To succeed at selling in any field, you need to be just a little bit better than your competition. The bad news is that other law firms are getting better at marketing, and hungrier. The good news is you don’t have to beat competitors by much. An inch is as good as a mile.
In the book The Power of Incremental Advantage, David Wanetik argues that in business, “seemingly minute advantages [often] spell the difference between success and failure.”
If you like historical trivia, you will love Wanetik’s examples of “incremental advantages” that have shaped history, including:
- If the Titanic’s crew had seen that iceberg 10 seconds earlier, the ship would not have sunk.
- When publicly-traded companies miss their earnings estimates by one or two cents, they can lose hundreds of millions of dollars in shareholder value.
- When people search in Google, there’s a 42% chance they will click on the first term in the list, an 8% chance they will click on the second, and an even lower chance they will click on the third item.
- On July 20, 1944 Hitler was almost assassinated by Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. In a meeting with Hitler and others, Von Stauffenberg placed a bomb on the outer side of the leg of a heavy oak conference table. When the bomb exploded, several people were killed, but not Hitler. If Von Stauffenberg had placed the bomb on the other side of the same table leg, Hitler would have died in 1944, and millions of other lives might have been saved.
- At the 2006 winter Olympics, in the majority of events the difference between a gold and silver medal was one half of one percent.
When Wanetik writes the next edition of this book, he will probably discuss last month’s Beijing Olympics. Experts have offered several different explanations for all the swimming records that were set, including the depth of the pool and the Speedo LZR racer swimsuit designed at NASA and worn by Michael Phelps, winner of 8 gold medals. But all agree that swimming records have been smashed worldwide this year because of incremental changes in the world of professional swimming.
What should lawyers do to gain an incremental advantage in developing new business? Last year, I published an article in the Legal Marketing Association’s journal entitled “The most important difference in legal selling: Time.” So one way to start looking for that “incremental advantage” is very simple: put an extra hour or two into marketing, every week.
Now I know you that you are already hopelessly overbooked. So the only way to find an hour is to “Manage your time ruthlessly” as Wanetik puts it in his book. For example:
- do not pick up the phone without an agenda
- do not be overly accessible
- operate on your biological clock
- minimize email interruptions
For more tips, see Amazon for dozens of books on time management. (My current favorite is “The 25 best time management tools and techniques”, which I have purchased for several lawyers I’ve coached.)
I especially liked Wanatik's sub-section “Don’t fall into the networking quagmire” (p. 143) which argues “networking is overrated and is most often not a good use of time” because you are likely to spend too much time talking to people who will never need the kind of specialized services you provide.
If that’s true, why are there so many seminars to teach people how to network? Wanetik offers several explanations, including “it is easier than doing the hard work of growing your business.” But he also notes that “for some very outgoing and charismatic people, networking works.” In other words, sometimes networking is the best answer, and sometimes it isn’t.
When the Gallup organization studied 250,000 sales representatives over 40 years to determine what makes a great sales person, they found that different sales people succeed in different ways, depending on their personal strengths. You need to find the very best ideas for your practice, your personality, and your schedule.
That’s easy to say, and hard to do. You’ll just have to figure out what is most likely to work for you, try it, and track the results. You can start by reviewing what’s worked for other lawyers, in the lists of best practices in my book and in The LegalBizDev Success Kit.