The idea that we should focus our marketing on real prospects is very basic, but most of us get this wrong at least some of the time. In fact, I believe that the most common mistake in IP marketing is wasting time (and money) chasing the wrong people.
We need to stop ‘spraying and praying’ and focus our energies on real prospects, and to do that, we need to get smarter at identifying potential prospects and distinguishing them from the great mass of potential clients.
Almost everywhere in the world, the practice of IP is now a mature and competitive field (even the “Chinese gold rush” has abated). As a result, the vast majority of consumers of IP services (clients – the people who hire us) already have an existing provider in our market. That means that the number of prospects at any given time is actually quite small.
The only real prospects are:
a) New entrants – people who do not have an incumbent provider and now have a need for IP services in your market; and
b) Disgruntled clients.
Who is a new entrant?
The answer depends on your market. In patents, it is often start-ups. In trademarks, it is often foreign firms looking to enter your domestic market. In litigation, sometimes a big new file is a reason for a client to look around, but smaller more routine litigation will usually stay with the incumbent provider. And every so often, a conflict forces a client to try new counsel.
Clients are loyal.
As for existing clients, only the very disgruntled are real prospects. Unless a client is really unhappy with their existing provider, it is not likely that they will change provider. Better the devil you know. For most clients, changing providers is risky, difficult and requires real effort to find a new provider, justify the change, and then effect it. Very few clients change providers on a whim. For most, only if they are really unhappy do they change from an existing provider. Put another way, it is understandable why clients can be quite loyal to a moderately competent provider even if that incumbent is neither great nor cheap.
Stop trying to meet everyone.
If you are in a competitive market where many of your competitors are competent and cost-competitive with your services, it makes no sense to expend a lot of energy trying to induce these clients to try your firm. Most of them will not even notice you. So the next time you are at INTA, remember – most people that you meet randomly are not real prospects – they already have a provider in your market and it is very unlikely that they are going to switch. And of course, this means you should probably not be hosting people at receptions who are not existing clients or real prospects.
Price does not cause disgruntled clients. Price magnifies unhappiness.
Small firms often over-estimate the importance of cost in trying to get clients to move from their incumbent provider. Value is very important for winning new mandates, but in terms of what actually motivates a client to look for a new provider, cost is rarely the reason. Very few good clients first think about changing providers because of money. In fact, if the service is decent, most clients rarely analyse what they are being charged, and will stay blissfully unaware of how much they could save with a more competitive provider. What is much more common is that a client becomes dissatisfied with the service that they are receiving; then, when they start to consider alternative providers they suddenly become much sensitive to the prices after years of ignoring them. If they then realize that they were being over-charged for this weak service, then for certain they will move: price has magnified unhappiness. Price and value then become very important considerations for the client when choosing a new provider, but service, not price, was what motivated the search in the first place.
Obviously, it is much easier said than done, but this means that for successful IP marketing, the first challenge is to focus on real prospects. To do this, we must find new entrants and existing clients disgruntled with the service they are receiving (not the price they are paying).