Friday, October 31, 2008

Plain Talk vs. My Talk

Describing what we do with words that others can comprehend is not always easy. I call it "plain talk vs. my talk." As a marketer, using terms like channel distribution, double-truck, boilerplate, eye tracking, and psychographics can roll off my tongue as easily as a nursery rhyme. Good I guess if I am talking to another marketer, but bad when I am talking to non-marketers.

I was at a networking breakfast hosted by the wonderful folks of Tatum, LLC last week. Each of us attending were offered a few minutes to introduce ourselves, our companies and describe our ideal client. The room had a good mix of lawyers, accountants, insurance executives, bankers, etc.

Most of what I heard was "my talk"; lawyers talking like lawyers, bankers talking like bankers, insurance exec's talking insurance, and so on. There were a lot of words and phrases that went right over my head, and I'm not too certain I know what many of them are looking for. This happens so often....

To escape the trap of speaking in "my talk" here is one idea that has worked for me: Imagine you are talking to children.

Use small words in short sentences. Accept that your listener has no clue about what you do, is unable to comprehend complex words, and the more you talk the more they become confused. Talk about the end result of your work, not how you do your work. Be a teacher.

Here is a short lesson in "plain talk vs. my talk."

My Talk: Halloween is a Celtic harvest tradition that has evolved over hundreds of years, influenced by Roman rule and religious influence into an annual ritual that involves the giving of gifts, the carving of lanterns, and exemplifying creatures we fear.

Plain Talk: Halloween is a one night blast! We get to dress up any way we want, knock on doors and people will give us candy, go to scary fun parties, and everyone is doing it!

Which Halloween would you want to be a part of? Better yet, how could you talk about what you do in a way that people understand, totally get, and want to join you in doing it?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Your Firm Ready for Change?

There is a difference between, "We need to change" and "We are ready to change." In fact the difference is pretty easy to detect.

We Need to Change (as spoken by a partner or principle):
  • "How things are is unacceptable. Let me tell you how things should be."
  • "I have had considerable success doing these things. Let's do it this way."
  • "We are totally behind the curve on what other firms are doing. We need to do that too."
  • "I totally understand what you are saying, but, I have this idea that will put us over the top!"
  • "I read this article/book/whatever and totally get what we need to do right now. Stop everything so that we can focus."
  • "I totally get where you want us to go but I'm not ready for all of that. Let's talk about what I think we can do."
  • Etc.
Ready to Change
  • "What do you want us to do?"
All of the responses above come from a place of fear.

The difference is who controls what comes next. It is so hard to give over control of any part of our careers or our thinking, but so many successful firms have done just that. I have never doubted the excellent skills of the people within the firms I have worked with... and I do wish they would spend less time doubting mine.

The difference between a firm that wants to change and a firm ready to change is the willingness to trust someone other than themselves. If you can take this step the dividends will amaze you!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Accountability -- The Thing We Crave and Reject as Often as Possible

We have goals. We want to accomplish what we desire. We have things we must do to reach our desire -- but definitely don't like doing. Even in our urgency we are constantly sidetracked and fall back into comfortable behaviors, only to reflect on what we did not accomplish.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had some way of keeping ourselves on track even when we had to do things that felt uncomfortable?

Being held accountable is making the choice to invite someone into our life to call us out when we deviate and travel in the wrong direction. It is making the choice to allow someone else to tell me I am not going in the direction I said I want to go.

Nothing I am going to suggest is easy, but if you want to move forward in your career you might consider what I offer:
  • Find a mentor -- someone that is already successful and willing to be available for you.
  • Be honest with your mentor -- tell them all of the things you feel are right with you, and all of the things that you believe are wrong with you.
  • Tell your mentor what you want to accomplish -- no matter the size of your dream share it out loud.
  • Meet with your mentor as often as is reasonable -- making a choice to get consistent feedback is tough, but exactly what we need to stay on track.
  • Never hide details from your mentor -- the only way you can grow is to admit the things you do that do not work. The whole reason for having a mentor is to learn from your mistakes and their experience.
  • Accept reasoned judgment -- a great mentor never judges you as a person, they simply talk to you about your actions, your choices and what you might do differently.
  • Make an effort -- you have a mentor, you are getting feedback, you are offered new directions. Step up and do what you need to do!
Putting ourselves in a place of being held accountable for our actions is really tough. But, how else can we get to where we want to be? I guess we could choose to just let life happen to us. Too often that is the choice we are making and we do not even know that....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Your Firm is Not a Box on a Shelf

Talking with several potential clients in the last few weeks I am getting the impression that what they wish for is to be packaged in a way that will magically bring clients to their door.

Imagine that, if we could just put on a skin that attracted clients like bees to flowers -- we would not have to do anything but reap the reward of appearing to be completely different, wonderful and in tune with anything a client would ever want.

A nice dream... but so totally unrealistic.

There are thousands of firms out there right now aimed directly at your potential client -- all of them doing their own thing to be attractive and wonderful, and every one of them completely unaware of what clients really buy -- trust in an individual.

Do not ever forget that marketing professional services is all about marketing relationships. There is no "package" that wins every time or even some of the time. It is dating, and chemistry and trust.

My advise for every partner at any firm is to stop looking for a packaged solution and start working on being great at creating relationships. Seek personal growth over bluster, ask for relationship mentoring over makeovers, ask for people skills over packaging.

Any firm can orchestrate incredible results, but it does start with people whom are ready to challenge themselves to become remarkable.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Using a Bucket List to Create Stronger Relationships

I have written about creating unique experiences for your clients and referral relationships, but this weekend I had a wonderful conversation with Troy Wyatt of PacBlue. We talked specifically about how to get closer to the people in business that mattered to us, and we talked about boondoggling.

During the conversation Troy brought up The Bucket List, the movie released several months ago that followed two men on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die. The great thing about the list between these two men was that most of their to-do's were terribly uncomplicated.

We decided, Troy and I, that creating unique experiences was nothing more than selecting bucket list type experiences to share with our network -- and here are some examples:
  • Many of you play golf with your clients and referral network (yawn). But to play golf one time on the course in St. Andrews, Scotland, now that would be a bucket list kind of experience.
  • Taking a client to dinner at a great restaurant is always fun... (yawn). But to sponsor a trip to eat at La Spada in Florence, Italy might be a bucket list sort of experience.
  • Hosting people on a fishing boat off the coast of Southern California is an often used boondoggle around these parts (yawn). Taking a group into the western delta of Alaska to catch King Salmon is definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
  • Tickets to sporting events are always appreciated, and so average.... But a chartered flight to Indiana to witness the annual Notre Dame v. University of Michigan game might just be a once in a lifetime event.
  • Hosting people on a local ski slope might be fun, but a chance to swoop and slip on the mountains of Chamonix, France is definitely on the bucket list for many.
No doubt, some of these suggestions could cost several thousand dollars depending on how many people you invite and how much time you spend within each experience. On the other hand, if you had the opportunity to spend $6K to enable a $1M deal could you make that choice?

Several years ago Merrill Corporation hosted me on a fly fishing trip to the Kanektok River in western Alaska. It was a journey of my lifetime with moments I can still recall with amazing clarity and fondness. To this day Merrill remains at the top of my list of whom to call -- it may never change.

So, could you dream up a bucket list of experiences that will bring your network of relationships closer to you?

Friday, October 10, 2008

How Your Firm May Be Like a Community Garden

A law firm can sometimes be like a community garden -- a half acre plot of land with X number of individual plots. Laid out in a grid of some sort with gravel paths dividing each private garden, the half acre is surrounded by a fence or shrubs. Each member of the community is invited to make their plot productive.

One gardener plants a single tree to harvest nuts, some gardeners plant vegetables, others plant flowers, another plants herbs, yet another plants exotic roots of South America. Of course, a couple of the gardeners planting flowers really have an issue with the tree person, and are really trying to be patient with the vegetable people.

Any visitor to this half acre may see some individual plots they like but will walk away knowing that there is no "community" in this garden. Does this sound like some law or accounting firms?

The entire purpose of marketing a firm is to put the "community" back in the garden and then promote that unity like crazy. Any firm that remains segmented and not united will simply continue to be only what they are right know, or over time, even less.

So, how does your garden look?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why Do Marketers Move Around So Much?

I have heard it said the average tenure of a marketing director at a law firm is about 18 months and that marketers in other industries seem to move frequently as well. Why is that? Well, I would not ask the question if I did not have my own opinion. Marketers move for three reasons:
  1. The job, culture, or chemistry is bad or becomes bad over time. I am so proud of any marketer that is healthy enough within themselves to recognize the situation and get out before things become toxic. Enough about that....

  2. The marketer has usurped the vision of leadership with their own. This is the one I am most guilty of. My example is this:

    A family rents a home and lives at that house for several years. Along the way the house stops being the, "place we rent" and becomes, "our home."

    The family starts thinking about ways to fix up "their home" and may even ask the owner to make some upgrades. One day the owner shows up proposing a remodel that is an absolute mismatch for the vision of the family, and the family becomes adamant about fighting the changes. Whom do you think will win this battle?

    Do we ever forget whose house it is? I know I have. My role should have always been to help guide their vision, not tell them what their vision is. A marketer that starts telling leadership what leadership believes is a marketer needing a refreshed resume.

  3. The marketers job is done. I fall into this category is well. There are few marketers that are great at everything in every phase of the life of a firm. Some marketers are great at creating growth, some are great at sales strategy, and some are great at maintaining existing processes -- or some combination of two of these skills. It is rare to find all three skills in one person.

    If your skill set is no longer required in the current situation, it is what it is. My skills are market growth and sales strategy. Once growth has happened and strategy is in place I become a fish out of water. It never takes long for my firms to recognize I am flaying about and creating chaos where it need not be.

    In these situations the movement of marketers is a good thing. People land where they are needed -- at least I know I always have....
Maybe there are other reasons that marketers move, or there are further nuances of what I've discussed. For me a truth is that I believe in how I do what I do and am at peace with what I cannot (maybe that's why I created an agency to sell what I am good at).

In the end there are good reasons for a marketer to be a bit transient. We are "fixers" that manage what is needed when it's necessary. While it may seem a bit mercenary it is more like public service. Put the right people (marketers) in the right situations and wonderful things will always occur.

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