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Attorney Marketing: Make Yourself Scarce And You'll Attract More Clients

by Trey Ryder

If you're responsible for marketing legal services, you'd do well to incorporate the Bob Cialdini's scarcity principle into your attorney marketing efforts. Here's why:

Every night around 9 p.m., I feed our two horses a couple pounds of carrots. The purpose is to make sure they eat normally and feel well before we turn in for the night.

Gracie, our aging golden retriever, lines up for her carrots, too. But Molly, our Eskimo sled dog, usually refuses carrots. But -- change the circumstances just a little, and Molly eats carrots faster than a rabbit.

What makes the difference?

If Molly is in the yard near the horses at carrot time, she lines up for her carrots as quickly as Gracie. When competing against two horses and another dog, Molly sees carrots as a scarce and valuable commodity -- and she wants her share.

That's the scarcity principle. It says people (and apparently dogs) value opportunities they perceive as scarce. And when people actively compete for scarce resources, they perceive them as even more valuable.

I've written about Robert Cialdini's principles of influence many times. Bob is a social psychologist and professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. A few years ago -- (actually 31 years ago) -- I was one of his students.

If you are not familiar with Cialdini's six principles and how they affect the subconscious mind, I recommend that you read his book, Influence.

We see scarcity in marketing every day. In some cases, the scarcity is real, such as when movie-goers line up around the block for a limited number of tickets to a new movie's opening night.

In other cases, the scarcity is manufactured, such as when Walt Disney offers a classic movie, recommending that you buy it now because the movie is going "into the vault" and won't be available again for ten years.

You may have walked into a convenience store and seen a single candy bar in a display box near the cash register. Often, the customer quickly buys it because it is the last one. Then, after the customer leaves, the clerk reaches under the counter and puts one more candy bar in the box, creating the appearance of scarcity.

One of my college professors used the scarcity principle to sell his old cars. First, he advertised a car in the classifieds for a specific price "or best offer."

When his phone started to ring, he made appointments with people who wanted to see it. To gain the most from scarcity, the professor scheduled appointments five minutes apart. The first buyer arrived and the professor spoke with him for a few minutes. Then the second arrived. And then the third.

Immediately, prospects saw they were competing for the opportunity to buy the car. This made the car more valuable in their eyes. Then the professor conducted a mini-auction for the three buyers, often finding the best offer was higher than his asking price.

For lawyers, the scarcity principle says, the more time you have available in your schedule, the less prospects and clients value your services. But as you grow busier and have less time available, prospects and clients see your services as increasingly more valuable.

The scarcity principle goes further, too, because as you and your services grow more scarce, people use your availability as a shortcut cue to their quality. They draw two conclusions: The busier you are, the more valuable you are. And the busier you are, the higher the quality of your services and skills.

Scarcity is an even stronger motivator when two things occur: (1) when the opportunity has only recently become scarce, and (2) when we compete with others for the scarce commodity, like Molly and her carrots.

Here's the key: When you inject scarcity into your prospects' decision to hire you, prospects feel they need to act quickly, before they lose the opportunity.

Years ago, I contacted guest ranches to find a place to vacation. In one's reply, the owner pointed out that guests usually make reservations for the entire summer by the second week of June. Immediately, I felt an inner urgency to call the 800 number and make our reservation. Yet, when I looked over their brochure, I didn't want to go to this guest ranch. Even so, true to the scarcity principle, I felt the pressing need to respond quickly because I was competing with other people for reservations.

Here are ways you might profit from scarcity when talking with prospects and clients:

1. Explain that your prospect will lose the opportunity to file suit because the statute of limitations will bar his claim.

2. Explain that your prospect may lose the opportunity because of a pending change in the law.

3. Explain that your prospect may lose the opportunity to buy (anything) at the current price because of an imminent price increase.

4. Explain that your prospect is competing for this opportunity with other people -- and that if he doesn't act quickly, someone else may seize the opportunity, leaving him with nothing.

5. Explain that your prospect has a limited time to act or the other party will withdraw the offer.

6. Explain that your appointment calendar is tight, but that you can meet with a prospective client at a particular time and date.

7. Explain that your client roster is nearly full, but that you can make room for one more client based on your current caseload.

If someone asks whether you're busy, don't say, "Well, I'm killing time waiting for clients to walk in the door." Prospects hearing that statement would immediately conclude that your services aren't worth much.

Instead, you might say, "I've never been busier." "My calendar is full." Or, "I have so many clients, I've started to work nights," -- unless you own the firm. Then working nights is nothing new.

In summary, make sure your attorney marketing message explains how an opportunity is scarce and why your prospect should act now. When possible, point out that only recently has the opportunity become scarce and that your prospect is competing head-to-head with others seeking the same opportunity. In many cases, scarcity will provide the urgency your prospect needs to hire you or take the action you recommend. This makes marketing legal services much easier.