In my career as a general counsel, I’ve been asked to put together many, many panel discussions on more or less the same topic. I’ll call it: How Law Firms “Blow It” When Marketing to the General Counsel.
I suppose these speaking requests mean I’ve developed a reputation as a crank. So be it. When it comes to law firms trying to get business from my fellow GCs and me, the mistakes we’ve seen are glaring. The good news? Many are easy to fix.
In this series of blog posts, “From the Client’s Chair,” I’ll discuss some of the mistakes firms make when trying to win a client’s business.
The overarching theme of this series– that is, the thing that all of these mistakes have in common – is this: Law firms need to realize that a marketing pitch is not about them; rather, it’s about the client.
So, let’s get started:
Reason #1 for not winning my business: You didn’t do your background research
Most firms think a marketing pitch is simply “show and tell.” They trot out some partners and proceed to tell the prospective client all about the great capabilities their firm has to offer. What they don’t demonstrate is any understanding of the client’s business.
GCs are immersed in their company’s business side. They’re expected to understand its industry, supply chain, go-to-market strategy, profitability levers, S.W.O.T. analyses and on and on….
We want to hire outside advisers who also understand our company’s business: We’ll get better advice from them.
Legal issues don’t exist in a vacuum. They arise in the course of a company trying to accomplish something else. If, as an outside lawyer, you don’t have a firm grasp of what that “something else” is, your ability to advise my company is limited.
So, in the context of a sales pitch, you need to show me that you understand my company’s industry, its business and the “real world” issues it faces.
Developing this holistic business understanding is not just for “business” lawyers. It’s just as important for outside lawyers in a specialty field, such as employment. If you haven’t researched my company and its industry, how are you going to know, for instance, that half of our workforce is based in India — a fact which creates all sorts of employment issues (immigration visas, invalid noncompetes, separate benefits, etc.)? If you walk into your sales pitch armed with this knowledge, you’ll put yourself at the front of the pack of contenders.
So how to learn all of this? Before making a marketing pitch, do the following:
1. Read the company’s website
A company’s website is a mixture of factual information and marketing hype. Read it thoroughly. Don’t skip the “products” tab aimed at customers. You need to understand how the company makes its money. Don’t skip the hype either. It will tell you how the company is trying to position itself against its competition.
2. Search the company on Google and LinkedIn
Age no longer cuts it as an excuse for being “internet ignorant.” Learn to exploit this amazing fount of information. At minimum, you need to become a savvy searcher on both Google and LinkedIn.
3. Set Google Alerts
What could be better than having breaking news about your target client “pushed” to you? If you set up a Google Alert on the company, you’ll get up-to-the-minute news of its exploits.
You need to understand the industry your client’s company is in: By doing so, you’ll learn about both the constraints and the competition facing the company –- in other words, the stuff that keeps its CEO (and, as a result, its GC) up at night.
Good sources for industry information include The Wall Street Journal, business magazines/e-zines like Fortune and Forbes and trade publications devoted to the client’s particular industry.
If your target client is publicly traded, you’ve hit the information jackpot. In addition to the above research, do the following:
5. Read the company’s SEC filings.
Read the latest 10-K and 10-Qs filed since then, the latest proxy statement and any other recent SEC filings that relate to major company events.
The company’s own website should contain links to these filings, usually found under a section called something like “Investors.” If not, look up the company on http://www.sec.gov .
The front section of the 10-K is especially important: It will give you one of the most comprehensive summaries of the company’s business available.
6. Listen to the company’s latest earnings call
A replay of the call should be available on the company’s website (again, under the section called something like “Investors”). Some companies only post these replays for a short time (two weeks is common), so if you can’t locate it, plan to listen to the next quarter’s call.
The most important part of these calls is the Q&A session at the end: That’s when analysts following the company get to ask the CEO and CFO questions. Pay attention to those questions, because they tend to focus on the company’s vulnerabilities (i.e., those “keep-you-up-at-night” issues).
7. Track the company on Yahoo! Finance
Yahoo! Finance includes not only a company’s stock price information, but also a collection of the company’s press releases and articles by self-appointed financial gurus about the company’s financial health.
Doing all of this may seem daunting, at first. It is. But it’s also stimulating: Understanding the context in which you’re giving your client legal advice will connect you to a bigger business purpose and let you appreciate the “real world” impact of your advice.
Tree, welcome to the forest.