When you talk to potential clients, do you connect with their fundamental hopes and fears? Or do their eyes glaze over? Does your website make potential clients excited, or does it leave them confused? Our guest today will share his tips for remaining relevant to our clients and thriving as an attorney in a world transformed by technology.

Jeff Echols is managing principal of professional services organizations for the marketing agency Revenue Path Group. He’ll share with us the science behind human decisions, and how an attorney can harness it to build a successful and sustainable practice.

Learn more about Jeff and Revenue Path Group at www.revenuepathgroup.com.

How to Listen

Join us as we sit down with the country’s best attorneys to talk about their processes and practices, as well as their outlook on the always-changing legal landscape. You can browse episodes on our podcasts page, or find us on your favorite podcast directory. New episodes every month!


Katie: When you talk to potential clients, do you connect with their fundamental hopes and fears or do their eyes glaze over? Does your website make potential clients excited or doesn’t leave them confused? Our guest today will share his tips for remaining relevant to our clients and thriving as an attorney in a world transformed by technology.

Welcome to the Filevine Fireside. I’m Katie Wolf. Jeff Echols is managing principal of professional services organizations for the marketing agency Revenue Path Group. He’ll share with us the science behind human decisions and how an attorney can harness it to build a successful and sustainable practice.

Thank you so much for talking with us today, Jeff.

Jeff Echols: Well, I appreciate it Katie, I appreciate the opportunity. I’m glad to be here.

Katie: Can you set the table for us? Who are you and how did you come to be doing this work?

Jeff Echols: So, my name is Jeff Echols. I am the managing principal of professional services organizations, at Revenue Paths Group. And I came to this position where I am now, really, out of the architecture world. I grew up in architecture. That’s my training, that’s my background. I worked in firms for, I guess I’ll date myself, but, a couple of decades, a little over a couple of decades.

And what’s interesting about that journey is that — most people are in school and they dream of being an architect, a great designer. And what we don’t figure out is that there is a business called architecture.

So when I graduated and went out into the quote-unquote “real world,” there were other people that identified skills and competencies in me that kind of steered me really away from the idea of great designer and more towards the business side. So that’s how I got into business development and marketing in the AEC world and in the professional services world.

Katie: So you moved from building buildings to building business. Is that?

Jeff Echols: Exactly. And that’s the thing. Whether you’re an architect or an attorney, you can’t practice your art. You can’t be great at your art unless you have built a great business around it. You can be the best attorney in the world, but if you don’t have the right business built around it, then it’s not going to last very long.

So that’s exactly right. I went from building buildings to building businesses. And my approach has really always been about business or brand storytelling, and about the relevance that we have to be able to generate in order to avoid commoditization.

Katie: Before we dive into what you mean by that, can you tell us about Revenue Path Group and your mission there?

Jeff Echols: Revenue Path Group. I guess on some level you might say, well, they’re a marketing agency — and we are, but the idea behind the name of Revenue Path Group is that we look at the entire revenue path, not just marketing, not just business development, but the entire revenue path. And what we like to say is — there are three things that are standing in your way of success; one is commoditization, the other is consensus decision making, and the third is compressed selling time — and those are really the things that affect the entire revenue path.

So really, it’s my job, when we look at all three of those factors, it’s my job to make sure that our clients are relevant in the eyes of their clients and their prospects.

Because most of us look at what we do — I’m an attorney, I’m an architect, I’m an engineer — whatever it is in the professional services world — of course I’m relevant.

But it’s not up to you to make that decision. Relevancy is in the eyes of your clients and your prospects. And if they judge you to not be relevant, that’s the day that you fall into commoditization.

Katie: So you work with a lot of attorneys. Can you explain what this looks like specifically for attorneys?

Jeff Echols: Sure, sure. The example that I like to use, the theoretical you sample is, imagine that day where that client that you’ve been working with for 15 years, you’ve been doing that type of work with that client for 15 years — not that any of us ever have clients with unreasonable expectations, but —

Katie: No, never. [laughs]

Jeff Echols: Never. But when that client calls and says — hey, I’ve got this thing, I need you to work on it right away, and it’s got to be settled by next Tuesday; we’re tight on fee — all those type things that a client might say.

And you look at it and go — well, we’re busier than we’ve ever been in the history of our firm; I can’t look at it by two weeks from now, let alone get it settled by next Tuesday. And in the back of your mind, you already know that they’re on the fee schedule from 2017 or 2016. Right? And so, you should be charging them more, not less.

So you look at all these expectations that they have, and you’ve got to have that hard conversations. Like — listen, we can’t meet your expectations, so we’re either going to have to adjust, or we’re going to have to say not this time.

And that’s when that client responds and says — oh, that’s OK; I’ve got two or three other people I can call; one of them will say yes, and they’ll do it for the fee that I am willing to pay.

And that’s the moment where that client has essentially judged you to be irrelevant in their mind.

Katie: When you say commoditization, does that mean attorneys are just commodities? They’re fungible. You can replace one with the other? And if one has a better price point or whatever, that’s what you go with?

Jeff Echols: Right, yeah. I mean, that’s kind of the bottom line. You know, when we all look the same and sound the same and act the same, then there’s really only one more reason to make a purchasing decision or a hiring decision — and that’s usually price.

So an example that I like to use when I’m on stage, giving a presentation, and I’ve got this great slide of Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, and he says — your margin is my opportunity.

And I like to use that in the professional services setting — for attorneys and engineers, etc. — because most will sit back and go — OK, I get that, but that’s the B2C world; that’s retail. What does that have to do with a law firm or an engineering firm or something like that?

And then I say — well, imagine the day that a CEO of some organization in your town walks into her office and she says to the Alexa in her office, she says — Alexa, I need an attorney that can help me get this filed by the end of the day today — and then Alexa returns four results and says — would you like me to connect you now?

And, when I say that, for a lot of people in the professional services world, that sends chills down their spine. And the only problem with this story is that I started out saying “imagine the day…”

And the truth of the matter is, you can do that today; you could walk into your office or your home and you can say — Alexa, I need an attorney to do whatever, and Alexa will return results and offer to connect you now.

And if that’s the case, if we all look the same, sound the same and act the same, it’s very easy for Alexa to categorize us or add us to a short list, if you will. So the question becomes — is the Alexa the new shortlist, is AI going to start making decisions for our clients? That 15-year client may say that to Alexa, and all of a sudden Alexa returns four results and you’re not one of the results. What happens then?

Katie: Well, I have to ask that question back to you. What does happen then? What do you provide? Or how do you advise attorneys to deal with that situation?

Jeff Echols: First thing you have to do is not look the same, sound the same and act the same.

We’ve got to understand the way that our clients’ or our prospects’ brains work. Our brains are very selfish. Our brains, when we look at a website or listened to an attorney talk or however we might encounter that law firm or that attorney — the only thing that’s really going through our mind is what’s in it for me.

So we have to understand, when we talk about whatever we think our value proposition is, it doesn’t matter unless it matters to them. So we’ve got to have the empathy. We’ve got to have the understanding to think about — well, what is it? What’s standing between that client and whatever their view of success is? What are the pains, threats, and fears that are standing between that client and success? And how do I speak directly to those things?

Not — how many years experience I have; not — what my qualifications are. But, what is it that speaks directly to the pains, threats, and fears of that person or that selection committee, however the decision is being made?

Katie: So if an attorney wants to be more profitable and they bring you in and you tell them to practice their empathy. Do you ever get raised eyebrows? Or… [laughs]

Jeff Echols: Every time.

Katie: So do you have any stories you can tell about how this might play out? How this might work for attorneys?

Jeff Echols: Sure, absolutely. And you’re right. I mean, just about every time I start talking about this, whether it’s with a perspective client or on a stage, whatever it is, many times, a good portion of my presentation will actually be about neuroscience. It’ll be about the way the brain processes information, about the way that we need to structure what we say and do so that it does resonate with the client’s brain or the prospect’s brain. So a lot of times, the first thing that happens is the eyebrows go up, right?

But the fact of the matter is that, if we went through a presentation and we said… The last time you pitched a new client, you walked in and said — hey, thanks for allowing us to meet with you today; we’re law firm XYZ; we have more attorneys of this type and we’ve done more work on these types of cases than anyone else in the state. In fact, let me tell you a story about a case that we just completed that I think is a lot like what you’re facing right now. And then finally, I think we’re the right firm to meet your needs because our mission is all about helping organizations like yours succeed.

Now, for most people, that probably sounds like exactly how they gave that last presentation or exactly how they told that last story or made that last pitch.

Katie: Yes. It sounds totally great to me. What’s the problem in that situation?

Jeff Echols: The problem is that your brain operates in a certain way. Your brain is a three pound organ, it’s 2% of your body weight and it uses 20% of your energy. It burns up 20% of the calories that you consume. And it’s made up of several areas, one being the neocortex, that top part of your brain, the most recent part to evolve in your brain. That’s the part that understands logic and data and experience and qualifications. That’s the part that reads and writes — that type thing.

And then the middle part of your brain is the part of the brain that loves the great story. When you read a book or you go watch a movie, if you were hooked up to an MRI, that’s the part of your brain that would be just on fire because it loves a great story.

And then the bottom part of your brain, some people call it the reptilian part or the lizard part of your brain, the limbic part of your brain, it can’t read, it can’t write. It’s why a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s where your emotions are housed.

And many people know that buying decisions, hiring decisions are made based on emotions. If you consider the fact that your brain uses 20% of your energy, and that neocortex, the logic and data qualifications part of your brain, that uses an inordinate amount of that 20%. We try as hard as we can not to use the neocortex.

So when we walk in talking about logic and data, about qualifications and experience and depth of bench and those type things, it is quite possible that the person across the table from you will say — you know what, I’m not going to give you the time or the energy to try to understand what you’re saying.

If you’ve ever heard anybody say “that went totally over my head,” think about what you said right before that. It was something that required the neocortex to understand. They decided, you know what? It wasn’t worth it. I just let it go right over my head.

Katie: So we walk in there, we make a pitch, we try to bring their neocortex online and meanwhile their lizard brain is just starving for information; we’ve fed it nothing.

Jeff Echols: That’s exactly right. Yeah. You have to start out with the lizard part of the brain.

So if you take that exact same presentation or that exact same pitch, and you say — our mission, we understand that what you’re suffering from right now is labor issues, our mission is helping organizations settle labor issues; in fact, let me tell you a story about a case that we just settled that I think is a lot like what you’re facing now. And finally, thank you for letting us be here; we’re law firm, ABC; we have more experience in this type of law than anyone else in the state.

That’s the exact same presentation, but it’s formatted in a way that’s designed to resonate with the brain. And the key is it starts with that reptilian part. It starts with the elimination of pains, threats and fears. It starts with that empathy that I talked about before, where, we understand what you’re going through, we understand the threat that you’re facing, we’re here to help you eliminate that.

Katie: So you feed the lizard first and then…

Jeff Echols: That’s a good way to put it.

Katie: Then move from there.

Jeff Echols: Exactly.

Katie: Can these same principles work online with digital marketing? Or is it more when we’re talking face to face with people?

Jeff Echols: Oh, that’s a great question. One of the things that we have to understand. Most of the decision making, most of the fact finding, most of the opinion building in this day and age is done before we even know there’s a prospect out there.

If you’re an attorney and you want to win a big new client, they’re out there looking at your website; they’re out there looking at social media; they’re out there gathering social proof, etc.

And some studies say that 70% of that fact finding, that opinion building, all those things, are done before you even know there’s a potential out there. That’s where your website has to be your lead sales person. That’s where your social media, if you’re on social media, that’s where your marketing collateral — all of these things that someone will encounter, a potential client will encounter, before they actually encounter a human being.

It nearly killed me the other day. We started work with a new client and we were talking about something that was on their website, the messaging that was on their website. And they said — oh, that’s just advertising from 2018 — no, that cannot be just advertising from 2018. Your website has to be your lead salesperson. Because in this day and age, everybody’s got a smartphone, everybody’s got a tablet or whatever. Everybody’s online. They’re encountering all of these things. 70% of this fact finding, 70% of this information gathering is happening before you get face to face. So that website and everything else has to use the same principles and has to be that lead salesperson.

Katie: How that happen though? How can you connect with the lizard brain just through your website?

Jeff Echols: In the same way.

So, a really great resource. And I think most people by now are familiar with Simon Sinek and his TEDtalk, where he talks about, Start with Why. In that TEDtalk, he says, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

And what that basically means is… I mean, that’s an appeal to the lizard brain there. What that means is people want to align around a belief, and if they can align with you around a belief, now I’m more willing to talk about and understand more about what you do.

So if your website, if the messaging on your website can, number one, be clear, it’s got to be clear. The number one problem with every website is that someone looks at it, and within five seconds, they see it, they see the images, they see some words, but they don’t really understand what you do. You’ve got less than five seconds to tell them what they do and why it should matter to them.

And talking about — we’re the biggest, we’re the most qualified; we have the deepest bench — that’s not going to do it; that’s going to shut their brain down. They’re looking at a website, probably on a phone to begin with, and it’s got to be incredibly clear why you do what you do and why that should matter to their lizard brain. Even on your website. Very clear, very concise, very easy to understand within fractions of a second why it is that we should work with you.

That’s the toughest question of business development — why should we choose you? If you can’t answer that, if your website can’t answer that, if every person in your organization can’t answer that, you’re in trouble.

Katie: Wow.

One concern that I read about, in terms of commoditization and what attorneys are worried about is, are robots just going to replace us at some point? Is AI just going to be able to solve more people’s problems? Is that something you think about?

Jeff Echols: All the time? Yeah, all the time. We are in an age of acceleration. Technology and quote-unquote “progress” is happening faster. Technology is changing. Progress is happening faster than it ever has in the history of mankind.

So AI, virtual reality, augmented reality, all these other disruptors are happening to everyone — car dealers are selling out to other car dealers because they’re having to sell three times as many cars as they used to just to make the margins because there are disruptors coming in into the marketplace; cab drivers are going to become nonexistent because of Uber and Lyft and others — there’s all kinds of disruptors, whether it is AI or something else, but it’s getting harder and harder to compete, on every single level. Because usually these disruptors come in at lower cost. There may be a high front end investment but lower cost to do the work, let’s just say it that way. But they also take pieces of the business away, and they take this and they take that. And the other thing that they do is they create noise and confusion.

And going back to explaining what our value proposition is, going back to what our website says, what our social media says, if we’re not crystal clear on what our value proposition is, then it’s going to get lost in that noise. And if it gets lost in that noise, in that wash out, that’s where we start to sound and look and act the same, right?

So, yes, AI is going to come in, and it’s going to take bits of business away from attorneys and accountants and others. But what’s going to be left? There’s always going to be something left. How do we pivot? How do we stay in front of that? And how do we continue to explain what our value proposition is and not fall back to talking about ourselves? Not fall back to, well, we have this much experience; we’re the best at that; we’re have the deepest bench.

I mean that’s one of the biggest things happening right now, right? Mergers and acquisitions. Small firms are getting sucked up by big firms, and that’s how people are competing. That’s how people are staying ahead.

Fine. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. But at the end of the day, what is the value proposition of that new from? What makes that from different other than size, other than locations? Those type things? Those checkboxes.

It’s, once you start to define yourself in easily quantifiable measures…

Somebody called me the other day and I didn’t know who they were, so I looked up their website, and right on the front page of their website, it says we have 563 combined years of experience. And I go — OK, number one, it takes my neocortex to understand that, right? So what does that mean? You’ve got a 563 interns that have been there for a year? Or you’ve got three guys that have been there way too long? I don’t know what that means. I can’t easily figure that out.

Katie: I see that all the time. That that combined years of experience thing, attorneys love to lead with that.

Jeff Echols: Oh absolutely. Yeah. A lot of people use that. And the other problem is, if you have 563 combined years, and you’re up against the firm that has 564 combined years, do you lose by default?

Anytime that you can quantify your quote-unquote “value proposition” like that, you’re just begging to be knocked off by someone that has a slightly bigger claim — slightly more years, whatever, one more attorney, whatever it is — you can’t quantify your value proposition like that. Because number one, I don’t understand it. Number two, I don’t really care. And number three, you’re really easy to be knocked off by someone that’s just got a little bit more,

Katie: This has been so enlightening, Jeff. I am so glad that you took the time to talk with us and give us these new ideas. If attorneys want to work with you or talk with you more, what’s the way that they can connect with you?

Jeff Echols: Number one, thank you. I appreciate the kind words and the opportunity.

If attorneys want to connect with me, I’m on LinkedIn all the time. Jeff Echols — J-E-F-F E-C-H-O-L-S, Pretty easy to find. Connect with me there. Or you can send me an email at jeff.echols@revenuepathgroup.com, or give me a call — 317-408-4322, and I’d love to talk about how to avoid that commoditization and remain relevant and being able to survive and stay ahead of that curve. So always glad to help.

Katie: Well, thank you for your time, and for feeding our lizard brains today. [laughs]

Jeff Echols: Thank you for that term, that I’m now going to use all the time. [laughs]

Katie: Yeah, it’s free. You got it.

Jeff Echols: Thank you.

Katie: This has been the Filevine Fireside. I’m Katie Wolf.