By Gary Holstein, Practice Advisor

A plaintiff’s attorney, with whom I was discussing marketing, told me, “I would much rather spend time with my family than trying to market. I know I need to do it, but quite frankly, I hate it.” He’s not alone in his negative attitude toward marketing—with subtle variations this theme is repeated in many of my discussions with attorneys. A great many attorneys find marketing a painful and unpleasant experience.

Sometimes the very mention of the term marketing conjures up images of Willy Loman in “Death of Salesman.” The irony is that Willy’s problems arose from the inaccurate delusions he had of himself and the world. I believe that inaccurate perceptions of marketing help create the feeling of drudgery many attorneys associate with this very necessary business function.

Effective marketing emanates from authenticity, as I discussed in the article on Sin Number 2, (“Seeing A Stranger In The Mirror” ). Willy Loman never figured out who he was: “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” Attorneys who are successful at bringing in new clients and retaining others will do so much more easily if they become comfortable with who they are.

Three Fallacies Make Marketing Seem Distasteful

Most attorneys acknowledge the need to market to referral sources, but believe it to be so unpleasant that they avoid it all costs. They think marketing involves selling, which is distasteful from their point of view. I call this “Willy Loman phobia.” Most attorneys feel they are professionals—not salespeople. This thinking is based on three fallacies that require exploration:

  1. Marketing activity is somehow superfluous to the practice of law.
  2. Marketing efforts take place at the expense of personal or family time.
  3. Marketing should be conducted at “appropriate” times only, not as a rule.

Debunk Marketing Myths

First, marketing is not sales—it is about building relationships, and that is never superfluous. Indeed, you cannot continue to do the work of law if you do not generate the clients to sustain and grow the practice. Active and purposeful referral marketing is an absolute required task in any practice of law in the private sector. The best marketers get referrals from sources who know, like, and trust them. This is the foundation of a professional relationship. Your marketing efforts with referral sources should be targeted to building and sustaining those relationships. Your job is to create the conditions under which potential referral sources have the opportunity to get to know you, like you, and gain some trust in you.

Second, true marketing doesn’t require a “pitch” or gimmickry. You must be able to present yourself in a clear and succinct fashion from the viewpoint of the person you are talking to and be able to engage a person so that he or she feels comfortable talking to you and is willing to share thoughts, ideas and feelings. This skill is critical. It is about building trust and constructing questions that are easy to answer. There is a direct correlation between how much people actually talk to you, their level of trust and how much they like you. The more you can open the door for them to talk, the better for building the relationship. Take the pressure off of yourself: you shouldn’t have to do more than 20-40% of the talking.

Marketing doesn’t need to consume huge amounts of time. In fact, marketing needs to be included in the normal workday. If this seems like a ridiculous possibility, then that is a symptom that your time management system requires attention. To make your marketing most efficient, develop a concise, strategic message about what you do and why the person you are talking to should care about what you are saying. We call this a laser talk. To formulate your laser talk, answer the implied questions in the mind of the referral source, such as, “Whom do you help? Why should I care? And how will you take care of me or my client?”

Finally, any time is a good time to market. Breakfasts and lunches are perfect: the atmosphere is casual but professional, and you have between 45 minutes and an hour with referral sources. You can also invite them to your office to tell you about their practice or business; you could meet with them after business hours; get together for holiday functions, or host your firm’s signature events.

Skirt Drudgery By Sharing Hobbies And Interests

Some of our most successful clients incorporate their hobbies, passions and interests into their client development efforts. If you enjoy cooking, for example, invite three or four referral sources over and cook a great dinner for them and their spouses. If you enjoy wine, sponsor a wine tasting at your office. One of our clients loves reading and has formed a book club with some of her referral sources. You might attend sporting events, charitable functions, or host a golf game.

The venue may vary but the principle behind marketing remains constant: spend time with referral sources, both potential and actual, to build relationships. By relationships we mean creating the conditions in which existing and potential referral sources get to know, like and trust you.

If you integrate your marketing efforts into your workday and design them around you hobbies and interests, you’ll transform your marketing efforts from something that feels like drudgery into an enjoyable part of your professional life. Do this and be absolved from Sin #6.

Previous articles in the series:

  • Sin #5: Playing the “Lone Ranger”
  • Sin #4: “Stop & Go” Marketing
  • Sin #3: Break the Chaos Paradox
  • Sin #2: Seeing A Stranger In The Mirror
  • Sin #1: Relying On The Kindness Of Others
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