlessly.  Sometimes a lawyer wants to start a blog or look up old colleagues with LinkedIn when they would be much better off spending that time taking top clients to lunch, to strengthen relationships and learn how to increase the clients’ perception of value. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe that both blogs and LinkedIn are valuable marketing tools.  I use them myself.  But I spend more than half of my work life developing new business, while many lawyers are lucky to spend an hour or two a week.  So the question for each lawyer is:  what tactics are most likely to produce the largest results in the time you have?  Sometimes, you have to ignore ideas that are only good so you’ll have enough time to focus on the best ideas for your practice, your personality, and your schedule.

What should a coach do if he makes his case against the blog, and the lawyer still wants to do it?  Give in.  Then monitor the results.  At the end of the day, coaches must defer to the lawyer’s judgment and avoid an argument. But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we failed to urge each lawyer to prioritize.

I started by mentioning ten key proficiency factors, but so far I’ve only talked about time efficiency and prioritization.  It would be natural to ask what the other eight are.  I hate to be coy here, but I’m not saying.

I don’t want to give the impression that the eight remaining factors will amaze you with secret magic formulas.  But they do represent the result of our proprietary analyses, and the hard earned wisdom from over 20 years of experience with a variety of professions.  So if you want to make your own judgment about the other eight factors, you’ll just have to sign up for our Train the Trainer workshop or the Certification Program

July 16, 2008

One way to win friends and influence people: Don’t argue

How to win friends2 I’m sure you’ve heard of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  It was published in 1937 by Dale Carnegie, has sold over 15 million copies, been translated into 16 languages, and is still on Business Week’s latest list of best sellers (7/14/08, p. 99).

But have you ever read it?

Until a few years ago my answer was no, because I always thought the title sounded silly and manipulative.  Then I opened the book and became its biggest fan.  In fact, I have learned more about everyday human behavior from this book than from all the books I read to get my Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard.  It’s now near the top of my list of the top business development books for lawyers.  

One senior lawyer who read the book on my recommendation told me that this book “changed my life.”  All right, he was pulling my chain, but just a little.  I know because he recommended the book to several of his partners.  And one of them found it so valuable that he kept it in his bedside table for night time reading.

When legal marketers sign up for our Certified Coach Program, each gets a copy of Carnegie’s book.  (They also get two others:  Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling Fieldbook, and my book AdverSelling.) 

Some of the most valuable advice for lawyers is found in Carnegie’s chapter on “A Sure Way of Making Enemies,” starting with the story of an attorney who argued the case of Lustgarten v. Fleet Corporation before the US Supreme Court.  When one of the justices said “The statue of limitations in admiralty law is six years, is it not?” the attorney replied, “Your Honor, there is no statute of limitations in admiralty.”

“A hush fell on the court and the temperature in the room seemed to drop to zero,” the lawyer later reported (p. 126). “I spoke better than I ever spoke before. But I didn’t persuade.  I made the enormous blunder of telling a very learned and famous man that he was wrong.”  The lawyer may have won the argument, but he lost the case. 

Of course, in many situations it is a lawyer’s job to argue.  But when the time comes to win friends, influence people, and develop new business, “You can’t win an argument... If you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it; you lose it.  Why?  You will have made [the other person] feel inferior…he will resent your triumph” (page 117).

Or, as Ben Franklin put it: “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you will achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will” (page 118).

When my colleague and friend Joyce shopped for new kitchen cabinets, she found the lowest price at a lumber store about a mile from her dream house.  But the designer in that store argued with her about having two separate sinks in her kitchen, and told her that the shaker-style cabinets she wanted had become a cliché.  Now Joyce may be even cheaper than I am, and she tried to convince herself to ignore the argumentative sales person and save money by buying at this store.  But she ultimately decided to pay a little more and buy the cabinets elsewhere, just to avoid working with that designer.  In fact, she even tells her friends to avoid the place.

If you’d like to read dozens of other examples of arguments that backfired, just Google “winning an argument” and scan the blog accounts of arguments with spouses, relatives, and friends.  You will find one piece of evidence after another for Carnegie’s central idea: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.  Especially if you want to develop new business.

July 09, 2008

The top ten ways for lawyers to increase client satisfaction

In the current economy, other lawyers will be coming after your clients.  Every lawyer would therefore be well advised to increase client satisfaction and protect the relationships that ultimately pay your salary, bonus, and rent.  You can’t make clients too happy.

Review these best practices from other law firms and select the tactics that best fit your practice.  

For current clients:

1. Schedule a free visit to a client’s office, to discuss the client’s business needs.
2. Schedule free monthly meetings or telecons “off the clock.” 
3. Conduct a formal or informal client satisfaction interview.
4. Ask the client what needs to be improved—responsiveness, timeliness, cost, and/or value—and brainstorm together about how to accomplish this.
5. Improve communication about the business implications of legal matters.
6. Increase transparency in budget estimates and billing.
7. Promote efficiencies to reduce cost, and tell clients about them.
8. Tell clients what they can do to help control or reduce legal costs.
9. Organize a client service team.
10. Improve your active listening skills.

For some litigators and others, referral sources are the most important source of new work, and should be treated as if they were clients.
For referral sources:
1. Update people promptly and regularly on the results of each and every client they’ve sent to you.
2. Ask yourself:  What has helped build this relationship in the past?  Do it again.
3. Ask yourself:  What have I done for them lately?  Do more.
4. Take them to lunch and ask:  how could I help you?
5. Schedule a visit to the referrer’s office to discuss trends in their business, and how you can help.
6. List your top referral sources and give them special treatment—such as giving out your home phone number—and make sure they know that they are in a special category.
7. Do some web research on your source’s business and work the facts into your discussions to show that you are doing your homework.
8. Send a handwritten thank you note.
9. Establish a regular schedule for updates.  Ask whether they would prefer phone or email.
10. Ask them to describe their ideal clients, then introduce them to some.

Kit For more suggestions, see The LegalBizDev Success Kit™, a multimedia reference tool for lawyers who want to increase new business by building stronger relationships.

July 02, 2008

How to increase results by planning sales advances

Many lawyers increase results by adapting the concept of “advances” from Neil Rackham’s system of SPIN Selling, based on the most systematic research ever conducted on the sales process.

One basic idea from SPIN Selling is that if you measure the success of a sales meeting by whether or not you close a sale, you won’t see much success.  Only about 10% of the sales meetings that Rackham studied led to a decision, pro or con.  Instead, success should be measured by whether you are able to move the relationship forward, or achieve a behavioral advance.

Lawyers love this idea because it is backed by evidence, logical, useful, and easy to implement.  One implication is that you should prepare for every meeting and call by planning the advance you would like to achieve.  Another is that you can measure your short term business development success by the number of advances you are able to achieve.

An advance is a specific action taken by either party that moves the sale forward.  This could mean scheduling a meeting, getting introduced to a decision maker, or being asked to provide a summary of past experience.

One big mistake that novices often make is they try to push for too much, too soon. The best sales people are experts at judging what advance can realistically be achieved at any stage, and getting it. Which creates a natural progression to actually getting new business.

Successful rainmakers often plan the advance they hope to achieve at each meeting.  The trick is to predict the largest possible advance that is realistic, and to also have a second easier “backup advance,” in case it is not possible to achieve the first choice.

There is no generic solution to this problem; specific advances must be defined for every client and every situation.  Sales professionals spend a significant amount of time with their managers brainstorming these situations, and lawyers can be more productive if they too brainstorm with colleagues and coaches before key meetings.  Here are two examples for lawyers.

Example 1, in the table below, shows possible advances for an intellectual property lawyer who is doing about fifty percent of the patent work for a client, and would like to increase the percentage.

The advance (specific action that moves the sale forward)

Moves sale forward?

Easy to achieve?


Get a meeting with the new technical person who may be involved with patents.

A little



Bring new team associate to next meeting; stress this is strictly to intro­duce her—no charge for her time.

A little

Very easy

2nd  choice

Schedule satis­fac­tion review, to in­clude questions about how your legal services compare to other firms.

A lot


1st  choice

Provide progress review of patent work at the next meeting of the client’s board of directors.

A lot

Very hard


 Example 2 came from a brainstorming session with a lawyer whose firm had recently been added to an approved vendors list.  He expected to see his primary contact at a conference, and was trying to figure out what he should try to achieve.

The advance (specific action that moves the sale forward)

Moves sale forward?

Easy to achieve?


Request clarification on the step by step process for beginning a new engagement, after an assignment is made.

A little

Very easy

2nd  choice

Meet with the General Counsel (the decision maker). 

A lot

Very hard


Meet with other in-house staff (who influence decisions).

Moderate amount


1st  choice

Get an assignment for the first engagement under the new contract.

A lot

Very hard


Discuss the specifics of several recent engagements that went to other firms, to get a sense of how decisions are made in this organization.

Moderate amount



Kit This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Success Kit™, a multimedia reference tool for lawyers who want to increase new business by building stronger relationships.

How to get started developing new business

There are three major ways that lawyers can work to develop new business:

  1. With a coach
  2. With a group of lawyers
  3. Independently

A coach will provide business development expertise, someone to bounce ideas off, and a regular schedule of meetings to keep you on track.  In fact, if you work with a coach, you can stop reading this week’s post, because the coach will remind you of what you need to do each step of the way. 

You can also stop reading if you own The LegalBizDev Success Kit.  Instead download this Tip Sheet:  Download TipsLawyersB.pdf that will not only summarize the information below, but also refer you to specific pages in The Success Kit for more details.

But if you’re not ready for a coach, and haven’t yet purchased your Success Kit, read on.

Work with others

Most lawyers will follow up more consistently if they work with other people, so if you can’t afford or don’t want a coach, work with a group.  It could be your entire practice group, a formal committee including business development professionals, or just two or three lawyers who meet for breakfast once a month.  Working with a group provides social support, increases accountability, and leads to steady progress.  No one wants to go to a meeting and report that they failed to follow up on all their action items.  The simple fact that you know you have a meeting coming up will help spur you to action. 

Trying to develop new business independently is like buying an exercise bike.  Most exercise bikes end up being used to hang up clothes, and most plans to work independently on business development end up being ignored when the inevitable daily crises come up.

On the other hand, working alone may not be as good as the other options, but in practice it’s much better than nothing.  And there are some people who genuinely achieve more when they work independently, as long as they find a way to assure consistency and follow-up. 

Prioritize relentlessly

When lawyers ask me about the most important advice on marketing, my answer is simple:  Ignore good ideas.  Lawyers are much too busy to spend time on ideas that are only good.  To maximize the chances of success, you must focus on the very best ideas for your practice, your personality, and your schedule. 

This requires relentless prioritization, and constantly returning to the question:  “What should I do today to increase new business?”  You must place the highest priority on tasks that are most likely to yield the type of clients you want to work with, and the types of matters you prefer to focus on. 

How can you come up with the best list of activities for your unique situation?  Review things that have worked in the past for you, for your partners, and for other firms.  Do this quickly.  Because every minute you spend planning is a minute you are not following up with clients. 

Many lawyers would rather read about marketing than to pick up the phone and call a client.  If you are one of them, you must fight that tendency, and spend as little time as you can on studying.  Just jump right in and try something.   And when you do, keep a written record of what you tried, and what worked.  If you track short-term activity and results, you will be more likely to follow up consistently. This is especially critical if you are working alone.  For details on how to do this, see my post How to assure that you follow up consistently

Because developing new business is like going on a diet:  There is no sense starting unless you plan to stay with it.