Over the past two months, the world as we knew it has changed dramatically. But two things haven’t; successful marketing and business development is focused on relationship building and earning the role of trusted advisor to your clients. It’s human nature to prefer to do business with those you know and trust. And the best way to develop and maintain trust is through human contact. So, while we’re all scrambling to produce COVID-19 memos and special web pages, we run the risk of forgetting the best marketing tool we have, namely our ability to listen.
What does that mean in practice? Four things.
- Pick up the phone. Talking to your clients on a regular basis should always be a priority. No open matter to discuss? Don’t let that stand in your way. If there were ever a time to reach out to just check in to ask if people are safe and healthy, this is it. Everyone is busy now, especially clients. You need to judge whether you should just call or whether it would be better to send an e-mail or a LinkedIn message and ask if you can set up a call for a mutually agreeable time. The latter is more polite, but it also can be an excuse for socially-awkward lawyers who are afraid that they won’t know what to say should the client actually answer the phone on the second ring. Tell them to start by asking, ‘How’re you doing?’ In these times of working from home, swallowing unhealthy doses of anxiety, and juggling homeschooling and other family stresses, it won’t take much to get a conversation going.
- Listen to your clients. During the call, implement the 80/20 rule – listening 80% of the time. To be a trusted advisor you need to provide business solutions to your clients. During the call, if you can, ask about their business as a whole, how they see their company weathering the economic slowdown, have their responsibilities changed, how they are adjusting to working from home. But maybe the call will take a different path: maybe your client needs a break from the daily tsunami of issues coming at them and just wants to vent about their situation. If that’s the case, just listen. Don’t try to tell them how to manage their lives, just listen. As the situation warrants, share your own fears and pressures. And at the end, set a time to talk again. Clients, like other consumers, will remember those who took the time to reach out to them on a human level.
- Communicate with meaningful, practical advice and information. During this crisis, clients will be looking for confirmation of their own interpretations of new regulations and how they affect their companies. Be the source of relevant information and clients will look to you as a trusted resource and they will find you when they need your services. Most firms are producing COVID-related client alerts covering the new regulations and government relief programs available. Considering the investment in time and effort, the most important thing is to make sure to provide these communications to your clients in the manner they prefer them. Many clients like receiving these alerts via email, while others may consider them spam. By talking to your client directly (see #1 above) you can find out what information they are looking for and how they prefer to receive it, so you can improve both the content and the delivery. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with firm-wide memos on new regulations. You just have to take the next step of interpreting those broad pronouncements into specific, concrete interpretations and roadmaps for your individual clients.
- Be empathetic. In this new normal, solutions come in many forms. Your clients may need professional advice or, more likely, they may be facing other challenges in their new work from home environment. You may find yourself advising them on how to set up Zoom meetings securely or empathizing with those who are suddenly also teachers for their quarantined children. At the end of the day, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Engaging your clients in sincere conversation and providing meaningful, practical advice are relationship building tools that will pay dividends in the future.