Email’s a wonderful tool. Ninety percent of my communication with clients and prospects is through email.
At the same time, email puts a heavy burden on you if you hope to attract email inquiries from prospective clients.
Long before email, back in the late 1980s, I had a close friend who was one of my college professors and also a non-practicing lawyer. One day he met with one of my clients and me at his home and, before we left, asked my client to send him his information packet on estate planning.
Only two days later, I spoke with my friend on the phone. He commented that he had not yet received the information and mumbled that my client probably forgot to send it — or had something more important to do.
This professor was bright — professional — perceptive — and not that old (in his 50s). Still, only 48 hours after requesting the information, he was already groaning about being rejected and how unimportant he was to my client.
Today, email greatly ups the ante. Since prospects think email is immediate, they assume you receive their email the moment they send it. That’s when the stopwatch in their head starts ticking. And, because we occasionally receive quick responses, prospects expect a fast response from you. If they don’t hear from you right away, they could assume their business isn’t important to you — or that you’re too busy to help them.
In the old days, prospects might willingly wait two or three days to receive your materials by mail. But today’s prospects often expect your response in minutes.
My wife and I are planning a vacation, so I started searching the web for places to stay. I contacted two hotels and two bed and breakfasts. (Since I work late at night, I sent emails to all four a little after 1 a.m.) The next morning, three answered. (I never heard from the fourth.)
The first lady to respond established a high level of trust, determined our needs, and assured us everything would be the way we want it — all by email. By the time the second hotel responded, just two hours later, I had already decided to stay at the first place, partly due to the lady’s quick response and how much she wanted our business. In this case, I made my decision long before I heard from hotels #2 and #3.
True, not all prospects who send emails are ready to hire your services. Even so, if you treat them as prospects with immediate legal needs, you’ll put yourself in the strongest competitive position, even if they want a little more time.
If you invite prospect inquiries by email,
1. Monitor or check for emails often. If you can’t spare the time, have someone in your office do it for you.
2. Respond to emails from prospects immediately, even if only to acknowledge that you received them. And don’t use an autoresponder. Make sure the email comes from you, personally. This completes the emotional connection between your prospect and you. If you can’t answer the email right then, tell your prospect when you’ll respond more fully. In this way, your prospect knows you received his email — knows you intend to respond — and knows when to expect your answer.
3. Respond to your prospect’s question or concern as quickly as you can. Many lawyers are slow to respond, especially to people who are not clients. If you respond quickly, you’ll rise above competing lawyers and demonstrate that you want and welcome new clients.
4. Send your prospect articles and information. You make a positive impression when you send your prospect something. Even if you haven’t yet addressed your prospect’s concern, you can provide him with information he can review, such as an article you wrote on the topic, your biography and information about your services.
5. Start a dialogue with your prospect quickly. Whether you offer information by email — or simply identify your prospect’s problem and invite him into your office — the quicker you begin your conversation, the sooner your prospect feels he knows you, which gives you a big edge over other lawyers.
I know lawyers are often concerned about the point at which the lawyer/client relationship begins and the potential ramifications. Whenever possible, I encourage you to create a strong sense of relationship with your prospect, even if it’s not a legal relationship. The sooner your prospect feels he knows you and can trust you, the sooner he stops looking for a lawyer and focuses his attention on you.
If you don’t want to provide information or advice by email, then use your email response to restate and reinforce the seriousness of your prospect’s problem. When you emphasize the importance of handling his problem quickly and decisively, your prospect will likely respond favorably when you invite him into your office to discuss the matter further.
If you want new clients, you’re wise to assume that your prospect is contacting several attorneys by email — and that he will hire the first lawyer who responds. Then do everything in your power to make sure that lawyer is you!