February 01, 2017

How to Create Your 2017 Marketing Plan - Pillar 1

Retain and Grow Relationships with Clients and Referral Services

Terrie S. Wheeler

I hope you enjoyed my December article on How to Develop Your 2017 Marketing Plan. If you missed it, you can read it on the marketing website we developed JUST for readers of the ABA’s GPSolo e-Report. The website provides access to free marketing tools, tip sheets, templates, links to related articles, and access to free marketing “how to” webinars.

Key Takeaway: Visit our GPSolo eReport Marketing Resources Page for this article.

The Four Pillars of Marketing for Lawyers

As you might recall from the last article, the Four Pillars of Marketing should guide and direct every lawyer’s marketing efforts. As a refresher, the Four Pillars of Marketing include:

I. Retain and grow relationships with existing clients and contacts.

II. Develop new business.

III. Increase your name recognition and awareness.

IV. Pursue only targeted and Effective Communications.

This article focuses exclusively on Pillar I and will discuss how best to leverage and expand your current clients, contacts, and referral sources. So let’s get started!

Did you know that over 70% of next year’s business will likely come from existing client and referral source relationships? Specifically, we’ll dive into:

  • Your Uniqueness―Learn to identify what makes you unique as a lawyer.
  • Client Satisfaction―How to measure and improve client satisfaction; new technologies to conduct client satisfaction surveys.
  • Client Service―Much more important than most lawyers think.
  • Cross-Marketing―Are you fully serving the legal needs of your clients?
  • Referral Source Development―How to build these relationships and attract more.

Getting Started: Know What Makes You Unique

Successful marketing is all about relationships. To ensure you’re leveraging those relationships as effectively as possible, it’s important to identify and understand what makes you unique as a lawyer. What sets you apart from other attorneys who share the same practice area? If you can’t think of a response to this question in five seconds, it’s time for some serious consideration. What makes you unique is also what gives you authority in your practice area(s).

Imagine you’re in need of a life-saving medical operation and you’re vetting two potential surgeons. Surgeon #1, while highly-accomplished, focuses on general surgery and has completed over 20,000 operations throughout his career. On the other hand, Surgeon #2 (also highly-accomplished) has built her entire career around a few medical specialties and has conducted the exact surgery you need 5,000 times. Which do you choose? Surgeon #1 is clearly capable, but Surgeon #2 has unmatched expertise in the very area you need. We think it’s likely you would go for Surgeon #2.

The same concept applies to potential clients wading through a sea of capable attorneys. What makes you unique is the same trait that makes potential clients say, “Yes! I want to work with YOU.” It’s crucial that potential referral sources also understand this point of differentiation. If referral sources see you as the authority in your given practice area, they will be more likely to refer you!

Key Takeaway: Answer the following questions to help you determine your uniqueness:

  • Why do my clients hire me?
  • What type of feedback do I receive from satisfied clients?
  • What do I want my clients to say about me when they refer me?
  • What expertise do I have that most lawyers don’t?

Client Satisfaction: A Time for Reflection

Once you’ve determined what makes you unique, it’s time for a moment of reflection. So you can get clients through the door, but what is their experience once they’ve retained you? The ability to measure and enhance client satisfaction is one thing that separates the cream of the crop. An attorney who is willing to acknowledge their shortcomings and seek improvement is forward thinking. This shines through to potential clients and referral sources alike.

Luckily for you, monitoring client satisfaction has never been easier. In the age of digital communication, new technologies (such as online surveys, e-communications tools, and contact management programs) allow swift and comprehensive measurements of your clients’ satisfaction. One very tangible action item is to implement an end of matter or end of case survey. These surveys are designed for clients to provide honest feedback on their experience with you, your team, and your firm. Example questions could include:

  • How did you find our firm (Avvo, Google, Findlaw, website, personal referral)?
  • What services did we provide?
  • How responsive was our team to work with (extremely, very, fairly, not very, not at all)?
  • How well did we communicate and update you?
  • What did you value most about our work with you (Open ended—here you can also ask them to provide permission for you to use their response on your website if your state rules allow the use of testimonials)
  • Knowing what you know about our firm, would you refer us to others?
  • Based on this list of the firm’s services, please identify those you have used (this is extremely important for cross-marketing purposes. Keep reading!)

An important thing to note regarding these surveys: They are not only for satisfied clients. If you don’t get the outcome your client was hoping for, or your relationship becomes strained for some reason, it’s still important to ask for their feedback. Obviously, you should judge this on a situational basis, but keep in mind that diverse experiences with you and your firm will only help you.

Client Service: Control Your Perception

Every law firm I have worked with maintains on their websites they “provide exceptional service.” But what does this really mean? This is an area where you need to show them, not tell them you do.

One of the best ways you can differentiate yourself from other lawyers is to be responsive. When your client calls you, call them back the same day. Return emails the same day. If you’re out of the office or in court, change your away message on email and voicemail and let your clients know who can serve them in your absence.

Client service is also about taking responsibility for your practice and looking at the processes you have in place to support your practice and to manage your client’s expectations. If you have systems and processes in place, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. You should have processes in place―the “your firm” way of doing things like:

  • greet clients,
  • open new files,
  • manage referrals into and out of the firm,
  • work up a case or deal,
  • communicate with clients,
  • run staff meetings,
  • develop proposals for new business,
  • pursue your marketing plan,
  • measure client service,
  • use technology, and
  • collect accounts receivable.

You get the idea!

Cross Marketing: Don’t Sell Yourself Short

As you reflect on the satisfaction of your clients and ensure strong firm-wide client service practices are in place, you also need to make sure you are fully serving your clients and that they are aware of the breadth and depth of services you offer. For example, if you are working with a client on business issues, make sure your client also knows the firm can help with litigation if they are ever sued. If you do divorce work, at the end of the engagement, introduce your client to the person in your firm who does estate planning. Every divorced person needs a new estate plan!

Make sure everyone at your firm has a strong understanding of the services you provide, and how those services interact. Consider training associates and administrative staff on cross-marketing best practices. Even better? Apply the scientific method. Create a cross-marketing “grid.” List the firm’s best clients down the left side, and the firm’s services across the top. Select all of the services your clients have used and make sure they know about the others. If you do implement the end of case or matter survey referenced above, the last question will provide tremendous cross-marketing opportunities for you.

Referral Source Development: Be Good to Them

Referrals are the lifeblood of your practice. As a lawyer, you know the vast majority of your business comes from referrals from past clients, other lawyers, other professionals, the list goes on! I want you to take control of your referral source practices. When you open a new file, make sure you ask your client how they heard of you. When they give you a name, make sure you reach out to that person to thank them.

Find out what other professionals work with your client. If you are a business lawyer, you should also get to know your clients’ banker, CPA, consultants. You have a client in common. It’s likely you could develop a mutually beneficial relationship with these people.

Also, make sure you track the referrals you give to others. Lawyers have a bad reputation as wanting referrals, but not giving any. Go out of your way to refer great people to your best referral sources. We even recommend tracking both the referrals you receive AND the referrals you make.

If you represent consumers, your primary referral sources will be other professionals. As a family law attorney, it’s hard to efficiently market to the 50% of people who may get divorced. But, if you build relationships with CPAs or family therapists, you are far more likely to receive high quality referrals from colleagues who know you and can strongly recommend you to their clients. We call building referral relationships with individuals who have access and entrée to many prospective clients, the “one to many” strategy.

In Conclusion: Be Reflective and Opportunistic

There’s a reason the first Pillar of Marketing is about retention and growth of existing relationships. It’s because well over 80% of your new files and cases will come to you through people you already know. Step back and assess how well you are doing in the areas of client service, client satisfaction, cross-marketing, and nurturing your referral source relationships. Set some new priorities for 2017 to be more proactive in each of these areas. Generating more work from existing relationships is the best way to drive new revenue into your practice.

Call Me!

It’s one thing to read an article, and another to know exactly how it relates to your practice. We have also created an option for you to schedule a free, no-strings-attached telephone conference with me. Click Here to schedule a call.


Terrie S. Wheeler


Terrie S. Wheeler is the founder and president of Professional Services Marketing, LLC. She works with legal industry clients to help create low cost, high impact marketing plans, and to provide the motivation and support necessary to achieve results. She serves as vice-Chair of the MN Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board and teaches marketing and client service at two local law schools. Reach out to her at Terrie@psm-marketing.com.