I have a conference call in about three hours with a client who is a) an attorney who specializes in municipal finance; b) developed an innovative new vehicle for financing a certain kind of project. I am absolutely thrilled with this, and it points up a major point the professional services firms who are working on business development would do well to keep in mind: focus and sell what you can do, not what you can prevent. Describe the positive, the new, the potential.
This point was made very elegantly, albeit in a different context, by a post in the Harvard Business School Publishing blog written by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith. Goldsmith's piece, entitled "The Best Leadership Advice I Ever Got" contained the following piece of advice, given to him by his thesis advisor when Goldsmith was pursuing his Ph.D.
Then he delivered the advice I will never forget. "Marshall," he explained, "you are becoming a 'pain in the butt'. You are not helping the people who are supposed to be your clients. You are not helping me and you are not helping yourself. I am going to give you two options:
"Option A - Continue to be angry, negative and judgmental. If you chose this option, you will be fired, you probably will never graduate and you may have wasted the last four years of your life.
"Option B - Start having some fun. Keep trying to make a constructive difference, but do it in a way that is positive for you and the people around you.
"My advice is this: You are young. Life is short. Start having fun."
A variant of this is excellent advice for lawyers. Lawyers are naturally conservative and analytic by nature. We (yes, I'm one, too) tend to look for potential flaw, problems or trapdoors. Cconsequently, we often market ourselves to potential clients by talking about the potential for disaster that surrounds them, and how it can be avoided.
This is true, I guess, but not especially inspiring. What clients really want is for you to tell them what you will do. In sales, this is known as creating a buying vision. If you are selling cars, more than anything, you need to implant in the prospect's mind an image of how much fun and pure pleasure awaits him if he is driving around in the car. He has to begin imagining/picturing what it's like. That is why salespeople strive to take car buyers on test drives.
You obviously can't take a potential law client on a test drive, but you can describe for them what their world will be like if you represent them. Things will be handled smoothly, and well. They will have more time to work on other things. Cases will shrink from massive threats to minor irritations, and so on.
The point here is that branding your firm by what it can prevent, or the bad things you can keep from happening, isn't really too compelling. What is compelling is a rich, detailed mental picture of how great the prospective client's world will be with you in it.