Lawyers struggle with a business generation cycle that’s inordinately long, unnecessarily expensive, and only marginally productive. It’s caused by engaging in one-to-one marketing behaviors.

For many lawyers, business development activities look a lot like this:

  • Encounter someone whose job title suggests they can buy legal services, or discover that an old friend or classmate occupies such a role.
  • Meet with that person to initiate a personal relationship, explore legal service needs, and showcase the firm’s and your capabilities.
  • Devise excuses to follow-up and try to advance the relationship, with each attempt becoming more difficult because there’s usually no foundation for it.
  • Continue periodically for months or years, trying to maintain contact and develop a relationship in the hopes that someday they’ll hire you.

Sound familiar? It’s difficult and rarely works because it conflates marketing and selling, which are two different disciplines.


Marketing and Selling are different disciplines

Discerning needs and showcasing capability are marketing activities. Marketing is a one-to-many endeavor, not one-to-one. Its purpose is to stimulate demand and earn permission to sell. Selling is a one-to-one activity, at least until your initial stakeholder brings in others with a stake in the problem and decision. Its purpose is to get a decision. Marketing in a selling environment is mismatched, and therefore almost doomed to fail.

You needn’t try to learn each person’s needs. Each of us is a member of a professional class or group, so our needs are likely the same as others who are similarly situated, and therefore predictable. The first, and most useful, category is our industry, and the tier our firm occupies within that industry.

Let’s use law as an example. The biggest firms, e.g., the AmLaw 50, are similarly situated and face similar challenges. Likewise, 50-100, the second hundred, midsize firms, small firms, and solo practitioners.

If you understand what the typical challenges and opportunities are for the tier you serve, and that they likely affect everyone in the tier (except for a small percentage of outliers), why not speak about your demand-triggering problem to all of them at the same time, using trusted media as your message vehicle? “Trusted media” includes established public media, where you try to get quoted and published as often as you can, but nowadays also includes social media that you either own and control, such as your blog, email newsletter, LinkedIn profile, and LinkedIn groups you create, plus other industry-centric channels in which you participate, such as discussions in other LinkedIn groups, and comments you post to others’ blogs or articles.

Those who are exposed to your message will sort out its relevance for you. The outliers, those who haven’t yet encountered the challenge, or who have successfully solved it already, will ignore you. The rest, for whom the problem has day-to-day relevance and meaningful impact now, or imminently, will pay attention to you.


Idea Relationships

This approach enables you, inexpensively and with only modest time investment, to develop an “idea relationship” with the entire industry. It’s much more effective and time-efficient than cultivating personal relationships one at a time, especially since there’s no way to know if those you’re cultivating are among the outliers, with whom you have no chance because they don’t have to hire anyone, or may only do so months or years from now.

Over time, a percentage of those exposed to your ideas in various channels will decide that your thinking is sufficiently relevant, useful, and valuable that they’ll subscribe to the channels you control, or they’ll give you permission to communicate with them directly via email as a result of accepting your offer of an ebook, webinar, or other “gated” content. (That means they have to pass through the gate of trading their email address for the content).

Now, when you attend industry events, your networking approach changes completely. Instead of scurrying around, trying to meet as many people as possible, collecting business cards (and ill-advised follow-up obligations), you’re now able to filter the attendees by simply observing that Problem X seems to affect companies like theirs, and asking if their company faces it. If not, you congratulate them and move on. If so, you begin to explore how important that problem is to them. If the problem that drives demand for your service isn’t important to them, why would you invest any of your scarce personal time cultivating a relationship with them? Your time is better spent trying to identify someone who cares about the problem now, and is obligated to seek a solution.

When someone acknowledges having the problem, and allows that it’s having meaningful negative impact, simply ask if it makes sense to schedule a call to explore some ideas you have that might make a difference. They’re either open to this or not. If not, why waste time trying to persuade them to be receptive, or hang around for months waiting for their stance to change? Somebody else is receptive right now. Find them.

Now, with explicit permission, you’re initiating a one-to-one discussion that will enable you to facilitate a decision about action and investment. That’s selling.

Mike O'Horo

Tired of wasting time and resources on activities that don’t grow your practice? Join me June 13 for Becoming a Better Rainmaker: How to Grow Your Legal Practice, a 90-minute webinar in which you’ll learn, among other things, how to:

  • Get prospects to approach you after a presentation to discuss how your topic affects their company

  • Write articles, blog posts, and LinkedIn comments that cause prospects to respond to you and follow you

  • Leave voicemails that gets your call returned

  • Compose emails that trigger an invitation to call

  • Get invited to decision-level discussions

  • Contribute to your prospect’s success before you get hired