Springing Forward or Falling Back? It’s time to expect more from marketing and BD in law

by Adrian Dayton

Is your firm looking for a place to innovate? Look no further than marketing and business development. Firms have a real opportunity in this area, but the vast majority are moving too slow. This isn’t the fault of the overworked marketing and business development (BD) professionals, who put in long and often thankless hours; it’s the failure of firm leadership to make substantial investments in technology and innovations that would allow marketing professionals to assist their work.

Law firms should look outside their industry for inspiration. Outside of law, savvy businesses are investing in methods to get to know their customers like never before. A combination of great marketing energy and cool marketing technology tools make customer care and expansion the core of the business of marketing. In the real world, companies have moved far beyond event graphics and “alerts.” These companies are anticipating customer needs and adding value to their experience. They have a customer feedback loop built right into their service offering, including follow-ups and surveys. They also have an agile “voice of the customer” co-development methodology that produces minimally viable products (MVPs) that clients actually want and that fill real needs.

Another example of innovation that firms seem to be missing is Account-based Marketing (ABM), which has led to companies developing value-driven plans for each major account or prospect. ABM is a huge opportunity for law firms, but most don’t seem to be paying attention to this powerful trend. Firms should be increasing their investments in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for keyword campaigns, in tools that turn the marketing technology stack into an authentic demand-generation machine, or in optimizing firm-generated content.

Business development departments in law firms bear little resemblance to these departments at major companies. In the real world, business development uses data to independently drive new business. In law firms, the business development department sometimes feels so constrained by the lawyers, it’s as if they can’t use the restroom without asking permission.

Outside companies judge the full-time business development professionals based almost completely on performance. Instead of being reactionary, like most business development folks in firms who are handling opportunities already generated by lawyers, business development in the real world drives opportunities. It finds them, helps the company strategize how to win them, and provides all the analytics needed to score the win.

In the outside world, if business development is not constantly finding new customers, they get replaced. Their performance is completely evaluated based on key performance indicators (KPIs.) KPI’s always include a revenue number or something to measure for success in terms of enterprise value. Most business developers are “responsive,” to partners, but they shouldn’t have to answer to the lawyers, they should answer to their KPI’s and be held accountable for their KPI’s.

Social media should be strategic and informative. Do you know how many awards Apple won this year? Or how many of their executives got honored by their industry? No. You don’t care. You want to know how Apple can make your life better. Legal websites are still too much ME ME ME..not customer, customer, customer.

Customer-focused content also should be crisp and actionable, and the website should understand who is using which features so a value-added client experience can be continuously improved upon.

Today, a law firm partner should be able to push a button for a near-ready proposal to a prospect, an invite to an event, or an informational packet to a recent contact. She should be able to see in her Outlook who’s been looking at her website bio, who read her last alert, and who she needs to follow up with from last week’s webinar. Surprisingly enough, most major firms know 100% of this information, but they haven’t made the effort to make it easily accessible to the lawyer.

She should get a regular report on BD opportunities (of which she was not even aware!), based on her practice and what is happening in the market.

The vendors are ready. Everything described above is already more than doable. The professionals, for the most part, are ready too, but innovation means change.

The publish/speak/submit/brag/repeat model has been around since the 1980s. Many firms still use this model. We talk to GCs all the time who get dozens of emails in their inbox every time a federal agency or a certain court sneezes. Sometimes it’s valuable, but they don’t always have time to find out. How many firms have truly asked their top customers what kind of content would add the most value?

Publish/speak/submit (to awards givers)/brag is not how our customers operate in marketing. Their model is understand, learn, investigate, collaborate, engage, enhance, convert, scale.

The pie is not going to get bigger. Shouting that you are better, older, larger, more sophisticated, or honored will become more and more of a waste of money. It’s time to think like the customer. Listen to what the vendors could actually do for you if you were willing to invest. And be willing. There are big opportunities for the firms that learn to function like modern businesses. Listen to what your own marketing pros think about how to grow. Unleash their true potential. Too many firms hire the bright and strategic and then ignore all their advice and fall back to a 1980s-mode in marketing. Give BD meaningful KPIs, the resources to increase them, and hold them accountable.

It’s Spring. Time to spring forward!

This is the first joint article for Adrian Dayton, Founder of ClearView Social and Paul Ward, who has served as CMO, Chief Innovation Officer, and strategic advisor to some of the largest law firms in the country.

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