The benefits of sector marketing
A sector strategy is about strengthening key client relationships and making you more attractive to targets in areas you know and serve best, explains Douglas McPherson
Admittedly, a sector-based marketing approach is nothing new, but as clients become more discerning and the market gets more competitive, it will only continue to grow in importance. The reason sector marketing has achieved such prevalence is simply that clients rarely search out a lawyer by service line; they tend to go to a lawyer they’ve heard of through a connection (referral or research) that’s come out of their own business activities.
Marketing yourself along industry rather than legal lines allows you to create those connections more easily – not to mention more time- and cost-effectively – because you will be packaging and promoting your experience in a way that will make you more attractive to all three potential sources of revenue: your existing clients, your professional contacts, and your targets, all of whom will recognise you understand the nuances of their businesses (or indeed their personal situations), which will make you the more attractive and more credible option.
However, aside from the fact that a well-executed sector approach will make you more credible and more attractive to the markets you know best, it will also have a direct effect on your bottom line. Why? Because you will be focusing your marketing budget and business development time on the audiences who are most likely to want your services and, by extension, on the activities that actually generate a return.
You’ll know which events, conferences, and exhibitions your clients/contacts/targets attend; which publications and websites they read; which trade bodies and networking groups they belong to; and which buttons to press (i.e. the issues to talk about and the language to use).
As a result, you’ll be able to cut out unproductive and irrelevant costs from your BD calendar and concentrate your efforts on the vehicles that will ensure your marketing is more fruitful and more time and cost effective.
Better still, your efforts will begin to set your firm apart from your more generalist competitors. When you meet a client, contact, or target you will be able to demonstrate the additional value you offer, a deeper level of understanding of how to apply the law to their (or their potential referral’s) exact requirements in language that’s familiar to them. Instead of using legal examples you’ll discuss recent developments and current trends. Most importantly, you’ll be able to explain how you have helped similar clients in similar circumstances get to where they wanted to be.
Obviously, to make all of that happen you need to choose the right sectors, and I’d suggest the three filters you need to apply when making those choices are:
Track record: Do you have a credible CV? Can you reel off client examples in this area? Your clients will also be able to help you to refine your marketing choices by telling you which events, publications, and associations underpin it.
Interest: Do you have fee earners who are genuinely interested in the sectors you’re considering? Interest creates enthusiasm, which will rub off on targets and make you even more attractive. Personal interest also increases the likelihood the fee earners on the team will find the time to keep up with news and developments within the sector, which again is crucial to your success.
Commercial opportunity: Is there actually gold in those there hills? Can the sector support the level of fees you want to generate? Are there enough likely targets? Is the sector showing growth or suffering decline? Do the businesses and people within the sector need ongoing legal support or one-off support here and there? This step is absolutely crucial because, above all else, you need to generate long-term fees from your sector, so being honest with yourself at this stage will help you avoid making costly and time-consuming mistakes.
Now, there will of course be nay-sayers in the firm, those who quite rightly ask questions like “if we employ a sector strategy aren’t we pigeon-holing ourselves?” or “if we employ a sector strategy will we lose potential opportunities?”
The answer is no. A sector strategy is about strengthening a significant number of your key client relationships and making you more attractive to targets in the areas you know and serve best to make new client acquisition easier, less time consuming, and more cost effective. It does not in any way force you to turn down any new opportunities or cease marketing certain practice areas or participating in activities to maintain your presence locally.
Similarly, we are often asked, “If we employ a sector strategy won’t we find ourselves in endless conflict situations?” Up to this point, we haven’t seen this fear realised. What we have found is that potential clients are reassured that their lawyers actually understand them and that the positives of that understanding far outweigh possible conflict situations.
Douglas McPherson is a director of Size 10 1/2 Boots and author of The Visible Lawyer and Package, Position, Profit