By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

Here’s a little known fact you can mull over your next bowl of cornflakes: before the Great Depression, the Kellogg Cereal Company was the frontrunner in the cereal industry. But as the dark days of the Depression receded, C.W. Post emerged as the industry leader. How did Post surface as the industry leader and outsell the field? Reportedly, Post was conscious of the fact that people still had a little money to spend and mouths to feed. The company launched an aggressive marketing campaign while their competitors downsized their efforts in order to save money. Consequently, Post generated more “top-of-mind awareness” than their competitors and this translated into significant sales.

So what does a marketing strategy for cereal brands have to do with you and your practice? You’d be surprised to learn how much.

In weak economic times it’s more important than ever to generate and maintain positive top-of-mind awareness with your clients, referral sources and community. Successful rainmakers know that next to your substantive legal skills, the single most important skill in ensuring the success of your practice is your ability to attract clients. Without the ability to generate top-of-mind awareness about what you do, your practice will not survive in the best of times, let alone the worst.

In our years of experience in working with, writing about and studying what the most successful rainmakers do, we’ve noticed that the cream of the crop have a sharp eye when it comes to identifying three important factors: the characteristics of their profitable clients; determining who influences this type of client; and marketing themselves to these influencers.

You can borrow a page from their book and do the same thing for yourself. If, like most attorneys, you focus on several practice areas, identifying your best clients is slightly more complex. It’s important to think of each practice area as a separate profit center, each offering different services and each serving a different type of client.

To discover the qualities and characteristics of your clients unique to a practice area, review your files for the last year and look at the types of people each practice area has served. Once you’ve done this, narrow your search further and identify who your best, or “A” clients are in each group.

Without exception, your “A” clients generate 80 percent of your revenues and only take up 20 to 40 percent of your time. They pay their bills on time, cooperate with you and send referrals. Typically, these are the clients you most enjoy working with and are best equipped to handle. To emulate the best rainmakers, study the demographics of these individuals and target their peers as the types of people you want to attract in the future. Then ask yourself: “Who influences these ‘A’ clients?”

If you were a matrimonial attorney, for example, your targeted “A” clients may be high net worth individuals. They might be a mix of both self-made and highly-educated men and women, perhaps they are professionals or they have started their own businesses — and have accumulated assets exceeding a certain threshold.

To whom do these individuals typically listen? Research shows that many of these individuals confide in and trust their CPAs above any other professional. In this case, CPAs are the type of referral source with the most access and influence over the kinds of clients you want to serve. Next to CPAs, other attorneys, psychologists, marriage counselors, and those in the clergy may have a great deal of influence over who the high-net worth individual uses for their legal needs.

If you’ve saved the names of the individuals who sent you your best clients in the past, you should be able to look through your files or in your CMS database to identify the types of people who are in a position to send you good clients in the future. Since most of you are not Estate Planning attorneys, translate this exercise to your practice to come up with the types of referral sources you should be targeting.

Now that you know who your referral sources are, take steps to network with these individuals. The best rainmakers aren’t shy about this part of the process. We recommend you begin by making two lists. On the first, write down all of your referral sources — everyone who has sent you at least one matter in the past two years. These are the people with whom you currently have some rapport. Make it your business to build and maintain rapport with this very important group of people.

Some of our more dedicated rainmakers actually create a spreadsheet to help manage this task. To follow their lead, start by creating a spreadsheet with an array of 13 columns. Each column represents one month with the far left hand column containing a list of all their best referral sources. They use this to track the number of times per year they make contact with a particular referral source by making checkmarks in the months they have contact. Why go to all this trouble? Because the most successful rainmakers know that people like to do business with people they like. And for referral sources, to like them, they must spend time with them. So they create a visual guide – a chart that shows them at a glance who they are spending time with and who they’re not. This is the secret: With increased rapport comes increased referrals.

On the second list, write down the categories of people who influence your best clients. These are the people you want to target. They are in similar professions and positions to the referral sources that have proven to be good sources of business. While it may look strange, you are, in effect, looking at which referral sources are the best and attempting to clone them.

While you are busy cultivating the first list of people – your existing referral sources — ask for introductions to the second group. While this situation may not work when referral sources are competitive, you may be surprised by how willing your current referral sources are to help you network with people they know. Give it a try. Advanced rainmakers know asking for introductions is the fastest route to adding more people to your network.

If no introductions are possible, join organizations that are likely to be made up of your targeted referral sources. Make it your business to go where they go. Read what they read. Write articles for their trade journals. Attend their conferences and speak at their meetings. Hold seminars on subjects that would interest and attract them. Just be sure to set aside time for networking on your weekly calendar. You will need to maintain a minimum of three purposeful marketing contacts per week and have a network of approximately 20 good referral sources in order to keep your practice healthy and thriving.

Unlike the marketing campaigns undertaken by cereal companies, none of the strategies we’ve talked about are expensive, but all take a significant investment of your time. However, by taking the time to build “top-of-mind awareness” among your target influencers, you will start receiving more of the referrals you desire. In a difficult economy, don’t take the hunker-down-and-wait-it-out mentality favored by the Kellogg Cereal company. Clients still have issues to resolve and money to spend. See the downturn as an opportunity to raise your profile, and be the C.W. Post of your legal community

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