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Your marketing sucks…

…said David Maister, of most professional service firms.

When Maister first presented his ideas on ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm’ and how to develop a position as ‘The Trusted Advisor’ (together with Charles Green and Robert Galford), he preached that success was less about the content of glossy brochures and more about the substance of relationships. I was (quite literally) in the room when Maister denounced all marketing as a waste of time and effort and urged the partners of a Global firm to ‘just get out there’ and demonstrate their value. I wholeheartedly agreed with Maister’s perspective, although I do think his definition of marketing was perjorative. His criticism was targeted at a specific genre of marketing – that which pushes and self-promotes rather than educates and validates.

Maister remains absolutely correct to this day. The road to riches is not paved with slick marketing brochures. Clients don’t buy your services simply because you’re open for business and have survived longer than the next guy. They don’t care about the founding fathers of your firm. Clients want to know three things:

  • How well do you understand my problems?
  • Have you resolved these kinds of problems before?
  • Will I enjoy working with you?

With the advances of social media and other technology there are so many more ways to answer these inherent questions and to develop a position as a trusted advisor. For those of us looking to change the way in-house counsel select and retain external service providers the following information might be useful to consider.

A 2013 Inside Counsel survey shows that more in-house counsel are turning to lawyer-generated blogs and online data sources for professional reasons (as much if not more than journalist-generated content)
Click here for a Bloomberg law interview and summary of the report.

My synopsisMany (most) usage by in-house counsel of new media channels is as a silent listener/consumer of data. They may not be actively engaging in online dialogue/discussion forums but they are certainly downloading information and being influenced by high quality content. They are forming impressions of lawyers who generate this content.

According to this survey of GCs, Chief Legal officers, Inhouse counsel and related titles, the primary factor influencing the potential hire of outside lawyers BY FAR is still (direct) recommendation from trusted sources (92% state this as very important to their decision).

Other factors affecting potential hire include:
• Bios on firm’s website (29% v imp, 62% somewhat imp),
• Articles and speeches authored by lawyer (18% v. imp, 61% somewhat imp)
• And blogs published by lawyers on topics of relevance to business (15% v. imp, 55% somewhat imp)

Interestingly – amongst the LEAST Influential factors affecting potential hire are peer-driven rankings like Chambers, Best Lawyers etc. with 39% of respondents saying these are not important to their decision to hire outside counsel.

This reinforces the message that creating and curating highly valuable content is essential to influencing change in the profession. So next time you approach your marketing team for a glossy brochure or practice sheet describing all the wonderful things you and your team can do – please STOP! Your time and energy would be better spent on creating thought-provoking and insightful commentary on the client issues you can resolve. Offer stories, examples, tips and guides that the marketing team can share on your behalf to create a positive impression of your expertise. That way – when someone refers you to another, your prospect will discover multiple validation points of your expertise (beyond your firm’s website).

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Leadership in action – be true to who you are

Leadership in ActionI’m no political pundit, but I am a keen observer of people, especially leaders in action.

Earlier this morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast discussion with Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats at a time when her party has been wielding the balance of power and working to support the Province’s minority Liberal government.  Far from being a dry presentation of platform issues, this discussion was specifically geared to address the topic of leadership through change and how to maximize opportunities as they are presented.

As she took the podium and addressed the audience, I was struck by Ms Horwath’s nature as a leader and began to understand why she appears to be gaining significant traction in the current political and economic landscape.

Whatever your beliefs (and mine is not to question or persuade either way) there were some great leadership lessons to be learned from simply watching this very eloquent and charming woman handle the room.

To begin, she set the scene and explained some of the thinking behind recent decisions to collaborate with the Liberals over an unpopular budget rather than force an election.  Effective leadership is not about making the easy choice (which in this case would have been to simply follow the lead set by the third leg and oppose the budget). Rather, negotiating a resolution required a far more thoughtful approach.

She went on to express her ideas and address the questions of the audience in a confident and engaging style. What follows are some key leadership lessons I was able to observe in action.

Acknowledge your critics

One of the most disarming things Ms Horwath did for the audience this morning was to acknowledge where many of them may be holding different views and perspectives on the best form of government.  Not only was this a very humble way to approach the potentially antagonistic crowd, but it was extremely charming and immediately reset the tone of the discussion to more open exploration of ideas.

Anticipate questions and answer candidly

As you might expect, Ms Horwath was well prepared to address the kinds of questions that would arise. While her position for each area was clearly prepared in advance, her answers appeared to come very naturally and unscripted.  The ability to be clear on your position frees you up to be authentic in your response.

Be clear on your role, and your priorities

Like any good leader, there was no doubt in Ms Horwath’s mind what she was there to do this morning. When an opportunity arose, she reinforced her approach and the value proposition offered by her party. But she did so while paying close attention to the needs and interests of the audience. She didn’t dominate the discussion with political mantra but she did adhere to her priorities to shine a positive light on the choices being made and the strong alternative offered by her approach.

Ask for what you want

While much of the discussion this morning was about supporting others and working within the boundaries and limitations set, I heard Ms Horwath explicitly ask the audience for their vote – twice!  She made it clear that she will continue to work with the current structure for as long as required, but would much prefer to lead from the front. Her willingness to ask outright for what she wants, and to not obscure her ambition, impressed the heck out of me.  Too many women are hesitant to state their ambitions and far too shy about asking for what they want.

Demonstrate your openness to fresh ideas

As a leader – there are always moments when you have to confront statements of opinion presented as a question, or unsolicited ideas on how to do a better job.  Not only did Ms Horwath welcome such moments, she was incredibly gracious with her response and actively demonstrated that she would take action on the ideas presented.

Be true to who you are

One final observation I would make is that Ms Horwath is an example of a strong, confident and emotionally intelligent woman doing an excellent job in leadership.  While her gender does not appear to have been a limitation in her advancement, she has a integrative style and subtle approach which I can’t imagine being delivered effectively by anyone other than a woman.

How do you stay connected to what your clients REALLY need from you?

If you are a marketing professional, how do you stay tuned to the dual role you have?

On the one hand, you help the organization to connect more efficiently with their customer base.

If your clients are anything like mine, they probably know they need help with:

  • finding ways to increase the volume of work done for each client
  • increasing the longevity of each client relationship
  • identifying which clients are most profitable and where we might find more like them
  • clarifying which clients are least profitable and either find economical ways to serve them or ways to share the work potential with others who could serve them more efficiently
  • providing solid and tangible discussion ideas to fuel conversations with clients and prospects (based on research and market trends)
  • Making it easy/easier to stay in touch with existing clients by providing tools and systems to provoke connections

On the other hand, you are uniquely placed to help your internal clients develop the knowledge, skills and business acumen they need to serve their client base profitably.

That makes marketing both a functional expertise and a means for aligning strategy and organizational culture.

  • Helping to coordinate activities more effectively across the business, so we amplify rather than duplicate efforts
  • Helping to determine which behaviours enhance the firm’s reputation and contribute towards the organizations strategic goals, and which behaviours are holding them back
  • Helping to develop trust and respect for each other’s contribution and expertise so they can confidently broaden relationships with our clients across different practices or business units
  • Helping to establish more systematic and disciplined approached to the ways they initiate, build and deepen relationships with clients

Just as you might implement listening posts, market research and client feedback tools for your external clients, are you doing the same for your internal clients?

Do you invest time and energy in getting to understand your employers business model? Do you know how they make money and stay profitable? Do you spend time watching them in action, delivering product or service to their clients? Do you attend sales calls with them, or get to know how the products are developed so you can advise how and where they might improve coordination and efficiency?

What are the ways you stay connected to what your clients really need from you?