Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Strongest Links

Tom Mighell lists a dozen "strongest links" in this month's Law Practice Today, including my own MC blog. Thank you Tom! The others are:

Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices
Associate Marketing Mentor
Creating Dominance
David Maister
Golden Practices
In Search of Perfect Client Service
Larry Bodine's Professional Services Marketing Blog
Leadership for Lawyers
Legal Marketing
Rainmaker Best Practices
What About Clients?

Don't Be Afraid; Ask for the Business

Each month I get together with a couple of different business development networking groups. Members in each group are hand picked from different professional services verticals and are actively engaged in daily business and relationship development activities. When we get together we have a lot of new information, contacts, and opportunities to share with each other.

After one such meeting one of my attorneys who is also in the group, but new to developing relationship networks, asked me a question that caused me to pause for moment. He asked, "So if I hear someone in the group talking about a company or person I'd like to meet should I just ask them about (the company/person) current legal providers? The obvious answer is, "Yes."

He already knew the answer. What he was really asking was, "If I ask an obviously greedy question will everyone in the group still like me?" He was seeking acknowledgment and validation for wanting something out loud.

This is not so uncommon among attorneys, or among most business professionals; Imagining that it might be OK to be transparently hungry for more.

It is an American ethic taught from our youngest years. "Don't be so greedy!" "Give someone else a chance!" "If they wanted you to have it they would have given it to you!" "People will not like you if they think you're only out for yourself!" "STOP hitting your sister!!" (OK, the last one was mine...) We so learn the lessons of avoiding the appearance of greedy.

But in business there is a warm grey area between politely demur and greed. It's falls under the heading of "professional conduct". Among professionals it is OK to publicly seek to achieve goals with each other. It's OK to strive for an opportunity and ask the questions that bring the goals nearer.

In these little network meetings we are all hoping that through sharing, listening and asking we will both give and get. The giving is always easier than getting because the getting part feels so much like greedy.

I so totally appreciate the politeness of my attorney and his desire to not offend others. And I hope that he, and so many others can come to feel comfortable on both sides of helping others, and asking for help.

Go ahead and ask. That is what we are all here for; They will love sharing your desire to succeed.
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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thank You to Readers of Marketing Catalyst

I use StatCounter to track the whens and hows of visitors to my site. Of course I cannot actually see whom any reader is, but I can know if they have made the MC blog a part of their daily routine from wherever their home news page might be. To the regular readers of MC blog... THANK YOU! I really appreciate that you come back from time to time to see what new insanity I am posting. I am always amazed at the reach of blogging. There are readers New York, DofC, Florida, Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, California, Utah, Arizona, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, England, Germany, Moscow, Bangkok, South Africa, and many, many more.

Again, I say thank you. I write for me... and am glad any of you have found something for yourself as well.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Enabling a Business Development Aptitude

When an attorney (or staff) checks in for their first day at my firm they are hustled off to a full day of orientation to learn all of the in's and out's of how to get things done. Along the way they are handed a large manual with lots of words, pictures, circles and arrows offering even greater detail about what they might need to know. And for all of that, not everything is included.

What they are not getting is (my oversight in the short time I have been at the firm) a business development orientation. My department does reach out to every attorney to handle bios, photos, Martindale updates, etc. But that's just scratching the surface. Next week I will be working out an orientation package that covers the following:
  • An outline of the firm's history and traditions
  • An introduction to the brand program at the firm.
  • An snapshot of the firm's current market position and data on the specific practice area of the attorney.
  • A questionnaire asking about past business development experiences (if any).
  • A personal business development plan form.
  • A review of current marketing resources and firm URLs.
  • A discussion of the firm expense policies, sports tickets, and sponsorships.
  • A profiling assessment to uncover strengths specific to the individual.
I believe I stand a better chance at increasing the business development aptitude of the attorneys if I start at the front door. I know that many firms already do all of this and if you have additional tips I would love to hear them.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Building Personal Brand

The most common question I am asked is, "How can I build a personal brand for myself?" If an attorney is interested in building a positive brand I have the answers that worked for me (there are those that believe any brand is better than none... BRILLIANT! <--- Thats sarcasm).
  1. Show up: In order to be know I had to be seen. I did not need to be the center of attention or have some significant purpose. I just make sure that I show up at the places where people are (that I want to be known by). It did take a commitment of time. Some weeks I went to functions three to four nights a week, and attended a few gatherings and luncheons. Over time I have been able to slow that pace and select my events more carefully, but in the beginning I did need to grit my teeth and just show up.
  2. Be seen with the "right" people: Every crowd has "A" through "D" players. Its just like high school out there in the real world. I took the time to study which people where considered insiders and learned to stay away from most of the rest. I know that sounds rude but life is just like that in everything we do. I have never been actually rude to anyone but my focus was always on being associated with the "right" people.
  3. Have an opinion: People like associating with others that appear to have direction and purpose. Having an (reasoned) opinion is the best way of demonstrating my drive to achieve. I am not afraid to offer my take on things I know something about. Sometimes people listen and other times I am taught something new.
  4. Be passionate about something: (see above) People seemed to respond when they knew that I was gung-ho about my profession and the things I did in my personal life. I know when I meet someone with passion I hope that a bit of what they feel will rub off on me.
  5. Say nice things about yourself: This is a tough one. I was raised by an old-school Staten Island bred father who believed that it's not proper to extol ones self in public. I'm sure that works if you have already arrived or come from a big pile of old money, but I learned that if I don't tell people about me once in a while they may never know. It's not "bragging" to mention things you've accomplished. Its bragging when you go on and on and expect others to be in awe. Simply to say, "When I.... it turned out that..." is really OK.
  6. Find ways to lead or organize: Every industry and community has organizations constantly in need of people to volunteer. Get on a committee or lead an event associated with the group of people you are targeting. Any position of perceived authority has been a good thing for me even though it's not much of anything at all.
  7. Speak or write publicly: I have done both and both have been incredibly productive for my brand. Again it took going the extra mile in addition to doing what I am paid to do but the dividend is exponential. The people I wish I knew better are calling me or recognize my name because they read it or sat in an audience.
  8. Find words that represent you: Say them over and over again whenever you're in a conversation. For me the words are, "I am a catalyst of growth and change." Or something close to that. One attorney I knew always found a way to interject, "I make millionaires" in every new business conversation. In both cases our words are true and compelling. When other people introduce me they often use the "catalyst" word. Its a wonderful brand message for me.
  9. Ask and deliver: Plenty of people will ask, "what can I do to help you?" Not as many as you might imagine will deliver on that implied promise. More importantly, don't wait to be asked. It has never been to tough for me to figure out what might be helpful for another person and I like taking action to make something happen for them. I have never kept score but it feels pretty even most of the time.
  10. Don't quit: One more event feeling like a wallflower... one more uncomfortable breakfast... one more favor that took real effort that went nowhere. Don't quit! My experience is that building the relationships that result in a broadly known personal brand takes time and a little heartache. The result though, for me, has been incredibly rewarding. I'm not in the headlines; people don't stop in their tracks to hear what I have to say. But in the little corner of the world where I make a living I feel respected and I am thankful to be known. Don't quit.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Marketing Strategy: Competent or Competitive

This article at Fast Company points at why some law firms have taken such a leap ahead while others have tried to emulate but fall short. This is an argument for putting aside what is comfortable and stepping onto the rickety bridge of new ideas.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Law Firm to B2B Sales Cycle Comparison

I went to a meeting of MENG this evening (see my previous post on why) and the presentation was incredibly interesting. The presenter was talking about how successful B2B product companies have completely separated the duties of lead development and prospecting away from the sales force. The presenter illustrated how no lead was turned over to the sales force until it had been verified as a valid, live, ready-to-buy prospect. What I hope to do is have the presenter post a guest article here to give you a deeper look at exactly what he had to teach.

Throughout the presentation I kept thinking though that successful law firms are already doing substantial pieces of what he was evangelizing. In my illustration from early 2005 I identified the three big picture processes that (for me) describe the professional services sales cycle. The part I believe he was describing was what we (legal marketers) call the business development process.

The best person I've ever known at this part of the cycle was Mark Prynn of Deloitte & Touche. Mark would work off of what marketing could provide in order to simmer it in the slow process of selling professional services. We could feed him leads (if he was not already developing them himself), and he would further qualify them, understand where they were or were not in a salable cycle, and create a relationship dependent on the level of buyer. Some where phone calls now and again. Others were visits, meals, etc. And some shot straight to the top of "hot now". Mark's job was to keep touching the prospect until they were ready to be sold... and then he brought in the sales team (the closers), which we all know in law firms, is the partner (the billing partner).

Gauging by what tonight's presenter revealed I believe law firms are definitely on the right path with the introduction of sales professionals in business development roles. I do think it is important for us to remember that the "sales force" is the partners. Not anyone that comes earlier in the process. Since what we sell (not the commodity) is relationships we need to be certain that our prospects bond with the product. Not the hope of a product.

My goal, get in touch with tonight's presenter and lure him into blogging what I saw so that you can see too.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Turn Legalize into an Easy Read

My understanding is that the average adult reader comprehends at a sixth grade level without regard for actual level of education. I am certain there are all sorts of variables in that bell curve but the center of the curve is what I worry about as a marketer. I would surmise that attorneys have a higher comprehension simply because their line of study and practice pushes them to the higher end of seeing inside the meaning and context of words. But my target audience is primarily not attorneys.

When an attorney writes an article meant for publication (blawg, advertorial, magazine or journal), at least in my firm, the words will be read by "not an attorney". Exactly the audience that will frustrate quickly if the words are over their head. If the average reader has to think too much about EVERY word to fit the sentence together their eyes glaze over and the page is turned. So what can a marketer do. Here are a few simple steps for helping an attorney written article become digestible to the average business/consumer reader:
  1. In your word processing program alter one margin of the document to at least 2" wide and print it.
  2. Read each paragraph and in the margin write a brief summary of what the paragraph stated. Try not to use any of the words already written though some must be used.
  3. Redline any words or phrases written by the attorney if they (in your opinion) are totally over the top for an average reader.
  4. Sit down with the attorney/author and read your summary. Discuss if you where on target in your summary, discuss changes, and find alternative ways of stating concepts in smaller words.
  5. Following the discussion rewrite a few of the paragraphs for the attorney so that he/she has a style guide.
  6. Markup the rest of the document where the attorney needs to simplify and pass the document back to him/her for revision.
  7. After the rewrite it becomes a simple process of reading, suggesting changes, and discussing final versions.
Not every attorney will want to play along. Considering how much effort it takes to pay attention to client needs, billable hours, and have a life outside the firm, finding time to write is an incredibly tough task. But, people love a good story, and they hate being bored by things they think they should know. It is worth the effort, in spades, to the personal brand of any attorney who desires to be published; And to the firm who's name rides along in the byline.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Firm Sports Tickets

A few months back I read the post of a CMO who was elated that she no longer had to deal with managing the season seats owned by her firm. At my firm the tickets are definitely felt to be a business development tool so the task falls to me. I can certainly understand the CMO's elation... But I also see the tremendous benefit the tickets bring to the business development/retention process. So I am happy to have the task in my department; But the task can still be trying.

When seasons overlap (baseball, hockey and basketball) it almost seems that I have more inventory (seats) than attorneys in the firm. And our local hockey team is in the playoffs (Go Mighty Ducks!). We have seats for the Angels baseball team and the Ducks. Fortunately, not for the Lakers and Clippers (HEY! They're Los Angeles teams. That's a whole 'nuther country from here in Orange County). But I do get calls from partners hoping that I can hook them up (which I can sometimes do -- connections are cool).

With the Ducks in the playoffs the task gets harder because the schedule is always last minute. It's tough to invite key executives with last minute plans. Tonight's game proved so difficult that I raffled off four tickets to the staff which is something I really enjoy doing. I believe it's great for moral and is a much overlooked tool for increasing employee satisfaction.

All in all this is a pretty weak rant on the task of managing firm tickets. It's just part of the job and like any other part it sometimes goes good and sometimes less. If you manage tickets at your firm and have found ways to make the task easier I would live to hear from you.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

An Addition to the New Matter Questionnaire

As I wrote earlier I query partners on new business that arrives at the firm to understand all of the reasons that we take on new clients. Today I added a new question to the mix. Of course, there are many questions that could be asked, but any questionnaire NEEDS to be brief enough to expect that anyone will take the time to answer the questions. My query to the partners is now:
  • How did you get this work?
  • What was the referral source (if there was one)?
  • What is the business of the client?
  • What is the scope of their operations within California?
  • How comfortable are you to work with this client or on this matter?
  • Do you feel comfortable that this client/matter fits into your overall practice?
  • What is their potential for additional work? (NEW)
  • Would you feel comfortable talking with partners in other practice groups about exploring additional business issues the client might be facing?
  • Would you like to land more clients like this? Why?

Networking is for More than Developing Business

I was reminded this afternoon by a good friend and excellent relationship developer that networking has more use than building a business pipeline. She asked, "What groups (organizations) are you connecting with just in case you decide that legal marketing is no longer your path?" My first thought was that I cannot imagine that I would ever want to do anything but legal marketing. But her point was important. I spend so much time focused on the networks of others that I might be neglecting my own.

Personal professional networks are not just about finding jobs or developing business. They can also be about learning, growing professionally and enjoying the ambiance of peers. Being someone that works to mentor others in the benefits of networking I am not being as diligent with my own.

I do belong to the Legal Marketing Association (LMA)... but no other. I feel so shortsighted. She did suggest the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) so I will definitely check them out. And I am going to look for others. When I am not networking for the firm it will be nice to explore the minds of marketers not in the law firm sphere.

By the way. My friend is Kathy McConnell, a VP at McDermott & Bull and GM of their Executive Network. It is a good thing to listen to those that know what they are talking about.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Truth in Marketing is in the Pictures

I have no idea how I missed it (among the bazillion blog posts) but Mark Bixby (a graphic designer who blogs) has put into a few paragraphs a most eloquent opinion about using people that represent the true customer experience and expectation in his post, "We Don't Work Here".

In his words, "A gaggle of ethnically diverse "twenty-somethings"” with perfect skin and flawless fashion sensibility? Is that who's really administrating the Linux server your website lives on? I know it's not. You know it'’s not. And the companies who put these people on their home pages know it's not. So who do they think they're fooling? And why try to fool your customer ever?"

Many people have asked me why I have gone through the struggle of doing editorial photo sessions with my attorneys so that they could be featured in our advertising, on the Internet and thoughout our branding process. The answer for me was that the business of lawyering is very much a person-to-person experience, and the truth can only be spoken with reality.

In every part of the discovery phase of our branding program the very personal nature of attorney-client relationships were repeated over and over by the attorneys at my firm. To present (brand) our firm we wanted to acknowledge that truth. So the words we are using are only words that my attorneys might state, and the photos are only photos of the people that would say them.

Truth in advertising (including the pictures). It works.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Looking for Job When You're Not Looking for a Job

I am fortunate to meet with a lot of really great executives in the course of my job. Some with great companies and others looking for a great company. I was thinking about how my little technique of "Circle of Five" would work to help keep the "looking for a new company" at a minimum.

Try this. Find five people in other companies (maybe even competitors) that share your role. This is something you do while you are still working... Even if you don't think you will be going anywhere very soon. Put together a quarterly meeting (lunch, cocktails) to sit and talk for an hour or two about the challenges of your positions and career. Start sharing ideas, challenges, and business relationships (when it makes sense).

In any relationship group, as the members become closer the sharing and benefits will increase incrementally. And, you will come to know four other sets of ears that are hearing about the market and opportunities if you should find yourself looking for a new, great company.

Graphic Artists are Crazy

I might know. I am one. But, not like, "Wooo Hooooo, la la la la la, put me in a rubber room!!" Go online and look at any portfo...