No doubt about it, for clients, it’s all about value these days. To succeed in business development, you need to understand the value you provide and communicate it clearly to clients and potential clients. At the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) general counsel panels, in-house attorneys stress the importance of receiving value from their outside counsel. Most general counsel say their goal is to find the best value, not necessarily the best rates. At an LMA conference several years ago, one general counsel said he receives immense value from an attorney who charges $1,000 an hour. After a loud collective gasp from the audience, he explained the attorney was very experienced and had significant familiarity with his industry. He also said the $1,000-per-hour attorney provided solutions much quicker than less experienced attorneys who had lower rates. The in-house attorney said he typically saved time and money whenever he used the $1,000 per hour lawyer. He challenged us to do the math: 1 hour @ $1,000 per hour = $1,000 vs. 4 hours @ $500 per hour = $2,000 The $1,000-an-hour lawyer provided value to the client with his expertise, industry knowledge, and ability to provide succinct advice in a timely manner. How do you provide value to your clients? Here’s a systematic approach to determine and communicate your value.
1. Conduct Self Analysis
First, develop and maintain a list of skills and traits that shape who you are and how you provide legal services. What skills and personality traits make you proud? Examples include being efficient, collaborative, persuasive, a good listener, an excellent writer, a great communicator, a solid facilitator. Next, list the attributes that distinguish your services. What makes your services, or how you provide them, superior to your competitors? Examples include your areas of expertise, industry knowledge, technical skills, ability to solve problems, breadth of practice, significant contacts within an industry, trial experience and results, business acumen, or first-hand entrepreneurial experience. And don’t forget about important soft skills such as communication, collaboration, and listening. You want to continuously add to this list as you develop your practice and collect feedback.
2. Seek External Feedback
After you have completed the initial self analysis, collect feedback from people who know you and your work. Seek feedback on a regular basis from peers, clients, and referral sources. Asking for feedback can be difficult, but it is an important skill to learn early in your career because it’s an effective business development tool. It helps you determine what differentiates you from your competitors. You need to know what you bring to your clients and why referrals send you work. In essence, why you?
Feedback from Peers
Schedule coffee, lunch, or drinks with peers and ask them to list three adjectives that describe you. What do they believe is special about you? Conducting this exercise with a group of trusted colleagues can be fun and helpful for all.
Feedback from Referral Sources
When you thank referral sources for sending you a new client, which you should make a habit of doing, take the opportunity to ask why they referred you. What do they say to people when they recommend you?
Feedback from Clients
Inform clients at the beginning of an engagement that you, or the firm’s marketing department, may seek their feedback at the end of the matter. Consider putting language to this effect into your engagement letter. Then at the conclusion of selected matters ask your client one simple question: What did we do that provided the most value to you?
3. Develop Your Value Proposition
Compile information from the self analysis and external feedback and look for a theme. The result will be the basis for your value proposition. Put it all together by identifying the following:
- Target market
- Key skills and traits
- Key services you provide
- Business benefit (not legal) you provide
Business benefits include helping clients cut costs, increase revenue, reduce risk, save time, protect collateral, make strategic connections. Your value proposition should emphasize benefits and your ability to solve business problems. A litigation attorney, for example, might highlight a track record of defense verdicts that help save clients money and their reputations. A business bankruptcy attorney might emphasize her economics degree and previous management experience that allows her to effectively reorganize insolvent companies. A regulatory attorney might feature in-depth industry knowledge and lobbying experience that helps pass favorable legislation for his clients. Write down your value proposition and keep it visible with a sticky note on your computer, a laminated card in your wallet or business card holder, or on your office bulletin board.
4. Communicate and Demonstrate Your Value
Once you’ve determined the value you provide, bottle it and sell it. Communicate it clearly. Communicate it consistently. Demonstrate it often.
Communicate your value through words
- Include your value proposition in the first paragraph of your bio and LinkedIn summary
- State your value as a benefit rather than a feature
- Feature: Susan is a great communicator
- Benefit: Susan manages client expectations and helps alleviate stress throughout the litigation process with frequent and straight-forward communication
- Document your value through case studies and representative matters
- These authenticate your value in a concrete way
- They are also easy to remember and share with others
- Incorporate your value proposition in your elevator speech
- Integrate your value in your billing entries – clients don’t regularly read your bio, case studies, or LinkedIn profile, but they always review their bills so it’s a great opportunity to communicate your value to existing clients
- Use words that convey action, results, benefits and not just effort
- Convey the sense of accomplishing something for the client and solving a business problem
Demonstrate your value through actions
- Substantiate your value in your work and through your marketing efforts
- If your value is efficiency, demonstrate it through economical processes and cost-effective representation
- If your value is quality relationships within an industry, connect clients and prospective clients with industry leaders
- Write articles
- Serve on boards
- Speak at conferences/seminars where clients and potential clients are
- Hold leadership positions in associations
Your value proposition demonstrates the business benefits you provide and differentiates you from competitors. Communicating it clearly can lead to additional work from clients, new work from prospective clients, and continued recommendations from referral sources.
About the Author
Katie Moesche is marketing manager for Farleigh Wada Witt, a law firm in Portland, Oregon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.