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Don’t Just Do Something: Compete

By Bruce W. Marcus

The blogs and emails, the seminars, the brochures, the literature. All are filled with how to do blogs and social media, speeches and networking … and PR, branding, niche marketing, image and differentiation. With so much focus on the mechanics of marketing, there’s not much space left for paying attention to competition—for actually getting the clients that your competitors want as much as you do.

But isn’t competing for clients what the whole marketing effort is about?

Where’s Your Competitive Spirit?

Look, you can’t say “We write better briefs” or “In court, we’re the better silver-tongued devils.” Not just because of ethics boundaries, but because you can’t prove it. So the response is “Sez you.” And you can’t say “We do quality work” or  “We listen,” because if you don’t actually do these things, you’re quickly out of the law business. It’s all the more difficult because there is virtually no law firm marketing device that isn’t available to every law firm. So everybody is doing and saying the same thing. The same way. Where’s the competitive advantage in that?

Nor does branding contribute much to competing. Ultimately, branding is rarely more than name recognition. It doesn’t address the needs of a specific market, it just makes you famous for being famous. Maybe. And image implies that if you don’t like the way you’re perceived, you can change that perception by manipulating symbols. No, you can’t. As the philosopher said, “What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say you are.”

Perhaps the professional services marketer’s theme song should be, “Don’t speak of love … show me!”

What’s the Answer? How About This
  • Be sure you understand the market for your particular skills. None of this throwing stuff at the ceiling to see what sticks. Understand the nature of your client base and its relation to your skills, experience and capabilities to serve effectively. Understand the industries you serve and can serve, and the companies in those industries. Go to trade shows in those industries and read their trade publications. Then you can validly talk “you” rather than “we,” and the “we” will fall into place.
  • Try a little competitive intelligence. See what your competitors are doing, and then find ways to do it better. With a little research, you’ll be surprised at how sparse their innovation is, which means you can compete by being more innovative.
  • Don’t try to be all things to all prospects. You aren’t and you can’t be.
  • Learn to ask prospects key questions and listen to their answers. Don’t try to sell by sweet-talking, but by demonstrating that you understand their specific problems, reaching a point where you can then say, “We can help you with that.”
  • Gain the right kind of knowledge—it is key in effective competition. Not just accumulating data for its own sake, but for specific problem solving. The size and nature of the market for your particular skills. The number of competitors with the same or similar skills. The billing practices in your area. Remember that musical comedy “The Music Man”? You’ve got to know the territory.
  • Choose your marketing tools wisely. Don’t waste time on marketing activities that don’t project your skills clearly and thoughtfully, just because those activities are available to you.
  • Don’t get hung up on jargon. Understand what’s behind it. “Niche marketing,” for example, is a showoff  phrase that really means market segmentation. Market segmentation is not based merely on an industry specialization, but on knowing the market segment’s problems—to which you have solutions. “Thought leadership” is not doing what other firms are doing—it means being thoughtful, original and innovative
  • Understand selling. Selling is not about touting your virtues, it is all about being a problem solver. The prospect’s problems—not yours.

This is what it means to be competitive, and not just mechanical. Artfulness, not mechanics, is how to compete successfully.

Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms. He is editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing and co-author of Client at the Core (John Wiley & Sons.) You can pre-order his newest book, Professional Services Marketing 3.0 (Bay Street Group) by clicking on this link. Write to him at

Categories: Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Strategy
Originally published June 9, 2011
Last updated April 9, 2018
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Bruce W. Marcus

Bruce W. Marcus is acknowledged as a visionary and advocate for marketing and business development as a professional function within professional services firms. Marcus, author of several books and editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing, passed away in December 2014. His writings include Client at the Core (John Wiley & Sons) and Professional Services Marketing 3.0 (Bay Street Group). In 2015, the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) creating the Bruce W. Marcus Lifetime Fellowship Member program.

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