“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.