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Will law firm websites even exist in 5 years’ time?

by Kirsten Hodgson

 

And, if so, what will they look like? 

With the growth in functionality of social media platforms, will there be a need for law firms (and other businesses) to maintain their own websites in the future?

In September 2011 I attended the APSMA conference in Sydney where there was a great panel session on ‘the evolution of our roles as professional service marketers’. When asked about how law firm websites have changed over the past 10 years, one of the panelists commented that her firm’s website is becoming much more of a resource centre and that the amount of content on it has grown exponentially.

Great Jakes in New York, have developed a ‘Rainmaker-focused website’, essentially comprising attorney microsites. This setup allows lawyers to customise the information that appears within their individual microsite (which sits within the overall firm site), and to organise that content across multiple pages.

The thing I love about this approach is that it allows lawyers to post reputation-enhancing content into their microsite so it’s linked to them, rather than getting lost elsewhere on the site. This also eliminates the need for lawyers to set up their own work-related blogs that are entirely separate from their firm’s website. I think this is a really smart approach.

As the proliferation of content continues and the channels diversify, I believe it will be those professionals and firms that provide valuable resources and content to their clients, prospective clients and other stakeholders that will prosper…However, it must be easy for them to find that content.

The power is increasingly in the hands of the client:

  • It’s the client who seeks out the info he/she wants
  • It’s the client who compares the relative merits of two or more providers
  • And it’s the client who determines the channels through which he/she will access info.

Having valuable resources which are regularly updated and which are easy to find and access will differentiate professionals/firms and, I believe, influence clients’ buying decisions going forward.

However, the old adage that good content will get found is simply not true any more. It’s those people who are active in the social media space, who have built their reputations, whose content is shared most. Is it good? Most of the time yes, but is there other good content out there? Most definitely. It’s just you don’t always know about it.

While I think engagement via social media will continue to grow, I think in 5 years time websites will become less necessary EXCEPT:

  • as a content repository (i.e. an expanded blog),
  • as a portal to transact business, or
  • as a place to find out a person/organisation’s contact details.

I believe the majority of people will visit these websites via social media platforms (whatever they may be in 5 years’ time) and that the majority of searches will take place within the social media platforms themselves.

What’s your prediction?   

N.B. I actually wrote this post in late 2011 but never posted it. One year on my thoughts are still the same! I’d love to hear yours.

6 reasons for professionals to use social media

Despite the wealth of evidence that actively engaging with others via social media can, and does, help lawyers, accountants and engineers to position themselves in their area(s) of expertise (and ultimately generate more work) I still meet so many professionals who are skeptical about social media. Usually they're either not convinced their clients use it, they think it's a huge waste of time or they are simply too busy.

While I agree that you can waste a lot of time online, this is only really the case if you aren't clear about why you are using social media, how you will use it and the results you want to achieve. If you think about how using social media can help you achieve your marketing goals, and use it in this way, it can be a really effective component of the marketing mix. 

Here are 6 key reasons why I believe professionals should use social media as part of their marketing mix: 

  1. Many of your clients will be using social media to target their customers - if you are following/monitoring them, you will have a much better understanding of their business drivers. You may also be able to identify issues relevant to your client as well as key people within the client organisation you need to meet.  
  2. SEO – there are increasingly more reports about social sharing and social influence being linked to search engine optimisation. What this means is that those articles that are widely shared and those people who are viewed as influencers will appear more highly in search engine results. 
  3. As an amplifier - social media allows you to increase your reach and engagement. It's not a silver bullet and takes time, consistency and commitment. At first it feels like no-one is listening but gradually you will notice more and more traction. The key is to remember that it is about engagement and so asking questions of others, and sharing and commenting on their comment and discussions are key. 
  4. To engage with your clients, target clients, referrers, colleagues etc in a place where they are rather than expecting them to come to you. Using newsletters/alerts as an example, some clients still say they like receiving these but an increasing number don't – usually because they get these from several firms. Sharing this content via social media means people can choose whether they wish to view it. 
  5. Increase the number of touchpoints with existing clients and contacts.
  6. Reduce barriers to working with you. Engaging through social media is a way to start building relationships with others. If they see value in what you do/share then they may follow or connect with you. Even coming across you frequently can mean people already feel they know you. It's then easier for them to pick up the phone to you, rather than your competitors, when they do have an issue with which they need help. 

Why else do you think professionals should consider using social media for business development/marketing purposes? 

Related articles you may be interested in: 

6 ways to use Infographics in Professional Services Marketing

If you're anything like me then you're a sucker for a good Infographic. There's nothing like being able to absorb information visually, in a way that's easy (and quick) to understand. 

Gareth Case, a marketing professional in the UK, shared his CV with a LinkedIn group, which he's produced as an Infographic and it got me thinking, how can law firms, accounting firms, and engineering firms use Infographics in their businesses? 

I can see Infographics being useful to share the following information:  

  1. Business plans (including industry, client and practice group plans) – wouldn't it be great to be able to put your plans up on the wall for all to see (and understand)? Imagine how much more traction you would get and how many more people in your firm would think about you if an opportunity arose when they were talking to their clients. Infographics would be a great way to share this information across the firm in an appealing way. 
  2. How to guides or updates about the impact of legislative or other changes – again, a departure from the norm and an easy way for your audience to understand the key messages. 
  3. Vision and values - rather than just having a list of values and your vision written on a piece of paper somewhere, put these into an Infographic. This would be great to display prominently, give to new staff and would support other methods you're using (such as names of your meeting rooms, words on your walls etc). 
  4. Credential statements – I would love to put together a credential statement as an Infometric as it would force brevity and ensure the key messages come through clearly. 
  5. Professional bios - much as Gareth Case has done. These would be great on a website and, providing the info can be easily tailored, would be good to include in CVs to go into tenders and proposals. 
  6. Policies and procedures – imagine starting a new job and not having to wade through a mass of policy/procedures info. If you want people to understand and follow these, they need to be simple anyway, so why not make your policies/procedures visually appealing too? 
  7. Graduate/other recruitment info – Infographics could tie in nicely with other components of a campaign and could be used to communicate key messages. 

The possibilities are endless. I look forward to the day when I walk into a professional services firm's reception area and see some relevant Infographics on the wall. 

How else do you think firms could use Infographics? 

Have you seen any good examples of Infographics being used by law firms, accounting firms and engineering firms? 

What professional services firms can learn about creating a client experience from the RWC2011

One of the really neat things that's happened in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup is that each suburb has adopted an overseas team in order to make them feel welcome. Shop fronts bear their flags and some kids dress in their colours. It's designed to make visitors feel welcome. While I've heard a few people criticize it (because we should just be supporting the All Blacks) I think it does reflect the genuine Kiwi spirit. I first travelled to New Zealand in 2000 and was blown away by how friendly people were (not the stilted 'I have to be friendly or I'll lose my job' kind of approach you see in some countries but a real warmth that ,I believe, defines New Zealanders). 

Initial teething issues with public transport aside, I think those who have come to support their teams will go away with a genuine, positive kiwi experience. 

What's this got to do with professional services marketing? 

I recently attended the APSMA conference in Sydney and one of the themes that came through the majority of presentations is that professionals and their firms will need to offer their clients a 'customised experience'. We've seen FMCG's do it for years with their 'be in to win this amazing experience' competitions, but how can professionals and professional services firms create a consistent client experience that defines them and/or their firm? 

Here are 6 ideas: 

  1. Leverage your network for the benefit of your clients. You might want to introduce clients to others who it would be useful for them to meet, or to organise a thought leadership roundtable on a particular issue. 
  2. Provide a consistent service – do what you say you are going to, when you say you will. If you can't meet a deadline or other things crop up that will affect what you have said, let the client know early. Manage their expectations. 
  3. Think about what you can do for your clients that they would really value. This will be different for every client but may involve providing them with an office they can use when they are in town, providing a secondee, offering a free clinic where they can come to discuss issues, or providing webinars/seminars on topical issues – the list is endless. 
  4. Look for ways to make the client's life easier and to put them in control. This may include going to their office or home rather than expecting them to come to you, or giving them access to online deal-rooms, and other resources they may find useful. 
  5. Consider offering a guarantee or some other incentive that demonstrates you have some skin in the game. For example, if you tightly scope work you may be able to guarantee that, if the client is not 100% satisfied they only pay what they think your advice is worth. I know a lot of people are reticent to give price-related guarantees but brainstorm whether there is a non-price related guarantee you can provide that would resonate with your clients and would work for you and your firm. For example, a copywriter I know gives a thumbs up guarantee that states that if a client isn't happy with the copy she writes, she will redraft it until they are. 
  6. Build a community around an issue of interest to your clients. For example, if you work in the resource management field you could look at developing a community around future Emissions Trading Scheme issues. 

I think there's a huge opportunity, beyond traditional CRM, for professionals and firms to create valuable client experiences, both on and off-line. What do you think? 

What good examples of experiences have you seen professional services firms offering? 

What other ideas do you have to create customised experiences for clients? 

Client feedback/listening exercises – tips for overcoming the 6 most common objections

 

One of the hardest things about initiating a client feedback/listening process within a professional services firm is getting buy-in from the lawyers, accountants or engineers themselves. 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the following objections, I’d be a rich woman. Seeking client feedback about your performance is scary (and I know because I’ve done it in my business) and it’s only natural to object. However, over the past 8 years conducting literally thousands of reviews, only five people have said they don’t want to participate (that’s less than 1% of those asked). The fact is clients want to be heard. Reviews are about uncovering the good stuff as well as the not so good in order to leverage the positives and deal with the weaknesses.

I thought it would be good to set out 6 of the more common objections I've heard and some tips to overcome these: 

“We already know what our clients think about us” – the real objection is usually “I’m petrified about what they might say about me”. Mark Maraia suggests a great way to overcome this in his ‘Rainmaking made Simple’ book: Firstly find out whether the person does know what his/her clients think by asking them for the supporting evidence. If their statement turns out to be speculation and their real objection is fear then ask whether that partner’s clients are seeking customer feedback and whether they find that feedback useful. Get the partner to call one of his/her clients to ask and then follow up to find out what the client said to him/her. Use this information to build your case.

“I don’t want you to do this with my clients” – interview other clients of the firm first and then show the person how this feedback has helped other people in the firm. They soon come round especially when others tell them how useful the process is.

“My client is too busy. I don’t want to bother him/her/them” – ask when they are likely to be less busy and encourage the person to call their contact(s) to see if they would be happy to be interviewed in principle and, if so, when a good time might be.

“We don’t need to seek feedback as we’ve always had this client’s work and we’ll keep getting it” – explain that the review process in this instance is about understanding why this relationship is so strong, so that the firm can apply the learnings to other client relationships.

“This client relationship is too new” – explain that now is a good time to set the scene. If you seek feedback early then you can ensure you are servicing the client effectively right from the outset.

“This client only wants to deal with me” – explain that this process is about supporting the person in their role. Encourage them to ask the client if they would be happy to participate in the process with the understanding that if they say ‘no’, that’s fine.

A good technique to overcome typical objections is to tell war-stories. For example, I once conducted a client review for a law firm who thought their relationship with a particular client was great. When I spoke to the client they were in the process of moving their business elsewhere because they felt the firm I was working for wasn’t responsive enough, wasn’t putting their best team on the account, and didn’t care about them. The firm I was working for had no idea! By asking the right questions and going back to the client within a week of the review with a programme of what we had done and were in the process of putting in place to rectify the situation, we were able to save the client and over $2 million in fees. 

What other objections do you regularly hear? What are your top tips for overcoming these? 

What has worked well and, conversely, what's worked less well when conducting client listening/feedback initiatives within your firm?