My partner Jay Harrington recently had a thoughtful post on LinkedIn that generated some interesting and insightful conversation, as well as some thoughts for my own consideration.

In the post, Jay discusses the importance of “selling a solution” as opposed to “selling a service,” and how that applies to lawyers building their practices, especially as it relates to marketing, branding, positioning, and even selling.

He begins: 

Your clients don’t want you.

They don’t want the service you provide.

What they want is what you and your service will do for them.

Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

Turning the Mirror Into the Window

Learning to talk about what we do and what we sell is a common stumbling block for attorneys who are looking to master the art of business development, marketing, networking and generating broader awareness for what they have to offer the world. And I find that the stumbling block usually arises from a simple matter of positioning—not “positioning” in the sense that we marketers typically mean (as in, your value proposition, your brand statement, and your marketing language), but rather who we’re positioning at the center of the conversation. 

People looking to buy any product or service—and certainly a sophisticated, high-stakes professional service such as legal services—almost always are thinking about themselves when they go looking for a solution and service provider. They are considering their own pain, their own apprehensions or ambitions, their own fears or greatest aspirations. 

But yet, too many marketers (lawyers among them) are also thinking of themselves first when they sit down to write marketing copy or bullet points for a sales pitch—when they should be thinking about the prospect out there looking for that solution to achieve their own ends. It is natural—but unwise!— to start with first-person product claims when developing messaging, pitches or marketing language. 

“I have this expertise….or these accomplishments, or this skill set, or this service offering.”

But the wise marketer or sales agent (a business development professional) will take that mirror that stands between herself and a prospect, and turn it into a window. 

What does this mean in practical terms?

Instead of reflecting on yourself, peer into the psychology and the buying motivators of your perfect client:

  • Speak to your ideal client’s motivating sense of “Why,” not a menu listing of the “Whats” you offer.

  • Sell the solution, not your service, as Jay points out. Paint a picture of what the future looks like when the client’s pain goes away or the hurdle is cleared.

  • Follow up your “Why” messaging by providing a sense of “How” — in other words, a glimpse into the benefit of working with you, including how you operate and deliver value differently from others in your space.

  • Frame most of your messaging in terms of client/prospect benefits, as opposed to the attorney’s “features.” There will be plenty of time to prove bona fides along the prospect’s “customer journey,” if this even comes up at all!

  • Start by identifying your ideal client’s metaphorical “quarter-inch hole” that Levitt describes as the client’s true desire, and demonstrate your empathy and deep understanding of that problem, pain, aspiration or vision. Do that well and the prospect will come looking for you, eventually poring through your “Whats” that you used to lead your messaging with. But by now, they will be convinced that you are the preferred solution and will have eliminated competitors from consideration. 

When you do all of that, you naturally speak to the client’s/prospect’s pain points, ambitions and buying motivators—and better messaging, positioning, prospecting, pitching and business development are the natural results.



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