The Importance of Being Strategic; Account Based Marketing, Measuring Return, and a Strategy-First Approach to Digital Marketing with Guy Alvarez

Furia Rubel Communications, Inc.
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Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of On Record PR. I’m Leslie Richards, a guest host of the show and the Chief Innovation Officer at Furia Rubel Communications.

Today we’re going on record with Guy Alvarez, who is the founder and CEO of Good2bSocial. Guy, a former practicing attorney, is one of the leading consultants in technology in the legal industry and has advised Fortune 1000 companies and Am Law 100 law firms on all aspects of digital marketing. Welcome, Guy.

Welcome to On Record PR, Guy. It is a pleasure to have you here.

Guy: Thank you, Leslie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Leslie: Let’s start by talking about what you feel are the biggest challenges that law firms face in digital marketing.

Guy: It’s an interesting question, and I think it’s a question that the global pandemic has impacted in a significant way. Before COVID, I think one of the biggest challenges that law firms faced was generating content consistently. And that I believe partially can be attributed to lawyers not necessarily understanding the value of creating content to educate their clients or prospects. Obviously, with COVID, lawyers suddenly realized that not having the ability to go out and take clients or prospects out to dinner, attending trade shows and conferences, they discovered the importance of digital content and creating content. So what happened is a lot of firms started to generate significant, large amounts of content.

I think now the bigger problem is on what content we should focus. What is the ROI that we’re getting from this content? And where should we focus our efforts? Because most firms, even the largest firms, don’t have marketing and business development teams large enough to do everything their lawyers want them to do. It’s a matter of figuring out a strategy, and I think many firms are struggling, figuring out what their marketing and digital marketing strategies should be.

Leslie: Interesting to hear you say that. Since content generation in and of itself without a strategy behind it is a lot of work, the return is not there if you haven’t focused strategically on developing that content, who the target audience is, and where you’re placing them of that. So I think it’s an excellent point that you make.

I heard you speak on the topic of the adoption of technology with law firms. For example, you’ve mentioned that only 37% of managing partners do not have a LinkedIn profile, which is, I think, not typical for many other industries. We know that 92% of businesses use LinkedIn as a part of their digital marketing strategy, and it can certainly be an effective channel for business development. It’s used quite heavily for that purpose.

Why do you think the legal industry is slow to adopt new technology overall?

Guy: I think there are two issues. When you go to law school, they don’t teach you how to be a businessperson. They teach you how to be a lawyer. Lawyers think of themselves as practitioners first, businesspeople second. They have this misconception that I will get as many clients as needed as long as I do outstanding work. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. I think most clients today expect the work to be good. It’s what else they can offer the clients that make a difference. Clients are looking for that added value.

I think lawyers don’t necessarily understand why they should be on LinkedIn. I think firms try to train them on how to use LinkedIn, but not on why. And I think that’s the question that every lawyer needs to understand. I’ve talked to a lot of lawyers, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you know my marketing department handles LinkedIn,” or “handles social media.” I try to tell them, “It’s not about your marketing department; it’s actually about you building new relationships and staying top of mind with your existing relationships.” It’s a relationship tool, thus, why it’s called social media. I don’t think lawyers understand, and I think there’s not enough training focused on the why which is why I think that they’re slow to adopt.

Leslie: I think that’s a perfect distinction; how versus why. Why is much more motivating.

Guy: Absolutely.

That goes beyond social media. For any adoption of technology, the question that the firm has to be able to answer is what’s in it for me? Why should I use your new tool and take time to learn something new if the process that I’m doing right now works for me? Why should I make that investment?

Guy: For example, I’ve been talking to Am Law 100 firms that I’m doing some consulting for, and in talking to their partners, very few of them are using their CRM platform. They don’t know why it’s there. They don’t find any use for it. They’re keeping notes on their desks, on an Excel spreadsheet, or a little notepad. Yet you have the firm investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a platform that no one is using.

Leslie: That could, I think, automate some components of relationship maintenance so that attorneys could do the thing that they are focused on, which is practice law.

Guy: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. Yep.

Leslie: For the firms who are early adopters of technology, what do you think this will do for them in the market?

Guy: The firms that are early adopters, especially if they have a solid strategy in place, can be a huge differentiator, as you just mentioned. Being able to automate some of the tactics to focus on the process instead really is a huge differentiator. Interestingly, talking to this firm yesterday, one of the partners said to me, which was interesting; I think he was in the tax practice, he said, “We work only with Fortune 500 companies because those are the only firms that can afford us. And we already know all of the decision-makers, but what we don’t know is the younger generation, the 30-year-olds.” It was in the context of M&A. He said, “Those are the deal-makers right now. Those are the people that are doing the deals. And I don’t have those relationships.”

So being able to leverage technology to develop those relationships and expand your base of relationships, even within your existing clients, I think is a huge game-changer. Suppose you look at the professional services firms, the Ian Wise, the KPMGs, the PWCs. In that case, they are leveraging technology incredibly effectively to develop relationships, stay top of mind, and create value propositions that most firms today are not doing.

Leslie: Interesting. The other thing that we’re starting to see across industries  – and legal is no exception – is a new generation is rising in the workforce. They will dominate the workforce within the next decade. This generation has gone to school online, ordered their pizza online, potentially found their spouse online, has rented their house, or bought their home online. This is a generation that trusts online interactions and relationship development. Leaving them out of the conversation at this point jeopardizes the future growth of firms that ignore it.

Let’s talk a little bit about account-based marketing. I know this is a topic that you enjoy. I think it’s a fascinating way of approaching prospect development and pipeline development for a professional services industry. Let’s start by defining the terms if not everybody is familiar with account-based marketing, sometimes referred to as ABM.

Guy: ABM, in a nutshell, it’s a business strategy. It’s not just a marketing strategy because it very closely aligns marketing and business development, and outside the legal industry is aligning marketing and sales. Still, we’re in the legal sector for marketing and business development. The idea is not to have a strategy where you’re just going to throw up a bunch of content and see what sticks. Who’s going to be interested in the content that we’re creating? But rather, it is to focus on revenue. Instead of leads revenue. And saying, “Okay, who are our top clients from a revenue perspective that we can generate more business from, where we can grab a larger share of wallets?” And similarly, “Who are our prospects that we believe are our ideal client profile?” Those are the types of companies that best fit our services based on their needs, industry, knowledge, expertise, and all those different things.

So instead of looking at a whole universe of prospects, it’s narrowing down your targeting and researching to understand those prospects, or those clients better and then develop marketing campaigns aimed at those particular clients or prospects.

Leslie: There are technology that make ABM much more effective and more scalable.

Can you talk specifically about ABM and the required technology, aw well as generally for law firms? What are the must-have pieces of technology in your opinion?

Guy: Sure. It’s interesting; the word itself is a new concept to the legal industry. Law firms don’t understand what ABM is. The concept of critical accounts or key target accounts it’s not unique to law firms. Many firms look at their key accounts, especially the larger firms, and try to grow their business within those key accounts. What’s changed everything is the technology, as you said. Technology enables you to take it to a whole other level than you could do today.

Guy: What you’re able to do with technology is you’re able to A, figure out who your top targets are, either clients or prospects, identify that ideal customer profile. It enables you to research to learn more about them, their needs, objectives, and goals. And then B,  it allows you to create campaigns across many channels to measure which prospects or clients are engaging with your campaigns.  Then the business development part, or the lawyers, can take advantage of that knowledge and then start to have conversations regarding the engagement that is already happening.

To do that, you certainly need a CRM, 100%. There’s no other way to track that. You probably need a marketing automation platform that enables you to identify and segment out your key targets. And then, you need to use all of the different channels, from social media advertising to programmatic advertising to email campaigns. You need the technology and the ability to do that. And then you need an excellent platform to measure that engagement, to see who’s engaging. There are some ABM platforms that you can leverage. Then, go back to the CRM and follow up and see how you’re progressing with each prospect or your client.

Leslie: In the legal industry, Guy, do you find that people understand the concept of a marketing automation platform, and is it widely used?

Guy: Not really. It’s starting to happen. We’re seeing more and more firms beginning to play around with it. One of the problems you have is there are some legal vendors out there, I’m not going to name names that claim to have a marketing automation platform, and it’s not. It’s just a mass email tool, really.

Leslie: Glorified email.

Guy: Exactly. I would say some savvy firms are understanding and are taking advantage, but it’s still very, very preliminary.

Leslie: Let’s talk a bit of return on investment for these companies making the leap forward and adopting technology as a core component of their marketing departments.

How do these tools help measure, and how do you recommend people look at the question of return on investment?

Guy: One of the biggest things that law firms struggle with when it comes to their marketing is to tie the return on investment on their marketing activities closely. I ask firms all the time, “How do you measure these things? How do you know what’s working? How do you don’t know what’s working? How do you know what to invest in next year?” And very, very few are doing it. Many of them generate some reports that show clicks and open rates and visitors and unique visitors, but they don’t try to extract any insights from the data. And data alone is not going to do much. I think it’s essential to be able to understand the ROI.

One of the critical things they need to do is to be able to  closely tie the firm’s overall business objectives to their marketing activities. And I don’t believe most firms do that. They might have some particular goals, but it’s all over the place when you look at their marketing strategy. There’s no rhyme or reason.

One of the things that law firms can learn from, again, going back to the big four firms, the accounting firms, they do campaign-driven marketing. They identify the beginning of each year’s key business objectives and develop multi-channel campaigns for each then they measure the hell out of them so that at the end of that, they can say this worked, this didn’t work, and this is what we’re going to do next year. There are very few law firms that are doing that today.

Leslie: A couple of things there. One, anyone who’s been a marketer for any length of time knows the multi-channel approaches are much more effective. The sum of the parts is greater than the individual pieces. That again gets back to strategy. Without a process, implementing tactics has a much lower return.

I think the other thing is the technology that you mentioned. For example, if we’re talking about an open rate, that’s a percentage; we don’t know who opened. But if you’re in a marketing automation platform, you know that John Doe from the firm such and such is the one who opened it, and here are the five things he read, and this is what he clicked on, and you start to have a much better understanding of who that prospect is.

Guy: That’s exactly right. You’ve nailed it.

Leslie: I know this is a tough question, so feel free to be very general.

If we’re looking at a marketing technology stack (MarTech), the tools you need to have in place, and the people to run them, what would you say is the correct budget for mid-sized firms to think about if they want to run effective digital marketing?

Guy: I think a firm’s overall marketing budget, put the MarTech stack aside for a second, should be somewhere around five to 7% of its overall gross revenue. I think that’s the way they need to look at it. I believe most firms are much lower than that. They’re probably around two to three percent. I think you have to look at investing in a marketing technology stack, depending on the firm’s size. Still, at least 20 to 30% of that marketing budget should be dedicated to technology platforms.

As you know, technology is just a tool. You need to learn how to use it, and then you need to create enough content to keep the engine running. Many firms will talk about getting a marketing automation platform, but doing marketing automation is hard. The hardest part is creating the right content for each of the different stages in the buyer cycle. So having the technology without knowing it’s difficult, and sometimes it could be a waste of time.

Leslie: We’re in an industry that changes very quickly as digital marketers.

What are the things that you think CMOs should be aware of that are upcoming changes in the landscape? I’m thinking specifically of things like Google’s forthcoming ban on third-party cookies. What are the kinds of things that CMOs need to watch out for or leverage?

Guy: The Google ban and the Apple iOS ban on third-party cookies are something to watch out for. I don’t think it’ll have as much of an impact in the legal industry as it will in other industries because law firms, for the most part, have never heavily invested in online advertising. So, it’s not going to have as much of an impact, except consumer-focused law firms. So, the PI firms, the mass tort firms. Those firms have relied a lot on third-party online advertising, so they’re going to 100% be affected. The larger B-to-B firms, the corporate firms, I don’t think they’re going to be as impacted as much.

I think what is going to be a considerable impact is what I mentioned earlier. What firms are struggling with is figuring out that ROI and managing all this abundance of content now. I think firms must hone in and look at campaign-driven marketing, developing campaigns, and then having the right tools to execute and, most importantly, measure them. If you can do that within the concept of an ABM strategy, then you’re focusing. It’s maybe fewer campaigns but more focused. And I think focus is vital. It’s important.

Leslie: Focus is key to any business – knowing where to spend your energy because our energy can get dissipated so quickly. When we’re talking about measuring, it’s not just about return on investment and understanding whether the spend has been worthwhile; it’s also understanding what works so you can pick the correct strategy as you move forward.

Guy: Yep. A lot of firms get caught up with the shiny object syndrome where, “Oh, there’s a new platform. Clubhouse; everyone needs to jump on Clubhouse now.” Maybe, but maybe not. You’ve got to focus and understand where your clients and your prospects are and the most effective way to reach them. I would say it’s more of an investment in doing research and getting to understand your clients and what makes them tick, and what keeps them up at night, and what opportunities they’re looking at, and then developing value propositions that match those issues. I think that’s the key, really.

Leslie: I love that you frame it as research. I think that is an effective way to look at it.

Guy: Thank you.

Leslie: So shiny object syndrome aside, are there any pieces of technology on the landscape that you’re excited to see?

Guy: I’ve been doing a lot of research on ABM platforms and figuring out which ones are best. We recently introduced a company called Applecart, which I think is doing some pretty cool things where you’re trying to influence buyers, but don’t necessarily make decisions on their own. A lot of times, they’re influenced by their surrounding people. This technology enables you to market to the buyer and their circle of influence as well, which I think is pretty cool and certainly a different way of targeting.

I’ve been looking at a lot of intent data and intent data companies like Bombora, which enable you to not only identify who your key targets are, but what topics they’re interested in, and developing campaigns when they’re most interested in those topics. Those are some of the things we’re looking at.

Leslie: Yeah, I think Bombora has got some exciting offerings for sure.

Guy: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Leslie: Unless there’s anything else on your mind, my last question would be just how did you get into this field, and has your marketing career always been focused on legal? I know you were a practicing attorney at one point. Tell us a bit of how you went from point A to point B.

Guy: It’s a funny story. I’m originally from Mexico City. When I started law school, it was around the time the first NAFTA agreement was put together.

When I was graduating from law school, I said, “Well, I’m going to leverage my background, and I want to be a customs lawyer, international customs trade. I had good grades, but I wasn’t law review, but the top third of the class. When I graduated, it was challenging to get a job because many firms practice that type of law. One day I was at Barnes & Noble, and I picked up a book called How to Make Money From the Internet. It had nothing to do with law or anything at all. I picked it up, and I read it. I’m like, “Hmm, how can I apply this to the legal industry?” The next day, I interviewed a firm and sold myself as an internet expert, just from reading the book. I got hired.

So interestingly, I got hired, and in addition to practicing, I decided to build a website. It was one of the first law firm websites ever created. I started a couple of listservs before there was social media. I was promoting our practice to the listservs and generating quite a bit of business from it. Next thing you know, I had all these other firms asking me to join them and do what I had done for my firm, and instead, I decided to start focusing on digital marketing.

I started my own little company back then, not Good2bSocial. And then, I joined what was then called the National Law Publishing Company. Today it’s American Lawyer Media. Helped to run their online division. That’s kind of how I got started. I tried to go away from the law. I went over to KPMG. I ran their digital marketing for a while. Every time I tried to get away from it, the law kept pulling me back.

Leslie: It finds you.

Guy: When I started Good2bSocial about ten years ago, I was not going to focus on law at all. Those were the types of interested clients. And then I realized, you know what, this is an excellent opportunity. Even though the legal industry is a few years behind, I saw the potential, and it was the right choice. We developed a nice niche for our company, and now I live it, and I love it.

Leslie: That’s great. I enjoy your webinars, and I think you have a wealth of knowledge and information to share, so thank you very much for being with us today. It’s been a pleasure.

Guy: Thank you, Leslie. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure, and I look forward to having you on our podcast one day.

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