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Establishing trust

March 9, 2016
Neil Milton

Indirect proof: content marketing and social proof. As much as you may want to ‘sell trust’, you cannot force people to trust you. You have to earn it. And, until they are a client, you can only demonstrate indirectly to them that you are worthy of trust.

While the focus here is on new prospects, don’t take clients for granted: make sure that you keep addressing the 4 trust questions with existing clients.

Most of your revenue in the next 12 months will come from people who are already clients. The number one priority, bar none, of business development is “make sure existing clients keep requesting more work”.

All clients have a choice of provider, and many of them already have multiple providers who provide similar services. To ensure that you maintain (and ideally grow) your share of your client’s requirements, you need to ensure that the work that you are delivering – and the manner that you deliver it – continues to address all 4 of the client trust questions. Do not take existing clients for granted, and in particular don’t assume that what you are doing for them addresses all four of the questions, and that it is clear to the client that you continue to answer all four of the questions (doing great work, and being seen to do great work are two different things). Make sure that you are providing demonstrative proof for your clients that continually answers the four questions.

Content Marketing

Answering the four questions for folks who are prospective clients requires some effort and creativity. Clearly, you cannot provide demonstrative proof because they are not yet a client.

As a result, we need to rely on indirect proof to establish the level of trust necessary to get an engagement. Indirect proof rests on two things: content marketing and social proof.

Content marketing is simply marketing that is premised upon providing useful information (“content”) to prospects for free.

The tried and true approach of writing papers and giving talks is a classic example of content marketing. However, it is important to remember that delivering papers and giving talks to other attorneys is just one form of content marketing and it is distributed through only one distribution channel to one [narrow] set of potential referral sources.

For best results:

  • Segment your potential audience.  Communicate clearly to each segment in language appropriate for them.  Different audiences want different information at different levels of sophistication.  Domestic clients need different information from foreign associates.  I am amazed at how few IP firms have implemented basic marketing segmentation. If you have more than one type of client, you likely need more than one type of newsletter. This is very basic, very important, and far too often ignored.
  • Expertise is more than just knowing the law. Always avoid jargon and be as clear as possible. Part of expertise is clear, effective communication. Make sure that your marketing materials demonstrate this form of expertise.
  • There is more to trust than just expertise. There are four client trust questions. Make sure that your content marketing addresses all four of them. Far too many IP practitioners focus on proving their expertise, and forget entirely about providing answers about attention, timelines and cost.
  • Use different modes of communication.  Different folks consume information differently – even the same people consume information differently at different times.  Accordingly, you should use a full range of communication methods: text, video, webinars, in-person presentations. Similarly, use different channels. If you give a presentation to a Bar association, give it again as a webinar and online video, and make the paper available online. Not everyone what wants to know about a subject can or will attend the Bar association meeting that you talked at, and if you went to all of the trouble of preparing a good paper you should make it available as broadly as possible.
  • Communicate frequently in small bites. People are busy and attention spans are short. Content marketing is about informing (and entertaining) the reader, not vanity publication for lawyers. If people don’t read your newsletter, it is not working.
  • Make your marketing entertaining if you possibly can. While it is important to be professional and accurate, entertaining is always better than boring.
  • Provide genuinely useful information.  Do not make it a sales pitch.

A lot of lawyers have the mis-guided notion that if they give away information for free that they are shooting themselves in the foot. That is wrong-headed.  In the law business, there is no point trying to be a gate-keeper for information. The web has been a game changer for content marketing in that it makes it possible to provide massive amounts of valuable content for free to any and all without any additional cost to the provider of the information.  Prospects can review your content online 24/7 when they want the information.  Good prospects (people who want advice and are willing to pay for it) will then get in touch with you to engage you. Bad prospects (people who want everything for free) did not cost you anything.

Social proof.

The other crucial form of indirect proof is social proof. People make many important trust decisions by looking at what other people have done or said. If prospects are unable to determine whether to trust you based on direct evidence (as they have not yet seen your work in action), they decide whether to hire you based on what other people say about working with you. In the IP business, there are two crucial sources of social proof:

  • Existing clients. Prospects gain social proof from your existing clients in the form of testimonials or referrals, and sometimes just by virtue of the fact that it is a matter of public record who you act for. “If they are good enough for [Recognizable Client], then they are good enough for us”. In the IP business, this can be very effective.
  • Referrals from non-clients.  Prospects can gain social proof that they should entrust work to you from other people in their network of trust. However, a key aspect of these referrals is that the referring party likely has not direct experience as a client of yours. Referrals from other attorneys who are not IP practitioners, and all sorts of other professionals are often of this type. Referrals from non-clients are particularly important in the IP business.

There are some things that you can do to improve the chances of your prospects receiving compelling social proof.

First, make it easy for prospects to find your social proof. Do not hide it. Make sure that they can find out more about your existing clients and places whether their referral network may overlap with yours. If you have testimonials, share them. If you have proof of your expertise, share it.

Second, make it compelling. Make sure that your social proof addresses all four of the key trust questions. It is very important to address the issue of expertise, but do not stop there – make sure that your social proof also addresses the other three questions.

Third, pay attention to the referral network. First, you need to grow it. It seems simple, but obviously you cannot get referrals from people who are not aware of you.  And, you need to be top of mind when the prospect asks them, so frequent communication is very important.  Second, you need to prove to the referral source why they should trust you.  How can they be confident the you deserve their trust? If a referral source is referring a client of theirs to you, they are entrusting you with one of their most valuable assets.  If the prospective client has 4 trust questions, the referral source indirectly has all four of the same concerns, magnified.  Once again, we come back to trust, but in this case it is selling trust not to prospects directly but to referral source. Make sure that you make it possible for your people who might refer work to you to gain comfort around each of the four client trust questions. Referral sources clearly need to know that you are an expert, and beyond that, you can help yourself by helping them be comfortable on the issues of attention, timelines and budget.

For both proving trust and staying top of mind for possible referral sources, “givers gain“: one of the most effective things that you can do is to do useful things for people in your referral network.  In particular, it is extremely important to give them useful information that they can use (back to content marketing, but with a twist).  Also, ideally, help them with their marketing and outreach challenges – not yours, theirs. Simply saying to people, “I am a patent attorney, please send me work” is not nearly as effective as saying “I am a patent attorney. Maybe I can help you with your marketing.”

And this is where Intellectual Property Law For Dummies comes in – it is a truly excellent tool for helping your referral network.  More in the next post.

Neil