Market strategy: winning new clients in times of crisis

Law firms need to think more long-term about their marketing in order to generate trust, writes Barton Consultants' partner Francesc Dominguez

Law firms too often focus their marketing efforts on the short-term Shutterstock

Getting new clients is always a necessity and even more so in times of crisis. There are currently two types of law firms from a market strategy perspective: those that put aside all investment in marketing out of “precaution” or, deep down, out of unacknowledged fear (they are the majority), and a minority that invests in marketing through the lens of market strategy. The latter understand that the imperative now, and in indeed always, is to sell in order to grow or simply to survive. Because without sales, there is no service. Even those who rely on faithful clients and contacts, if they don't “sell” them what they do, they will not get them to hire new or current services.

If we look at entrepreneurs or other sectors of the economy, we see that those who lead the markets have one great common denominator: they have a clear vision of the future. They know what they want and either have the determination, the method, and the right team to achieve it, or they train their team in certain skills, such as business skills.

Few law firms invest in marketing in these times of crisis, yet many do choose to allocate resources to direct sales efforts. They visit, for example, other professional firms trying to reach commercial agreements to refer matters to them. Other firms, including some of the largest and most international ones, opt for the so-called “cold call” approach, though they do carefully segment their target market and approach them with the idea that their brand will help them win over new clients. 

These types of actions are attempts of firms grasping at straws. The first action is often not based on reciprocity, which does not mark an ideal start of a professional relationship, and the second action could end up weakening the firm’s reputation.

When law firms are driven to such actions, it is a sign that something needs to change. What is wrong? Usually their brand or market strategy. Why? Because it is either inadequate or inexistent.

It is well known that lawyers work in the very short-term. Law firms tend to lack a medium and long-term strategy, when actually prestigious or benchmark brands require not only a focus on the short-term, but also on the medium and long-term. Companies that make a difference know and learn from this fact. 

The current global crisis is affecting most law firms in one way or another. Competition is fierce and the erosion in fee margins is tremendous. The first step to improve under such conditions is to acknowledge it and reflect on what can be done.

If there is one thing that competent law firms can improve on, it is their ability to generate attention, trust and a desire to hire among the right type of clients, because it is not enough for a client to need advice to hire us; they must also want to hire us.

The firm's competence, together with its ability to generate trust or brand trust and training in the sale of trust – in other words “selling without selling” – is one of the solutions for law firms to emerge stronger from the current situation. 

It is a solution for those who consider that the present circumstances, however difficult, should not be viewed as a crisis, but an opportunity. An opportunity for those law firms that are clear that the important thing is not so much where they are now, but where they are heading. What is important now, therefore, is to focus on positioning and selecting targets.

One might object that some law firms already have marketing departments. True, but they are focused on actions in the very short-term, such as the publication of articles, interviews, giving webinars and so on. In our experience, few marketing departments have a relevant role in defining the firm's market strategy and, therefore, in facilitating commercial action.

How do you generate more trust, create new markets and win new clients? The answer lies in seeking the best version of the firm and its professionals, through a methodical management of the corporate brand and the personal brand of its partners. Learn how to generate more trust, and you can win over clients without so much commercial effort.

Look after your brand. 

Francesc Dominguez is partner at Barton Consultants and author of Legal Marketing: From a Competent Law Firm to a Competitive One: How to Achieve it.

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