Make Your Marketing Pitch in a 30-Second Elevator Speech
By Ann Macauley, March 2008
You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression on potential clients. Make it a positive one with a focused and interesting elevator speech.
Can you sell yourself — and your legal services — to a stranger in only half a minute? Marketing experts say that in this small amount of time, you should be able to give a so-called “30-second elevator speech” that outlines who you are, what makes your services unique, and what you can offer potential clients.
Lawyers meet potential clients in a wide variety of places, including cocktail parties, social gatherings, conferences or conventions. And sometimes they meet people in more unlikely places, when they least expect to meet a future client. Having a short prepared speech can grab someone’s attention right away and hopefully will make him think of you in the future when he needs a lawyer. That means those few sentences should be well thought-out and rehearsed.
A typical elevator speech should consist of several components: a memorable introduction, the benefits and solutions you provide, and what makes you unique. Your pitch can then be adjusted to the individual, depending on who they are. Define yourself in a way that will elicit interest, such as increasing profits, saving money, specific expertise, prompt service or solving a particular problem. Use whatever sets you apart.
Having a prepared speech and being able to launch into it at a moment’s notice are key factors in making this a successful marketing tool. Unfortunately, although the 30-second elevator speech seems simple enough, it’s surprising that many lawyers don’t have something prepared.
“Most people don’t do a good job of this,” says Lonny Balbi, a family lawyer at Balbi & Company in Calgary. “Lawyers typically just say, ‘I’m a lawyer,’ or ‘I do divorce law,’ or, ‘I’m a corporate lawyer,’ or something like that.” That’s a lost opportunity to do business with a potential client.”
Balbi, who refers to his speech as a “laser talk,” speaks to potential clients wherever he goes. “It can be funny, it can be serious, you can do it many different ways, but the idea is to just expand upon what you do, to talk about the kind of clients that you deal with and to explain the benefits of using you. Why would you use me over the next person?”
And although that person may not be a potential client, they can refer you to others, says Balbi. “In my business, just about everybody’s a referral source.”
Grab people’s attention with a unique statement that they’ll remember, something that resonates. Family lawyer Balbi sometimes uses the line: “I deal with people who are in the Third World War,” to get someone’s attention.
Try to develop a speech that’s natural and that comes off smoothly. Some people think that practising what to say puts you at risk of sounding trite or overly polished, but when you’re well-prepared it can seem more natural and believable. And keep it short and to the point. When people say, “What do you do?” you’ve got to swing into action.
“You’ve got a very short period of time, and people get bored very easily. No one likes to talk to somebody who’s always talking about themselves,” says Bob Teskey, managing partner of Field LLP in Edmonton. “You may have a minute or a minute and a half at the most, but you don’t have very long … I think if lawyers make a mistake, it is that they talk too much.”
Create a bond with the person you’re speaking to. “More than anything, people hire lawyers based on trust,” says Teskey. A relationship of trust isn’t created by merely talking about yourself. Sometimes lawyers put too much emphasis on describing their expertise rather than on creating a bond with someone. “Talk about the things that are common to us all,” says Teskey.
There can be a risk of doing a hard sell, so keep things at a personal level. “If they ask you something that is law-related, I think that there’s always a tendency to view that as an opening for a university lecture,” says Teskey.
Focus on the person you’re speaking to. If you have time, ask questions to assess what they need and what you can offer them.
“Often lawyers are viewed as being detached and really not identifying with the needs of the client,” says Teskey. “You have to get to something that’s meaty; you can’t talk about, ‘We’re the best in the land,’ because everybody’s going to say the same thing. So what you’re trying to do is to identify something that you believe sets you apart; that the people that you’re addressing can identify with.”
Scott Norton, Q.C., a partner at Stewart McKelvey in Halifax, tries to tailor his pitch to his audience.
“If it happened to be that the person was an insurance adjuster that I didn’t know, then I’d launch into, ‘I’ve been doing insurance defence work for 25 years. Do you know so-and-so?’ depending on where they said they were working. So I’d make it more personal, if it was obvious from the introduction that this was somebody who worked in my circle … In 30 seconds you can hopefully make an impression that they remember you and pass along a business card.”
Build Your Firm’s Brand
When he’s introduced to new people, Norton asks what they do for a living, then inquires as to who handles their legal work. Unless they happen to need a lawyer who does insurance defence work, he uses the meeting as a cross-selling opportunity to put them in touch with a lawyer from his firm who does work in whatever area of business they’re in.
Giving a short elevator speech not only sells your own services, it also provides a great opportunity to build the brand awareness of your firm and help position it in the marketplace. All staff members should be aware of what the firm has to offer so they can pass it along to others.
“There’s tremendous strength in basically advertising your position or your brand and the uniqueness of your firm’s services or abilities through the words of staff and professionals, as they interact with many, many people on a daily basis,” says Ron Currie, Gowlings LLP’s national marketing director, who is based in Toronto. “For us, it’s 1,800 staff and professionals combined; that’s a lot of people basically advertising what this firm is about … This kind of process is really one that should be embraced by the executive level of the firm.”
Once you’ve finished talking, make sure to exchange business cards. David Varty, of Varty & Company in Vancouver, says one of the keys to giving an effective elevator speech is to “make an assumed close,” which can be as simple as saying “let’s keep in touch.” You can go further and ask them to lunch to discuss how you can help them. Better yet, offer to drop by their office to discuss ways you can be of service.
“Because you’re coming to their office there’s no problem for them; they don’t have to go and do something,” he says. The good thing about doing that is that there’s very little cost involved. “Taking them out to an expensive lunch, they start feeling a little uneasy about feeling pressured or obliged.”
Every lawyer should be able to launch into a 30-second elevator speech at a moment’s notice. It’s fast, it’s simple and it can be highly effective.
Balbi advises lawyers to “sit down and think about this and develop something that works well for your personality. Think about the types of people you represent, what is it that you do for them, what are you committed to doing, and why do you make a difference for people? You could be a corporate lawyer and you’re trying to help people grow their business — you’re there to help people become multimillionaires.” And what potential client wouldn’t want to hear that story?
Sample 30-Second Elevator Speeches That Work
Know Your Audience
Serious Topic, Humorous Approach
Lonny Balbi’s “laser talks” are tailored to the situation he finds himself in.
“I have a funny one and a more serious one. The funny one I use more often just because it kind of breaks the ice and people remember it. For example,
‘I represent people with a complicated financial situation who found themselves in a relationship that did not work, and we want to keep people from killing each other.’
You might say something kind of a little bit funny like that and it usually gets a little bit of a laugh. Most people have a good sense of humour, so you try to talk about that.”Another humorous speech Balbi uses is:
“I’m a lawyer, but my busy day is actually Saturday. I don’t really work much Monday through Friday.” When the person asks why, say, “Well, I actually have to go from wedding to wedding handing out my business card!”
Balbi says “they remember that and it usually gets a good chuckle, ‘Oh! You’re a divorce lawyer!’
It depends on your personality; it depends on the client you’re talking to … And so what you try to do is you just try to gather your laser talk, make it so it’s a little more pointed and try to make it interesting for people to ask more questions.”
Same Topic, Straight Delivery
A more serious talk for Balbi would be:
“I represent high-net worth individuals who are going through a very difficult time in divorce and they want to keep their kids out of the middle and that’s my specialty. We have a unique position in the market because we specialize in custody and access, for example.”
“I represent people who hate each other. And what they want to do is keep the children out of the middle of the divorce. I try to resolve matters in every way I can, but if needed, I’ll go to the wall for them. If it means we have to go to court, I’ll go to court. But we really try to keep things out of court and try to resolve things. And we do spend a lot of money on training our staff to be astute resolution experts. We look at all sorts of new techniques to settle disputes. Some of the newer ones are something called collaborative family law; all of our lawyers are trained in that area. So we really try to work on areas, to resolve things in a least-cost, very effective way for people so that they can more on with their lives.”
Make a Connection
Bob Teskey at Field LLP tries to have people identify with him and feel a connection. “We see ourselves as being part of the local market and the way that we identify with our clients is to try to make ourselves a part of their team. We don’t see ourselves as being detached, we see ourselves as working along with them, getting to know who they are and what their needs are so that we can give them practical and workable advice.” The speech he would give a potential client would be along the lines of:
“I’m the managing partner of Field. We’re a large locally based law firm. We have a mixed set of institutional and private clients. We have deep roots in the community because we’ve been here for a hundred years and all of our lawyers are people who are very much part of the community.”
He also says to people, “‘If I had to hire a lawyer, knowing all of the lawyers that I do, here is the person that I would hire.’ My goal as the managing partner here is to have a firm made up of lawyers that I can say that about in every instance.”
After introducing himself, Clemens Mayr of McCarthy Tétrault in Montreal starts asking questions:
“What do (you) know about McCarthy? Are (you) an American company? A Canadian company? Are (you) public? Are (you) private? Where do (you) have operations? How big? How small?”
Once he has that information, he tries to make a more personal connection:
“‘You must know so-and-so,’ or, ‘We have offices in Vancouver where you have your big plant,’ or something to show the ability of the firm to configure itself to satisfy a need.”
Show Off Your Expertise
Sole practitioner Brian Maude, of Maude Law Office in Moncton, N.B., says he emphasizes to potential clients his technology expertise, his flexibility and the fact that he is not tied down to a traditional lawyer role.
“Everybody who does any corporate law realizes how big companies work, but I also know how small companies work because I run my own. I tend to say:
‘Look, we’re in a service industry and that’s what I’m here to do. So if you need, for whatever reason, me to come to you, I’ll come to you. If you need me to be available on either really short notice, then that’s something we can talk about right away. But I can be as flexible as you need me to be, because I have the opportunity to create my own flexibility in that regard. What you’re getting is all my advice, but you’re getting my advice in whatever way that you need it. My office is very heavily computerized, so I have the ability to access anything from anywhere and to have the ability to work anywhere. That allows me to say if you need me to come to your office, do up a document and have access to it, and e-mail it to you right there, I can do that.’”
Focus on Your Unique Strengths
Dale Doan of Cleveland Doan LLP in White Rock, B.C., tells potential clients that with a firm of just four lawyers
“We are able to give hands-on assistance to clients using a team approach in most instances. We highlight with our clients the fact that they will enjoy a professional, while at the same time friendly and open, experience working with us. Their visits will be enjoyable, not painful…they can expect responsive lawyers and staff who may be relied upon to get the job done economically and in a timely manner, all within reason, of course.”
Ann Macaulay is a Toronto writer.
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