About this time each year, law industry publications are rife with advice about “holiday marketing.” The advice tends to be about gift-giving protocols and using social events to network and create relationships.
However, today’s legal environment requires more substantial analysis and strategy, a “Holiday Marketing 2.0” if you will. Everyone knows that the legal service market is more competitive than ever. In the past, simply showing up and sending a holiday gift was adequate “holiday marketing.” The 20-year seller’s market, in which there were 150 cases for 100 lawyers, is over. It’s time to shift from a product-centric focus to a client-centric focus, and do it well.
A simple guideline
Here’s my simple guideline for how to get business during the social season: Don’t do it. Don’t attempt to get new business during the holiday season at all.
Think about yourself and your personal appetite for someone marketing or selling to you during the hectic holiday season. Think about the chaotic composition of your final three weeks of the year:
completing work in progress before the end of year deadline;
taking care of any end-of-year issues with your own practice;
social obligations to clients;
social obligations to family and friends; and
travel for all of the above.
How different do you think the comparable lists are for those with whom you do business, or wish to? How receptive are they likely to be to your marketing or sales overtures? Setting aside concrete business obligations, market contact during the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve is predominantly social. And most people prefer it that way.
This doesn’t mean that you ignore business development then, only that you apply a different perspective and align your expectations to reality, and reality is that, barring someone you know well approaching you for help with a serendipitous burning platform, you’re extremely unlikely to get actual new business in December. December is for teeing up calls and meetings for January.
Make December a reliable client accelerator for the New Year
Here’s how to make December a reliable new business accelerator for January without creating discomfort for anyone:
Begin converting social relationships into business relationships without jeopardizing the friendship. Your instincts tell you that anything resembling a pitch will put a friendship at risk, and it should. The root of “relationship” is “relate.” Your social relationship is based on relating to each other’s lives. Similarly, a business relationship is based on related to someone’s business life. As you learned when you are very young, to be interesting, be interested.
Position yourself with referral sources by associating yourself with business issues that your contacts’ jobs require them to care about. Your sources want to help you, but you make it hard by using language that disconnects you from their contacts’ conversations. Relevance is key to any conversation and relationship. Whether the context is social or business, if what you discuss isn’t relevant to me, I will tune you out. Commit now to raising your awareness of what’s happening in the business world generally, and in your prospects’ industries particularly. Your referral sources will rarely hear their contacts using your practice group terminology (M&A, Employment, Litigation) and when they do, it is usually too late in the decision cycle to introduce a stranger. What they will hear is those contacts discussing business situations, problems, challenges and opportunities. If they associate you with those topics, when they hear them you’ll come to mind and trigger their intent to introduce you.
Begin conversations that can’t (or shouldn’t) be completed in a social setting. This makes it natural to suggest continuing the discussion in a January lunch, meeting, or phone call. No matter how fascinating your topic, nobody wants to hear everything you know in a social setting. As the public-speaking axiom goes, “It’s better to leave them begging for more than begging for mercy.” Tee up an interesting topic, stay with it just long enough for the other person to demonstrate real interest, then graciously suggest that you don’t want to monopolize their attention and ask if it makes sense to connect by phone later.
At this juncture, you’re forgiven if you’re feeling frustrated at reading so much about what you should do and so little about how. “The devil is in the detail (and the detail is the ‘how’).” To learn how to do what I urge, you have to invest a little time and money on training, and the holiday season can be a great time to do that.