No, they all don’t shop fee. It’s just you’re not presenting enough value to overcome fee-shopping.
Let’s begin by getting a few definitions out of the way. Your fee is not part of your value proposition. Your fee is part of the ‘cost proposition’ which comes into play when the client is making the decision to retain you but it is seldom the only consideration. (Will Hornsby has a whole ABA presentation on the delivery of legal services and the profession’s failure to reach the majority of those in need. You can read it here.)
Know that every time a client gets to the decision-making stage of whether to retain a lawyer, s/he weighs the fee against the value of your services. If your fee is too high relative to the (perceived) value they will receive, they are not going to retain you. Therefore, if you have not both created and communicated a compelling value proposition, you must reduce your fee in order to get the client to retain you. And no lawyer really wants to do that, right? Because then you are competing based upon fees (cost proposition) and that is a losing game.
“Differentiate yourself on something no one can compete with. Not price. Someone will always be willing to make less money than you.” ~ Marc Lobliner, CMO, Tigerfitness.com
Therefore, if you won’t (or can’t) decrease your fees to get more clients, you must increase your value proposition.
And make no mistake. Your value proposition is based on the appeal and exclusivity of your services.
Your primary goal, then, is to showcase individual skills (ie: niche) and personality traits that create value to your potential clients (target audience). This, in turn, creates some exclusivity with your services. Your next goal is to tell your story so well that in a room of 10 lawyers all practicing in the same area, the client only has eyes (and a check) for you.
At the risk of analogizing with commodities such as food, I find it easier to create examples you and I can both relate to. Why does one brand of soda or mayonnaise dominate the market? Because it has qualities that appeal to us, they are not easily replicated, and they tell their story so well we are invested emotionally and, ultimately, financially, in the brand. Just think about what is in your shopping cart week after week?
But there are also many smaller brands of soda and mayonnaise that do equally well and for much higher pricing, right?
You can buy Hellmann’s mayonnaise with a coupon at the supermarket on sale and still get the same quality product you would if it wasn’t on sale. Their audience has weighed their value proposition against the cost proposition and Hellmann’s wins the majority of consumers at around $3.99 a 30 oz. jar. But there is also an audience for artisanal, hand-crafted mayonnaise, organic mayonnaise, vegetarian ‘mayonnaise’ all at higher price points but selling a value proposition that commands the increased pricing. The buyer is buying the value proposition which appeals to them and the cost proposition is outweighed by the value proposition.
It’s Your Job To Create and Communicate the Value of Your Legal Services
Do a quick search on Google Shopping for “mayonnaise” and you can get a variety of items.
But if you search for “organic mayonnaise” look at the different price(s) per oz.
One of the reasons organic mayonnaise can charge anywhere from three to seven times more is because it is a USDA certified organic product. Organic increases the value proposition because it addresses an important value that resonates to this customer; the product is healthier because it does not have pesticides, herbicides and/or it supports organic farming. The list goes on.
This organic certification adds some benefit but does it create exclusivity? Not really. Because any mayonnaise manufacturer can start purchasing organic ingredients and slap on the USDA label and at some point will start competing on price with all the other organic mayonnaise manufacturers.
So, let’s see if we can find the most expensive mayonnaise’s made. Probably the most expensive mayonnaise per ounce in this search is Primal Kitchen Mayo With Avocado Oil retailing at $9.95 for 12 oz. It’s $.83 an ounce versus Hellman’s at $.13 oz, 6.5 times more per ounce. Why?
Made with avocado oil
Cage-free, organic eggs
Primal & Paleo Approved
Ingredients: Avocado Oil, Organic Cage-Free Eggs, Organic Egg Yolks, Organic Vinegar (From Non-GMO Beets), Sea Salt, Rosemary Extract
Sugar, Gluten, Dairy, Soy & Canola Oil Free
Primal Kitchen Mayo is marketing an organic product made with a superior Avocado Oil base versus soy or canola, cage-free eggs (for those who love animals), sea salt for those who recognize its superiority to table salt, no sugar, gluten, dairy and free from bad oils such as soy and canola. They are marketing to the growing gluten-free market as well as the very large contingent of those who follow the Paleo Diet. The consumer of this product considers themselves educated about food and the impact on the body and they are willing to spend money to support their philosophy on health and well-being.
Primal Kitchen is appealing to an educated mindset, someone who values spending money this way. Primal Kitchen has elevated themselves beyond ‘organic’ and created greater exclusivity with their ingredients, and by extension, their pricing. It is much harder now to undercut this product on price because it is harder to replicate the product. This is not spin or hype or endless promotion. They have clearly communicated their value to their desired audience. It’s why some people will pay $3.99 or less (based upon coupons and sales) for 30 ounces of Hellmann’s and why some people will pay $9.95 for 12 ounces of Primal Kitchen.
How Do You ‘Uncommoditize’ Your Legal Services
Fake word alert! But if your legal services can be commoditized, you need to find a way to ‘uncommoditize’ them, too. If you are committed to not compete on fees, then you need to build your value proposition.
1. Identify Your Ideal Client
You’ve heard it countless times. Identify your ideal clients because it is the only way to build a marketing strategy to reach them. We all know there is a significant part of the legal consumers market who will never spend $9.95 on mayonnaise. They’ll grab their coupons and shop those sales and brag on Facebook how they ultimately got Hellmann’s mayonnaise for free at Stop & Shop.
It still doesn’t mean you have to compete on fees.
You can only identify your ideal client who is willing to spend more for legal services by learning what they value. This starts by talking with your existing clients and getting feedback. It’s critical information most lawyers don’t collect and to their detriment. By identifying your ideal client who is willing to spend more for legal services you can build your value proposition and fashion marketing that will appeal to them.
2. Recognize the value your product already offers.
You may just be offering the most basic of legal services which aligns with the ‘commoditized’ prices of your legal services but at least this is a starting point to build in more value.
Or, more likely, you are offering additional value you neither recognize and/ or that you aren’t effectively communicating. For example, many clients place a value on ease of communication through legal portals, mobility, 24 hour access. If you have a highly mobile practice, return calls within 2 hours, lend ipads for personal injury cases for the client to use, but you’re not communicating this, you are losing out on opportunities to increase your value proposition to your ideal client.
3. Identify the value your legal services could offer
To increase your fees takes much more than marketing and advertising. You must increase the value of your services and then amplify the message of your increased value through your marketing.
Let’s say you’ve discovered that your ideal divorce client is worried about finances post-dissolution. You could work with a financial planner who deals with divorced individuals to learn about the greatest issues facing post-dissolution parents, create a white paper on the subject or a series of videos and provide to the client at the most opportune time during your representation.
This combines the value your services already had (you’re a great divorce lawyer) with a tangible value (an expert’s advice on common post-dissolution financial issues and how to address them) and an intangible value, peace of mind for the client, to create an even greater perceived value and a stronger value proposition.
4. Turn the actual value into perceived value
The actual value of your services has no real value proposition until your clients actually perceive it. This is the real power of marketing.
You must create content marketing (blogging, white papers, video series) that tells the story of dissolution and how you address it. Show your clients that you understand there are financial issues post-dissolution, that you are not just a lawyer who will successfully get them through the process of divorce, but actually cares about what happens to them after. Present them with your white paper authored or co-authored by a financial planner. Use your marketing to help clients clearly understand the value of your services and why you’re not like every other divorce lawyer.
If you do this well, then you can increase your fees because you are no longer competing on them.