Recommendations ~ Let your clients do your Marketing for Free

“Good profits are dramatically different. If bad profits are earned at the expense of customers, good profits are earned with customers’ enthusiastic cooperation. A company earns good profits when it so delights its customers that they willingly come back for more – and not only that, they tell their friends and colleagues to do business with the company. Satisfied customers become, in effect, part of the company’s marketing department, not only increasing own purchases but also providing enthusiastic referrals. They become promoters. The right goal for a company that wants to break the addiction to bad profits is to build relationships of such high quality that those relationships create promoters, generate good profits, and fuel growth.”

The Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld

Neat, eh?

And we all know, or at least you should do, that over 50% of a law firm’s leads/work come from recommendations.

There is no escaping that clients would rather find out about you from someone else, and someone they trust, than trawling published or on-line media (although I anticipate that over time this will change – price comparison sites etc).

Recommendations don’t just happen.

You have to work bloody hard to get them.

They are driven by:

  • Showing up day after day;
  • Being present;
  • Working on your craft to become the very best you can;
  • Showing that you care;
  • Adding value;
  • Keeping your word;
  • Not ripping people off;
  • Being respectful of those clients who can be demanding at times;
  • Being available;
  • Not saying what the client wants to hear – no stooges please – but at the same time listening to the client’s concerns;
  • Being transparent with your billing;
  • Giving time away for free;
  • Going the extra mile when the situation demands it; and
  • Being liked but not in a sycophantic way.

Right now there are innumerable tactics for business development that might grab your attention. Chief amongst those may be social media, but time is a premium and whilst your prospects may look you up on line, it is more likely that they will do so after having been recommended to you by someone who has used you.

As an avid social media proponent, I am not disavowing the paradigm but even I recognise that firms have to focus their efforts, as productively as possible, on word of mouth (“WOM”) marketing.

Simply put: it delivers results time after time.

My overriding message, though, is – stop takings thing for granted.

Up to now, even if you have not measured the amount of work generated by WOM, you have assumed that a certain number of clients have been recommended to you but save for thanking your referrer you have done little else.

Going forward, it is important that this area of practice development is given the (internal) status it deserves.

First and foremost, you must consider for each and every fee earner are they in a position to WOW their clients?

This will bring into focus the number of files they have, their financial targets and if they are doing the right sort of work.

It is important that you pair up the right people with the right clients. It is not just about making oodles of money, but making sure there is likely to be a good working relationship. Don’t be afraid, within reason, to change the relationship or mix of fee earners if this enables a better standard of service to be delivered. If you haven’t got your finger on the pulse, then it suggests that you are under too much fee earning pressure and are not prepared to give enough time to supervision, delegation and leadership. Don’t let these hold back others or ameliorate the effects of WOM. Junior fee earners would love to WOW their clients but will get incredibly frustrated if they are being prevented from doing so because you aren’t doing your job.

OK, so the mix of work and client/fee earner is sorted. You then need to audit the process.

Ouch… I can feel you pull back.

More administration?

Don’t be mad!

You are looking for less forms to fill out not more.

But I am asking you to look at how you might help the person drive their WOM recommendations which in turn will drive their growth, which in turn will grow your team.

This may be as simple as having a weekly meeting to make sure that there is a good mix of work but it may go further than that where you push the envelop on what amounts to exceptional service.

I believe that I did this a lot with my team.

I was always very keen to make sure that cases were progressed as rapidly as possible because all clients wanted you to get it sorted – whether as Claimant or Defendant. Ultimately, what I was looking to do was to make sure the client didn’t think we were keeping the case alive for us.

One of my biggest criticisms of dispute resolution lawyers is that they very often, either through pressure of work, or because of a lack of inclination, don’t move cases on quickly enough. I am quite sure that if it was their money there is no way on this earth that they would have allowed some of the cases to rumble on as long as they did.

If you do think the case could be managed differently then don’t be afraid to say so. The driver, apart from advising correctly on the law, is to WOW the client. They have to feel that you couldn’t have done anything more, even if the decision goes against them.

If you focus on the front line of service delivery then this will lead to more work from your clients. They may not have any further work they can refer to you but you can bet the next time they have a need that they will come back to you or will speak to you for a recommendation in the firm.

Importantly, you must remember to stay in regular contact with your clients. This is essential for fear that they might inadvertently go elsewhere or you might miss out on a new job. How regularly is up to you and your practice area, but once a year is a minimum. Of course if they are a corporate or business client who have not retained you for all their work or this was a one off job, then you will want to make sure they stay warm by keeping them regularly updated on areas of real interest to them; and you offer to go out to see them at your expense at least once a quarter. Better still, if you want to stay front of mind, you try to introduce other clients where there might be an opportunity for them to do business with one another. The consummate big cheese on campus.

This then is the sharp end stuff but you should also be thinking about:

  • Making sure that all fee earners and partners share intelligence on their clients to see where there might be opportunities to cross-sell;
  • Ensure that everyone reaches out and asks for recommendations. Timing is key, and it is difficult to conceive of a single area of practice that is immune from this. Don’t just get people to ask: “Can you recommend someone?” That is far too pat. You have to make the target far narrower;
  • Make it easy for clients to recommend you;
  • Consider if you need to offer a rewards system but not one that is gimmicky;
  • Remember to thank clients. A hand-written thank you note will go a long way.

Recommendations don’t just come from the external market – they also come from your colleagues. Don’t take these for granted. Make sure you speak to your colleague and thank them and keep them up to speed with what is going on.

Recommendations can be summed up in a few words: Stay close to your clients. The closer you stay to them the more likely it is that your practice will continue to flourish.

As the Reichheld quote makes clear, you need to think of your clients as your best damn marketing advantage. If all you see is another opportunity to make £x out of the job, then, guess what, the client will see through you like a fish bowl. They already have their suspicion that you are in it for the money so don’t make the position even worse. You are trying to set up a situation where they literally do your marketing for you time after time after time.

~ JS ~