‘Agreement Path’ To Client Buy-In
By Electric Pen
It was perhaps the most nail-biting meeting I’ve ever attended. Although it happened more than a decade ago, I still recall that sinking feeling when I realized a partner of one of our law firm clients was about to scuttle a marketing assignment we were working on, aimed at differentiating his firm from the competition.
In hindsight, the experience ultimately revealed to me just how difficult the buy-in process can be, especially when working with professional-service providers. The meeting took place in 2001 when many of our clients were law firms. The firm of reference was a mid-sized law firm that hired us to redevelop its brand and create a new website.
Early on, a member of the firm’s marketing committee warned us about a powerful litigation partner who would be involved with these projects.
“Be careful,” we were told, “he could make your job more difficult.” Sure enough, though conspicuously absent from early meetings with the marketing committee, the partner showed up at the final meeting armed with ideas about the projects that deviated from the approval strategy. Incorporating his ideas would have delayed the project and busted the budget.
“What now?” I wondered. “Do I debate with him over the value of his ideas?” He was a skilled litigator, so the odds were low that I’d win that exchange. Instead, I led the meeting through a discussion of the ideas. This resulted in a consensus of the approved strategy (although I wasn’t sure of the outcome until the last minute), but thankfully, the assignment moved along to a successful completion.
Creating marketing tools for professional services providers is often demanding and frustrating. As humans, we all have the tendency to want to fit in. The goal of marketing, however, is the opposite of fitting in. It’s to stand apart and demonstrate to a target audience why your firm is different from and better than the competition.
But here’s the rub: Professional services providers tend to be conservative and risk averse. They want to blend in with peers; they don’t like being outliers. That’s why it’s important to discuss and educate them on why differentiation is crucial to implementing successful marketing efforts.
This brings us to the process of achieving buy-in. Because it’s natural for people to resist differentiation, it’s crucial to implement a well-thought-out and effective process for achieving buy-in. To do this our, agency has developed a five-step process we call the “Agreement Path”:
Step 1. Engage the stakeholder. The client selects a small group (three to five) of employees to serve as its proxy, empowering them to make decisions about the project design. Ideally, this group should represent different segments of the firm. Potential candidates include a major rainmaker, a young lawyer with internal credibility and a managing/marketing partner.
Step 2. Sell differentiation. Once the group is formed, it’s crucial to begin selling its members on the merits of differentiation. Consider developing a project brief that outlines benefits, challenges, opportunities, competitive landscape and threats. The brief will help set the project’s direction and facilitate reaching consensus. Consider including a research component, especially one that gives the group relevant information and supports your conclusions.
Step 3. Define a core strategy. As part of the project brief, craft a one-sentence statement encapsulating the project’s primary objective. For example, we developed this sentence for a recent project for a well-known technology company: “Create an engaging experience that centralizes information at key access points to incentivize new as well as experienced developers.” Such a statement provides a metric for measuring results and moving the project along the Agreement Path.
Step 4. Develop. Keep initial ideas in development within the group. Revisit and revise them until two differentiating solutions have been fully realized and approved by the group. Then send these two solution
s to members of the firm and ask them to vote on one. Giving members only this option will prevent endless edits and comments.
Step 5: Finish with a flourish. If you’ve convinced the group about the need for differentiation and created an effective buy-in process, the firm’s members are likely to give you and your ideas a receptive and approving audience.
Next time you think your project is underwater, step back and think about these steps you can take to emerge from the deep end.