"What's this going to cost?"

I'D BEEN EXPECTING THE QUESTION.

The enormous conference table was filled with 25 law firm partners as we presented a firm-wide branding and marketing initiative. When you present to attorneys, you can count on the fact that they’re going to want to know what it costs. And one of the partners did indeed ask about halfway through my presentation.

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That’s a very important question, I responded, and one I’m fully prepared to answer. But with your permission, I’d like to address that question at the end so that you will have a solid basis on which to make your decision.

Fine, the attorney said. So I finished and later returned to the question of cost. I told them that for a project with this potential significance to the firm, I believed that there are actually four questions for them to consider….

1. Does this program makes sense to you?

Let’s broaden the question a bit. Is it clear and logical? Does it feel right? Does it fit us as an organization? Would you be proud to show this to a customer to a client, family member, or friend? Because if the answer to any of those questions is NO – we should stop right here.

If it doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t fit you, if you’re not comfortable with it, if you wouldn’t be proud of it when it’s finished – why do it?

On the other hand, if it does make sense, then we should continue.

So, I asked, are we in agreement that this program makes sense to you and fits you as a firm?

Heads nodded yes.

2. Will this program work?

Does it provide value that people will want? Does it meet a need that people have? Will it appeal to people and make a positive impression on them? Is it reasonable and logical to assume that it will work?

Again, if the answer to any part of this second question is no, then let’s not go any further.

So are we in agreement that this program is likely to work – and therefore produce results for us

3. If it works, what could it produce?

I asked the attorneys: You are here because you represent every practice area of the firm. Would I be correct in believing that each of you has a pretty good idea of what the value of a typical new client is? (I knew it would range from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the practice area.) Heads nodded yes.

So, based on what you have seen here today – already agreeing that this program makes sense and fits you as a firm AND that it is likely to work – is it also logical to conclude that it will work at least well enough to bring each attorney in this firm a minimum of one new client within the first year?

Of course , they all said. And if this program produced at least one new client for each attorney in this firm – in addition to the business you already have – what would the total value of that be to the firm? (They were now thinking in millions of dollars).

So, I said, we have already agreed on three important questions:

This program make sense – and it fits the firm. You would be proud to have it in use.

It’s likely to work. It offers value and meets needs and will help people – both the people who receive it and those in the firm who will use it.

The total of new clients – and therefore new revenues – that this program is likely to produce could be quite significant.

And so we are ready to consider the original question….

4. What will it cost? 

And so I told them – about $100,000 – a bit less than they were likely to pay just one new associate that year. I knew that earlier that amount might have seemed like a lot of money, especially since at that time years ago they weren’t used to spending much on marketing, but I wasn’t worried. They had already agreed to the logic, fit, effectiveness, and potential of the program, and most of them were already thinking about millions in potential income!

I was confident – but then something unexpected happened. The Managing Partner, who had sat quietly at the far end of the table, said: This makes sense to me. Let’s move forward. And got up and walked out of the room.

The program was approved within minutes. There was very little discussion and almost no debate (imagine that with a room full of lawyers!)

And after the program was implemented, it accomplished everything that we thought it would – and much more. Over a decade later, many elements of that first program are still in place and working for the firm.

But you know, I never could get them to tell me just how much revenue it produced.

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RECOMMENDATION  These four questions above are about far more than simply selling a big initiative. They are about what you have to look at to make good decisions as a leader.

When new ideas are presented, if you focus first or perhaps only on the cost – without looking at potential – you are only doing half your job as a leader.

It’s your responsibility to start with the potential or worth of new concepts and balance them against cost. THAT is being a strategic leader.

Carl Francis

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