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Law Firm Marketing - Extranets Will Hook Your Clients for Life

By Andy Havens, Published on November 28, 2004

The Holy Grail of retention marketing is a product or service that will keep your clients coming back again and again. Done well, extranets have that capability.

Andy Havens, Marketing Management Consultant and co-founder of Sanestorm Marketing. Questions, comments, and criticism welcome. Contact Andy at 1.877.SSTORM1 or andyhavens@sanestorm.com.



Nets? Hooks? Did we need more fishing analogies?

First of all, for those few of you who don’t know what an extranet is, I’ll give you the 60-second introduction. An extranet is simply a set of protected web pages and resources available only to those users whom you define. In the case of law firms, that’s usually going to be your lawyers and staff, clients and, maybe, some vendors. The web pages and files can be protected by various hardware and software security devices, ranging in complexity and expense from dedicated computers with limited access, hard-wired communications service, to simple password protections. The level of security will depend on what kind of content you’re putting on your extranet and how much your clients are willing to pay for it.

The point of having a protected, private extranet – which some call a “web space” – is that you can go there to share work material. Some of the types of things that companies do on an extranet include:

1.  Document management tasks: finding the latest version of documents; reviewing or retrieving from remote locations; organizing documents from many users by department, project, matter, client or industry; publishing documents firm- or client-wide; centralizing documents; integrated searching; automated back-up functions.

2.  Online calendar and group scheduling: schedule meetings, court dates, hearings, etc. with lawyers, staff and clients; post reminders and attachments including agendas, directions to events and list of attendees; synchronize with personal calendaring programs; access from remote locations with web access.

3.  Task manager and to-do list: monitor status and readiness of various projects; assign priority levels.

These are the main ways that law firms, and other businesses, are using extranets. By themselves, they are an efficient, centralized set of information management services. That, in and of itself, is a good way to encourage client loyalty. But if you don’t want to just encourage loyalty, but to cement it, there are a few ways to tweak an extranet and turn it into the most powerful tool you’ll ever have in your client loyalty program.

Movies: the front door to the concession stand

We all know this by now. Movie theaters make very little of their revenue showing the movies. But once they’ve got you inside, they know you’ll want to buy popcorn, candy and soda. And – so I hear – nachos and hot-dogs, though I’ve never actually seen anyone buy one. The same is true for extranets. If you create an efficient, well-organized extranet as the place where your clients must go in order to have access to the files necessary to manage their cases… you can sell them popcorn while they’re there.

Two things to make clear at the onset. First – your extranet must, must, must be very good at its primary purpose. It has to do its job well; document management, online calendaring, task management, etc. If you fudge the important stuff and then try to go all marketing crazy, you’ll look like a huckster. And that’s naughty.

Second, the “marketing” that I’m about to suggest adding onto your extranet will not look like marketing to most of you marketing folks out there. You will be tempted – some of you will be sorely tempted – to add marketing that looks more like marketing to your extranets; advertising, press releases, rotating banners, new hire announcements, etc. Resist the lure of the Dark Side. The less your extranet marketing looks like marketing, the more effective it will be.

So what is this magical extranet marketing that doesn’t look like marketing? Well, away we go.

You call it “marketing.” We call it “content”

Here are five items you can put on an extranet that will add value and content to the site, keep your clients interested, generate new work and keep ‘em coming back for years to come.

1.   Discussion forums: Open discussions. Barely moderated. Let your clients and lawyers say whatever they want. And when I say “whatever they want,” I mean that your clients should say whatever they want and your lawyers should be carefully instructed to say whatever you want them to, while still sounding like they’re being candid and open. Once you give your clients a voice on a site that you control, they will begin to feel a sense of ownership towards the venue, and that leads to loyalty.

2.  Blogs: Make the extranet home page the “front page” for at least one – preferably several – of your lawyers’ blog pages, with links to their full blog pages. Even better, offer to host blog space for your clients to blog on appropriately related subjects. Again, when you provide a way for your clients to become engaged as content providers, rather than just content subscribers, you give them a chance to feel involved in the action. [Editor's note: how about considering the use of wikis too!]

3.  Your firm’s portal headquarters: This one is a bit more work, but can yield incredible results. It involves making the extranet “the” starter site for all your lawyers, staff and client activities. Everything your firm does on a computer starts there. Email? Launches from the extranet. Billing? Same thing. Anything having to do with a client is client-centric. Clients can look at their bills, staff can look at time-sheets. The extranet (which will also be, for your personnel, an intranet) becomes the one-stop-shop for all data viewing related to your firm. Hard to get right, but will have an enormous pay-off in both monetary savings and operational efficiency.

4.  Webinar hosting/play-back: Last month I wrote about how easy it is to host webinars. You can make your extranet the main site from which you post information about and log into your webinars. You can also post recordings of past webinars so that folks who missed the live event can download and watch previous sessions. It looks super-hi-tech, but isn’t hard at all.

5. News feeds: For not much money, you can get syndicated, updated news feeds sent to your extranet every day. Take some time and create a dedicated, customized news page for each major client. How cool is it for a client to log into an extranet and get local weather and news for their city, industry news for their particular sector, news clips for their company, legal news related to their case(s) and practice area and (maybe) some sports news related to the personal interests of chief counsel? Or his/her favorite cartoon? You get the picture.

The whole point of good marketing is to provide “hooks” that keep clients interested in coming back for more. For example, each of the things I mention above can be leveraged to cross sell new lawyers or practice groups to a client that’s already heavily invested in using the extranet site. How? Get the new lawyer introduced on a discussion forum and have him participate heavily for several weeks. Have him start a new blog, host a webinar and insert his newsletter into the news feed. Same story for a new office opening. The trick is to make your marketing look like content in the format of the media that your clients have grown accustomed to.

Extranets are addictive. They encourage two-way communication and true co-management of documents and information. In the process, they also provide a method of keeping your clients “coming back for more” for years to come. Take advantage of this opportunity and keep your nets full.