How to Use Content to Overcome the Legal Services Selling Aversion

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... if your aversion to business development is the fear of “selling,” overcome that fear through great content, and a legitimate desire to help others

Lawyers face a Catch-22 when it comes to developing their books of business: billing their time to earn a living, but also spending time doing non-billable work (prospecting) to build a practice.

But what if that’s not the only conundrum standing in the way of an effective business development effort?

What if, like many, you suffer from an aversion to the notion of “selling,” either out of ethical concerns or a simple distaste for the perception of peddling your wares? After all, your preference is to spend your time practicing law; you didn’t earn an advanced degree to be a sales person.

Understandable. But as our careers mature, business development becomes crucial to advancement opportunities. So, we might not like to “sell,” but we’d better be active relationship builders, if nothing else. You might not want to cold call a prospect, or send an unsolicited invitation to lunch, or attend a networking event. But you might not have to.

And this is where content comes in.

Serving Isn’t Selling

As Adrian Lurssen of JD Supra noted on a recent episode of The Thought Leadership Project podcast, content is working its way down the sales funnel farther than ever before.

While we have historically thought of content in terms of “content marketing”—which generally lives near the top of the sales funnel—we should now be thinking in terms of “content business development.” Meaning: How can we repurpose or specifically engineer a new piece of content in a way that is more direct and immediate in its application, so that it nurtures a personal relationship, rather than solely operating as a one-to-many awareness or branding vehicle?

First, it comes by way of a mindset adjustment. Rather than thinking of business development efforts as sales (if that’s your aversion), think in terms of serving others. Giving rather than receiving. Invitations, not pitches. The offer not the ask. That simple shift in viewpoint alone will relieve the pressure of expecting every outreach to result in a closing opportunity. For one, it doesn’t work that way for attorneys. Two, you won’t look forward to the activity, and will endeavor to avoid it.

If you’re serving your network and people you’d like to include in your network, by providing them with intellectual value or opportunities to raise their profiles, that’s not selling...it’s serving. And both you and the person you want to influence will be better for it, regardless of whether you ever work together professionally.

A few examples to get you started:

1. A personal email with a link to your latest post.

You’ve written the content, it got published to your website, and your firm blasted it out to everyone on its mailing list. But what about a personal email to someone who you think might legitimately benefit from the thought leadership contained therein?

“Hi, Bob. I remember you saying that you hadn’t updated the terms and conditions in your business’ purchase orders recently. I recently put together an article that addresses some of the most common mistakes that companies make in their standard contracts. I thought you might find useful. Hope this helps.”

Notice: no ask...all give. You didn’t have to “sell,” but you have likely further endeared yourself to the recipient. They’re apt to respond to that email, no?

2. An invitation to guest author.

What sounds more flattering to the person on the receiving end? Can I buy you lunch?, or Would you be interested in guest authoring or co-authoring a piece on a topic that I know you have considerable expertise?

One sounds like it has strings attached, the other is a bonafide compliment. Maybe such a post will live on your website, but maybe you and your subject matter expert cohort can co-pitch its publication to a broader audience, say, an industry magazine or blog. Now you’re working in harmony, rather than negotiating a sometimes awkward or adversarial buyer-seller dance.

3. A request to appear on your podcast.

If you or your firm produce a podcast on a particular area of subject matter expertise (or even if you don’t), think of someone you’d like to meet or further a relationship with and ask him or her to be a guest on your podcast.

While you might meet some resistance to that aforementioned lunch invitation, I’m confident that your prospect will find the time to call into a radio-style interview that will amplify that expert’s visibility and stature as a thought leader. In the process, you will have a genuine conversation with that individual and, likely, create a much deeper connection that might blossom further over time.

4. An offer to opine.

Other variations on this theme include:

  • ask subject matter experts if you can interview them for a book you’re working on, either for inclusion or on background
  • invite professionals or whole firms to participate in a research study that you’ll later publish (which provides a great opportunity to follow back up with such a prospect once the report is out and insights can be gleaned and shared)
  • query a subject matter expert for a quote or anecdote to support a piece you’re authoring for either your own blog or a third party
  • conspire with a colleague to co-present at a speaking opportunity you’ve either already secured or are willing to pitch for an upcoming industry event

Here’s a final tip. For all of your content business development work:

Use analytics to make your efforts sharper and more targeted.

For example, if you publish on JD Supra, frequently review your author analytics dashboard and see who is reading and sharing your content. If you see that a prospective client tweets something you wrote along with a question or comment, tweet back with an answer or simple note of thanks. Connect on LinkedIn. Send an email with a related article. Content is the gateway to conversation. And conversation is the precursor to new business.

Ask Me, Don’t Sell Me

Notice, in every example cited above, the outreach is always an ask, and never a pitch. It’s an offer...an invitation...a service, of sorts. You are providing legitimate value or making a flattering commendation. Anyone can do that. And more of us should.

This is content business development—the crucial counterpart to content marketing.

So if your aversion to business development is the fear of “selling,” overcome that fear through great content, and a legitimate desire to help others. Do that consistently and effectively, and the sales will take care of themselves.

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Tom Nixon is Principal and Chief Storyteller with Harrington Communications, a content marketing firm serving attorneys and law firms nationwide. He has nearly 25 years experience helping law firms and other professional service firms generate and amplify compelling content across the full spectrum of online and offline media. Nixon is co-host of The Thought Leadership Project podcast, which aims to help lawyers convert subject matter expertise into thought leadership...and thought leadership into new business. Tom and his team provide podcasting and content marketing support services to professionals across the country.

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Updated: May 25, 2018:

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