Sales-avoidance and the next new (legal marketing) thing


"Why do lawyers fall prey to whatever is the latest and greatest in the online world?" So asks Keith Lee in his Above the Law article A Curated Version of Yourself. His answer: "First off, they’re desperate for clients. Competition has never been fiercer." It's hard to argue with that. Lee continues: "So firms, big and small, are availing themselves of any avenue that might lead to generating business."

Well, almost any avenue, save one.

IMO, every cent that lawyers have spent over the past 25 years on the progressive iterations of marketing communication (brochures > PR > newsletters > events > websites > social media) have all been about sales-avoidance. Lawyers will do anything, buy anything, embrace anything that offers the possibility, however remote, of getting clients without having to sell. Just as watching a movie requires the "willing suspension of disbelief," so does lawyer marketing and business development.

The listed activities are all lead-generation tools, which lawyers love because they can outsource the "doing" part. This is why they're such easy prey for the next new thing. They fervently hope that this new thing, unlike the previous new things, will get them clients without them having to sell.

This week, the Legal Marketing Association hosts its annual conference. If you want to measure lawyers' desperate hope that marketing will save them from having to sell, skip one of the program sessions and walk around the exhibit hall when it's empty. Notice what's being exhibited -- and what's not. Set aside the handful of dot-orgs trolling for members and you'll see that every exhibit is some form of lead-generation technology or service. There will be website developers, competitive intelligence software, CRM, practice automation, even some marketing automation.

There won't be any lead-conversion offerings. The high cost of an exhibit booth, and the lack of mix, reflects demand. Lead-generation vendors see it as a good investment; lead-conversion vendors don't.

I have no opinion about the efficacy of these lead-gen offerings. Let's assume that they all work as advertised and they deliver lots of leads. Now what? At some point, lawyers have to convert leads into clients by acquiring, and diligently applying, selling skills. That's the part that lawyers don't want to do. If you're not converting your leads, you don't need more leads.

Lawyers' love of (passive) marketing and distaste for (active) selling is the product of two things: 

  1. A 20-year bull market for legal service, where demand exceeded perceived supply. Leads converted themselves; no selling skills required, really.
  2. Lawyers' belief that "selling" means applying old-school techniques that they find off-putting when they experience them as consumers.

Here, I'll offer the proverbial good news and bad news.

The bad news is that the bull market is over, never to return. Lawyers' beloved seller's market is permanently replaced by a buyer's market. The supply of lawyers will forevermore exceed the supply of buyers.

The very good news is that professional selling no longer requires the behaviors and approaches that you (actually, everyone) find so off-putting. In fact, you'll find that the "lawyering" skills that have made you successful to date are the very skills you need to sell successfully, in a way that prospects and clients prefer.

Mike O'Horo

Clients explicitly prefer that you use your "lawyering" skills to pursue a business relationship with them. To get a taste of their distaste for being pitched and the old-school approaches, watch this six-minute video, Why You Need to Market and Sell Differently.

Afterward, take a look at the RainmakerVT Getting Found (marketing) and Getting Chosen (selling) courses that teach you how to do just that.