Marketing is not a dirty word

Posted by Dave Seager, consulting adviser to Legal Futures Associate SIFA Professional

Seager: Financial advisers have already been through the process

Having worked closely, if indirectly, with the legal profession since the noughties, I have often felt that solicitors deemed ‘marketing’ somewhat of a dirty word. A word perhaps considered by the profession to be more linked to the other mistrusted expression, ‘salesy’.

In fact, before the retail distribution review enhanced the professionalism of my own industry and the Legal Services Act opened up legal services to new entrants and competition, solicitors probably saw marketing as the sort of unsavoury thing financial advisers might do!

I hope both the financial and legal advice professions are in a different place today, but I would also contend that law firms could learn a considerable amount from their financial planning colleagues.

First, however, I think it might be worth considering just why the legal profession had been averse to overt marketing for so long.

Of course, there was a ban on advertising for a long time, but the origins may just be lie in the inherent belief that professionals such as lawyers, accountants or even doctors should not need to advertise their services – clients come to us.

Alternatively, the suspicion of marketing might lie in how it was considered or described. Take the Oxford English Dictionary definition for example and you might understand the reticence of solicitors to get involved: “Marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services. including market research and advertising.”

For a highly qualified profession, operating in a closed shop environment who would consider legal advice as their specialism, you can appreciate why “promoting or selling products or services” might seem a tad sordid, inappropriate or even just an unnecessary expense.

These days, solicitors are not operating in such a closeted market, competing only with other solicitors, so a revaluation has of course, taken place.

From my perspective, having many years advising quality financial planners how to market their firms as referral partners to solicitors, the Oxford definition is not only dated but inaccurate. Perhaps the following might resonate far more: “In the 2020s, marketing must be the art and strategy of educating prospective clients on how your services can help them.”

Is this not the whole essence and thinking behind the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s transparency initiative?

Transparency is designed to encourage effective explanation in plain language of your core services, who will deliver them, and how much they might cost. Is that any different from educating prospective clients on how your services might help them – that is, marketing?

This clarity and opportunity to promote your firm and your lawyers’ professionalism and quality should be grasped. Your website is the main shop window for this subtle marketing.

We all know that an increasing number of customers, in need of legal advice services are comfortable beginning the research online. In short, your future potential clients NEED you to market to them.

Marketing in 2022 is not a dirty, salesy practice; it is an essential feature of business practice.

Perhaps more important even than marketing for new clients, however, is improving how your firm markets to customers, perhaps clients, who have bought services from your firm, or perhaps from an individual solicitor within the firm, before.

In so doing, it is also still fine and indeed, appropriate to remember that your old belief that customers do not want to be sold to is almost certainly a correct one. They do, however, wish to learn which services they may need and wish to buy. The difference is subtle but, when dealing in professional advice, it is an important one.

It is in this arena, in 2022, that I respectfully suggest a friendly chat with the financial planning firms you work with and refer clients to might be beneficial.

I suggest this for three reasons, and all are relevant to where the legal services industry finds itself, relative to the financial planning profession.

Firstly, financial planners have longstanding client relationships because they will implement a plan based on goals and aspirations.

This plan will alter as circumstances change and as such financial planners simple have to maintain a regular dialogue and open communication channel with their clients. (Importantly they will have ongoing opportunities and cause to refer the mutual client back for legal requirements.)

Secondly, the push for transparency occurred far earlier in financial services, so the use of plain language in client marketing and on websites should be second nature to your financial planning partners.

After all, a client does not want the pension described to them – they want the lifestyle it can potentially offer in retirement. The same applies when establishing a trust, for example. It is not the technicalities of the type of trust they are interested in but how it can ensure the client’s beneficiaries receive the money at the right time and in the most tax-efficient way.

Thirdly, the financial planning profession is further along on its journey with customer relationship management (CRM) systems than the legal services industry.

A CRM is the best and most efficient way to market new services or products that might be of interest to existing clients, or customers who perhaps have only bought one service from your firm. Again, this is using technology not for sales marketing but to educate on other services, which based on your current knowledge of the customer, might be of interest or needed.

Any of our SIFA Professional members found here will be delighted to chat about their experiences of the above.


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