A few years ago, I was asked the question, “What is relationship marketing, and where do you start when you want to build your business?”
Since we’re in a relationship business [spoiler alert], I’d hope that most lawyers reading this would be comfortable with the idea of engaging in relationship marketing, and how to translate that into business for your practice. But in case you’re not (or in case you want to put a more formal name to something you’re already doing in your practice), let’s talk about what it is, and how to use it.
Relationship marketing is using the tools at your disposal to build community, develop business, and engage in relationships that will ultimately strengthen your knowledge and practice. It’s essentially a more formal way of engaging in the “word-of-mouth” reputation building that you’re familiar with. But when we say “word-of-mouth,” we usually mean that you’re doing good work, and hoping that that’s sufficient enough that your clients will be happy with your work, and will then share that happiness with their other hiring colleagues and friends. That absolutely works, but why not be more strategic about it to ensure that you are developing new business?
In other words, why should lawyers care about relationship marketing?
Two key reasons – first, engaging strategically in relationship marketing helps you to identify trends and patterns with existing clients that will help you to serve them better and to keep them as clients, and second, it’s how you become more effective at developing business with potential clients.
To get started, listening is key, and there are many social (and other) tools to use to do this. Presuming that you’ve already identified who your target audience is, find out where they are and start listening. Some suggestions (not an exhaustive list):
- Trade publications
- Business journals
- Conferences (virtual and in-person)
- Client visits (unbilled)
You don’t have to use all of these tools to be effective – the key to strategic relationship marketing is first having an understanding of who your key audience or audiences are, and then where they hang out. Those are the places that you want to be, both to ultimately engage with them, but also to listen so that you can identify the things that they care about, are worried about, trends, the influencers, etc.
Then, you can begin to engage. I like to use content marketing and curation to do this, but you can adapt it in other ways. So, for example, you might work to build community by authoring a blog and sharing your posts online, by pulling a question out to share and engage with your audiences. You might want to meet certain people in your industry, so you’d use your podcast to invite them on as a guest, and potentially take that relationship offline. Share other content that you find valuable as well – not just your own – and make sure to engage with those that respond, as well as others in the industry.
When you are strategic about the way in which you develop and evaluate your word-of-mouth reputation, you’ll be much more effective in keeping your current clients happy and securing more work from them, as well as bringing on new clients.