Three Ways E-Discovery Providers and Consumers Can Make this Industry Better

Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)
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Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

In 1996, Steve Jobs regained the helm at Apple. In a recorded talk he gave to the marketing team, he reminded them what it meant to work for Apple. He reminded them why Apple exists as a company and what its core values have been and always should be. Jobs said that in his absence, marketing was spending a lot of money, and the company forgot who it was at its core. He said, in part, “even a great brand needs investments and caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality.” At Apple, he said, “we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better … we believe that in this world people can change it for the better and that those people that are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do.”

Understanding your “why” statement is critical to one’s success as a person, as an organization, and when choosing an eDiscovery partner. While I’ve written multiple times about how to find your own “why” statement (see here, here and here), today, I want to share three ways in which we can make this industry better, as both eDiscovery providers and decision makers.

1. Why does the eDiscovery provider exist?

This isn’t a question that I have ever seen on an RFP! However, think about how important the answer truly is for the success of your eDiscovery projects at your law firm or legal department. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be connected with some great CEO’s in this industry. I have asked them this question: “why does the world need another eDiscovery vendor?” Shockingly, I get silence from some and then from others I get, “to make money.” Neither is an acceptable answer. In the former, silence is deafening, and the latter proves that they are tone deaf to what this market truly needs. As Simon Sinek said, author of “Start with Why,” people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it!

In the age of every vendor trying to prove their AI is better than the next person, there is a deafening void of companies that, like Apple, have a concrete mission. Companies that understand that operating from the inside-out (talking about your why statement) and not from the outside-in (talking about how great your features are) drives customer and brand loyalty, and therefore creates an exceptional customer experience that is so good, it is what Kenneth Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles called the “Raving Fans.” When that happens, the company becomes not just profitable, but sustainable in an era of increased consolidation.

If the eDiscovery provider you want to pick next can clearly elucidate its purpose and mission to you, and through its actions proves that this is true, you found a winner.

2. Presentation Coma: Accolades. Company History. Employees. Locations.

The invitation from a prospect by a law firm or corporate legal department to have an eDiscovery sales team present on its company, it should be considered a privilege and not a right. That may seem like an obvious statement, but how often is it exercised? Think of the last time a salesperson walked in, opened her laptop, and then droned on for the first 20 minutes about her company’s history, the number of awards it received, how many locations it has, and how many people are employed there in front of a room of extremely busy professionals, most of whom may be billing by the hour. Don’t get me wrong — those are data points that are helpful to know. But for the first 20 minutes?

I learned a long time ago from Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, and Scott Schwertly that the story that you tell through big headlines and high-resolution photos on your slides is vastly more demonstrative than 12-point font and 10 bullet points on a screen. What should the focus be on instead? How the company makes you feel. Sound odd? Let’s go back to Steve Jobs’ marketing speech. In talking about some of the best marketing ever, he mentions Nike. It’s a shoe company. They sell a highly commoditized product (like eDiscovery). But, in any of their commercials, are they talking about how much better the air soles are in Nike shoes over Reebok? No. Rather, Nike wants you to walk away from a commercial feeling differently about Nike shoes. They show great athletes and encourage persistence, strength, and commitment to be the best. That is why “Just Do It” has been one of the most successful ad campaigns. We can all relate. Nike makes us feel differently and so we want to buy their shoes.

eDiscovery companies should be selling the same way. Certainly, Apple and Nike all make great products, but that’s not what they’re marketing. I remember years ago when I was working in the Litigation Services business unit at LexisNexis, I would present with stories. These stories would be about the lawyers’ faces on the slides of my presentation who used CaseMap or Concordance (I did say this was years ago!) and created their own client successes. I did the same when I was at Iris Data Services, the company that first introduced real eDiscovery Managed Services to the market. I showed faces and names of litigation professionals talking about how Iris was a real partner and not just a vendor. Why do you think so many other vendors often said: “no one ever got fired for hiring Iris?” Because we had stories about success, and that equals trust, credibility, empathy, and most of all, a real partnership between a vendor and its customer. It creates “Raving Fans.”

3. Let’s not make it about the price per GB

In our industry, we have more than 500 eDiscovery providers that essentially can do the same thing: process data, host data in a review platform, provide review lawyers, and produce. There are variations in there, but in a world in which price compression creates commoditization, which causes nearly every vendor to say we can process better, cheaper, faster; host cheaper per gigabyte; and offer the best Project Managers out there, as consumers, become numb. After all, if you’re better, cheaper, faster, what else do you have to hang your hat on? What else do you have to make yourself seem better than everyone else?

Apple sells computers, tablets, and phones that are all well over $1,000. But yet, so many of us crave for an Apple product. Why? It’s how Apple makes you feel about its products. And yet, a desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone are all highly commoditized and you can buy them all for dramatically lower prices! Again, you feel like you belong to an elite crowd flashing the Apple logo wherever you go. The lesson learned here is that as consumers, we tend to pay more (sometimes a lot more) for products we believe in. The same should go for eDiscovery.

I wish that eDiscovery providers would stop racing to the bottom of the pricing barrel in order to win over a customer. I want providers to show that they are better than this. Show value. Don’t provide overly complex pricing structures and hidden fees. Show that there’s a way you can differentiate that solves real business problems. The technology is there; the personnel is there; the business leaders across sales and operations are there. There’s a way to stand out from the overcrowded marketplace to show that you can do more; be more, and solve the bottlenecks. We have countless examples across multiple verticals that consumers will pay more for a company’s product or a service even if they can get it cheaper elsewhere.

For the decision makers out there, I invite you to look beyond how many free users, free project management hours, free hosting, and free processing you can milk out of providers. Rather, ask about the value they can provide in a partnership with your company. Ask about how they can differentiate through education. Are they a vendor or a partner? Ask if anyone on their team has their CEDS certification or are actively involved in their local ACEDS chapter. Ask how many thought leaders there are at the company regularly producing educational content that can help solve critical business issues at your own company. Demand better than just free — ask providers to show you they can are better. After all, nothing in life is really “free.”

Wrapping up

“It’s a very noisy world. We’re not going to get a chance to have people remember much about us. No company is. And so we have to be really clear about what they want us to know about us.” Jobs’ speech back then is equally relevant today in a very noisy eDiscovery world where everyone alleges to have the best AI, the best processing, and all of the latest advancements, we need to ask deeper more and more personal questions to the providers as consumers. As providers, we need to think more about why your company exists, and whether your company’s actions align with your mission statement — or are you ultimately just about the lowest cost per GB? Together, as consumers and providers, let’s strive for more thoughtful questions to solve not just today’s eDiscovery challenges, but strive to create sustainable solutions into the future.

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