HOW LONG SHOULD IT COOK?
Thereís an old saw, in the public relations business, about what you say to a new client for whom you havenít delivered what he or she expected in the first month of the contract.
ďItís in the pipeline,Ē we used to say. It meant that weíd spent that first month understanding the firm and its story, developing the press material, planning the strategy and making presentations to the media. The groundwork. And in the second month, presumably, it would all come to fruition.
It was ó and probably still is (some things donít change much) ó a helluva good excuse. It worked, of course, only if it was really true, as it often was. If it was true, that second month was a doozy, with print breaking out all over. It does indeed take time for some things to happen. The process simply needs time to work. The problem is compounded if your client or employer is new to the marketing process, and has distorted view of how public relations works.
We had our ways, of course, in public relations, to manage expectations. The standard practice was to go for the quick hit in that first month ó the easy press placement that proved we could readily deliver what we promised.
This first month problem is even more profound in professional services marketing than it is in public relations alone. Mastering the essence of a law firm can be complex (no, theyíre not all the same). Most of the process can take time to develop or absorb, even for the most experienced professional marketer. It can be frustrating, especially for those who donít really understand the marketing process. Instant gratification, in marketing, they should know, simply doesnít exist.
It takes time to listen ó to hear what the problems and the opportunities are, and to develop a marketing strategy, and put it in place. Working with a law firm requires time to learn the firm, its people, their skills and their practices. It takes time to fathom the needs of the market, and to calculate how best to develop a concept that will explain to the market that you have the ability to meet those needs. In developing a marketing program, itís important to know what the competitors are doing, and that takes time as well. It takes time to develop a Web site, to draft a direct mail letter, to find an appropriate mailing list, to produce and mail the letters. And then it takes time to follow up, just to get appointments to make a sales presentation.
Then it takes time for the outreach of marketing to penetrate the community, and it takes time for the target group to react.
Marketing, particularly professional services marketing, is a process, and a process wonít work except at its own pace. This is very difficult for people inexperienced in marketing to accept.
There is an answer. It resides in the fact that, unlike any other trade or occupation, professional services marketing demands the full participation of the lawyers and accountants themselves. This means that from day one of the marketing process, your client is part of not only the planning, but also the execution. It should be transparent as well. No mysteries. No secret plans. Let the client see and know what youíre doing. Explain and educate. Spell out expectations early and often. At the same time, it must be understood that the objective of the marketing program is not simply to get clients ó thatís a result of meeting the objectives. The objectives themselves are to demonstrate skills, to build name recognition and to enhance reputation. What youíre after is to get your market to feel confident in your firm ó to know you well enough to call you, rather than your competitors, when the need for the services of firms like yours arise.
Marketing, too, is in two phases ó the first of which is the foregoing. The ultimate objective of the brochures, the public relations, the social media, the seminars and so forth ó is to generate access to a prospect. The second phase is to sell. Not to make the new client aware of this at the outset is to court disaster.
And if all this begins in earnest in the first month, and your client or partners are participating, those first month anxieties disappear.
In product marketing, people either buy the product or donít. But in law, you donít always hit somebody just when the need for professional services exists. You sometimes have to build understanding as a foundation for selling. And you rarely find yourself in the position of selling something to someone who didnít know it was needed.
Thereís probably no way to offset the frustration of people who donít understand why they have to wait for the process to work, other than to be clear about both the process and expectations at the start of your engagement. If you want to try to deal with it, you might spend more time at the beginning to explain the process, and clarifying the appropriate level of expectations.
The problem is that people who want new clients, but donít understand the process, donít listen to the concept of appropriate levels of expectations. They want what they want when they want it.
Well, as every marketing professional knows, you canít always get what you want, when you want it. It takes time. If you want to be successful in marketing, take the time to educate the new client.
Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, (www.marcusletter.com), the forthcoming PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING 3.0 (Spring, 2011) and the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). His e-mail address is email@example.com. © 2011 Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.