Thursday, October 1, 2015

Word-of-Mouth Revenue and the Value of a Client

Toothpaste marketers have it easy. 

It’s not hard for them to figure out the value of a client… or in their case, of a customer.  They know the margin they make on the product, how many tubes that customer will buy and how often that customer will come back to buy it. Moreover, the word-of-mouth phenomenon is not prevalent.  After all, how often do you give or receive referrals on which toothpaste to buy?

But what about the marketer of legal services?

For most practice areas, there is no “typical” client.  And there is absolutely no way of knowing or even estimating how many times that client will come back for more services. But most important, the value of a client is determined not just by the revenue that client brings in, but also by the revenue that client generates through word-of-mouth and referrals.  Unfortunately, most law firms fail to track that information and thus fail to get a fuller understanding of what each client represents to the firm.

This lack of information can have a direct impact on the firm’s fortunes. For example, the revenue obtained from a particular client may be “appreciated” to a greater extent than the smaller client whose contribution to overall firm income is significantly less. Yet, that smaller client may be of greater value to the firm simply through its connections to other potential sources (i.e. prospects) of new revenue.

When data concerning from where referrals are coming is not collected, law firms miss the opportunity to not only understand the value of each client, but also the opportunity to nurture those sources of “down the road” revenue. They may not see that that client who used to send lots of business their way is no longer doing so, and thus they may not recognize that his or her perception as to the quality of their services is no longer what it was. They may not see that Mrs. Smith merits a lunch invitation, Mr. Jones has earned a larger gift basket come the holidays, or that the XYZ Company is in danger of becoming an ex-client.

To be able to act on this information, law firms must first be able to capture it.  Yet this need not be a daunting task, By simply asking the question (as one would regarding through what medium a client heard about the firm), and tracking the revenue generated through these sources, a great deal of actionable data is obtained.

You can find more information regarding the tracking of word-of-mouth revenue and the value of a client at

In the meantime, I look forward to the day your firm’s success in business development can be quantifiably tracked to perceptions of its work quality.

Les Altenberg is President of A.L.T. Legal Professionals Marketing Group ( ), a full-service marketing firm dedicated to the business development efforts of law firms and those who serve the legal industry. He can be reached at 856-810-0400 or via email at

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Changing the Way Law Firms Measure Return on Marketing Investment

Every time a business person decides to run an ad, develop a web site, launch a social media initiative, take prospects out to lunch or start a public relations campaign, the obvious question that hangs implicitly over his or her head is, “How do I know this will work?”

This is especially true for the more than 47,000 law firms and 1.2 million attorneys whose access to hard data is virtually non-existent; where supermarket scanners serve no purpose and there are no audit or rating resources (e.g., Nielsen) that can provide management with answers to very complex questions. 

Searching for the answers to these very same questions in regard to their own respective businesses, entrepreneurs Les Altenberg and Tom Mazanec developed a methodology they call Etiometrix. According to the two, the Etiometix approach crunches lead generation and sales data in a manner that’s never been done before, offering legal marketers the opportunity to assess their marketing and business development activities at the organizational, practice group and even individual attorney level. The result is a service that allows marketers to know:

  • Which activities offer the best returns-on-investment 
  • Who among the firm’s attorneys is best –suited for business development and through which types of activities
  • Which practice areas should be supported and to what degree
  • The role that “word-of-mouth” is playing in the growth of the business
  • How well the business is perceived by the firm’s clients
  • The degree to which marketing (e.g., advertising, online, PR) vs. personal networking is working for the firm.

Their proprietary program can quantitatively track the effects of previously immeasurable dynamics such as branding initiatives and the role “softer” marketing tools (e.g.,  brochures, web sites) play in generating business.

According to Altenberg, who currently heads A.L.T. Legal Professionals Marketing Group, a marketing consulting agency based in Marlton, NJ, “The program traces how individuals became customers of a particular business. In most cases, it is because of exposure to several types of individuals (e.g., professionals, referral sources) media, and/or online interactions. Furthermore, the resulting reports forego so many of the interim metrics that we hear so much about these days. Its great that we can know how many people read an ad, attend a seminar, visit or click through to a web site, but those numbers do not really mean anything unless they are tied to the revenue they bring in.”

Altenberg continues, “We were always making marketing recommendations to our clients who then inevitably ask, ‘How will we know if this is working?’ Until now, we never had a good quantifiable means for addressing that question.  Now we do.”

More information on Etiometrix can be obtained by visiting , emailing or calling 856-810-2127.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Someone’s Posted Negative Comments About Your Firm. Now What?

You work hard for your clients, spending countless hours trying to represent them in the best way you know how.  Most of the time… in fact, the vast majority of the time, your clients are extremely appreciative of your efforts. Some give you repeat business or send you referrals or post an online comment attesting to your legal proficiency.

But then, there are those times when someone determines, rightly or wrongfully that your efforts are not enough, that your turnaround time is too slow, that you made a mistake, etc., go online to a blog, or a legal directory or some other site to review, complain, criticize, and perhaps, even insult. Now when a potential client does an online search, up pops less than flattering content about you, your work or your law practice.

What should you do?

But before we address that, let me advise as to what you should not do… and that is, to let your emotions get the best of you. Social media and all the good and the bad that go with it are all part of the business landscape now. Hence, it is the wise professional who understands this and approaches negative comments with the cool, detached demeanor with which he or she would address any other challenge.

This means first taking the time to analyze the validity of the complaint.  If it is legitimate, the best thing you can do is publicly acknowledge the criticism and offer a way of making good on your mistake. Oftentimes, the best relationships are borne out of a problem or misunderstanding. By recognizing your part in the matter, those reading the posts will bear witness to the fact that you are trying to do the right thing – and are doing so in a rationale, calm and professional manner. In private, you may also wish to communicate with the individual who wrote the comment and offer to make amends.  You never know. You may just be surprised to see a follow up comment that is more “glowing.”

If the complaint is not legitimate, the process is not all dissimilar. While you do not necessarily need to concur with the post or the review, you should still convey your interest in resolving the matter. This is not the time to get defensive, but rather an opportunity to show that the interests of your clients are paramount to you. Again, the goal here is to offset the negative by communicating empathy.

A well-crafted response that takes the edge off the negativity is the right way to approach such matters. This is true even if the other party has resorted to nasty comments and name-calling. That being said however, it is generally not a good idea to engage in an extended “back-and-forth” online exchange with the other party.  Get across what you want to get across and then let it go. Otherwise it may take on a life of its own and blow up into an increasingly difficult problem.

Once you have determined the legitimacy of the complaint, addressed it publicly (and perhaps also in private), there remains another, albeit ongoing task to perform. In order to drown out the negative comment, it is always a good idea to generate positive content. Ask clients you know are satisfied with your work to post comments online. The more, the better. The rationale for this is simple. If you want you and your firm to be optimized online, you want it to be for good reasons. And few efforts are better for search engine optimization than content that is relevant and recent.

In addressing negative online ratings, evaluations or comments, it is really no different than addressing them elsewhere. Take an honest look at yourself, acknowledge (where appropriate) your role in the problem, convey understanding and empathy, and offer to make good. Then drop it.

One other thing… As with everything else, when dealing with these kinds of situations, common sense almost always applies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Law Firms and Social Media: Deciding On Which Sites to Engage

social media sitesA few years ago, social media rose to the forefront as a viable marketing tool for law firms. Today, the decision to engage in such activities has become more complex, largely because there are so many more vehicles from which to choose. Hence, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss how law firms should go about the challenge of allocating resources towards this growing medium.

First, unless your organization has unlimited financial and human resources, it is important to focus on those platforms that are most likely to prove fruitful, rather than implementing initiatives in each and every one of them. This requires a true understanding of the nature of the firm’s practice areas, its target prospects and referral sources and the ways in which such targets consume media.

From our experience, by far the most effective platforms for firms engaging in B2B practices are LinkedIn and Google+ … the former for its wide network and business focus; the latter for its search engine optimization potential.  As I’ve posted before, LinkedIn offers a world of opportunity to connect with very specific target prospects – provided this effort is conducted in a disciplined manner and on a consistent basis. Google+ does likewise, but also tends to be favored in online searches because … well, because it’s a Google property.

Another good site for B2B firms is SlideShare. This platform allows you to do exactly what its name states – publish a PowerPoint presentation. Great way to convey information and/or expertise, though it’s not as popular as YouTube, nor as easy to integrate into an overall online program as some of the other social media sites.

For law firms that target the general public, it gets more complicated. Facebook is the biggest social media player of course and offers opportunities for the firm to highlight its wares. But it has also garnered a reputation as a more “chatty,” interpersonal vehicle. If your law practice is looking to start a Facebook campaign, prepare to get very creative in how legal topics can be communicated in easy-to-read, “bite-able” chunks.

Twitter has become the platform of choice for many “thought leaders” hoping to generate followers. However, if you are looking to follow suit, be prepared to spend a lot – not in dollars, but in time. That’s because the most effective Twitter efforts are those in which “tweets” are posted several times a day. If you are not going to do that, Twitter may not be the best approach to take.

Next is YouTube.  This is another platform on which being active can help your SEO. It’s also a good way for conveying more complex information and/or highlighting content that is enhanced with a visual element.  But it does take some effort and time (at least to do it right). You also must decide whether to produce material that will appeal to a large number of people (in which case you may run up against many competitors and lots of online clutter) or develop very specific content, in which case, you may reach relatively few people looking for very particular kinds of information.

And then there are Pinterest, and Instagram. I confess that I have a difficult time not associating these more with my teenage daughters than I do with the legal profession., but then again, I might have said the same thing about some of the other platforms a few years ago as well. Both sites are visually oriented, so they are more likely to benefit law firms that can take advantage of this element (IP? Fashion law? Sports law?). Pinterest is probably stronger for SEO purposes, but not very interactive. Instagram is more interactive, but has only limited SEO value.

As with every other type of marketing vehicle, each social media platform has its inherent strengths and weaknesses. Based upon its objectives and the nature of the legal service being promoted, a law practice should be frugal in how it allocates its resources. This requires being honest with itself, not in how much time/dollars it wishes to devote to such initiatives, but in how much time/dollars it actually will allocate to these activities. Our experience has been that it is far better to engage in one or a few of the most promising platforms well, before overreaching to implement a wide variety of initiatives half-heartedly.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Florida Ruling on Attorney Advertising of Past Results: A Legal Marketer’s Perspective

The recent Florida court ruling striking the ban on attorneys being allowed to advertise past results has been perceived by many as a victory for those who claim such communications are a first amendment right.
I wouldn’t know about that.  I’m not an attorney.
But I am a legal marketer and from that perspective, Florida’s ruling makes great sense – first amendment rights aside.
Part of the reason that some might disagree is because there exists a perception that somehow advertising, by definition, is fake or misleading and that its audience will thus make decisions based upon false information. When we think of advertising for law firms, we picture attorneys screaming into a camera how they are going to make sure you get that to which you’re entitled. And doggone it, they’re not even going to get paid until you do! What could be better than that? 
However, the truth of the matter is that the goal of advertising is not to mislead, but to inform. For decades, attorneys were denied the opportunity to highlight why a prospective client should consider them for hire. Hence, that prospect had little to go on to make any kind of informed decision. In this light unfortunately, legal services can become commoditized. 
It’s a little strange that we don’t seem to have such concerns when it comes to content about attorneys that appear in articles, in magazines, on lists of “best” lawyers, etc. Yet, often times, these can be just as misleading. At least with advertising, the audience intrinsically knows that space or time has been purchased. Misleading information disguised as journalism is actually much more harmful, precisely when it is cloaked in a veil of “objectivity.”
That the claims made in ads should be regulated and monitored goes without saying.  Michael P. Downey, St. Louis, MO, chair of the rules and regulations subcommittee of the Section’s Ethics & Professionalism Committee has it right when he says, “Its good that lawyers can talk about past results so clients can make better decisions”  But he’s also right when he says “It (the ad) must be objectively verifiable.” And there is certainly nothing wrong with disclaimers stating that past results are not indicator of future success.
So congratulations, Florida. Great decision. Not just for first amendment reasons – but because it allows attorneys to distinguish their practice from others and thus is in the best public interests as well. Now, if only the last 5 or 6 states that don’t allow advertising on past results would jump on board the bandwagon…

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How to Minimize The Perceived Risk In Hiring Your Firm

One of the most important elements of the legal marketing function is reducing the perceived risk involved in the contracting of a law firm’s services. Personal injury law practices have intrinsically known this for years and is underscored by their assurances to be compensated, only when “you are.”  In the world of consumer goods, the provision of a “money back guarantee” provides much the same purpose. In such situations, the marketer and not the “buyer” assumes the risk.

In marketing legal services however, such promises are neither practical nor cost-beneficial. Yet reducing the perceived risk remains critical and, as noted below, there are a number of ways in which law firms can approach this task.

1. Branding
Unfortunately, although this is probably the most effective strategy, it is also the most expensive. People are comfortable with what they know and if they feel they know a company or a law firm (even if this perception is inaccurate), they are more likely to entrust their resources with it. “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM” is as true today as it was when some clever individual first coined the phrase. Businesses and law firms allocate large sums to positioning themselves in the marketplace and then reinforcing that positioning over and over again through hundreds of both large and small ways. 

2. Professionalism
“Professionalism” is a horrible term to use because it is difficult to define. It’s one of those things that we seem to know when we see it.  Or perhaps better said, we seem to notice a lack of it when we don’t. When representation of a law firm – be it through an individual, an email, or piece of promotional material is “sloppy,” incomplete, inaccurate, etc., we have raised the bar of perceived risk. After all, if one is less than attentive to how one’s own firm is represented, why should a potential client think that that attention will be any greater for him or her.

To illustrate this, think for a minute about the impact it would have if a vendor promoted its wares to your office and when prompted, could not produce a business card or a website address. The lack of such basic accoutrements of “being in business” would not necessarily mean the vendor was of a lower quality, but it sure would give that impression.

3. Transparency
It is important to give prospects an opportunity to “check you out.”  This is usually done through marketing materials, testimonials, client referrals, published articles, etc. The more forthright the firm is in how it promotes its wares, the more credibility it establishes. Even when the inevitable mistakes occur, an honest representation of these mistakes (along with an explanation as to how they will be addressed) can sometimes go a longer way towards a positive client experience than even one where no issues ever arise.

4. Getting Prospects to Know You Before They Make The Decision to Hire You
For any prospective client, the decision of which law firm to hire is a big one (as is even the decision to hire one in the first place). In fact, there are times when it can be downright intimidating.  Much of that is due to the uncertainty that goes with initiating some kind of legal action or procedure.  What’s rote for you is certainly not rote for them. Hence, the more you can do to make them as comfortable with you before the actual hire, the more likely you are to convert that prospect.

We have found seminars to be particularly helpful in this regard. There is a comfort that comes with being an anonymous person sitting in a room with other anonymous people.  No one knows (or cares) who you are and your problems are not for public consumption (unless you choose them to be). The seminar or workshop gives the prospect the opportunity to get to know whether or not they like you – before it really matters. By seeing you, hearing you speak, appreciating your grasp of the issues that are important to them, that prospect is getting to know you without he or she themselves being evaluated.

5. Implementing a Meaningful Marketing Mix
The philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said that the “medium is the message” and he was absolutely right. The avenues by which prospects are exposed to your message play a significant role in whether perceived risk is heightened or diminished. An article in the New York Times that highlights your expertise in a particular area of the law is infinitely better at building credibility (and thereby reducing risk) than is a billboard “down by the highway.”  A web site that refers to yours is likewise stronger than a pay-per-click ad. The aforementioned seminar can do wonders to reduce risk; less so for a booth at a trade show.

That is not to say that these other vehicles do not have a role in practice-building (that’s fodder for an article on another day). It’s just that some are specifically geared for reducing perceived risk.

I close by recalling how an attorney called us once for recommendations on how he might go about marketing his real estate practice. I suggested that he should start by creating a web site. (He didn’t have one at the time). The attorney balked at my recommendation, stating that in real estate law, he could not see obtaining clients in this manner. As much as I tried, I could not get him to understand that when it comes to marketing, converting a prospect into a client is but one element of many. And among those others is a pretty important one called… “Minimizing Risk.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Legal Marketing: Is There Still a Need for “Creativity?”

Anyone who has ever worked for an advertising agency, a marketing firm or any other type of organization where design and copy play such an important role, know that traditionally, one of the watchwords has been “creativity.”  Agencies sold their wares by highlighting how “creative” they were versus their competitors (a difficult premise to substantiate) and begged their law firm clients, to embrace their innovativeness.

There was a reason for this and it had a lot to do with the very nature of the marketing process. That process began when the firm took out an ad in a publication, produced a commercial or developed a brochure, etc. Of course their competitors did likewise, making it imperative that that ad, commercial, brochure, etc. jump out from amongst the clutter, “grab” the intended target and encourage them to take some kind of action. 

But with the coming of the digital age, a lot has changed, including the fact that the marketing process is now so often initiated by the prospect. This is particularly true online (the vehicle of “choice for many, if not most firms) where, instead of being “grabbed,” that prospect is now “seeking” information about the firm – usually with the prompt being driven by “need,” rather than traditional marketer “creativity.”  Further, those organizations that do “jump out” on line do so because they are at the top of the search engines. This is unfortunate as that ranking is more a function of a) links to other sites, b) use of keywords and c) volume of content than it is of the firm’s ability to convey its reason for being and the benefits it provides.

With “content” and “relevancy” now the new watchwords, is there still a place for “creativity?” The answer, I believe, is that while clever words and pretty pictures may have lost some of their luster, “creativity” still is a critical component of any legal marketing initiative. Often, this is at a more macro level than it is at the single execution of a web site page, an email blast, a pay-per-click campaign, a public relations program, etc.. It requires getting into the prospects’ shoes more completely than ever before and developing the offerings, practice areas and niche expertise of individuals with very specific needs. Being “creative” with “content” and “relevance” means knowing your potential clients better than your competitors and applying that understanding to both the materials you develop as well as how you disseminate that material. I am frequently amazed at how much law firms develop certain content and then fail to deliver that very same content in a multiplicity of ways, when all it would require is the touch of a key or a click of a mouse. Knowing how to “creatively” use the myriad of online and offline tools, and to do so cost-effectively, has become essential.  

Examples? A seminar can be videotaped and turned into a webinar which is then promoted via press releases, e-newsletters to the firm’s contact database, email blasts to a targeted list, social media posts, etc. Following the event, that webinar is then also archived on the web site and posted on Youtube. All of this is done using mostly the same content and will probably cost the firm relatively little.

Another such example is aligning the firm with a specific cause and promoting itself around that cause. For one PI firm, our agency recently implemented a “no texting while driving” campaign aimed at local high school juniors and seniors. Similar initiatives can be implemented across a myriad of other relevant causes.

I would be negligent if I claimed that today all “creativity” is or should be of a “macro” nature.  There are certainly instances where this is not the case.  A pay-per-click ad campaign must be carefully constructed within the very tight character limitations mandated by the search engines.  Similarly, one of the most often neglected aspects of an effective e-newsletter or e-marketing effort is the subject line. Rather than something haphazardly thrown together, it should be considered a “headline,” vital to prompting email “opens.” In fact, it actually requires more “creativity” in the traditional sense than the print ad, direct mailer, or television commercial, because it must prompt an action in just a few words – and with no visual element to augment it.

The net takeaway of all this is that while the ways in which legal marketers can show their creativity may be changing, the continuous need for that creativity in order to facilitate firm growth, remains unchanged.