Matt Thompson* – A recent survey of law firm business development and marketing professionals suggests the strategies and tactics law firms use to generate new business is changing.
According to the study, law firms appear to be shaking the negative fallout of the economic downturn. Nearly 50 percent of firms report feeling upbeat about new business yet the number one challenge remains fierce competition.
The trend is clear that law firms are increasingly warming to the notion of laser focused business development (BD) and a bona fide sales force, however, there’s considerable variety in perspectives on how best to execute. Here are six important considerations for firms based on what their peers in the market have indicated in the survey:
1. Marketing and BD Differ and Require Different Skills.
According to the study, over 90 percent of firms say they believe marketing and BD require different skills. However, the economic downturn forced many firms to fall into the trap of combining these skills into one role at the firm.
The risk with this approach comes if you approach business development with a marketing mindset. Marketing is about being found, while business development is about one-on-one personal relationships.
A prospect may first become aware of your firm through traditional marketing, branding, and PR efforts. For these marketing efforts to lead to actual work, however, the relationship-oriented approaches of business development have to come into play. At some point a human needs to have a conversation with another human.
2. BD is a Lifecycle that Exists throughout the Client Engagement.
The opportunity for firms going forward is not in making further distinctions between marketing and BD, but rather in how the two functions intertwine as part of a full prospect or client journey.
For example, while an attorney is building a relationship with a prospect or client, marketing activities to that prospect or client should continue.
As you learn more about the prospect, the marketing can be more targeted and more personal – sending them a thought leadership article about a topic in which they have expressed interest – or inviting them to an event tailored to a subset of clients and prospects who share common challenges.
3. “Thought Leadership” Requires Real Thought and Real Leadership.
According to the survey, law firms plan to invest the bulk of their marketing dollars in one area: thought leadership.
Problematically, however, firms cite attorney participation as one of their biggest business development challenges.
The trouble is that the “thought” part of thought leadership is driven by insights provided by the lawyers.
Equally important to fueling the content engine is providing “real leadership.” Your content must be differentiated from the other content options to which your targeted audience has access.
The harsh reality is few client alert emails masquerading as thought leadership are often even noticed and even fewer are read. Real thought leadership requires equal parts attorney participation and a steady stream of differentiated, engaging content.
4. Narrow Prospects to Get Ahead.
In this ultra-competitive legal marketplace, firms are realizing a more effective approach to business development is focusing on a smaller pool of prospects and working on building those relationships from the ground up. In this case, it really is all about nurturing a smaller pool of relationships.
It is better to have a narrow and deep approach to business development rather than being wide and shallow.
5. Key Initiatives and Financial Data Can Reveal Aggregated ROI.
Nearly 40 percent of firms say they don’t have quantifiable ROI Data. This is not surprising, since tracking ROI is a common challenge for firms. A prospect may have engaged with you multiple times before making their buy decision.
How do you know how much credit goes to the lawyer biography information a prospect saw on your website vs. a blog post vs. the golf outing they attended?
Although you may not be able to parse out the credit for a specific deal, by looking at your initiatives and financial data in aggregate, you can see which of your marketing and BD activities provide the most ROI.
6. Leading Indicators Can Help Inform the BD Process.
Most firms tend to track lagging indicators for BD metrics, such as win/loss or financial goals by practice areas. Although lagging indicators are important in that they measure the bottom line results, they are hard to improve upon unless you have a handle on your leading indicators.
Firms need to identify and measure the business development activities and metrics that will lead to the desired financial outcomes. Firms with the most sophisticated approaches to business development are focusing on leading indicators.
For example, the number of client or prospect touch points, relationship and engagement scoring, number of opportunities in each deal stage, and opportunities that have spent over a certain amount of time in a particular stage.
Macro-trends indicate that companies have made fundamental changes to the ways they purchase legal services, which has driven law firms to embrace new approaches to marketing and business development.
Firms who best adapt their strategies to these market conditions and execute on well-defined tactics will make the most progress in maturing their business development evolution in 2016.