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Attorney Marketing and the Bandwagon Effect

Expanding your client base may depend on how you answer people who ask, "How's it going?"

This article was published in the October 2006 issue of AZ CPA magazine

As a professional, you may view the process of attracting new clients in the much the same way that most people think about hanging wallpaper: it’s messy (and thus anathema to fussy, fastidious professionals); it almost never turns out the way you intended; if you have to do it, do it by yourself; and if you can avoid it entirely, so much the better.

In response, I would argue that, at least in my experience, hanging wallpaper is a lot worse than prospecting. In my sporadic and clumsy attempts to get new clients, I have never lacerated an index finger, fallen from a ladder, had my wife appear at a critical moment to ask how it’s going, or, in the space of a single afternoon, undone two year’s worth of residential real estate appreciation.

But I digress.

Let’s go back to the part about “do it by yourself.” If you assume that the growth of your practice depends solely on your activity and efforts – going to receptions where you have to talk to strangers, having lunch with potential referral sources, and so on – it’s little wonder that busying yourself with mindless work for useless clients keeps your marketing plans relegated to the trash heap of good intentions.

To free yourself of that lone ranger mentality and to remove the yoke of having to initiate all of your marketing opportunities, consider that, nearly every day, opportunities to grow your practice are laid squarely at your feet by friends, clients and other acquaintances who ask the simple question, “How’s it going?” (which, depending on your age and socioeconomic profile, may be rephrased as “how are you,” “how’s business,” “are you keeping busy,” or “’tsup”).

If you whiff on that question — e.g., “fine,” “good,” “hangin’ in there,” “if I don’t find some decent help, and I mean soon, I don’t know what I’m going to do” – not much good is going to come out of the exchange. But consistently answer it effectively, in a positive, compelling way, and you’ll be on a straight road to the Promised Land.

Here are three scenarios that illustrate how you can create a bandwagon effect that can prove alluring to your best potential referral sources.

Scenario One: A Compelling Present

At a dinner party a few years back, I sat at a table with a fraternity brother whom I had not seen in a while. Tony is one of the best and most connected guys I know, and he has always been generous, albeit discerning, in sharing his precious connections to help people get ahead. While we were in the catching-up-with-each-other phase of our conversation, he asked, in a moderately interested tone, “So how are things going?”

Allow me to break away from my tale for just a moment to point out that questions like Tony’s represent a critical moment in such exchanges, and how we respond sets the tone for everything that follows. “How are things going?” is a socially obligatory question, often asked in lieu of something more original and without a care as to the answer. A one-word reply, even a positive one — “good,” “great,” “awesome” — doesn’t give the other person much to sink his teeth into and generally serves to put the brakes to what could be a very productive conversation, causing your discussion to careen off in another, less rewarding, direction.

Now back to Tony.

Believe me, I did not have a mercenary motive for how I answered his “how’s it going” question. I wasn’t wearing my marketing hat at that moment, nor was I looking at Tony as a referral source. But it just so happened that, earlier that day, I had reviewed my income statement for the just-completed quarter and, thanks to the Almighty’s providence, it had looked really good.

So instead of giving Tony my usual monosyllabic reply, I said, “Tony, I've been in business since 1993, and last year was my best year ever, last quarter was my best quarter ever, and last month was my best month ever.” Tony’s posture and the way he looked at me seemed to change a little bit. After a brief pause, he asked if I knew a certain attorney. I told him that I knew of him but had never met him. Tony told me a few things about the attorney and where he wanted to take his practice and suggested that I give him a call. I did, the attorney returned my call (I suspect that Tony played a role in that), and the story had a happy ending.

The happy ending had little to do with me or my marketing prowess, such as it is. It had a heck of a lot to do with an innocent experience that taught me a lot, i.e., that a positive, compelling description of your present and recent past, told with some measure of enthusiasm, creates a bandwagon onto which potential referral sources can climb – if they believe you’re headed in the right direction.

Scenario Two: A Compelling Future

Another way in which to involve other people in your marketing efforts is to respond to their “how’s it going?” question with a compelling account not of the present, but of your future.

Here’s how one of my clients, David, enticed some of his best clients to help him achieve his practice growth objectives. It’s an approach that rests on the “birds of a feather” theory that holds that people tend to associate with people who are a lot like them. Over a period of a few weeks, he scheduled lunches with six or seven of his favorite and most successful clients. When they asked how he was doing, David responded with something like this: “Things are going great. In fact, I’m coming off of one of my best years ever. My practice grew by 17%, and I’m going to use that momentum to grow it by 25% this year.” He then went on to describe what he was going to do with the extra income his practice growth would generate – buying a place in Park City, sending his son to Stanford, making a big contribution to the church’s building fund, and so on.

David told me that, more often than not, before he ran out of impressive things he was going to do with the money, his clients would interrupt him to ask, “How are you going to do that?” David’s response: “I’m going to target prospects that have these characteristics.”

He would then start describing his ideal client – by age, industry, income level, ambition, character, personality, shoe size – until his client would again interrupt him, this time to say, “Well, you should talk to …”, and then he would give David a name or two. (What made it easy for the client to think of someone was that David’s description of his ideal prospect sounded an awful lot like that lunch guest – similar age, income level, ambition, character, personality – and his lunch guest’s best friends.) To which David would reply, “Great, I’d love to meet him. You set up the lunch, and I’ll buy.”

Now, this scenario required some (but not much) practice and orchestration on David’s part, but it was well worth the effort, as this “cloning” of his best clients actually caused his practice to grow by more than 25% that year and again the following year. The keys to making it work:

  • a compelling vision for the future,

  • a plan to turn the vision into reality,

  • a standard for attracting referrals only from his most valued clients, and

  • the tendency for people, when given a list of personal qualities, to automatically search their mental database for acquaintances who have those qualities and then to blurt out their names.

Scenario Three: The Will to Ask for Help

In his excellent book, Winning With People, John Maxwell writes about the powerful properties of telling people that you need them. That didn’t expressly come up in either Scenario One or Two, but it easily could have, with equally satisfying results.

If Tony hadn’t recommended that I call his attorney friend, I could have told Tony that I wanted to keep my growth curve alive, that doing so would probably require more than my meager abilities would produce, and that I needed his help in achieving my goals. Being the kind of person Tony is, he would have agreed to help.

If David’s client hadn’t asked, “How are you going to do that?”, David could easily have said, “I’ve never achieved that kind of growth before, and I can’t do it on my own. I need your help. The people I want to attract to my practice” – begin the recitation of that client’s personal qualities – “are ambitious, own growing companies, are in their thirties and forties, live at Troon, drive cars that cost more than most people’s houses” and so on. Names are soon to follow.


In another of his books, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell asserts that “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.” That law applies to building your practice. You can try to go it alone, looking to your own efforts to achieve 100% of your practice growth. Or you can share, with the best people you know, your current success and your vision for future achievement.

Unlike hanging wallpaper, involving others in your marketing efforts works better every time.

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