As an estate-planning professional, how do you package your services so that your clients can identify the uniquely valuable client experience that you and your firm offer?
I wrote in an earlier column that since the development of the microchip and with it the Internet, our clients view the wills, trusts and legal documents we prepare as a commodity. They can’t tell the difference between our wills and trusts against what might be downloaded off a legal document preparation website.
You know and I know that our documents are superior. But our clients don’t. In fact, that’s not what our clients are after. To them the documents are nothing but legal gibberish, and hence a commodity that can be prepared by a computer as well as by a professional.
You Can’t Buy Wisdom from the Internet
What our clients really value from us is our wisdom. You can’t buy wisdom from the Internet. So this begs the question—how do we package something as intangible as our wisdom? That’s the subject of today’s column.
Too often estate attorneys think of the end product—the trust—as what our clients acquire from us. If the trust is the commodity, what exactly are they purchasing? Should we focus our marketing efforts on what is perceived, right or wrongly, as a commodity?
As Simon Sinek would say, what this speaks to is the “why.” Why is any particular client sitting across the conference room table from me? What direction can I provide that gives my client confidence and clarity?
Process Provides Confidence and Clarity
It’s really all about a process isn’t it? The process begins with the initial consultation, progresses to a discussion regarding the client’s goals, culminating in the preparation of the legal documents, ultimately leading to the implementation of the plan through a funding process. Doesn’t that sound logical?
Your wisdom is a crucial element of this process, particularly in the initial discovery phases where you first analyze your client’s current situation, and make recommendations that will lead to the goals articulated during the initial meeting. Obviously to do a great job you must be an active listener. Bernard Baruch once said, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
Packaging Your Process
Packaging your process is the key here. If the client understands that one key element of the process is that she’ll be able to express her goals and concerns, and that those conversations will result in a successful estate plan, then you have successfully sold your wisdom.
It’s important that the client know going into the process what steps that process consists of. Brochures and websites detailing graphical elements explaining the process, along with brief descriptions of each stage helps. This way, you can point to each step of the process and explain how the client will receive real value as she progresses through it to the end.
While most estate planning attorneys arguably take similar steps when creating any client estate plan, actually documenting the process is uncommon. Most estate attorneys don’t even realize that they have a process, much less have packaged and sold it.
Front Stage/Back Stage
It’s fine to have brochures and websites that tout your front stage process, but the whole thing falls apart if you haven’t mapped out back stage processes that support the promises you make to your clients. In fact, I suggest that once you’ve mapped out the beginnings of what you want your front stage to look like, you spend more time designing all of the elements that must occur in your back stage to make the front stage experience first-rate.
This is more difficult than it sounds. Consider, for example, the initial client contact. Who takes that call? What information do you gather? What materials are forwarded to the client? Do you require the client to bring anything to your office prior to the meeting so that you can be prepared and hit the ground running? How much of your value do you “give away” and how is that value delivered?
These are all important questions to consider—and that’s just for the first step in your process. Each stage of your process needs to be mapped out. Who does what and when does it happen? How the elements of your process are delivered makes up the “packaging” of your legal services.
Once you have the back stage elements mapped out, then you can properly name and package your front stage.
I believe that you can’t properly package and brand yourself without the services of a great marketing team. Yes, the best marketing firms are expensive. But consider this—have you ever attended a seminar where the materials consist solely of badly Xeroxed documents and forms? What impression did that make?
When you engage the services of a professional marketing firm, you can create an image that highlights your skills and professionalism. You want your website, brochures and even handouts to look as if they’re part of a common theme. When the marketing team puts together a consistent package of colors, graphics and fonts, you shine.
How Do You Get the Word Out?
Once you’ve created your front and back stages, how do you get the word out? Advertising in newspapers can be expensive, and so is the creation and broadcasting of television ads.
But with the Internet you have a lot of reasonably priced opportunities available. And don’t forget your centers of influence—as well as your own client base.