My mother was a phenomenal sales person (she’s long retired). She won world-wide recognition as the top sales individual year after year for her incredible abilities. Her business primarily thrived on word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers. My husband brags his grandfather never advertised a day in his life and worked non-stop as a carpenter for more than sixty years. Both were very successful long before the internet, e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, smartphones, blogs. It was in the day and age of cold calls, direct mail campaigns and pounding the pavement.
One thing my mother always told me, “The day a hand with a fist full of money comes through the telephone is the day you can stop meeting people in person to close a sale and just hang out on the phone.”
Well, it’s fair to say this has changed somewhat with online shopping, electronic payments, SKYPE, VLOs and all the other technological wonders of the 21st century that can actually allow interaction and payment without ever meeting. However, the principles remain. Until a person can meaningfully connect with you, there is no sale online or off. And, by extension, there is very little referral work.
I was reminded of this recently when I had an electrician and a painter at my home. I had worked with both before, was pleased with the quality of their work and their pricing. One I’d met by referral through a builder; the other, a father of my son’s Tee-Ball team mate who handed out business cards at the team pizza dinner. I didn’t shop around for this new project. I knew I wanted to work with both of them, again, and that was their goal, too. The electrician was very clear. “I know if you’re happy you are a client for life. I want you to be happy and I want to do all your electrical work.” It was a simple and unrehearsed and a stated mission.
What struck me was this. Both said they get all their work from word-of-mouth. Neither advertises. They only have business cards and cell phones. They do not have a website, Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. They don’t go to electrician’s or painter’s conventions, retreats, marketing seminars. They don’t do educational marketing. They leverage satisfied clients over and over and over, again.
So why did it strike me? Not because I don’t know the fundamental truth I just wrote about. But because this fundamental truth has gotten lost in all the social media platform hype.
Yes, I know lawyers and the profession in general are different in many aspects and some of their marketing efforts must be handled differently so as not to offend the advertising police. But they are also the same in just as many ways. Let’s not let the differences obscure the point of this post. The point of this post is this:
Nothing takes the place of happy clients who talk about your services. Nothing. Nothing will take the place of meaningful (and quite often) face-to-face, interaction.
This is what troubles many established lawyers when they try to tell new lawyers the best marketing for their business is word of mouth for a job well done. Concentrate on your skills and your clients and the work will come. While I would have to qualify this statement as being somewhat over simplistic, these past weeks I’ve started to see much I’m disliking about how the proponents of social media have seemed to cast a spell on lawyers. (Don’t get me wrong. There is much benefit to be found personally and professionally in the effective use of social media as part of an overarching marketing program.) There is an almost maniacal fervor building and it’s disconcerting to say the least.
A recent BTI study came out reconfirming, again, the power of a personal or peer referral.
Summary of Findings
• A peer referral is the most direct route to hiring consideration. Fully 57% of corporate counsel will consider hiring a new attorney based on a single peer referral. BTI research shows that superior client service (and achieving a reputation for it) drives referrals.
• “Credentialing” activities are second only to peer referrals and scheduled in-person meetings in their effectiveness in moving lawyers into the hiring zone, and are nearly twice as effective as advertising. Corporate counsel find an attorney’s participation in these credentialing activities (defined within as being quoted by the media and other market authorities, speaking at small seminars, and authoring articles in trade publications) as credible indicators of an attorney’s potential to be a valuable advisor. The fact that a trusted third party has “screened” or “vetted” the attorney’s qualifications in each of the credentialing activities is, in large part, what makes them legitimate indicators of value to corporate counsel.
• “Credentialing” activities—unlike lower-scoring “awareness” activities—enjoy a “cumulative effect”: being quoted several times in the media, for instance, has a greater positive effect on corporate counsel than being quoted once. Further, credentialing activities generate content easily shared directly with corporate counsel to back up a referral or establish the credibility of lawyers on sales calls, and more broadly with the general market through today’s numerous information channels (social networks, attorney website biographies, etc.). This easy distribution and networking of credible information makes credentialing activities’ “cumulative effect” relatively easy to realize.
• BTI research showed that with the “cumulative effect,” an attorney quoted three times in the media can achieve nearly the same trust factor from the quotes as they would from a single peer referral.
• Appearances at large events, feature profile articles, advertising, and casual in-person meetings have the least effect on moving lawyers into the hiring zone. None of these awareness activities imply an endorsement from a third party. Further, the activities in this third group require great expense to repeat and do not have a comparable “cumulative effect.”
When we look at findings, however, one can easily draw other conclusions from what isn’t being said: ‘lower awareness activities’ such as those derived from social media interaction places as third to the referral. Yet it can clearly lead to greater ‘credentialing activities’. So, should you develop your social media presence? Yes. And this is your blogging activity, social interaction on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. Will this lead to the all important credentialing activity and then in-person connection? If you have a goal in mind to do so, yes. That’s the point. Social media awareness activities are not the end game. It is part of the journey and several steps removed from being hired as a trusted advisor.
So, if someone tells you having a web presence and being on Twitter will bring you tons of new business alone, refer them to this blog post.