While walking through one of the largest antique shows in the country, I was struck by the parallels between selling antiques and law firm business development. One would initially think there are no similarities, but it was quite the contrary. As I walked past old furniture and delicate glassware, I could not help but absorb all of the lessons about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to developing relationships and building clientele.
First, is the importance of Branding. For example, a signed piece becomes its own brand and often garners a much higher price than a piece with no signature, or brand. In this case, the signature validates the piece’s authenticity and substantiates its quality. Buyers will pay more for a piece that they know is genuine.
This applies to women in law as well. The signature, or brand of a firm equates to quality. When prospects hear your firm name or see your logo, the visual representation of your brand’s substantive aspects, you want them to associate it with trust, reliability, and consistency. If you establish a solid brand, clients know that your promise to deliver is solid. Because your branded firm creates familiarity, it gives you an edge over the unknown.
The financial component behind branding is the “brand equity.” This is the difference between the price of the branded product or service and that of an equivalent generic or another brand. This brand equity is a premium that an attorney can command because their clients know they can deliver.
The second law firm marketing lesson I took from the antique show was regarding Credibility. At the show, my colleague and I had a discussion about a particular dealer’s prices, which were higher than those of the others. She thought his prices were too high. I spent time talking with the dealer. He knew a great deal about the pieces. Previously I had been to his showroom and seen his extensive and well-thumbed library. Knowing that he was an expert and was doing his homework made me comfortable with his prices, despite being higher than others. This is because credibility contributes to your brand and your brand equity.
Lawyers enhance and reinforce their credibility through their expert position in the media, and via speaking. When you are quoted in the media or have an article published, you confer yourself credibility because a third party acknowledges you as an expert. Experts, whether in the antique world or the legal one, are sought out and encounter less resistance to higher fees.
The show also brought to mind the importance of Sharing Your Knowledge as a critical business development vehicle. Your expertise is your product, and you market it by educating others. When the dealer I mentioned earlier shared his knowledge with me, it made me a believer. I felt like I could trust him and his products more. The vendors that shared their knowledge stood out, attracted more buyers and drew a higher price for their pieces.
As a marketer, I get The Value from Working the Floor. From an attendee perspective, when I go to shows such as this, I work the show by engaging dealers in conversation in their own business and marketing: How has the show been for them; how has the market been, what’s selling, and other topics. I glean so much information about market trends and competition, such as what is in demand on the west coast versus the east coast. (Women wear brooches in the east, but it’s hard to give them away out here.) Dealers may not offer this information without prompting, but if I engage them, they are glad to have a chance to share it. Consider this technique when you attend any professional show. The interactions add to the value and depth of the experience.
One could say that it’s even more important to work the floor when you are the seller – true for both estate dealers in a booth or lawyers exhibiting at an industry conference. Sellers must be approachable, warm and welcoming. The dealers who attracted the most customers were those who said hello, greeted customers, smiled and welcomed even just those walking by. There were others who did not say a word, but made it very clear that we should not approach unless we intended buying.
A key component to gaining new clients and keeping old ones is focusing on Relationships. The sellers who I remember from the show are the ones who were respectful and patient whether they made a sale or not. They took their time and shared their knowledge. Because of this, I would buy from them in the future.
How the booths were organized made some magnetic and some blend in. This is because Merchandising Matters. Professionals merchandise themselves and their firms through personal impression, as well as through their marketing materials, such as their business cards and website. It’s vital to pay close attention to merchandising yourself and your firm in a way that conveys professionalism and makes you stand out.
Finally, what I gleaned from my stroll through history straightforwardly translates to law firm business development: when you establish your expertise in an inviting manner, people remember you. This creates a reputation that draws people in and keeps clients coming back.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Corp., a marketing and public relations firm, which specializes in working with law firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.