I’m going to share the best question to ask prospective clients. Firms are increasingly focused on developing new business. The legal landscape is extremely competitive and there are few signs that it’s going to change in the near future. Word of mouth referrals, websites, blogs, videos, social media, mobile and outdoor advertising are various ways law firms attempt to maintain and grow. These efforts take up your two most valuable assets: time and money. But how do you know if your efforts are actually working? Consider using one or more tracking numbers.
Think about your firm’s intake process. Your staff or you usually receive a call from a prospective client. If it sounds interesting, you’ll set up an initial appointment. The individual arrives at your office and is handed a form to complete. You’ve included a question along the lines of, “How did you hear about us?” You might even have a few options for him/her to check:
- Referral (from whom): _________________
- Previous Client __________
- Yellow Pages __________
- Internet __________
- TV __________
- Other __________
During the conversation with the prospective client, you may even take time to validate that answer. Those are smart steps to take, but you still may be missing out on the key question that actually clarifies which source generating your leads.
Many of my clients are litigators. They understand a loose/open-ended question will lead to a loose, possibly ambiguous answer. The risk an attorney takes by spending too much time trying to identify the lead source is that the client quickly realizes your focusing on you and not him/her. You’re still in the courtship phase of this attorney-client relationship. As I commented in a previous post, “This person has no emotional commitment to you and hasn’t agreed to retain you, yet.” If you’re going to go for the answer, you question has to be concise and focused.
When that prospective client initially calls the firm, the best question to ask is simply: “What Number Did You Dial to Reach Us?”
If you have any formal marketing/advertising tools in place, they should feature specific tracking numbers. A tracking number is a unique phone number that’s only used in one ad. It rings directly into your switchboard, like any other call. You should typically have distinct tracking numbers on your website, in individual yellow page or directory ads, on billboards, and even in brochures.
The reason is to enable your firm to quickly and easily identify which source produced the lead. You’re obviously paying vendors for their services. Many of them will produce lead reports that add some clarity, but you should never rely solely on those reports. Always compare and scrub the data against your case tracking data. Vendor reports may lead you down the wrong road if you’re just considering the “total contacts this month” data in a vacuum.
Poor Questions Result in Poor Data
A few years ago, an attorney told me that his staff routinely asks clients how they found the practice and the answer is sometimes, “the phone book.” He went on to explain that he doesn’t buy yellow page ads. This comes back to the fine line between getting the information, but keeping the focus on the other person. There’s a legal situation at hand and he/she needs to know if you’re the right lawyer to handle it. Most of the time, he/she just isn’t interested in your marketing research efforts. The answer you often receive is whatever option is top of mind, not necessarily the correct one.
If you have a website, listings on various directories such as Martindale, FindLaw, Avvo, etc., possibly a YouTube channel and some social media exposure, what have you actually learned when the person checks the option for “Internet?” Not that much really. All of those options are Internet-based. If you work with 2 or more yellow page companies or have several billboards, how do you know which one is actually working?
Quick, which company’s yellow pages does your family keep at home? Not sure…why would your client be any different?
When it comes time to make investment decisions about your marketing and advertising, you have to track the results of each dollar you spend. Having a distinct tracking number allows you to ask one simple question, during the initial phone call, and will provide you with all the information you need. Now you quickly can turn your focus back to the person who wants to hire you.
You might ask about what happens if you decide to leave that vendor. Take a minute to read this post about what happened to a client of mine who didn’t update the tracking numbers on the website. You’ll want to avoid this problem, before it costs you money.
How do you get a tracking number?
The easiest way to ask the vendor to add one to the service you’re buying from them. Some companies do this for free. Just remember, if you leave that vendor, you may have to give up your tracking number. Again, click on the link above regarding tracking numbers.
There are other options available. The phone company may be able to provide additional numbers, although that isn’t always possible. You may have extra numbers already available via your phone system, but if you have a hunt system, those numbers can be taken up when servicing multiple calls, resulting in busy signals for prospective clients. I’ve had to personally work through that challenge for a firm.
Another option is to use a Google Voice number, which is typically free and is portable from vendor to vendor. Google Voice provides other capabilities, but simply having the tracking number is the key.
There are other vendors, which offer one or more phone numbers for a modest fee. You can usually select local, vanity-phrase, and even toll-free numbers. Before you go down this route, make sure you fully understand any specific costs involved and how plan overages are calculated (just as you would with your West or Lexis rep).
For many firms, the decision will typically come down to phone number portability vs. cost of service.
My final recommendation is that you actually use the data you’re collecting. You’ll save yourself time and money if you’ll consistently track and measure your vendors’ individual performances. Don’t leave it to anecdotal evidence and generic forms. You’ve worked too hard to build your practice. Understanding how prospective clients find you enables your to guide your firm and negotiate more effectively with vendors.
If you’d like to discuss setting up tracking numbers and a process to monitor the results I can help. If you’d like help auditing your vendors, you might be surprised by the insights we discover. I consult with clients about marketing, business development, vendor issues, internal-process improvement and related topics. Contact me at (502) 208-9639.
Finally, if you found this information helpful, I’d appreciate it if you’d share this article with your friends and colleagues. My website is JimRayConsultingServices.com. My blog is full additional articles, tips and videos focused on helping you to improve your law practice.