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Cole Valley gets message out to lawyers

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Cole Valley Software, based in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, sells its customer relationship management software to midsize law firms as well as other professional services firms. The firm historically has relied on trade show marketing to meet prospects and to network, said Jeff Reade, president-CEO. It was through this networking, however, that the company realized it had missed several opportunities with its target audience.

"We learned of a number of situations where we weren't even considered, and we had to eliminate those missed opportunities," Reade said. Cole Valley has a very high closure rate when its product is considered, Reade said, so the key was to create awareness.

Adding to the challenge was the fact that CRM systems have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, with widely cited statistics indicating a 50% failure rate industrywide, he said. And, in the legal industry, CRM user adoption is a particular problem; professionals who are billing by the hour are often reluctant to take the time to learn how to use new software.

Cole Valley decided its messaging needed to focus on its product's ease of use and failure rate of less than 10%, Reade said. "We could see that we had an advantage there, but we really didn't know how to communicate that," he said. "We started to realize it'd be best coming from clients—not only the fact that [we have a] high user-adoption level, but that there are a lot of satisfied clients."

Last year, the company hired New York PR firm Burke & Co. to help it get media coverage of client wins and successes. One goal, Reade said, was to have a steady stream of smaller mentions—for instance, in Law Technology News' column on recent deals. "We wanted to get some mention—if not every month, at least every other month," he said. "It's a limited little blurb, but it keeps you on the radar."

Even more important was to give the audience something to "really sink their teeth into" as far as success stories, Reade said. "We were concerned about being seen as just another CRM product that has a high probability of failure," he said. "We wanted to get the story out that we weren't."

A PR strategy that focuses on client success is particularly effective in marketing to the legal industry, Reade said, because case studies give a product more validity than a sales pitch. Plus, the industry tends to be a small world, so the target audience often is familiar with the law firm or lawyers featured in the case study.

Cole Valley's efforts led to coverage in industry publications including Canadian Lawyer; Law Practice Today (an ABA publication), Law Technology News, and Strategies (a Legal Marketing Association publication).

The company also monitored key industry listservs, such as Larry Bodine's Law Marketing Listserv and the Legal Marketing Association's listserv, and nudged clients to respond to relevant posts. Plus, Reade got exposure as a member of the Legal Marketing Association's conference committee, which created a tongue-in-cheek video about being a marketing professional at a law firm. The video, which features Reade, is currently on YouTube.
Reade's goal was to have the company's media effort "feed itself," he said. "And that's where we've gotten to in the past one to two years—having people contact us because they've heard our name and have heard people talk about it. And a lot of that has been the PR efforts," he said.

Reade said he attributes the company's impressive increase in revenue—50% in each of the past two years—in part to the PR push.

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