Differentiation : your best marketing tool

friday, 10 august of 2007

Make sure prospects know how you differ from other lawyers and you'll be miles ahead of competitors

By Trey Ryder

Are you the same as all other lawyers?  Of course not!  But do your prospects and clients know how you're different?

One of the most important functions of marketing is to emphasize the ways you differ from your competitors.  Yet if you interviewed your prospects and clients, many of them might tell you one lawyer is the same as another.

Everything you do to attract new clients and maintain current client relationships should clearly state how you differ from other lawyers.

Some time back, I heard the marketing director at a large law firm say that her lawyers weren't any different from lawyers at dozens of large firms.  If she truly believes that, the firm needs a new marketing director because she just surrendered in the face of her competitors.

No two competing attorneys are exactly the same.  No other attorney on the planet has exactly the same education as you.  No other lawyer has served the same clients -- or handled the same cases -- as you.  No other lawyer has taken the same continuing education classes as you.  As a result, no other lawyer will make decisions exactly the way you do.

Whether this makes you liberal or conservative, aggressive or passive, here’s the point:  Every bit of information and experience that you absorb affects how you provide advice and services to your clients.  Your advice and services are not like those provided by any other lawyer.  You should promote your uniqueness as one of your major competitive advantages.

Competitive advantages and disadvantages are determined ONLY by what is important to your prospects and clients.  If you've been in practice 20 years, you could conclude that your tenure is a considerable competitive advantage.  But if your prospects don't care whether their lawyer has practiced for 20 years or 5 years, its no advantage at all, at least not to that group of prospects.

Heres your assignment:

The positive ways you differ from other lawyers are your competitive advantages.  The negative ways you differ are your competitive disadvantages.  Identify both so you know your strengths and weaknesses.

Look at the following lists from your prospective clients' point of view.  Write down your answers to each question and then label whether you think the answer is an advantage (A), a disadvantage (D), or whether it is neutral (N) in your prospects eyes.

Look first in these areas:

Evaluate your qualifications:  Where did you graduate from law school?  How long have you practiced law?  To which courts are you admitted to practice?  Which, if any, certifications have you received?  List your professional memberships in bar associations, bar sections, lawyers' groups, and the like.

Evaluate your experience:  Overall, how wide or narrow is the area of law in which you practice?  What types of cases or problems do you handle?  Specifically, what types of cases or problems are you most experienced at handling?  Do you have experience in one particular area at which you could be considered an expert?  If so, in which area?  What specialized skills do you have?  Are there any types of cases in your area of the law where you don't have much or any experience?

Evaluate how you serve clients:  What specific services do you provide?  How long do clients wait for their case to be resolved?  How long does it take you to return phone calls?  If a prospect or client needs to see you right away, how soon can they meet with you?  How much do clients typically pay for services?  How pleased are clients with the results?

Evaluate the physical environment in which you serve clients:  Is your office location convenient for your clients?  Can your clients easily find a parking space?  Covered or uncovered?  Do your clients have to pay to park?  Is your complex physically attractive and inviting?  Is your office easy to find and easy to walk to in your complex?  Is your office reception area attractive and inviting?  Is the furniture comfortable?  Are your magazines current?  (Recently, I picked up a magazine in a doctors reception room that was 11 years old.)  Does someone greet your guests and offer them something to drink when they enter your reception area?

Evaluate your office or the room where you meet with clients:  Is the furniture comfortable?  Is the room neat and orderly?  Are the floor and windows clean?  Do you sit with clients on the same side of your desk?  Do you sit across the desk from clients, allowing the desk to form a barrier between you and your guests?

Evaluate your office procedures when you're involved in client meetings:  Do you insist on no interruptions?  Do you bar phone calls except in emergencies?  Do you give your guests your undivided attention?  Do you allow guests enough time to discuss their problem?

One more important advantage:  If you use education-based marketing, your educational efforts become a significant competitive advantage.  People who request your educational materials, as well as your existing clients, receive your monthly newsletter.  They receive invitations to your seminars.  You invite them to call you with their legal questions.  And so forth.  In this way, the marketing method you choose can be a major competitive advantage that leaves other firms in your dust.

If you think of anything else that distinguishes you from other lawyers, add it to this list.

Your competitive advantages benefit you only if you make them known to your prospects and clients.  So start by memorizing the many ways you're different.  When you talk with clients and prospective clients, your competitive advantages should roll off your tongue as part of your normal conversation.  Likewise, in your written materials, you should feature your competitive advantages because this tells prospects the important ways you differ from other lawyers.

Make sure you always explain to prospects and clients how you differ from other lawyers.  Then they will know why they should choose you over all other lawyers.

© Trey Ryder

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