Do you know how to influence a potential client’s decision-making process so they choose you over a competitor? Neil Quantick looks at what law firms can learn from two key marketing theories: the buyer decision process and the marketing mix
Marketing is a simple concept: do things to get people to buy your stuff (rather than that same stuff from someone else). Easy. It’s the very thing that fuels our businesses. It pays our bills, it feeds our profits. It is the very lifeblood of everything we do.
But do we really understand it? Do we know why a client might choose us rather than our competitor down the road? Do we know how to make a client choose us over them?
The principles of marketing are the same whatever sector you work in, whatever you sell, and to whomever you sell it. In this article, I look at two concepts in marketing theory – the buyer decision process and the marketing mix – and how we can use them to encourage potential clients to choose us.
The buyer decision process
This is the journey which a buyer takes from contemplating a purchase to splashing the cash. It is a linear journey and it applies to all the stuff we buy – although the journey is likely to be more complex and/or considered for bigger or more significant purchases. Depending on which academic’s view you subscribe to, the buyer decision process usually consists of five steps.
This is simply making potential clients aware that we (as a product or service provider) exist – nothing more. You want to buy a car, but if you don’t know about Mercedes, you won’t be buying one!
To put it simply, you’ve ‘gotta be in it to win it’. For solicitors, it is as simple as consumers knowing we exist, and that we do law.
At this stage of the journey, the consumer starts to understand the nuts and bolts of what we sell. It is not about forming a positive or negative view, and certainly not about making any conclusions or developing any sort of preference.
So the buyer already knows we do law. At this stage, they are starting to assess our suitability for their needs. Say they’re moving house – do we offer conveyancing services? If the buyer wants a property lawyer, we’re still in the game.
This is where the interesting stuff starts to happen. This is where we might (in my view) really start to affect a buyer’s view.
Remember, we are marketing our businesses every minute of every day. And everything that is done by everyone in our law firms is part of that marketing effort. A brief moment of rude contact from a junior member of the team may stop us winning a piece of business, despite the prolonged efforts of a senior team member. Equally, a positive, polite and helpful interaction; a useful website; or a recommendation from a trusted business contact, friend or relative can bump us up in the buyer’s estimation.
Unsurprisingly, this is where the view a consumer forms is so positive that, relative to our competitors, we have become ‘preferred’. You’ve guessed it, we’re heading toward a potential sale.
With stages 1-4 complete, we’ve won and we get the business. Depending upon what the buyer is buying, that journey might happen very quickly or slowly, or be well considered or impulsive, and so on. It depends upon what we are buying, and in what context.
The marketing mix
Let’s be honest, there are a lot of lawyers. And most services we offer (in any one sector) are similar. So how do we persuade people to choose us over the next, very similar, service provider?
Well, there are usually lots of consumer goods and services in everything in life. Lots of clothes, lots of cars, lots of electronics. But we consumers still manage to choose one thing over the next. What happens on our journey as consumers to influence us to buy one thing over the other? How can you make your consumers choose you over the next firm? How do you get them from knowing about you, and knowing that you offer the service they want, to actually choosing you (from step 2 to step 5)?
How do we persuade people to choose us over the next service provider?
You will hear marketing experts telling you that you need a USP – a unique selling point. And yes, the point of marketing is (of course) to persuade the consumer to prefer you over the next firm. But the idea that, in a market such as law, we can have a truly unique selling point is, at best, ambitious.
In truth, what we are all searching for is a GESP, not a USP. A GESP is a ‘good enough selling point’ – no, this is not a scientifically recognised phrase, and yes, I did just make it up! A GESP means differentiating ourselves from our competition, in informed and planned ways. And that means we need to understand what factors influence a buyer’s decision-making process. This is where the marketing mix comes in.
The marketing mix covers four key areas which matter to buyers, and around which we can build GESPs.
(I’d add that we also need to accept that chance will still play a part in what work we get – many other firms will have GESPs just as good as ours.)
The marketing mix is often referred to as the Four Ps:
- Price – how much something costs
- Product – the product or service characteristics, or the nuts and bolts of what we are selling
- Place – where we sell our product or service
- Promotion – stuff we do to get ourselves, our services or our products noticed (including, but not exclusively, advertising).
Buyers will usually have all four of these in ‘the mix’ when deciding what to buy. However, bear in mind that one or more of the four will sometimes be a key player or deciding factor.
Price plays a key role in marketing. It may be the defining factor in a price-sensitive arena, or it may be a key player supporting an exclusive brand in a pricey arena.
There is, of course, a huge difference between the amount something costs and value for money. And any product or service provider faces the eternal challenge of communicating that to prospective customers.
One notably price-sensitive area of provincial practice is conveyancing. The consumer will often be happy to conclude that conveyancing is conveyancing, and will make their final decision on which lawyer to use based simply on who is the cheapest.
In contrast to this, price can tell the consumer something about quality, and a higher price will often provide reassurance to the consumer that they can expect an inherent quality associated with that relatively highly priced product or service. Consumers tend to be less price sensitive in specialist areas or off the back of strong recommendations.
Product is about functionality and the customer experience.
Say you’re choosing a car. Your choice might be down to price, name recognition based on TV ads (promotion) or whether you can test-drive it nearby (place). But it also might be about functionality: one car might do 150mph and another only 80mph, one might have five doors, and the other three, and one might have assisted parking, four-wheel drive, or a bigger boot.
But what about lawyers? How will people judge the characteristics of our product or service? After all, we’re all offering the same when it comes down to brass tacks: a conveyancer does conveyancing.
Your product as a lawyer is made up of everything you do, how you do it, how it looks, how it feels. It’s how you dress and the state of your offices. It’s your telephone manner, your turnaround times, the language you use in writing, the technology you use to interact with clients (or the fact that you don’t use any). The challenge, of course, is to communicate effectively how or why you differ from other firms – not something I feel many of us get right.
Place is where we sell our wares.
Sell ice creams in the park with a lovely, big, visible sign, ideally when it’s hot, with loads of people around, and you are going to do just fine. Make the ice cream delicious and the customers will want more. They’ll tell their friends and post reviews. Life’s good.
However, pick a remote spot, or sell your ice cream where there are few customers, or when it’s cold, or make a product which isn’t any good, and you’ll struggle.
Place was a simple thing for the provincial lawyer – we didn’t even have to make a decision. We had our shop front. But then something called the internet came along.
The local solicitor remains a mainstay of the provincial consumer market. But technology and the internet now give us a ‘place’ to sell our legal services that (done well) totally redefines convenience. It makes a local presence a historic relic, not the place for us provincial lot to use as our ‘place’ in the Four Ps.
Now, clients can speak to us and we can speak to them wherever either of us is, using technology such as Skype. And the client can get more information, wherever and whenever they want it, because we can use collaborative online hubs to give them complete access to their entire file (even time-recording). Accessibility is no longer defined by locality.
There is still apprehension among both lawyers and clients about going online to do something like law, given its history of face-to-face interaction, and concerns about confidentiality and data security. But buyers are increasingly expecting to do anything and everything in their lives online, and we need to keep up.
Incorrectly, we often think of this as just advertising. In reality, it’s anything we do to promote our business or a particular service within it. That promotion may historically have included one or more of the following (among others):
- price promotions, discounts or sales
- public relations
- household listings (such as the Yellow Pages).
But this too has been changed dramatically by the internet. Our online lives now heavily influence our buying decisions, by promotions occurring through:
- social media
- search engines
- comparison sites
- ratings sites (such as Trustpilot)
- influencers – social media ‘stars’ airing their own views to their very loyal and very specific demographic audiences.
All this leaves old-fashioned advertising looking like a haphazard and chaotic rampage.
Pick your job, not your tool
So, there it is. There’s the science behind the buyer decision process and the things that affect that process and decision.
I hope that’s sparked some thoughts about things you could do more of or better in your firm. But my own nugget of wisdom is this: start by picking a job, not a tool.
Outside of work, one of my great passions is building. Drainage, brickwork, structure, roofing, plumbing, plastering – it’s all pure nectar to me. But ask me what I’m up to this weekend, and I won’t say “I’m using a drill”; rather, I’ll tell you “I’m drilling a hole”. The drill is a tool; creating a hole is the real objective – the real job. Indeed, if I told you I was using a drill, I should hope you would ask me if I’d lost the plot!
Great results come from aiming for a result, and then choosing the tool (that is, the marketing activity) to achieve it.
Many lawyers start with the tools, and are excruciatingly blind to the job or objective. Ask a lawyer about their marketing, and they will tell you about a cornucopia of dinners, parties, and adverts. But all too often, they won’t say a thing about the objective. All that effort might result in some form of business development, but that’ll probably be by luck more than anything.
The key to great marketing starts with a plan. And if you base that plan on the science that influences what people buy, and then use the right tools, you’ll be golden.