Why Social Media Fails for Client Communications

client communications

The ABA Journal recently published an article on a lawyer’s suspension for inadequately responding to client communications.  The lawyer in question was responding to their client’s Facebook messages with one sentence phrase of “relax” and “this is complicated” to client inquiries about their personal injury suit.  Complicated cases or problems deserve more than just a one sentence answer, and social media or even email wasn’t going to be adequate for making the client feel better about how the case was going.  This is such a common issue within the legal profession (and frankly I’ve seen it in all professions, so I am not trying to pick on lawyers) that bar associations have long, lengthy ethics seminars on client communication to avoid bar complaints.

Managing the client communication expectation is a tightrope – you don’t want to be constantly at the beck and call of clients and the age of the internet has made us all a little ADHD.  We fire off an email or a Facebook message and expect an instant response.  We check our emails constantly and then complain when someone doesn’t answer us immediately.   We have become a nation of toddlers – expecting our needs of communication to be met right away.

On the converse side of the communication spectrum, there are those who would rather work in radio silence.  I have seen instances where emails, letters, and phone calls go unanswered because the answer may be unpleasant, uncomfortable or complicated.  For example, a professional’s rate may need to go up and rather than communicate that to the client – the rate is simply raised on the next bill and hope they don’t notice.  Communication about rates and costs are not unexpected, but be prepared to make the case for raising rates long before the rate change happens.  The client who discovers the rate change without the justification feels burned and resentful.

Conversations about complicated matters or rate changes should always be by phone to allow each party to explain their side and for the other party to listen.  Follow up with an email or a letter to reiterate your point.

The professional’s reputation is enhanced when difficult conversations are approached directly and if you can, with some notice.  Let your client know when you will be away from your computer for a long period of time, or you need more time to meet their deadline.  Give your client time to adjust their budget when you need to raise rates and justify the rate increase.  Let your client know if you can’t meet their expectations or if you need to hand them over to a different professional to help them with their business pain.

Over communicate vs. under communicate with your clients and respect the relationship as a partnership.   Good and clear client communications will only enhance your professional reputation and thus increase your market share.

Time to Marry Marketing to Human Resources

human resources, marketing

Catching up with a friend over a beer the other day, we discussed her job hunt. She had recently interviewed with a local firm and had a positively lovely experience even though she didn’t get the job. She won’t be working with that firm this time, but she plans to refer clients to them.

That’s why it’s time to marry the marketing department to the human resources department.

My friend’s positive experience with that firm was thanks to a warm, welcoming and dignified HR department.  And that positive experience is guaranteed to lead to referrals. Seattle is a larger city, but in some fields, it’s a very small town, and referrals matter. In this case, the HR department is generating referrals, and job-seekers count as clients, and should be treated as such.

Consider the experience of everyone who interacts with your firm, even the people coming to you for a job. Human Resources is often the first point of contact, and should also function like good marketing. Positive experiences can lead to new clients; negative experiences can lead to bad reviews on Glassdoor and similar sites. Respect everyone who walks through the door — it will have long term benefits.

A special thanks for Liz MacGahan for helping with the writing and editing duties for this piece.

Has Social Media Killed the Trade Association?

trade association, social media

Have social media outlets such as Facebook and LinkedIn killed the trade association?

Not at all.

Trade associations may look quaint with their membership rules and joining fees, compared to the relatively free access of a social media platform. But the number of associations is growing as new industries arise that need representation. Meetings and conventions provide the necessary real connections that are deeper than the ones formed in online communities.

Networking opportunities are helpful, but associations are necessary to the American political and social scene. While not uniquely American, they play an important role in our society. When the United States was formed, Alexis De Toqueville talked about the role that associations play in a democratic society in his profound book, Democracy in America.  He makes the point that associations are a unique counterweight to the government.

“Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books…; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate. Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.”

Associations balance the bureaucracies found in D.C. and our state legislatures by lobbying for member interests, even lobbying on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.  For example, a contractors association could lobby for further funding for vocational education, knowing that creating more potential members in the future would only enhance the association’s standing in that community.  

Social media won’t replace trade associations, but they can enhance them. Think of the power of that online conversation as a champion of big ideas throughout the community and beyond the association’s membership.

Nothing will ever replace the importance of face-to-face networking that an association offers, but using the social media platforms to advance your association’s big ideas and lobbying is another function to harness.

A special thanks to Elizabeth MacGahan for co-writing and editing this piece.

Guest Post for the Pacific Northwest Network of Forensic Expert Witnesses

Pacific Northwest Network of Forensic Expert Witnesses website – PUPPY…COMPANION …EXPERT WITNESS?

I did a post for the Pacific Northwest Network of Forensic Expert Witnesses because I was finding attorneys were searching for experts on Craigslist and providing all of the background information for the expert to come to their conclusions.  If you want to know more about this organization – visit their homepage at pn2few.org.

Professional Biography Pages are Awful

Professional biography pages

Punch Up your Biography or Lose Potential Clients.

Most biography pages on professional services websites are so boring and lifeless that they could be handed out to insomniacs at a sleep clinic.  Since I work mostly with lawyers and expert witnesses, I will use them as an example, but as a general rule – professional services biography pages are awful.

Example A of a Poorly Done Professional Biography Page:

“Ms. Smith went to law school at a big name law school.  She wrote for this legal journal and that legal journal.  She practiced here and here at these big law firms before she founded her own firm and now tortures her own associates.  She wrote this article for this legal publication and spoke at these seminars.  She worked on this case, this case and this case

…ad infinitem….and YAWN!”

What is wrong with the above paragraph?  Well, to start with, it doesn’t make me want to hire Ms. Smith.  It’s basically a CV that might impress other lawyers, but it doesn’t address the client’s problem or potential interests. It doesn’t tell me that she might be someone I would comfortable talking to, or spilling my inner most embarrassing and personal secrets (which is what lawyers are often called upon to listen to), nor does it inspire any confidence that the person behind the bio is human or has ever taken on a case like mine before.  It makes Ms. Smith seem a little dull and not the vibrant, capable lawyer that I know she is.

What the client wants to know is very simple.  Can this person help me?  The client doesn’t care what school we go to, what our professional honors are or where we published our latest opus on an arcane and dull subject…the client simply wants to know – does this lawyer, expert, consultant know what they are doing and have they successfully handled a case or a project like mine in the past?  You don’t hire a plumber because they went to the Harvard of trade schools – you hire a plumber because they know what they are doing, they come highly recommended and they have worked on antique pipes like the one that is spilling sewage into your backyard.   Lawyers, plumbers, architects, doctors – you are being hired to fix a particular problem.

We are all drilled to write a professional biography that strips our personality out of it and pumps pomposity into the void.  I wasn’t immune from professional biographitis myself so before writing this post, I went back to my own biography, stripped most of the accolades and schooling and put in the simple text of “yes, I work in the legal market and association spaces and yes, I can help you.”  I hope it is more reflective of the weird and strange path my career took and why I can help associations, law firms and expert witnesses become better at marketing themselves.

Go back and take a look at your own biography and if you feel the need to fill up space with your education, speaking engagements and career highlights, at least put that stuff at the end.  Your biography needs to make a powerful – and personal – first impression that conveys to potential clients, “Yes, I love helping people with problems like yours and I have done so successfully many times. Let’s talk.”

Three Simple Tricks to Make Networking Less Intimidating

This is the three simple tricks slide at a recent talk on personal branding that had the most discussion around it, so I figured it would be a good one to share.

Three Simple Tricks to Make Networking Less Intimidating

1. You are there to help someone else.

When you meet someone, think about how you can help them rather than how they can help you.  If you go with the intention of trying to help at least 3 people make connections, get a job or solve a business puzzle, it makes you more outwardly focused and flips the power differential.  Rather than focusing on your own flaws and insecurities, you are there focusing on someone else.

2. Go early and find someone who is standing alone.

Go early, scout the room and look for someone who is also feeling awkward.  Everyone appreciates that type of effort.  Everyone feels shy or Trying to enter an established group can break up a conversation.  If you are really an introvert, take an extroverted friend with you and let them know ahead of time that how you are feeling and how you are going to need a little help with conversation starters.  If I know ahead of time that my networking companion is shy, I make an extra effort to include them in the conversation.

3. Come prepared with questions.

Come prepared with pre-thought out questions.  Are you a native Washingtonian?   If they aren’t – Tell me how you came to Washington State?  Have you been to an event like this before?    Anything that isn’t work or politics.  Do your research ahead of time if you can – check out their social media for topics if you are looking to speak to a specific person.  People like to talk about themselves, especially about topics that are especially near and dear to them.

One final note about networking – it is awkward for almost everyone, but practicing it and reassuring yourself that you aren’t the only one feeling this way makes it manageable.  

Now get out there and start connecting.

The Power of Listening To Your Client

Shhhh….stop talking and just listen. In your next client meeting, I want you to put your pen down, put away your marketing folders, close your computer, turn off your phone and just listen to what your client is trying to tell you about their business needs. This is the most powerful tool you have to help you discover and deepen your relationship with your client.

Today I was inspired by the power of listening in a client interaction. In this instance, I was the client and I saw how much listening builds a client relationship when making your case or a presentation. I have been investigating a software system for an association and had been on four different conference calls with 4 different sales teams. Every sales team has their own style, but I had started each conversation with the words “Walk me through the software while I go down a list of specific questions,” so that I could evaluate the software as carefully and as fairly as possible. Of the 4 sales teams, 3 of them were open to this way of evaluating the software and let me, as the client, drive the demonstration. The last salesperson did something that started me on this particular topic of listening. The 4th salesperson had a set demonstration and would not let me interrupt to ask my list of questions and although during the demonstration, the software looked like it might have met my needs, I really don’t know.

I stopped the demonstration early because my questions weren’t being answered and I wasn’t being heard. I came away from the interaction with the impression that if the salesperson wasn’t going to listen in the early part of the courtship, how well would they respond when this association would need help implementing the software or ran into a bug? I simply wasn’t heard and I felt like my needs were not addressed.

One of the most overused words in current pop psychology is mindfulness, but the essential idea behind it is solid – Be in the moment and listen. Most of what your client is trying to tell you is lost during a meeting when you do most of the talking. A successful client meeting should be you talking 10% and your client talking 90%. Having your client truly feel that they are being heard is probably the greatest gift any of us can give a client. Moreover, when people feel heard they feel respected, which is essential to building a trusting relationship.

Stop Selling Yourself Like a Widget…Rethinking Marketing for a Consulting Service.

Selling your own consulting services stinks. It is a very different process than marketing a widget or any other product and should be treated with more respect than it is given.  It is a more nuanced and delicate process and shouldn’t be rushed or artificially pushed.  It is also scarier and can leave you feeling very vulnerable and exposed. After all, you are essentially selling yourself: your knowledge, your education and your personality.

I recently sat across the table from a client who I will call Mark, who was sighing heavily during a happy hour meeting. We were there to discuss his personal business development strategy, but he was very frustrated with the whole program.  His opening statement was a revelation about how he felt.  “I didn’t go to graduate school to become a salesperson”.  This is a confession that most of us make on a regular basis, usually quietly to ourselves, but it rings true. As any consultant can tell you, it is what we have to do on a regular basis and it is uncomfortable. Even marketing consultants feel vulnerable when we are selling our own consulting services.  Selling your expertise is a very awkward proposition at first but with time and experience and a different mindset, it becomes easier (but never easy).

Let us stop calling it selling as that is a very emotionally loaded word and can make it feel unnatural and forced.  Stop looking at your prospects and your clients as someone who should be just writing checks to you on a regular basis and look at them as colleagues and sometimes friends in your marketplace. Let’s call this process “building and reinforcing relationships”, which takes words sales out of it and puts in what is really taking place. Building a relationship is an opportunity to connect to someone on a human level.

I model my own relationship building on the behaviors of some of my favorite and effective sales people that I met as a meeting planner.   In that role, I had significant buying power in the hotel market, but very few hotel salespeople were overt in their sales.  It was a very subtle and warm experience.  The salesperson got to know me, we talked about my needs in the hotel business and we connected as two human beings. Sometimes I had meetings at their hotels, but more importantly, I recommended their hotels to other meeting planners because I felt I was important to them as a person.  More importantly, I became an extension of their sales force.   I was their biggest advocate at trade meetings and I sold their properties for them because I was their fan and their friend.

Stop looking at your clients as clients and look at them as potential friends.  Connect with them on a human level and set your expectations aside.  You will find that you have built a circle of friends that you do business with and that is a far more comfortable place to be your authentic self.

Secret Shop Your Client Experience to Improve Your Marketing

customer experience

We have all received client service so wonderful that we’ve raved about it to anyone who would listen.

In contrast, you have surely had a client experience so awful that you are determined to never use the product or service in question again. Wouldn’t you love to know what your clients really experience when engaging with your firm? What improvements or procedures could be implemented to ensure your client has a positive experience? It’s time to secret shop your sales and service process and discover how your client experience is affecting your business.

As a marketing director, I have seen how effective a secret shopper (or let’s say a secret client) can be in exposing hidden faults in client experience. For instance, an organization I worked with in the past received vague but consistent complaints about a registration process that clients described as unwieldy and difficult to navigate. With this in mind, management assigned a person unknown to the rest of the staff to follow the path of our customers through our sales and service process to determine where the problem resided.  Later, after reflecting on their experience, the secret client explained that they had loved dealing with the front desk and even gave them rave reviews. The secret client had experienced no problems with the billing process but described the registrar as cold and impersonal leading them to characterize the entire customer experience as a poor one. At the time we in management wondered if perhaps the registrar might have been having a bad day, so another secret client was sent to navigate the process and again the registrar’s poor customer service skills were identified as the problem. Unfortunately, even after additional training and coaching this employee remained resistant to change and had to be reassigned away from responsibilities requiring customer interaction. Nonetheless, without the insights provided by the secret clients we might never have discovered the source of the friction that left so many customers feeling cold about our registration process. Given our reliance on previous clients for fundraising and future growth leaving every client with a warm and lasting good impression was imperative.

It need not be expensive nor time consuming to assign several people to document their experiences with your sales and service process. Identifying and eliminating frictions in client interactions is the way to ensure that the whole experience is one that turns clients into advocates and a constant source of referrals. Word of mouth based on positive customer experience is one of the most critical aspects of your marketing strategy and should be treated as such.

Special thanks to my co-author Cody Malone, Principal/Consultant at EMPATÍA.UX. He can be reached at empatia.ux@gmail.com for user experience design.  To sign up for more marketing tips, visit baldwin-network.com

Why Storytelling Matters to Marketing Your Firm

Storytelling has become a business buzzword and while it may eventually rank up there with KPI, elevator speech and core competency as an annoying concepts that fade with whims and fashions, the idea is solid.  Create a good story and you will connect emotionally with the listener.  We often speak in bullet points (I am especially guilty of this as I need to practice patience in my own life) about what we do and why we do it, but a story is more compelling.    

I was out to lunch with a lovely young associate attorney who was lamenting the fact that he felt awkward at client functions and bar association parties.  I reassured him that most people felt awkward at first, but it took practice, but he didn’t believe me because everyone at this functions looked so polished.  To give him an example, I told him about growing up as a military kid and always being a new kid in school, over and over again.  I had to learn to put the fear of being not being accepted into the crowd and just try to connect with one person.  I found that with practice, I actually could find something to talk about with almost anyone.  I reminded him that I am still slightly afraid when I enter a room of unknown people.  This associate visibly relaxed when he realized that he wasn’t alone in his fears and the art of conversation and connection just took practice.  A good story can take the scare factor of out something that might be quite frightening, like marketing your own practice.