Conveyancing represents possibly the last service line that is truly controlled by lawyers. How much longer this will be the case is unresolved but until then, it is a service that is, for most firms, the crown jewel in its service offering. It also represents, to most firms, the cash cow that either props up the other service lines or keeps firms profitable. It is for this reason that as conveyancers, every effort must be made to constantly improve and communicate the visibility and perceived value of the conveyancing service. Doing this can create a higher revenue flow for the conveyancing department and add the advantage of capturing market share from one's nearest competitor.
This article looks at where I believe the marketing initiative for every conveyancing department must begin. My viewpoint suggests that the heart of the marketing campaign begins not necessarily with an external form of communication, but rather with an internal campaign to structure the conveyancing department in such a way so as to enable it (the department and its service) to support the external marketing campaign. The article also suggests that before one can embark on any form of marketing drive, an understanding of what the "service" is, is important, as such an understanding will dictate the type of marketing plan a conveyancing department will implement to "get the word out" about the perceived value of its offering.
Law firms have come of age now, but the "practice of law" is not enough to ensure survival let alone profitability. Lawyers and law firms must now focus as much time on what I call "The Business of Law" as they do on the practice of law in order to create a competitive advantage, thereby ensuring profitability and survival in an already over-traded profession. Marketing is a weapon, which if planned and implemented correctly, will go a long way to achieving the ultimate goal and that is to make the law firm the law firm of choice in the minds of existing and future clients.
Any marketing initiative that your firm plans must start with an understanding, firstly, of the nature of what "service" is. At the heart of this understanding is an appreciation of the fact that the service of conveyancing is an intangible one that has no "product" that can be seen, touched, smelt or heard. This is in contrast to a tangible product, such as a car, sold to a customer by the manufacturer. The car is something the customer can appreciate before he buys it: he can appreciate the sporty look and see the red paint of the Ferrari; he can smell the new black interior leather and sit in the driver's seat revving the engine while playing the cd shuttle at full volume. The customer can have his senses assist him in deciding whether to buy the car and whether he believes that he is receiving value for his money. A service on the other hand, is different. There is no product to touch, see, smell or hear. The client has no tangible markers that can be used to evaluate whether the service he is "buying" is valuable and meets his needs and wants.
Because of the intangible nature of their service service and the fact that the client has no tangible markers with which to assess the perceived value he will get, conveyancers need to strategically plan and implement a marketing drive to place the client in the same position as he would have been in if he were buying a new car. A marketing strategy must be designed and implemented to make the intangible, tangible so that the client can asses the perceived value he will get and realise that such service is value for money. The marketing strategy must also be such that it communicates to the client a tangible perception that your service is better than that of your nearest competitor.
Strategic planning and marketing
It is my opinion that service marketing is not just about "getting the message out" as to who you are and what you can do. Service marketing is much more. It is a tool that, if properly implemented, gives the client a perceived idea and understanding about what you can do and how your service will add value to him. The standard aim of law firms presenting seminars, distributing brochures, conducting workshops and supplying company branded novelties is to attempt to achieve this result. This form of marketing is known as "push marketing" and while it has value in communicating to existing and future clients the nature of your services, it falls flat if it is not supported by an internal workflow management system that can deliver the "goods".
The marketing of a law firm in general and of a conveyancing department in specific starts with the proven ability to deliver a value added service to the client. The yardstick of success in this endeavour is to delight the client and meet all expectations. This is easier said than done given that conveyancing is very labour-intensive and relies on the co-operation of several people within the firm, external organisations and colleagues to get the job done. It is therefore imperative for a conveyancing department to first ensure that:
1. It has qualified and experienced staff to do the job of property transfers and bond registrations. This requires the department to ensure that they employ sufficient people to handle the work and work volumes;
2. Conveyancing staff have the best resources available to deliver the service. This means access to computers, conveyancing software, telephones, faxes, Internet, etc;
3. A workflow system is implemented and managed to ensure that staff are working effectively and efficiently to produce the service. A set of checks and balances must be built into the system to monitor and ensure TQM (Total Quality Management);
4. Conveyancing attorneys are actively involved in the work. This does not mean they need to produce the work themselves, but that they need to know about the work. This is achieved via regular work progress meetings, weekly management reports and feedback reports;
5. A collaborative network is established and maintained with local service providers such as the municipality, Deeds Office personnel, colleagues, etc;
6. There is regular communication to the seller, purchaser, estate agent and other interested parties. This can be achieved with formal letters, via e-mail and SMS as well as the latest access to progress reports by clients via the firm's website;
7. There is regular training of both conveyancing staff and conveyancing attorneys. This does not only mean training in conveyancing matters but also in skills such as communications, client relationship management, workflow management, marketing skills, etc;
It is only once the conveyancing department has put the above in place that I would recommend an active external marketing campaign. Too many national and international companies have launched great external or "push marketing" campaigns only for the whole thing to flop because their workflow systems could not or did not support what they were communicating to the outside world. The reverse is also true; there is no point in having a good workflow system without an effective external marketing campaign. So, as you can see, the marketing strategy for a service business is a combination of efficient and effective workflow systems and an external marketing campaign using the traditional tools as well as some other more specialised tools such as print advertising, radio and, in some cases, television.
Where to begin
The very first step is to understand and accept that for your firm to survive and enjoy future conveyancing work, there is a need to market yourself. Start a culture of being service orientated and look inwards at how you can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your conveyancing service. Highlight the strengths and weaknesses and look to capitalise on the strengths and overcome the weaknesses. Get staff and management involved to agree on a plan and time frame in which the actions suggested above are undertaken and completed. As a yardstick, the whole process, if correctly implemented, should take between 6 and 12 months (if not sooner). Test the success of your endeavours by having clients and agents give you feedback on your service delivery, friendliness of staff, and efficiency of both paralegals and conveyancing attorneys. Regularly meet with network collaborators to improve their service delivery so as to improve yours (Does it make a difference when you get your rates clearance certificates within 7 days of request rather than 4 weeks later?). Once this is achieved, only then would I suggest that an active external marketing campaign be undertaken to communicate your service and conveyance's of choice.
Marketing is not rocket science. What it is, however, is a dedication by all team players to condition themselves and then stand up and shout out that "we are the best and we know it". Service marketing is about making sure that what you communicate to the outside world can and will be delivered. A failure to do that will not only be a failure of your marketing campaign, it will be your résumé to clients, agents and others, signalling that perhaps you are not the best and leading them to the conclusion that "my perceived interest and value for money would be better served by your nearest competitor."
Think about it!
Sean Bosse is an attorney at Guthrie & Rushton (Cape Town) with a strong passion for what he calls "The Business of Law". Sean completed an MBA in strategic management and marketing and wrote a thesis on brand development by law firms. Before joining Guthrie & Rushton, Sean worked as a strategic business management consultant for an international internet service provider. Please feel free to contact him at: [email protected]