The “Pebble in the Pond” Approach to Marketing

The other day I was sitting at the lake near my house, soaking up a beautiful autumn day, daydreaming and tossing pebbles into the lake. Voila! I knew exactly how to tell my clients where to begin their marketing.

Each pebble I tossed into the lake created ever-enlarging concentric circles. This same approach works perfectly for marketing — focus on the smallest circle first and then widen your approach, one circle at a time.

Start your marketing with the first concentric circle, your current and past clients. After marketing to your current clients, you’ll move to the next concentric circle — people who have referred matters to you in the past. The third concentric circle represents people within your firm who could refer you but so far haven’t done so. Finally, after you’ve marketed efficiently and effectively to the first three circles, as the waves are getting less distinct, you can market to “strangers” — people with whom you have no previous client relationship.

For most lawyers, the No. 1 source of new business comes from past or current clients — whether in the form of new matters for those clients or the referrals they make.

In fact, statistics consistently show that 80 percent of all new business comes from existing clients. In other words, marketing to people who know you and your work almost always trumps marketing to strangers. When you leverage relationships with existing or past clients, your marketing activities are more efficient which gets you faster results while you spend less time on business development.

It’s not hard to understand why clients are such a good source of new business. People hire people they know, like and trust. Clients who have worked with you know that you’re capable. Unless something has gone wrong in previous engagements, they trust you. When your clients know, like and trust you, they’re ready to send you more business.

Consider the scenario clients face when they hire someone they’ve never worked with before. They don’t really know the new lawyer’s capabilities; the relationship hasn’t yet been developed; and, most important, no real trust has yet been established.

A real estate lawyer I work with wanted to, in her words, “take her practice to the next level and play a bigger game.”

She had many big ideas (meaning time-consuming and resource-intensive) for how to accomplish her goal. I said that before we worked on those activities, she had to do one thing. She had to meet with each of the clients she had represented in the last two years and ask them either for more work or a referral to someone who might find her services valuable. She agreed.

A month later, we spoke again. When I asked her how things were going, she told me she was at that next level without putting into place any of those big ideas. Her plate was completely filled with work from those meetings.

Before you consider marketing to any other audience, start by marketing to your current and past clients.

After you’ve exhausted gaining new business from your clients, your next step is to connect with the people who have referred you to others in the past — whether they’re within your firm or from outside – such as opposing or co-counsel, accountants, investment bankers or consultants. These people present good marketing opportunities for you because they already “know, like and trust” you and they’ve demonstrated a willingness to act on your behalf.

Next, focus on internal referral sources in your firm who have not yet referred business to you. Because these people are your colleagues, at the very least, they will have a modicum of trust in your abilities. Again, you’ve addressed the critical element of the “know/like/trust” factor.

Only after you have mined all these relationships should you turn your marketing energies to “strangers” — people with whom you don’t already have a professional relationship.

Remembering those circles the pebble in the pond creates, you can expand your marketing to the increasingly larger circles, but only after you’ve exhausted the inner circles.