The Inner Game of Marketing

When lawyers try to learn and master business development skills, they often discover that their old habits of thought and behavior are the biggest obstacles to their success.  Their beliefs and attitudes—particularly when unspoken and outside of their awareness—can be a greater hindrance than a lack of information, time, or money.

This discovery seldom occurs immediately.  Only after lawyers’ marketing efforts have floundered or failed do they begin to wonder why they have so much difficulty initiating or sustaining their business development activities.  When this happens, some lawyers develop an attitude of resignation and dismiss their marketing underachievement as a lack of personal willpower or time.  Others may conclude that the problem isn’t with them, but rather with their plan of attack.  They read books on business development and go to marketing workshops earnestly hoping that the next one will be the panacea that unlocks the door to more and better clients.

A few recognize that the problem isn’t “out there” but rather “in here.”  They get curious and make time for self-reflection before once again taking action.  If they avoid traps like self-criticism and blaming others, they learn which of their tacit beliefs and attitudes is holding them back.  They begin to recognize that some mindsets must be abandoned and some mindsets must be embraced before they unlock their marketing potential.  In other words, they start to pay attention to their inner game.

Although each lawyer is different, some attitudes and beliefs are widely shared.  Here are six common mindsets—three to let go of and three to embrace—that play a pivotal role in turning lawyers into marketers.

Three mindsets that derail lawyers’ marketing results:

1.  Marketers are born not made.  When lawyers believe they lack the innate personality or social skills needed to become effective marketers, all they are doing is engaging in an unfortunate act of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This limiting kind of thinking is often tied to the belief that there is only one way to be a good marketer.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  There is no one best style:  different specialties, niches, and cultures call for different styles.  The most effective marketers develop a style that reflects their unique personalities, values, interests, and needs.

2. All that’s necessary is to recreate past marketing successes.  In today’s rapidly changing marketplace for legal service, past successes can be a hindrance if lawyers slavishly cling to them.  All too often they think, “If my marketing efforts worked well before, they’re bound to work now.  All I need to do is spend more time and money on them.”   Sometimes this mindset works; other times it’s wasteful.  Lawyers should also ask, “Just how relevant and useful will my past successes be in the current marketplace?”  Stubbornly believing that past efforts are “good enough” prevents lawyers from recognizing new business development opportunities and learning new more useful skills.

3.  Once I understand what marketing entails, I will be able to do it.  Learning how to market legal services differs greatly from the kind of learning that lawyers experience in school.  While law school emphasizes acquiring and analyzing information, the key to learning how to market is practice rather than study.  Marketing legal services consists of building new relationships, seeing new possibilities, and taking new actions.  All of these activities depend more on skill development than information acquisition and analysis.  Lawyers must move beyond being knowledgeable about business development to actually being able to do it.  Skill at marketing can no sooner be learned from an article than skill at playing tennis.  A book can teach readers about tennis—strategies, techniques, history, or mechanics—but until they pick up a racket and practice, their skills will never develop. 

Three mindsets that improve lawyers’ marketing results:

1.  Emotions are an integral part of practicing marketing skills.  Marketing legal services is about building relationships, and there’s simply no way to connect and build relationships without emotions being involved.  The emotional context of marketing conversations is often more important than the text of what is said.  Lawyers may speak all of the “right” words (think of a telemarketer with a script), but if they ignore creating rapport with their prospective clients, their words are wasted.  It’s not a matter of polished presentations; it’s about relatedness and authenticity, two qualities without which prospective clients will find it nearly impossible to know, like, and trust a lawyer.  Paying attention to emotions is also critical when lawyers try to identify the styles of marketing that fit them best. 

2.  Business development is a top priority, even when flush with work and clients.  Paying attention to time (e.g., deadlines, filing dates, billable hours) is of course an integral part of lawyering.   But over time many lawyers begin to confuse what is urgent with what is important.  They become so accustomed to fire fighting and reacting to clients’ crises that they leave little time for long-term practice building.   Business development activities end up deferred or done on a time-available basis, especially when lawyers are busy.  This stop-and-go approach to marketing often leads to peaks and valleys in revenue and longer “dry spells.”  Lawyers should shift to a mindset that instead embraces marketing as a top priority, so that time for marketing is not found, it is created and protected.  In practical terms, this means scheduling regular calendar items and setting tangible goals for business development activities (e.g., between 8:00 and 9:00am every Monday or a total of three hours every week).  More important, lawyers must resist the urge to cancel or reschedule these activities for the sake of convenience.

 3.  A systematic and strategic plan is necessary for best results.  One of the most effective tools in overcoming the time trap described above is a written and detailed marketing plan.  Even the best marketing skills are ineffectual when they’re not used in a systematic and methodical manner.  Marketing is not a hit-or-miss proposition.  It requires a sustained effort to build on-going mutually beneficial relationships.  The image of the rainmaker as a great hunter bringing all manner of beasts back to the cave is prehistoric.  Marketing is more like farming an orchard:  it requires constant nurturing, care, and pruning for efforts to bear fruit.   Lawyers should also be strategic: they need to identify the type of work they’re looking for and the types of clients that are most likely to need those services.   From there, they can begin to develop a network to find those prospective clients.  Randomly calling and following leads can waste lawyers’ time and easily leads to discouragement.  A formal marketing plan and relationship system are invaluable in tracking lawyers’ efforts and determining what’s useful, what’s not, and what to do next. 

Asking for help leads to faster marketing results   

Letting go of the first three mindsets and embracing the second three will go far in helping make lawyers become better and more active marketers.  But another obstacle can stand in their way.  Many lawyers refuse to admit to themselves that they need help.  They assume that marketing is something they should already know, even though the chances are there has been little if anything in their legal education that has prepared them to develop business. Lawyers fare better when they acknowledge that they’ve been provided with few opportunities to learn marketing, and that their ignorance is no predictor of their future ability and success.   

Learning how to market can be an exciting and satisfying endeavor for lawyers, and there’s no reason they should undertake it alone.  Business development coaches provide the kind of guidance and feedback that lawyers need to master and new skills.  A coach’s on-going support is of great benefit in helping lawyers crafting a workable business development plan and then monitoring their progress in implementing it.  When lawyers are armed with the right mindset to develop their marketing efforts and the assistance of an experienced coach, they will reap the benefits of more and better clients and fewer periods of down time in their practices.

 [This post also appeared as the July 2013 business development blog post of Threshold Advisors.]

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