Wednesday, December 3, 2014

So,... How Did You Do? 10 Questions to Ask about Your 2014 Business Development Efforts

In a few weeks, you will all be besieged by scores of emails, promotions, and invitations, etc. asking you to begin the new year “right” by purchasing whatever product or service is certain to make 2015 the “big” one in terms of revenue, new client generation, and cost efficiency.

But before you begin the 2015 planning process, this may also be a good time to take a step back and assess 2014, because all products and services aside, this is the best way to ensure that successful initiatives are duplicated or enhanced, and that any mistakes made are avoided.

So, that in mind, I offer you the 10 questions every managing partner/legal marketing professional should ask as 2014 winds to a close:
 
  1. How successful was 2014 in terms of new client generation?   Were increases in firm revenue a result of ongoing or repeat client business or the result of the firm’s business development initiatives?
  2. Where did new business come from?  Was new revenue concentrated amongst a relatively small group of clients or scattered across a wider range of new clients?
  3. Which marketing activities were most effective in generating new business?  This is a trick question, because not all marketing tools can be easily measured and most new business comes through exposure to a number of different types of business development efforts.  That being said, either quantitatively or qualitatively, is there a sense as to what worked this year and what did not?
  4. Which practice areas benefitted the most from business development initiatives?  Very important.  Different practice groups have different marketing needs. Did the firm ”do right” by each group in terms of implementing the most effective marketing strategies?
  5. Were human resources employed in the most profitable manner possible?  Let’s face it.  Not everyone is good at everything. Some individuals are natural salespeople while others are more comfortable sticking strictly to “lawyering.”  And even among those who are particularly good at generating new business, different people have different skills.  Some write brilliant articles.  Others are terrific presenters. And still others are just gifted when it comes to making small talk at a social or business function. Did the firm take all of this into account in implementing its 2014 plans? 
  6. How efficient was the business development function?  It’s great to have generated new revenue, but far less so, if the expense involved outweighed that revenue. Aside from obvious out-of-pocket costs, how did internal processes affect the business development function? Were marketing committee meetings productive? Did outside vendors get clear direction from the firm and did the various projects flow through the firm smoothly and swiftly?
  7. How was the firm perceived?  Did the firm get adequate feedback from current clients, new clients and prospective clients as to the perceived quality of a) the firm’s work product, b) the firm’s image and c) the firm’s sales “pitch.” 
  8.  How successful were firm competitors in 2014?  Did competitors make inroads into the firm’s business?  Steal any clients? Did any new competitors emerge? If so, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  9.  What relevant issues, trends, news events were “hot” subjects during the past year?  Did the firm leverage its expertise in certain areas of the law? Did it keep an eye on happenings in the world, the community, the legal industry and its target industries?
  10.  How did the results of 2014 compare to what had been anticipated and planned for one year ago?  How good was the firm at forecasting its future and spotting opportunities and potential trouble spots?  What might the firm have done differently to better anticipate and meet its practice-building needs?

So, there you go.  Ten questions to ask yourself before the curtain drops on 2014.

But think, once you’ve answered them, you’ll truly be ready for the next big assignment – developing your attack plan for generating more business in 2015.

If you would like to discuss strategies for marketing your practice in 2015, contact us at (856) 810-0400.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Ways to Use LinkedIn to Build Your Law Practice

It hurts to admit this. And I never thought I would.
 
But I like LInkedIn.
 
I really do.
 
I think that’s because LinkedIn takes a lot of the “social” out of social media and gets down to business. And if you ‘re one of those people who doesn’t care about tweeting from every restaurant you go to, lamenting your latest relationship or sharing videos of your 2-year-old nephew’s latest antics, then Linkedin provides a great forum for you and your firm.
 
It does so in a number of ways.
 
First, LinkedIn offers the opportunity to highlight your professional accomplishments. But as, if not more important, it allows law firms a platform for “bragging” about the organization’s accomplishments. This can be as simple as just having a company page on the site or as detailed as adding “showcase” pages highlighting specific practice groups and/or legal services. Content relative to such groups or services can then be posted onto these showcase pages. If your organization is already developing content for other social media sites, a blog or the firm newsletter, then having something to post becomes relatively easy.
 
Second, in addition to its content publishing capabilities, as a social media site, LinkedIn obviously allows you to build personal networks of professional connections. Where it departs from other types of social media is in its ability to facilitate interaction with what it labels as second and third connections. Reaching out to friends and colleagues (i.e., first connections) is a no-brainer. But attempting to meet (online or off) second connections opens up a world of opportunity. And you do it by actually working off of your first connections. For example, in reviewing the connections of your connections, you notice that your friend Suzy is also connected to Joe, the head of that big bank you’ve been trying to get in to see for years. By reaching out to Suzy, you can ask for a “warm” introduction to Joe. And we all know that warm leads will top cold ones any day of the week.  There are actually systems you can put into place that allow you to explore the connections of your connections as based on very specific criteria on a regular and automated basis.
 
Finally, there are the LinkedIn groups which allow users to reach out to individuals in the same industry, from the same college, with similar interests or who may be potential clients of the firm.  I say “reaching out,” but I could just as easily say “targeting,” because that is what using the groups (and the aforementioned second degree connections) allows you to do – target. In some ways, it can even replace the renting of lists in your marketing arsenal. If your firm is marketing B2B services, then developing a program through Linkedin may actually be more effective (and less costly) than doing so through such lists of addresses, email addresses or telephone numbers.  That is because, on LinkedIn, the data is usually more up-to-date, the individuals have elected to be involved and the opportunity for warmer referrals is significantly greater.
 
There’s a lot more to it, but I believe LinkedIn has the potential to be a great marketing tool for law firms – particularly now when the number of individuals on board has reached a critical mass. Like anything else, it does require some elbow grease, but the results can be well worth it. 
 
If you would like more information on how we can help you publish content online and build your social media network, contact us at (856) 810-0400.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Managing Partner’s Marketing Lament: The Need for Greater Accountability

“How will I know whether the marketing is working?”

“Why don’t (or can’t) my attorneys bring in more business?”

“Why do I need to market when most of our business comes through word-of-mouth?”


In our 20+ years of marketing law firms, these are by far, the questions we have had to address most often.  Attorneys are by nature, evidence-based individuals. They want data, facts, anything that can take the perceived risk out of a function that has traditionally not been so easily calculated for service businesses.

The difficulty in predicting results of business development efforts rests in a faulty linear mindset that wishes to see things from a “cause and effect” perspective.  Certainly a direct mail campaign, a pay-per-click initiative, a seminar can all be accurately tracked for the revenue they generate versus the costs required for their implementation. But in reality, this only offers a limited picture of what is working and what is not.  A truer understanding is generated when one takes a longer, more holistic perspective. For example, even a direct mail or seminar’s success or failure will, in large part, be determined by more image-oriented or branding efforts the firm will have implemented. How many individuals attend a seminar may well be determined by the pre-existing reputation of the firm; and the number of website clicks that turn into live inquiries is, in part, a function of the efficacy and quality of the website itself.   Marketing tools do not exist in a vacuum. To a greater or lesser degree, they serve to support and underscore one another. It is the wise law firm that looks to ascertain results by examining not only the linear relationships of specific vehicles and revenue generated (e.g., “How did that ad pull?”), but also the relationship between the marketing component as a whole with the revenue data.

This is not always an easy thing to do. For one, it means often relying on qualitative versus quantitative “data” for determining success. It may be difficult to assess (though not impossible as will be discussed later on) the value of an image-oriented campaign or that new firm brochure, but if one learns that “everyone is talking about it,” that’s a pretty good indication that something is going on. Similarly, a sudden spike in business may likewise be attributed to a new business development  initiative. Second, it means understanding how each element of a marketing program fits in with all the others. Pulling back support for an image-oriented campaign may, in fact, make that seminar, that pay-per-click program, or individual attorney networking that much less effective. 

The question of accountability in terms of attorneys’ rainmaking capabilities likewise must take the longer view. Not all attorneys are meant to be developers of new business. And some attorneys who are good at bringing in the rain may not even be the best of attorneys. Smart law firm management means smart use of firm assets – the bulk of which comes in the form of attorney talent.  Far too often, we have heard managing partners lament the paucity in their associates’ business development abilities.  And far too often, we have heard those same managing partners issue a directive that all associates must join a civic, religious or non-profit organization for the purposes of “mixing” with potential clients. The truth of the matter is that even among the best of business-generating attorneys, not all are proficient at networking. Yes, some are natural “schmoozers,” but others are better at writing articles or giving presentations or working with agency and marketing folks in a group. Proper allocation of human resources means utilizing the skills of the attorneys where they are most beneficial to the firm.  How does one measure that?  Much as one measures the effectiveness of marketing programs noted above.

Finally, we come to the concept of “word-of-mouth.” Business professionals utilize that phrase as justification for not investing in other forms of business development. Yet the truth of the matter is that “word-of-mouth” comes through two sources – a) interacting with people and b) doing good work.  Both require significant investments of time and money. “Word-of-mouth” doesn’t just happen.”  It happens because something is going on. Understanding who is generating that “word-of-mouth” revenue, how it is being generated and how the investment in it relates to other types of business development can help the smart law practice allocate its resources more prudently. Not all successful law firms may be marketing aggressively in the traditional sense.  But all successful law firms are consistently developing business aggressively through one means or another.

I mentioned earlier that traditionally, law firm management has had to rely on qualitative data to make decisions regarding their business development initiatives. For a long time, this has, in fact, been the case. However, Etiometrix, LLC recently developed an application called RainGauge which allows law firms to track results at the most granular (e.g., individual or departmental)  as well as at the most holistic levels. It also provides data regarding the amount of revenue that the firm (and individual attorneys) is generating through “word-of-mouth.’  This is particularly helpful as it gives a good indication as to the perceived quality of the firm as well as facilitates better decisions regarding which practices groups and individuals require or are justified in receiving greater financial support for their marketing initiatives.  You can check it out at etiometrix.com.

“Accountability” has become one of those catch-words thrown about by just about everyone. But true accountability requires understanding at what level results can and/or should be measured and how those results relate to all the different activities and players in the firm’s business development arsenal.



This is the final installment of a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Market “Positioning” and What it Means For Branding Your Firm

Last week in this blog, we spoke about law firm branding and its relevancy in the information age.

But exactly what is the firm brand? What does it really mean?

We’ve always looked at law firm branding as the outward manifestation of the firm positioning. By this I mean that the brand and all the logos, web sites, ads, blogs, articles and slogans that go with it are, or at least should be, a reflection of the essence of the firm. And by essence, I am referring to what the firm stands for, its point of difference versus competitors, its reason for being.

To ascertain all of this can be a difficult challenge when different personalities, egos, and practice groups all have disparate needs for how they want to be presented to their target markets.

For example, consider the firm with multiple practice groups that seeks to establish a new or revised identity. The folks in the family law group suggest that the “positioning” of the firm should revolve around a history of showing care and compassion. “Not so,” says the head of the corporate litigation practice group. “We need to convey that this firm is powerful and has a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to its services.” “Wait a minute,” says the guy from IP. “This firm should promote the fact that we are cutting edge and utilize the latest technological resources.” Finally, the most senior partner in the room, smiles and attempts to put closure on the debate by stating, “This law practice has been around for over 100 years. We are well known by just about everyone and the smartest approach is to simply tout our longevity.”

Who is right? And where do you think this debate will ultimately lead? Chances are that one of two things will happen. Either the “strongest” member (be it the Managing Partner, the Senior Partner, etc.) will dictate the positioning or, more likely, nothing will happen at all. In the latter case, the firm will just proceed as it always has and will continue to communicate the same disparate messages to its target markets.

How might this scenario be altered?

The key here lies in finding the underlying qualities that tie the various individuals and practice groups together. What is it common throughout the firm? There’s a reason why attorneys in these departments work at this firm at this given point in time. Is it the culture of the firm? Is there a similar approach to the practice of law or to the servicing of clients?  For example, we worked with one law firm that after intense discussions, realized that each individual in the firm took immense pride in finding “innovative” solutions to their clients’ problems. Thus “innovativeness” became the positioning from which the brand was created. In another case, the firm leveraged its knowledge and experience in working with governmental agencies as a means for underscoring its ability to help individuals and businesses.

In discovering the firm positioning, it is critical to uncover that which sets the firm apart (what is it about the firm that one would be hard-pressed to say the same thing about a competitor). Too often, firms make the mistake of developing a “me too” positioning that does little to enhance the firm’s standing.  For example, “Big City Know-How, but with Lower Fees” is an all too familiar positioning employed by so many firms that work outside the city.  

In short, smart law firms know who they are and then develop the brand from that. The hard part is knowing who you are, but once that is accomplished, the developed brand (and hence the firm) is that much stronger for it.




This is the fourth in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Law Firm Branding Still Relevant in the Information Age?

Of all the things we do at our marketing agency – everything from creating plans to executing PR campaigns, online initiatives, special events, etc., by far the activity I’ve always enjoyed the most has been “branding” organizations.  There is something special about taking an entity (be it a law firm, a service or a product) and concepting how to make it relevant to a target audience – or in some cases, to several diverse target groups.

Yet today, as with everything else, the whole concept of branding has changed dramatically.  Much of this is due to the emergence of all kinds of on-line media options. Whereas before, marketing messages competed for your attention by jumping out at you (whether you wanted them to or not), today it is we, the consumer of legal services, who seek out the message.

This alters the ways in which law firms can and should brand themselves. Unless they are blessed with the financial resources to stay the course with traditional media alternatives, they must find a way to get an integrated, single-themed message out to their prospects through multiple channels and by multiple sources.

The difficulty in this is that most of those sources are the individual attorneys themselves who now have the ability to a) create their own individual web site and b) post to numerous professional and personal social media outlets. While there are many, many positives to being able to publish without any third party (i.e. editors, producers, etc.) vetting, it also means that firm management and legal marketers no longer have control over the “cumulative” message that is being disseminated. I’m not talking here about the misguided attorney who may post disparaging or unethical content about the firm, a client, a judge, etc.  Rather, I am talking about how the style and language (and even the content) used by an individual may run counter to the manner in which the firm wishes to be portrayed.   In short, the question is how can the law firm speak with one voice?

The answer, I believe, is three-fold. 

First, now more than ever, the firm’s staff (all of whom are ambassadors for the firm) must be made aware of and buy into the firm brand. This, of course assumes that the firm has, in fact, determined what its core message in and the positioning it wishes to have in the market.

Second, these same firm ambassadors must be encouraged to utilize all of the many media options that are now at their disposal – and to do so in a way that underscores and reinforces the firm brand.

And finally, given that it is, in fact, the accumulation of all messages (online and off) that ultimately reflects the firm brand, it is more important than ever that individual posts, tweets, and other types of contents be tied to an identifiable element of the overall firm – be that a logo, a tagline etc. Consumers of legal services are bombarded by information from so many sources that most become just “noise.”  In a world where disseminating quantity of messages seems to be more important than the quality of a message, it is the wise law practice that can brand itself through the sum of the content stemming from its own hallways.
      


This is the third in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Won’t Those ‘Darn’ Associates Make More Rain?

In my last post, I discussed the fear many managing partners hold, that the firm may be leaving money on the table by not effectively cross-promoting the full range of legal services and not encouraging internal referrals.

Today, I would like to discuss a little bit about a second concern that law firm management often express to us.  It is much less a fear than it is a frustration that associates in the firm do not generate the requisite new business activity necessary to move the firm forward.

This creates a conundrum that firms often find difficult to resolve. On the one hand, lower level attorneys offer the possibilities of greater profitability because they command lower rates of compensation.  Yet, in spending time on providing such legal services to the firm’s clients (i.e., billable hours), they are, by definition not rustling up new business.

To resolve this dilemma, smart law firms must ask themselves exactly what they see as the role of their associates.  Typically, most would say that the function of the firm’s lower level attorney’s requires a hybrid of both client-related work and new business initiatives. We have seen instances however, where firm management has determined that associates should focus on clients while management itself should be responsible for generating new revenues.  That is not necessarily a bad approach because, at the very least, it is clearly defined. Less positive are those situations in which firm management chastises attorneys for the lack of billable time while also lamenting the lack of energies towards acquiring new clients.  Hence, most important is developing a clear definition of roles and an articulate conveyance of them to the firm’s staff.

But it cannot really stop there. Generating business is a skill.  And as a skill, it requires proper training. Most young attorneys do not learn how to do bring in business in law school and depending on the firm in which they practice, they may not acquire such training at work either. Firm management must understand that generating new business (whether it be through social media, referrals, internal cross-promotion, more revenue from existing clients, etc.) all requires an investment – not just in marketing and business development activities, but in the people being counted on to build the practice as well.

And even there it cannot stop.  It is foolish to think that each individual possesses the same set of skills of every other. Some attorneys are particularly good at getting out and meeting the world; others at writing engaging legal articles. Similarly, some attorneys may be innately limited in their ability to create new revenue, but contribute to the firm through their legal brilliance and capacity to solve their clients’ problems. Identifying the specific talents and the deficiencies of each associate is a far better way to leverage the collective manpower of the firm than is to make general assumptions about associates as a whole. Much of this evaluation can be made qualitatively. Yet, believe it or not, there is a software application (RainGauge) which allows management to quantitatively assess the degree to which associates (and senior attorneys as well) contribute to the firm through different marketing and business development activities and even offers the potential to compare such versus their working on strictly client-related business.

The bottom line is that getting the most out of associates requires removing the label “associate” from the equation and instead, harnessing the talents of each individual towards the greater good of the firm.


This is the second in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Managing Partner’s Nightmare: Leaving Money on the Table

In our over 20 years of marketing law firms, one of the most often expressed concerns by managing partners is a fear that they are leaving money on the table.  By this, they are usually referring to the fact that clients are associating the firm and/or individual attorneys with specific areas of focus, rather than as a resource for resolving any of a number of legal matters.  This is typically seen in the client who contracts with a law practice for one legal matter and then walks down the street to contract with another regarding a different legal concern.

Part of this may stem from compensation arrangements that do not reward internal cross-promotion and part may simply be a function of internal politics and territoriality.

So how does the growth-inclined law practice avoid the dreaded “’shoulda’s’ ‘woulda’s’ and coulda’s?’”

The answer lies first in creating a culture in which the firm moves from a practice area orientation to a problem-solving one. Such an orientation often requires re-educating personnel that the firm’s major focus really is on just helping people. Administrative and human resource matters should be approached with that mindset and compensation should, in large part, be based on each attorney’s capacity to do just that. That means rewarding individuals not just for the work they bring in or the work that they do, but also for the work, internal or external, that they can bring to another member of the firm’s staff. Further, in some cases, an interdisciplinary team approach to client problem-solving should be considered. And processes should be put into place that allow firm attorneys to regularly be made aware of the legal matters in which their brethren are involved. 

Second, law firms must do a better job of educating both prospects and clients as to the full range of their legal services. This means developing the kinds of materials – both online and off, which easily convey the many ways in which the firm can be of service. Specific areas of the firm’s legal expertise that are buried deep inside a firm brochure or web site do little in communicating how the firm can help an individual or business in more ways than they might have otherwise thought. Instead, law practices – particularly those with disparate areas of focus, should consider development of collateral materials that highlight its portfolio of services upfront. Ditto for the firm web site.  Often, it is not enough for such content to be place under some “Practice Area” button. That’s because the individual looking for assistance on a family law matter may never even bother to see whether the firm can also help him on his pending bankruptcy. Ditto for the corporation seeking help with transactional matters, but not knowing (or bothering finding out) that the firm can also handle matters of litigation as well.

One way in which we have seen law firms address such issues is through the development and dissemination of e-newsletters. Here, what matters most is not the actual content (though it should still be well thought-out and well-written), but rather the subject line on the address and the title of the main article. Recipients may never actually even read the content, but even in rejecting it, will nonetheless still be exposed to other services the firm provides. The goal here is not to drum up business immediately (though its been known to happen), but to plant the seeds among the firm’s database for that day when the need for a particular service does arise.

Finally, in an age where everyone is (or should be) self-publishing, it is easy to communicate the individual skill sets of specific attorneys. What is mandated however, is ensuring that the ways in which such messages are disseminated, show a consistent regard for the firm at large. This means incorporating the firm’s logo, tag line, contact information (and possibly even practice areas) into individual  online communications. Ultimately, it is the sum of all communications that serves as the face (and even the essence) of the organization.

This is the first in a 5-part series on the concerns most often expressed by managing partners and legal marketers.