What do Apple, McDonald’s, Nike and P&G have in common? Besides spending more than a billion dollars on advertising annually, these “B2C” (business to consumer) companies are turning to “B2B” firms for marketing inspiration. They do so with good reason. We have entered the “Relationship Era,” with relationships doing more to attract the attention and loyalty of clients than traditional mass media marketing.
Relationships have always been an important part of the law business, and you might think that gives you an edge in the relationship game. Perhaps, but it doesn’t mean you’ve won just yet — especially when building relationships online. Consider these truths, and how you might apply them to your business development efforts.
Winning the Relationship Game
1. Your business is a relationship-based business. When you think about your law practice, chances are at least one (if not all) of the following statements is true:
- Revenue generation is not transactional.
- The buying decision is a long process.
- Your value to clients isn’t easily or quickly replaced.
- Client relationships are complex, involving multiple touch points between several individuals.
- Current clients are an important source of new revenue.
- What your clients feel and say about your business strongly impacts the decisions of other clients.
If you find yourself nodding in agreement, you need to embrace the fact that your business is a relationship-based business. What does that mean? A relationship-based business is one driven almost entirely by who you know, or more importantly, by who knows you. Both new and ongoing business comes primarily from networks, connections and referrals. In the connected world we live in now, building strong relationships, both online and off, is nothing less than mandatory.
2. Cold calling is just that — cold. Only about 30 percent of B2B organizations still cold call. Instead, businesses are reaping the benefits, or pitfalls, of organic discovery — that is, potential clients ask the web or their friends (or both) more about your firm before making a business decision. Having positive information on the web for them to find — articles and interviews that establish you as a thought leader, case studies and reviews — will do more to capture their attention today than any cold phone call.
On the flip side, negative stories that live on the web will also make their way to potential clients during their search — all the more reason to foster positive relationships with clients you already serve. After all, current clients can be the cheapest and most effective marketers of your services.
3. Most buying decisions are made before a supplier is contacted. That’s 57 percent to be exact, which is another interesting thing about organic discovery. Embedding buyers’ stories into the marketplace means prospects can enter a conversation about your firm with a pretty good idea of what you’re capable of delivering. Influencing them before they decide to buy keeps you in the game.
4. General counsel are influenced by their peers. According to Global Legal Post’s 2013 General Counsel Excellence Report, 86 percent of general counsel respondents cite referrals as the most trusted resource when researching a law firm. To give that some context, 65 percent rate law firm websites and 57 percent rate information directly from the firm as other useful methods of research. And when provided with an excellent client experience, more than 88 percent of the time, your clients are very likely to refer you to their friends and colleagues.
Your Digital Relationship Strategy
Being smart about how you present yourself and communicate in the digital world will help you win the relationship game. For example, be sure to communicate with clients in a way they prefer — email, text or phone call? Engage with them on the platforms and social networks where they’re most active and comfortable. Big data, when you break it down and analyze it, can also help you stay in tune with the topics, issues and trends your clients are interested in, as well as the places they’re looking to find you.
As you build digital relationships with your clients, they will add to the success stories your firm is already putting out there for others to find. In turn, this will increase your chances of winning new business and referrals.
John Simpson is one of One North Interactive’s founders and serves as CEO. He has helped professional services organizations engage with their clients and grow revenue for more than 13 years. Prior to One North, John was General Manager for Hubbard One’s Interactive Marketing business, leading all strategy, product development, marketing and client development efforts. He sometimes blogs at Latitude 41.
Learn More About the Relationship Game
Check out the slides from John’s presentation at the 2014 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference, “Playing the Relationship Game in Today’s Connected World.”