Episode 5

SmartTalk goes on the road to Dallas, Texas, prompting Victor and Mark to discuss feedback from their listeners, whether Mark really hates attorneys, the advantages of doing nothing, the California Switchblade and other marketing excesses, do-it-yourself logos, marketing with no money, the fear factor, a question of confidence, the screw-up as an opportunity, whole-plus-one, and whether or not Mark can say “shit” on a Podcast.

Mark:

I wanted to talk about the feedback that we’ve been getting. Some of the comments we have gotten from listeners range from really enthusiastic to the somewhat critical and somewhat cryptic.

I received an e-mail from my buddy, Eric Riess, a coach and career counselor in the San Francisco Bay area (ericriess.com). We were newspaper writers at the same newspaper back in the mid 1970s … the Paleolithic era when newspapers were relevant. The e-mail said, “Everybody has their talent and their strong points in this world, and yours is writing and maybe you ought to stick to that.” And that’s from a good friend! I guess he’s saying I have a great face for radio.

A mutual acquaintance of ours, Ellen Victor, an estate planning and special needs attorney in Long Island, New York (victorlawfirm.com), told me that in one of the previous Podcasts she got the impression that I didn’t like attorneys.

Victor:

Don’t you like attorneys?

Mark:

In working with attorneys for so many years, I’ve become aware of their talents and the importance of what they do. I’ve also become aware of their foibles, especially as it relates to my specialty – marketing. I wrote an article that you can find on my website called “11 Reasons That Attorneys Don’t Do Marketing.” That article is really a glimpse into my frustrations in working with attorneys. Probably some of that has spilled over into some of the Podcasts.

Victor:

You serve an important role on the Podcast. Not just as someone who runs a company that serves attorneys, but also as someone who’s not an attorney. I think there’s a lot of preconceived notions about attorneys. We like to think we’re normal people, but most people have a reaction that’s colored by their experience and some stereotypes. We have to overcome that a lot.

Mark:

That law school training that you all have in common comes into play. The fact that I’m not an attorney is of value when I work with attorneys. When I review a website or a brochure, I read it as a layperson. And if I can’t understand or relate to it, then nobody that you’re trying to reach can.

Victor:

Attorneys are all going to understand it, because they’re going to read it like attorneys. The problem is that potential clients are going to read it, and not get it. At least you have a speaking familiarity with attorneys and the way they work.

Mark:

I think being a layman is part of the value that I bring. I’m sorry if someone took away from a previous Podcast that I don’t like attorneys. Obviously, they’re my bread and butter. I work with them every day. If I really didn’t like them, then I’d find another line of business. I do enjoy that interaction. Early on in my career, I worked with a lot with financial advisors, and still do on occasion. I can tell you, I sure like working with attorneys a lot more than financial advisors. It’s not like I chose this profession to work with people I didn’t like. I’m sure that in the course of these Podcasts my frustrations occasionally come out, but usually in some form of humor.

Victor:

You have protected your future interests in your business well. What I want to do in these Podcasts is help attorneys get better. If there are any other complaints about our position on attorneys, send them all in my direction. Is all our feedback negative?

Mark:

No. We got some great letters! Another attorney that we know in Massachusetts said one of the things she heard on a Podcast was of such value that she used it within the hour on a prospective client. And she felt that it was a great help in persuading the client to go forward and sign up.

There was a lot of positive feedback on your “I want to think about it” response. After hearing you talk on the Podcast, one of my clients told his client: “There’s nothing to think about. You’re been thinking about this since you had kids. Now you either do it with me or somebody else, or you’re not going to do it. But there’s nothing to think about.” I think that really got through to a lot of people.

Victor:

Good. Because of the typical risk-adverse training, I think a lot of attorneys would be very concerned about putting a direct proposition like that in front of a client because of the risk of rejection.

Mark:

What’s the safest thing in the world to do? Nothing.

Victor:

I’d rather not ask a client for a yes or a no answer, because the no could be coming and what would I do with that?

Mark:

If I do something, I might make a mistake. But if I do nothing, I won’t make a mistake … theoretically. We know that, in fact, doing nothing could be the most dangerous thing and could be the biggest mistake. Psychologically for people, action carries risk. That is a really interesting subject. The doing nothing versus doing something, and “I want to think about it.”

A lot of attorneys hesitate because they don’t want to be a pushy salesperson. I feel the same way when talking to potential clients. This is how I handle it: At the end of the meeting, I ask them how they want me to proceed. “Do you want me to nag you about this? Call you in two weeks and say how about it? Or, do you want me to leave the ball in your court and I’ll hear from you when I hear from you?”

You and I talked about how irritating it is to have somebody say they’re going to think about it. What happens, of course, is that you and I go home and think about it, and stew about whether the person is going to go forward or not. It’s a 10 to 1 ratio. So I ask for guidance on that. Sometimes I’m surprised when they call back and say, “Yes I have thought about it and I want to do it.” But in the meantime, I’m not worrying about it. I put it on the shelf somewhere.

Victor:

I don’t know if we touched on this yet. Something you said hit home with me that I hadn’t heard anybody else say. Forget about Mark Merenda and SmartMarketing, but the idea of marketing one’s service is a value-neutral proposition. The value that comes with it is who you are and how you approach it. In and of itself, it means nothing.

Mark:

Marketing is not bad. You can market a good product or you can market a crappy product.

Victor:
You can market a good product ethically and well without being pushy or having someone mistake you for a used car salesman. Or, you can do it in a fashion that really does a disservice to the entire industry.

Mark:

You can market great attorneys who are providing an important service that people need, or you can market charlatans who are looking to rip people off. But marketing in and of itself is value neutral. The analogy I use is atomic power. You can use it to light cities, or you can use it to blow up cities. But in and of itself, it’s not good or bad. I think marketing is like that.

Victor:
What is happening in society today is that the people who are doing the most aggressive marketing are the people we don’t admire. In other words, they’re compensating for their inability. In the 1940s they just hung a shingle, and they were brilliant. Now they take out large, loud ads on TV.

Mark:

That’s very frustrating for a lot of attorneys. They see attorney X spending a lot of money on very aggressive marketing and getting the lion’s share of the business. All the while, they know they’re a better attorney than attorney X. Even a better human being! And here’s this crappy person stealing all the business because they do marketing.

We associate marketing with the thing or person that’s being marketed. That’s the way we judge it. Of course, that’s a great argument to do marketing yourself. Otherwise, you’re leaving the market wide open to those people. You’re not putting your value proposition in front of people, so they don’t have a choice. You’re just leaving it to the loudest person, and that’s not good.

Victor:

You see people out there marketing their legal skills as though they were on an infomercial, because that tactic has worked.

Mark:

We see the most egregious examples. Listeners should Google the “California Switchblade” YouTube video. They’ll get a kick out of it. Then there’s “Call Jack the Hammer. He’ll nail ’em for you!” Sharks, bit bulls and all that kind of stuff. When people think about marketing for attorneys, this is what they think of first. Versus a lawyer giving away a free informative brochure at a health care convention, or even this Podcast, which has some information and value.

Victor:

I was at the mall two weeks ago with my wife. While she took a phone call, I ended up in front of a kiosk featuring informational health care brochures from estate planning attorneys. It’s interesting that on the one hand you have law firms doing bad things we don’t like, but on the other hand, you have attorneys marketing badly. Those brochures made me feel bad for the law firm, because they looked very expensive to produce. Unfortunately, they were getting absolutely zero results, because they appeared to be written by a lawyer for a lawyer.

Mark:

We’ve talked about how powerful images are in conveying who you are. When you’re just starting out with no money, you’re going to have to go to Kinkos if you want a tri-fold brochure. You simply don’t have much choice about it. But as soon as you can move onto something more sophisticated, you should do it. Because everything about that brochure that you wrote and designed yourself says amateur hour on it.

Attorneys sometimes come to us and say “My brother-in-law knows a lot about computers and he’s willing to do my website for free, so I let him.” Or, “We did our own logo.” When we hear that, the joke in the office is … Let me guess, it’s your initials in a circle? It’s probably the same way an attorney would feel if I came into his office and said “I drafted my own trust, what do you think?” I’m sure it would be pretty laughable.

A story occurs to me about having no money. I had an attorney approach me at a legal conference and say, “I’d really like to hire you, but I just don’t have any money.” I said, “That okay, I understand. I’m happy to talk to you anyway. Maybe some day you will have some money. Or, maybe you’ll be talking to somebody who has some money who can hire me.” He said, “You don’t understand. I really have no money.” I said, “It’s okay.” So we chatted for awhile.

Since this particular guy was Asian-American, I told him about the success of one of my other Asian-American clients, Kimberly Lee, who is in the Palm Springs area in California. She happened to be at this conference, so I pointed her out and said maybe you should go over and talk to her for a bit. He left and about a half hour later came back and said, “I’ve decided I’m going to hire you.” I said, “But I thought you had no money.” He said, “Well, when I said I had no money, I didn’t mean that I had no money.”

I think that’s probably the same case in estate planning. The $60,000 fee for probate doesn’t bother the client. Either does the $3 million that the IRS is going to get. But the $4,000 fee for the estate plan, that really bothers him.

Victor:

Mark, if I was an attorney just starting out with no money … which could be most of our listeners because the Podcast is free … what do you think are the most important things I need to address from a branding, imaging or marketing perspective? Where am I going to get the best long-term return on my investment?

Mark:

The Internet. There are no other associated costs. If you do a brochure or image materials, you have to pay a printer. If you put on a seminar, you have to buy coffee. With the Internet, aside from a hosting fee, there are no other associated costs. It rewards people who are willing to devote the most time and energy toward being ahead of the curve on the newest things; those who are willing to write a daily blog, post it on Facebook, and then tweet it; and those who build multiple websites and grab the best domain names, etc. The Internet rewards guerilla marketing.

In marketing, it’s either time or money. If you don’t have the clients, then you’ve got the time. If you can scrape two dimes together, the image stuff is most important because most people lack a rational basis for hiring an attorney. They’re going to buy on an irrational basis and almost nothing is going to affect that more than appearances. Everybody knows this. If you look like you’re successful, then you’re successful. And the reverse is true, too. If you look like a $50,000 a year attorney, then that’s what you are. And those are the fees that you can charge.

Victor:

So what’s the most important aspect of personal appearance? Is it just the logo? Or, are you going to spend money on business cards?

Mark:

I think it’s all of it. It’s how you dress; your office and where it’s located; your business cards, brochures and website. Keep in mind, however, that none of that has anything to do with how good a lawyer you are. None of it. It’s a completely different issue, because your potential clients don’t have x-ray vision. They can’t judge how good a lawyer you are, so they’re swayed disproportionately by these things.

Another thing that I bring to the table is that as a non-lawyer, I understand the fear factor. When you buy a product, it’s empowering. It applies to almost anything you buy. But when it comes to buying professional services, instead of taking control, you’re handing it over to somebody who knows more than you do, which is unsettling in the beginning. And you’re handing over control in some area of your life that’s of vital interest, like your money or your health.

People like me hate that. I can ask my buddies if they’ve ever used them. I can go online and check for any official reprimands. But beyond that, I really don’t know. And that’s a very scary feeling for consumers. And sometimes, estate planning and other attorneys don’t understand how frightening it really is. They all think they’re good lawyers and good guys, and can’t understand why clients don’t know it.

That is why all of these things reassure clients. He has a nice office versus a P.O. box, so that’s good. He’s written a book, so he couldn’t be a total charlatan. He seems to be successful and has other clients, so that’s social proof. Plus his shirt is starched. People are looking for reassurance, and these things make them feel safe.

Victor:

Let’s take a slightly different approach. Over time, I’ve learned that confidence in yourself is extremely important. I know I can do the job, but there’s always this massive fear that someone is going to figure out that I can’t do the job. One day there’s going to be something that I don’t know. And not knowing something is the worst place an attorney can be. I think that having confidence in one’s self is huge. Clients are going to translate that confidence into another indicator that this attorney knows what he’s doing.

Finally, being confident about what you do starts with being very clear about what it is that you do. We were talking earlier about the power of focus. You have to make sure that your practice is sufficiently narrow and defined. That way, you’ll make money on the clients you do take. And the type of clients that you are looking for becomes very clear to people that you meet along the way.

Mark:

Somebody wrote that if you read five books on a subject, you know more than 99 percent of the population. Therefore, if you narrow your focus, you’ll easily get to a point where you know more about it than anybody else.

Confidence is also a really big factor. If you think you look good, your materials look good, and your office looks good, you’ll obviously be more confident.

Victor:

I think it was you who told me … One of the primal skills humans have is the ability to pick up on the associated body language of someone who is BSing us.

Mark:

I want to go back to your point regarding “What if someone asks me something I don’t know?” Last week I was in a client coaching session and one of the participants confessed that she struggles with the self-confidence issue. I originally had a very hard time convincing her to do public seminars, but eventually she got used to doing them. However, her anxiety level still triples when she has to go in front of fellow professionals, because she’s afraid that someone in the audience might know more about the subject than her.

Victor:

It would be really great if I could speak in front of other estate planning attorneys, real estate attorneys and divorce attorneys. These are practice areas that lawyers don’t market directly. Unfortunately, I’m paralyzed when it comes to speaking in front of more experienced attorneys on a particular subject matter. Some of them may have heard the terms before and might challenge something I said. Or, maybe they have some misconceptions. Or, maybe I don’t know something. There’s always the risk that someone is going to challenge me on something. I think it’s really hard to educate your colleagues and contemporaries.

Mark:
Another factor that affects your confidence is timing. The first time you hear a question, you may blow it because you don’t have an answer. Over time, as we all know, we tend to get asked the same questions. I remember the first time I had a potential client ask me about my fee. He said, “Why does it cost so much?” And I didn’t have a good answer.

On reflection, to say that I added up all my expenses and added 20% was not a good answer. I had to think of a more compelling answer. I still get that question over and over again in different forms, but it’s a question that I’ve formulated an answer to. I’m sure the first couple of times you’ve been asked those type of questions in your practice, you blew it because it caught you off guard.

Victor:

You just shared something with me the other day about turning missteps into opportunities … whole-plus-one.

Mark:

The substance of my blog post was that if you’re in the personal services business, at some point, you’re going to screw something up. Or somebody in your office is. There’s going to be a mistake. Hopefully, it’s not to the level of malpractice.

For example, you promised to send a client a copy of a will and you or your assistant forgot. When confronted with a mistake, most companies and purveyors of services will go into a defensive crouch. It’s not my fault. It’s my secretary’s fault. Or, it’s your fault.

I think that is exactly the wrong approach to customer service. The right approach is to view your screw-up as an opportunity to bond further with the client. The way you do that is a pretty simple process. There’s two or three steps. The first step is to admit the mistake. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t say that you never promised it. Don’t say you told your secretary and she didn’t do it, or whatever. You say, that’s terrible we promised to send you the will and we didn’t do it. The second step is to sincerely apologize for the mistake. Recognize the inconvenience or the pain the mistake caused the customer. Immediately make him whole. In other words, get the will out to him that afternoon. Or tell him you’ll have your secretary drive it over to his house. Or send it Fed Ex.

The next step is plus-one. Plus-one means you’re going to do something extra for the customer to make up for any inconvenience you caused. I’ll use Starbucks as an example. Occasionally, I’ll place an order and they get it wrong, or people are getting served in front of me who came in after me. So I’ll say to the guy behind the counter, “Is there some problem with my order?” He’ll say, “I’m very sorry sir” and right away makes me whole. He immediately makes me the drink that I ordered and then gives me a certificate for a free beverage the next time I come in. That’s the plus-one. Now instead of being mad at Starbucks, I’m happy that the guy made the mistake because I’m getting a free coffee next time.

Some people I’ve talked to have asked if they should deliberately screw something up? Research has shown that people who have had a problem with a company and had it resolved to their satisfaction are, in fact, more loyal than people who never had a problem.

This is very interesting because I think we all feel that in regard to our friends and acquaintances. When things are going well for us, everybody is friendly and all that kind of stuff. It’s when the shit hits the fan and something goes badly that you find out who your real friends are and who’s going to stick with you when times are tough.

So if you deal with a company and something goes wrong and they stick with you and do what’s right, you’re going to feel that much more bound to that company.

Victor:

You just made a Podcast exclusive.

Mark:

Now I’m going to hear from the FCC. I’ll just have to take my chances because you told me to be unbuttoned and go for it.

Victor:
If I was going to play psychologist, I would say that once I’ve forgiven you the expectation of perfection, then you forgive me the same. So the idea that you’ve screwed up and made it right means that I can possibly screw-up down the road and not suffer grave consequences. And the clients respect that.

I want to borrow a lesson I learned from Scott Williams, an estate planning attorney in Ohio. He talked about marketing to advisors, and putting on seminars for their benefit. He said he loved it when people asked him questions that he didn’t know the answers to. He was very comfortable saying he didn’t know the answers. Of course, he had his assistant at the seminar writing down those questions. He saw it as an opportunity.

By the end of the seminar, he had 10 questions he didn’t know the answers to. So now he had to find the answers to prove he was competent. At the same time, it gave him 1o opportunities to say “During our last seminar someone asked about this. I just want to let you know here’s the answer.”

Mark:

If it’s a single seminar, that’s the perfect opportunity for a follow-up with the person who asked the question. Normally, after I hold a seminar and meet someone, I’ll send him my newsletter, or invite him to lunch, or whatever. Now I’ve got a question I need to address in a letter, or during lunch, or whatever. I’ll say, “You asked me about this. I did the research. Here’s the answer.” That’s a great next step in a client relationship. It’s a real opportunity!

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