Selling Technology to Lawyers: Published by

Dec 17, 2012

Customer Reference Programs: The Missing Link

For Marketing Technology to Law Firms

By Mark Bruce President, HiTechPR


Law firms are steeped in tradition; with a few notable exceptions their senior partners and CIOs are not early adapters of new technology. However, despite well-earned reputations as modernization-resistant institutions, most are moving steadily but slowly into the 21stcentury. How slowly? According to a 2012 American Bar Association technology survey of firms with over 500 lawyers, just 15 percent had tried cloud computing, 41 percent did not back up their computer files and only 4 percent had acquired new business through blogging or social media. For technology vendors, this reluctance is often reflected in frustrating, slow-moving sales cycles.

To win over the ultimate decision makers in the legal tech community—CIOs and senior partners—marketers must think like lawyers. They are verbal, text-oriented, analytical and trained to identify problems and their possible causes. For those of us tasked with selling to this market, these are welcome attributes. Introducing innovative software, hardware and consulting services to practicing attorneys can most effectively be accomplished by making a strong case for why and how the product or service can increase the firm’s bottom line: its ability to serve its clients, generate billable hours and improve the way information is generated, processed and disseminated.

 But what specific marketing strategies work best?

Not long ago, to increase awareness marketers were primarily limited to buying advertising. To be even modestly effective, advertising must be repetitive and pervasive, making it the most expensive marketing tactic. Aside from sky-high costs, ads are not often taken seriously by tough, skeptical and conservative legal professionals. That said, there is a place for advertising—it’s just more effective after a product or service has an established market foothold.

According to marketing guru Al Ries, co-author of Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, when it comes to introducing new products and services, advertising doesn’t perform as well as factual content appearing in the editorial pages of technology publications, blogs and websites. With lawyers and CIOs, marketers can best make inroads by establishing precedent, demonstrating for example, how other successful firms are using a particular solution to increase profits and obtain better results. The most expedient way to present evidence of successful past performance is to let your customers and your content do the talking. But this is not as easy as it sounds.

 Customer Reference Programs

Thirty years of experience has taught us that few technology customers are willing or permitted to participate in media interviews, case studies or similar activities. The reality is that less than 15 percent of a typical client base will actively participate in marketing or public relations initiatives. This is why we recommend establishing a Customer Reference Program (CRP) to formalize what most vendors now relegate to an ineffective ad-hoc process. To successfully sell legal technology products and services, customers and content can serve as a foundation for marketing and PR efforts.

 How do you get started? Here are some guidelines to facilitate the creation of a CRP and involve more customers in marketing efforts:


  1. Initially, relationships with key executives pave the way to customer participation in media or analyst interviews
    1. Caution: don’t rely on 11thhour requests for customer interview participation—this virtually guarantees fumbling media or analyst requests for interviews
    2. Inform customers well in advance of your plans and line up a sufficient group to support your product launch or case study efforts
  2. Start slowly by asking customers for:
    1. Permission to use their company’s name or logo on your website
    2. A brief quote for a new customer press release
    3. Opinions on new applications
    4. Reference for prospective customers
  3. Form an advisory board and user group to foster long term relationships with key customers
  4. Assign a manager or group to own and raise awareness of customer reference activities
  5. Established customers can be introduced to the CRP by citing their successful experience with your solutions. Asking to allow your communications team to document your solution’s impact in case study format, business or trade magazine interviews is a fair request that benefits your client as well as your organization


Unhappy Customers:

Although the thought is often suppressed, unhappy customers do exist. To head off significant problems, survey users on a regular basis and ensure they have the resources they need to effectively use your product or service. Take care of small misunderstandings or requests for support sooner rather than later. With a little proactive attention, your unhappiest customer has the potential to be your best reference. And even if they at first demure from reference activities, they won’t become a public thorn in your side (on the Internet for example) if you solve their most pressing problems.

 With a CRP in place, successful marketing communications campaigns, including media and analyst relations, can be far more effective. Most of the following strategies and tactics are better supported with the cooperation of your customer base.

 Interview requests:

After listening to a pitch featuring your company’s products/services, the first response of virtually every reporter, editor or producer is “Sounds great, I’d like to talk with several customers about their experience with your company and this product.” If you’re prepared and your customers and perhaps an analyst or two are lined up, you likely have a comprehensive story spotlighting your technology. Without this type of preparation, you’re lucky to see a blurb.


Press releases:

The primary audience for press releases comprises the media, influential bloggers and industry analysts. A release must be factual, contain real news and never read like a brochure or ad. Assertions in a press release should be backed by research and client quotes. A customer quote helps your release stand out and significantly boosts credibility.  


Case studies:

A case study is similar to a legal brief in that it makes an argument for why one party should prevail over another—in this case why a company’s product is superior to the competition. Case studies are actually user success stories written with the cooperation of one or more of a company’s customers. Like the aforementioned legal document, a good case study should be short, concise and explicatory.


White papers:

A well-researched white paper is in the wheelhouse of lawyers who are trained to read texts carefully, glean specifics and rapidly develop opinions. This is an ideal medium in which to present the facts of your case (stress benefits—not features) and explain why the product should be considered, how it works and the ways it can save costs and—always an effective legal argument—increase billable hours.


Web content:

Customer-related material available on a vendor website should include testimonials, case studies, white papers, news releases, OpEd articles and product reviews. Your CRP can serve as a wellspring for compelling, endorsed Web content.


Social media:

An especially effective way to reach the emergent generation of lawyers is through social media. The previously cited ABA study found that 78 percent of respondents use Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. U.S.News recently reported that lawyers are adopting technology at a slower rate than the general population. However, although large firms have been slow to adapt new ways, young attorneys have no such inhibition about technology.


Speaking Engagements:

During a typical year there are numerous professional conferences involving lawyers and law firm representatives. At concomitant workshops and seminars there are often excellent opportunities for technology marketers to deliver “oral arguments” for their products and services. Lawyers are particularly attuned to the spoken word and a well-delivered presentation—with relevant exhibits—can be extremely persuasive.


To break through the seemingly impenetrable barricade of resistance that surrounds many law firms, start with a strategic, integrated communications plan based on a customer reference initiative supported by original, worthwhile content. Once your audience of CIOs and lawyers is convinced of the validity and integrity of your reasoning, successful transactions and a shorter sales cycle will be in the offing.

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Mark Bruce, M.A. ( is the president and founder of HiTechPR, a New York-based communications firm specializing in identity, branding, analyst and media relations, social media, content creation, and product and service launches. HiTechPR clients have included Litéra, Lawtrac, Thomson CSF Communications, MDLinx, Hyperion Software, and dozens of technology and consumer goods start-ups, industry experts and professional practices in consulting, law, real estate, accounting and medicine. Mr. Bruce is an NYU SCPS public relations faculty member.  

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