What we need to sell
To sell IP, we need to sell trust.
As IP practitioners, obviously we “sell” intellectual property services. That is what clients ultimately buy from us: services related to patents, trademarks, copyrights and designs, whether it is related to acquisition of rights (drafting, filing and prosecuting), enforcement of rights and dispute resolution (litigation), or ownership (buying, selling and licensing IP).
But when it comes to business development, this far too simplistic.
Business development in IP is the process of selling trust – we pitch the client on why they should entrust something to us and we need to get the client to buy-in and trust us first before they hire us; if they do not trust us, they will certainly never engage us.
There are many other practitioners who provide similar services, and they are just a Google search away. One of the key reasons that clients stick with their existing providers so often is that it is easier to ‘trust the devil that they know’ than to gamble on an unknown. If you want to win more work, you have to overcome the fear and skepticism of the prospect and get them to buy-in to trusting you.
Client trust depends on 4 key components (which I call the four legs on the stool of client trust):
- Expertise. Can I trust you to have the expertise required to address my problem?
- Attention. Can I trust you to give my file the attention it requires?You may be an e xpert, but if you do not pay attention, your expertise does me no good. This is a surprisingly common problem in law, so make sure that in your business development you properly convey how you will ensure that the client gets proper attention.
- Timeliness. Can I trust that you get the work done on time? Ideally, you will deliver consistent with the reasonable deadline we have agreed on in advance and it will not be a last minute rush (see attention, above).
- Cost. Can I trust that your fees will be reasonable? Can I trust you to stick to the budget we agreed to? (Note the importance of cost certainty, especially for clients who have to report to many stakeholders and budgeting requirements. Nothing hurts a client relationship like billing surprises.)
(Note that part of being an expert is providing clear advice and recommendations that the client can understand, act on, and provide instructions in response to). By definition IP is fairly complex, so expertise is hugely important. Without expertise, a client will not trust you with their IP needs. But, there is more to sell to get them to trust you than just expertise – don’t make the mistake of assuming that expertise is all that you need to sell to establish trust.
The key challenge of new business development in IP is to successfully address all four of these questions, before you get hired.
Do not ignore the 4 components of client trust. Whether these questions actually come up or not for discussion or not with a prospect or existing client, and whether the client consciously averts to them or not, subconsciously these are always key issues of concern for prospective clients. If you want to win at business development, your job is to proactively address all 4 of them.
In the next posts, the indirect ways of establishing trust: content marketing and social proof.