Client development: Target markets and unique brands

Susan Letterman White
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Client development and networking, when done well, keep a steady stream of clients coming in the door with the right frame of mind to be effective partners during the working relationship and remain effective brand advocates when the legal work is complete.

Doing this well means embracing and responding to change with innovative thinking and practices to engage the right clients at the right times, resulting in more authentic connections and more clients. Doing this well means creating a personalized experience relevant to each potential client’s specific wants, needs, expectations, preferences, interests and concerns at key moments.

There can be no doubt that the practice of law is also the business of law, and with this mindset shift, effective marketing and business development have entered the age of the customer. Firms are regularly increasing their marketing and business development budget, and lawyers are spending more time on the discipline. They are reading, listening to, and being trained on all related topics.

It’s time to stop thinking that clients are somehow different from customers, and lawyers are somehow different from everyone else who has something to sell.

Health care providers, architects and consultants have begun to shift their business model to a focus on developing broader and deeper relationships with customers and growing organically in areas in which the organizations are already strong. Lawyers are just beginning to catch on and catch up.

Lawyers today are paying attention to business intelligence. They are tracking news about their clients and industry trends. They are exploring different tactics to differentiate themselves from their competition. To that end, they are speaking and writing to promote their expertise and using social media for wide distribution of their messages.

Don’t get left behind. The time is now for developing and implementing a comprehensive marketing and business development strategy with a focus on the customer, and that means keeping client development and networking an active part of your daily, weekly, monthly and annual business planning.

The most predictable characteristic of clients, even those with the same legal problem, is the variability in their thinking, emotions and behavior at any moment. Their variability seems to be a consequence of who they are, what they are thinking, how they are feeling, what they are doing, and their moment-to-moment, ever-changing context of where they are, what is happening around and to them, what they care about most in that moment, and who else is close enough to influence their actions.

The bad news is when you combine client variability with the fact that, for many lawyers, the number of competitors has increased at the same time as the demand for lawyers in certain practice areas has fallen. It’s clear that, before you start the process of gathering analytics on clients, you should make sure that the size of your target market is sufficiently large.

The good news is that if your target market is sufficiently large, then a unique brand should act as the transitional object it is meant to be and change the right clients into your clients.

Think of clients, prospective clients, referral sources, your colleagues, and anyone you work for or hope to work for as a customer, and develop a plan to expand your customer base and increase their satisfaction. Do your research before settling on your target market.

Marketing research is the investigatory process to determine whether your target market is sufficiently large for your unique brand or whether to adjust your brand to the existing market. The robustness of a target market, the group of potential clients you would like to serve, is a measure of the number of interested buyers and their level of interest. Is your target market, people, already part of your network or closely connected to it? What do you really know about how they think?

Ask yourself these questions about your target market:

• Who are they? What are their habits? Ages? Where do they live and work?

• What do they want, need, expect and prefer? What are their interests and concerns?

Then ask yourself:

• What are you trying to sell that they would want to buy?

• Where could you reach them?

• How would they be most receptive to a first impression of your brand?

The data from your marketing research plan inform your decision about what to sell and the robustness of the target market that is interested in buying it. Even the most proficient client-development and networking experts will face difficulty trying to sell something that few people want to buy.

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Susan Letterman White, who practiced employment law for more than 20 years, is the principal consultant at Letterman White Consulting.

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