Kyle and I just returned from our tenth year as exhibitors as the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning in Miami Beach. Hard to believe that ten years have flown by since we first introduced the Pocket Watch newsletter at the 1996 Heckerling. During that time period, we have made many wonderful, dear friends -- both clients and fellow service providers. It's always fun to catch-up with good friends like Jane Schuck of Brentmark Software, Jonathan Blattmachr, Mike Graham, Trish McLelland and Nicole Splitter from InteraActive Legal Systems (Wealth Transfer Planning) -- and so many others.
It's also curious to note how many people change companies, how many companies "morph" into something new ... and how many disappear altogether. We certainly have a sense of pride, knowing that we have been serving clients (many of the same clients!) for more than ten years -- with affordable, effective marketing services and products. We are blessed and pleased with the number of clients who take time to stop by our booth to visit -- and thank us for the good service they have received through the years. Our clients are certainly our best sales people "on the floor." And that is fun!
Every year, though, we are amused by the latest "huckster" who comes to our booth touting some sure-fire marketing "scheme" guaranteed to generate phenomenal profits ... which he just happens to also be selling at a phenomenal price. This year was no different.
One gentleman came to our booth, reviewed our sales materials and declared that we were woefully under-priced. Our Five Days to Profitable Referrals program, which we sell for $695, he said should be priced no less than $3,000. Our online courses should be at least $1,500 each. He rather quickly went through each of our product and service offerings, smirking at our hapless bargain pricing. [Now, if you know me at all you know that he was starting to get my dander up just a bit as he suggested that perhaps we did not know what we were doing in terms of pricing. ]
He leaned over on our counter and said, "Don't you value yourselves enough to charge more?" And, of course, I laughed. How many times have you -- as an estate planning attorney -- heard that same line from a seminar speaker? You know the ones who tell you to adopt their system and raise your prices tenfold (primarily so you can afford to pay them for their so-called service)? They look you right in the eye with fake-pity and say, "Don't you value yourself enough to charge more?"
When someone says that to you, my first suggestion is to keep close track of your wallet. In fact, that might be a really good moment to drop your own hand into your pocket -- thus blocking theirs!
There are two important marketing lessons this gentleman seems never to have learned.
The first is a little thing called Lifetime Value. If I'd had a chance, I'd have explained to this gentleman that most clients stay with us for many many years, even without contractual obligations; and that a very high percentage of our clients purchase across product class, e.g., they will purchase newsletters AND websites AND workshops, marketing campaigns, consulting, and online education. We believe in long-term relationships, and in growing those relationships over time by striving to exceed our clients' expectations. Most importantly, as I provide value and help my clients build profitable practices, I am actually growing my own client base. I consider myself to be in partnership with my clients. And that has been a good consideration, as many of our clients have been onboard with us for nearly a decade -- with no signs of leaving. I could not estimate the Lifetime Value of a client, because frankly I don't know yet how long the average Lifetime is for our clients. So far, most of them just come and stay. I like that. We did lose one client last year. He died. And it felt like losing a favorite uncle. But while he was with us, not only did he purchase a wide variety of products and services -- but he also referred many new clients to us and made numerous key introductions for us. All of this is part of the Lifetime Value of a client -- not just the initial purchase, but the ongoing relationship that results in a prosperous, happy, satisfied client who comes back for more products as his practice grows ... refers his colleagues ... and enjoys making key introductions that could help make MY business more profitable as well.
If you are concerned about the long-term profitability of your practice, don't focus exclusively on your fee structure. While it is part of the mix, it is only one part. Focus on meeting client needs, exceeding their expectations, and capturing their Lifetime Value. This is a fair -- and sustainable -- way to boost the VALUE of a new client without excessively raising fees (and potentially pricing yourself out of an otherwise lucrative market).
The second marketing lesson this gentleman never learned?
It's really very simple. The best way to "sell" is to not to sell at all -- but to meet needs. You can't meet needs you know nothing about. And you can't learn about your clients' needs without LISTENING. And you can't LISTEN if you don't SHUT UP!
The truth is that I do have marketing needs (yes, even the marketing person has marketing needs!) -- but this fellow has no idea what they are. He had a product to sell, and somehow thought the best way to do that was to convince me that I was stupid, e.g., did not know how to price my own products and services.
Be careful in those initial consultations. Your clients have needs. LISTEN to them. They may not know the exact legal terms, but they have a pretty good "feel" for their own needs. And if they don't, asking the right questions can help them discover their needs. But if, in that process, you make them feel stupid -- you will NEVER have the opportunity to help them. Nobody wants to be around someone -- let alone PAY someone -- who makes them feel stupid.