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5 posts from April 2007

April 25, 2007

Selling and spending in other professions, Part 1

The April lunch meeting of the Legal Marketing Association’s New England chapter was called “Meeting of the Minds,” because the idea was to learn about marketing best practices from other professions, including accounting, architecture, banking and real estate. Lots of people must have agreed with me that this was a great idea, because the event was sold out.

The moderator was old friend Catherine MacDonagh, known by some as the Director of Business Development at Day Pitney and COO of the Legal Sales and Service Organization. I prefer to think of her as the co-author (with Beth Cuzzone) of “The Law Firm Associate’s Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills,” which will be published by the American Bar Association in a few weeks. (Full disclosure: I was a contributing author.) But I digress…

I left the session with dozens of tidbits which I will use in my own marketing, and two main conclusions. This week’s post will talk about the first: wherever you go, sales is sales. Next week, I’ll talk about the second conclusion: compared to other professions, lawyers spend very little on marketing.

Everyone likes to believe that their situation is unique, and everyone is partly right. But on another level, the fundamental principles of sales are the same for every type of business. As David Graves-Witherell from the Bank of America put it: “Sales is about people. It’s really that simple.”

Steve Steinberg talked about the pitch approach for his real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle: act like you’ve already won the business. It reminded me of several posts I’ve written about the power of optimism in legal marketing.

Similarly, Maria Abernethy talked about accounting firm Deloitte’s approach to RFPs: put your energy into building relationships, and focus on RFPs for people you already know. Or better yet, build such a strong relationship that your client doesn’t bother with RFPs, they just turn to you as their trusted advisor. Here again, I felt that this was fundamentally the same advice that I got from Ann Lee Gibson when I wrote about legal RFPs.

I loved Kathleen Leahy Born’s stories about how architecture firm Arrowstreet built a long term marketing campaign to change not just the amount of work they got, but the kind of work they got. They rebranded their image largely because “we never got to do the cool stuff.” Now, a few years later, they are perceived differently, and are happier with the mix of work. For examples of how this concept applies to lawyers, see my post “Will selling make you happy?”

One more example of how “sales is sales”: I’ve written often about how listening is the most important skill in selling. And at architectural pitch meetings, Kathy said, “the more clients talk, the more likely we are to get the job.” Therefore, Arrowstreet business developers do not go into meetings loaded down with brochures, PowerPoints, or lengthy agendas. Instead, they hand out a simple sheet with a list of talking points, plus bios and photos of the participants. Then they ask the client what they would like to add to the list. In the most successful meetings, they never get to their own talking points, they just listen to what the client says.

It’s always helpful to review the basics, and I left with several new ideas for my own marketing. But what made people sit up and listen was Roberta Montafia’s question from the audience: “How much do people spend on marketing and sales in your profession?” Next week, their answers, and some research I did after the meeting.

Free stuff on our new web page

When you see our new web page at www.legalbizdev.com, don’t miss the articles and quick references in the free resources section. And if you work at a mid-sized or large law firm, be sure to review the products section too. The best things in life may be free, but in business you get what you pay for.

April 18, 2007

Buying trends for legal services - Part 2 of 2

Last week’s post listed ten buying trends that affect how law firms win new business. One of the most interesting to me personally is #9, the growing influence of procurement professionals. (In the interests of full disclosure, I must say that it was Steve Bell, Director of Sales at Womble Carlyle, who convinced me how important this was a few months ago.)

Over the last decade, professional buyers have substantially increased their influence at large corporations, by becoming extraordinarily successful at reducing costs throughout the supply chain. The good news for lawyers is that they were among the last to get squeezed. The bad news is that the squeezing has just begun.

“Procurement managers tend to look at legal service purchase like buying widgets,” said Leigh Dance. And the way they get the best price on widgets is by getting suppliers to compete more directly and by issuing RFPs. Anyone who works in legal marketing can attest to the radical growth in the number of RFPs, and in their importance.

Another thing that professional buyers do with widgets is reduce the number of suppliers and work more closely with a few key partners. You know, like the DuPont model has done for lawyers, and the resulting convergence trend. Dance says that in the current environment “the pressure for convergence is squared.”

You know those relationships with general counsel that old school rainmakers are so proud of? Well they are not nearly as important as they used to be. Most general counsel are no longer independent operators, who can do as they like. Norm Rubenstein points out that inside counsel are feeling their own pressures for accountability and transparency and “to measure and communicate the value that the inhouse legal department provides the rest of the company.”

But behind every threat is an opportunity for the first law firms that figure out how to win at this new game. One competitive opportunity that Rubenstein sees here is for law firms to share the techniques they are using to measure performance and client satisfaction with general counsel, so that they can use the same tactics in-house.

Similarly, when it comes to dealing with procurement professionals, Dance says that law firms can seize a competitive advantage by adjusting their marketing message to emphasize that reducing risk is more important than reducing short-term cost.

But changing the marketing message on the web page is the easy part. To win in this tougher environment, law firms must change the very way they do business and, Dance says:
o “prepare to be one step ahead: measure and prove your value proactively
o Improve transparency in budgets and estimates and allocation of resources
o Demonstrate and promote efficiencies
o Offer value added services free”

Did she say free? Yes she did. Rubenstein too talked about the competitive benefits of offering “a host of unbilled products and services dedicated to relationship development, including CLEs, intellectual property, and loaned staff.”

These are hard pills to swallow, since what is free for the client comes straight out of the partners’ profits. It is only natural for lawyers to deny that there is a need to change. Why give away something for free based on some consultant’s predictions of what will happen? The consultant could be wrong about the future. But you can be 100% certain in the present that you can increase this year’s profits per partner by avoiding free giveaways.

Over the next few years, we’ll see who’s right. My money is on the firms that adapt to the new environment most quickly, by responding to these buying trends and more. And their biggest competitive advantage will be that so many other law firms are more focused on short-term profits than they are on satisfied clients.

April 11, 2007

Buying trends for legal services - Part 1 of 2

Over 1,000 people assembled in Atlanta a few weeks ago for this year’s Legal Marketing Association conference to learn about the best ways to help lawyers win new business.

When the conference program was first released, I made a long list of all the presentations I wanted to attend. But there was only one that I thought I absolutely positively had to get to: “Ten client buying trends and how to leverage them into wins for your firm.”

My reasoning was that every sales person needs to understand the latest trends in what their customers want to buy. But this is especially critical for lawyers in 2007, because the legal profession is changing so rapidly that getting ahead of the competition can be a matter of life and death.

I was not able to get to Atlanta for the conference, so I contacted the speakers -- Mary K. Young and Norm Rubenstein of the Zeughauser Group, and Leigh Dance of ELD Project Marketing International -- to see if they would be willing to share their ideas with the readers of this blog. When they agreed and sent me their slides, I saw that I’d have to write a book if I wanted to do justice to the 10 buying trends they discussed

1. Diversity
2. Customer service
3. Financial management
4. Aligning with a law firm that affirmatively changes the value proposition
5. Process improvements/ value adds
6. Seeking continuity
7. Regulatory scrutiny and the risks of a high profile
8. Overload of marketing pitches to the largest global companies
9. Procurement managers are invading corporate law departments
10. In-house counsel are tiring of client competitions, proposal processes

So this two part report will just hit the highlights from my personal point of view.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you won’t be surprised to learn that the first trend that caught my eye was #2 customer service. Lawyers typically believe that the quality of their legal work is a competitive differentiator. Clients do not. As Mary K. Young put it: “Quality of legal work is a given, but truly responsive client service is hard to find.” Client teams and client satisfaction interviews are now helping industry leaders to offer exceptional service, including:
o “solutions that achieve business needs, not legalistic responses
o Meeting or exceeding deadlines, and
o Projecting costs and managing the billing process..”

Which leads directly into trend #3 - financial management. Mary K. Young described a number of specifics, including: “Corporate legal departments are increasingly expecting:
o Projects to be assigned in segments
o Bills that match the projected segments
o Early consultation when circumstances warrant a change from a forecast.”

The firms that develop systems to maximize transparency and accountability will have a distinct competitive advantage over those whose billing practices have not changed in twenty years. More about financial pressures next week in Part 2…

April 04, 2007

How to qualify new prospects

If you are spending valuable marketing time on developing a new relationship, and don’t feel that you are getting closer to new business, you should do what sales pros do - try to qualify the prospect by deducing the answers to three key questions:
1. Will they buy?
2. Will they buy now?
3. Will they buy from me?

If the answer to any question is “no,” that person should be removed from the short list of people you take to lunch, and placed on the long list of people whom you keep loosely in touch with through holiday cards and mass mailings.

This is easy to say, and very hard to do. Of course you usually can’t ask any of these questions directly. And even if you can, the direct answers may be mistaken. Just because someone believes that they have the budget, the authority, and the political power to assign a new engagement, that does not mean they are correct.

Qualifying prospects is a delicate dance, in which you want to push hard enough to see if you can make something happen, but not so hard that you sound desperate or scare someone off. Only you can decide how aggressive you should be in each particular case. Here are a few questions you can use to begin probing for information.

The less aggressive approach

1. In the past, what are some of the things that you’ve liked most about working with law firms?
2. What have you liked least about working with law firms?

Probing with these questions can provide clues about exactly how this person works with law firms, and also about where competitors are vulnerable.

The more aggressive approach

1. Would you be comfortable telling me roughly how much your firm spends on legal services per year?
2. Who makes decisions about new engagements?

If they don’t know the answers, you may be talking to the wrong person.

Again, the idea here is to gently push the relationship forward. If that fails, this particular relationship may not be the best use of your very limited marketing time.

This material was adapted from The Legal Business Development Workbook.