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4 posts from February 2008

February 27, 2008

Tracking the new business pipeline

When law firms install CRMs, many hope that they will be able to follow the example of professional sales organizations and track the “pipeline” of prospects who may some day become clients. 

The pipeline metaphor comes from the idea that relationships take time to build.  If you want business to consistently flow out of one end of the pipe, you need a steady stream of new prospects flowing into the other end. 

If the sales process is seen as a pipe, it’s a leaky one, since most prospects never buy.  As Mike Bosworth put it in Solution Selling:  “Sales always has been and always will be a numbers game—no matter how good you become, not everyone will buy from you.” 

When I first started selling, I had this quote up on my bulletin board to help me to accept the fact that to succeed at sales, I needed to be willing to fail, a consistent percentage of the time.  That’s why people say “sales is a numbers game.”  To close a small number of sales, you must follow up with a large number of prospects.

Some successful rainmakers are very good at keeping in touch with a large network of people.  I recently coached one partner who was in regular contact with more than 30 people.  But at our first meeting, she talked about being overwhelmed by the amount of time this took.  When we dug into the details, person by person, the problem became clear:  she was spending too much time with the wrong people. 

From a business point of view, the relative time you spend with people should be based on the likelihood of getting significant new work.  If you just go with the flow, you may do just the opposite, since the prospects who have the most time to chat are often the ones who are least busy and least able to give you new work.

This rainmaker addressed the problem by organizing all her top contacts into a table in Microsoft Word.  One column classified the marketing priority of each person as high, medium, or low, based on the amount of work they might have, and when.  Each week, she sorted the table so that she dealt with the high priority items first.  Many weeks, she did not get to the low priority people at all.  Which was fine.  That’s why they call them low priority.

Two things happened as she got more organized:  she consistently spent more time on the most promising deals, and she developed more new business, more quickly.  Now, almost a year later, she is still keeping the list up to date.

This may or may not be the best way for you to keep a list of prospects, because different people work in different ways.  Our LegalBizDev Success Kit includes eight different formats for tracking reports, and every one of them works for some lawyers, some of the time.

A few months ago, I started keeping my own pipeline list in Microsoft Excel, and I must say I am thrilled with the results.  Before that, I tracked all my To Dos in our CRM, and frankly I was having trouble keeping the big picture in mind.  My active followup list currently includes about 150 firms, and priorities change often.  I never have enough time to follow up with all the people I’d like to, so prioritizing is key. It really helps to have everything in a simple spreadsheet that can be printed on a page or two.  I still enter past history in the CRM, but I use the spreadsheet for future tasks.  If you want to try this, I’d recommend starting with just a few columns, such as: 

  • Name (company or person or both)
  • Priority category (I use one for clients that could buy something from LegalBizDev within 90 days, two and three for longer time frames, and four for people who think they will never buy from LegalBizDev.)
  • Size - estimated legal budget or company revenue (since large clients are typically higher priority than small clients)
  • Date of next planned contact
  • Comments   

The great thing about having this in a spreadsheet is that it is so easy to use Excel’s Data/Sort menu choices to reorganize the list and look at the big picture in different ways.  For example, if there are ten people I would like to call today but I only have time for two, the priority and size columns make it easy to pick which two.

When we talked about using Excel vs. more sophisticated software at the Boston Roundtable on Legal Business Development there was a clear consensus for keeping things simple and using Excel.  One CMO maintains a very simple pipeline spreadsheet that includes the client name, the lawyers involved, a description of the opportunity, a summary of the action plan, and the date of the last contact.  Another keeps a spreadsheet that tracks the cost of every event and marketing expense, and ties it back to results and individual business plans.

One rarely goes wrong by keeping things simple.

February 20, 2008

CRMs and tracking sales activity – the view from the trenches

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was organizing a new quarterly Boston Roundtable on Legal Business Development for senior biz dev people from the largest firms in Boston.  We limited this “invitation only” group to seven firms to maximize discussion, and simply invited firms in order of size, based on the number of Boston lawyers. 

Well, we had our first meeting on February 6, and I was amazed at how candid people were.  The roundtable was attended by senior business development people from seven firms with a total of 4,800 lawyers:   Choate, Goodwin Procter, Goulston, Holland & Knight, K&L Gates, Nixon Peabody, and Nutter, McClennen & Fish.

The topic was “How To Track Business Development Opportunities, Activities, and Results:  What Works and What Doesn’t.”  We started by discussing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, since most of these firms had adopted either Interaction (used by 52% of law firms with CRMs in a survey printed in the January 2008 issue of Law Practice) or another of the leading packages.  Regardless of which system they used, their success was underwhelming.  One participant said she thought her firm was using “about 5%” of the functions in the software.  Another said its most valuable benefit to date was in “getting out the holiday cards.”

The problems started with resistance to the CRM.  Sometimes it came from powerful secretaries who “hate everything.”  Other times lawyers resisted, for as many different reasons as there are lawyers.  My favorite was the lawyer who was upset that the CRM required him to use two letter abbreviations of state names, such as MA.  He insisted that the correct approach was to write out the full state names, such as Massachusetts.  When reminded that the Post Office insists on two letter abbreviations, he said, “I don’t care what the Post Office wants.”  In the end, the simplest approach with this particular lawyer was to disconnect him from the CRM, so that he could continue to maintain his address book in the form that he wanted.

Most firms appointed “data stewards” who spent many hours cleaning up data, to reconcile differences between lawyers and assure that each client appeared in the system only once, regardless of how many different ways her name was spelled.  Several marketing departments reported that the best way to get accurate data into the system was to do it themselves – they had developed a variety of systems for marketing staff to collect data from lawyers and also took responsibility for data entry.

On the positive side, once it works, lawyers love the CRM because:

  1. It is an easy way to quickly get valuable information about a current client or a potential client, especially about who knows who.  The larger the firm, the harder it is to keep track of relationships, and the more valuable a working system is.
  2. It helped lawyers to look smart at “pitch meetings.” Nothing is more embarrassing for a lawyer than to try to pitch a client, only to learn that other lawyers from the firm were there last week or last month, going after the same work.

That led to a brief side discussion of what a terrible term “pitch meeting” is.  It encourages the idea that when lawyers meet with prospective clients, their task is to pitch, to hurl, to throw out information.  In fact, any successful sales person will tell you that instead of pitching, you should be catching: listening to what clients have to say at least 50 to 80% of the time.  One firm has managed to banish the term and replace it with “prospective client meetings,” but most of the legal world continues to call them pitch meetings, and continues to talk too much and listen too little.

Some firms are making progress in making pitch meetings more efficient and more likely to lead to new business.  One has created a library of “pitch letters” on its intranet, including background on how each letter was used, and how well it worked.  When a lawyer wants a letter to approach an emerging company, or to go after a particular kind of tax issue, or to contact a hedge fund, she can start by going to the firm’s confidential intranet and customizing letters that have already been written and tested.

Several people agreed that one of the most successful tactics for encouraging biz dev activity is to stimulate friendly competition between practice groups, offices, and/or individuals.  One firm issues a monthly “STAR” report – the Sales Tracking Activity Report – summarizing statistics such as the number of needs analysis meetings, the number of face to face contacts, and the number of RFPs considered and responded to. 

Others invited lawyers to write up their sales activity in any way they liked, and simply included these accounts in their reports.  One firm includes summaries of new matters on the intranet home page so that whenever a lawyer starts up his computer, he sees a headline about someone else’s new business success.  These stories also sometimes enhance coordination, when a lawyer sees a story about Company X, and thinks:  I work with Company X.  Why wasn’t I mentioned?

Participants agreed that graphs and visual representations are especially important.  A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.  So if a potential client has been targeted for more face to face meetings, nothing shows progress, or lack of progress, more clearly than a month by month chart of the number of meetings.

Lawyers are competitive by nature, and anything that channels that competitiveness into business development is likely to ultimately lead to more revenue for the firm.

February 13, 2008

These are a few of my favorite blogs

If you have managed to find time to keep up with top legal marketing bloggers over the last few months, you can skip this post, because I’m just going to write about things you’ve already seen.  But if you’re like me, there’s never enough time to keep up.  So here is a two minute tour of the legal marketing bloggers I consult most often.

Of course I must start with Tom Kane.  You may know that Tom co-founded the LegalBizDev Network with me, and that we have worked together on a number of projects over the last few years.  I met Tom over the internet, when I introduced myself as a fan of his blog.  These days, we have a running competition on whose blog gets more hits.  He keeps winning.  For a sample of Tom’s work, just go to the latest post at his Legal Marketing Blog, or try an oldie but a goodie like Why you should hire a coach.

Another of my favorite bloggers (and internet buddies) is Dan Hull, whose blog What About Clients? is always full of surprises.  Where else will you find one post about lawyers' need to write fewer memoes and another linking to a Mardi Gras video and a blawg roundup that includes a description of a bill to ban fat people from eating out in Mississippi (see Are you eating right?).  Before you leave Dan’s blog, be sure to look at his 12 rules of client service. I liked that one so much, that I included it in The LegalBizDev Success Kit.  (Dan and Tom are the only two people not named Hassett who wrote pieces in The LegalBizDev Success Kit.)

The third blog on today’s list came up in Google last week when I was looking for some ideas for a lawyer I’m coaching.  Her billable hours are a little down from her peak year of 2,600 -- that’s right, two thousand six hundred billable hours, an average of 50 hours per week, 52 weeks a year.  She now has two small children at home, but for some reason she still can’t seem to find enough time for business development.  I thought I might find some suggestions for work-life balance on the internet, and the first thing that came up in Google was Arnie Herz’s blog Legal Sanity.  “I know him” I said to myself smugly.  Arnie’s January 30 post “Career customization for lawyers” not only answered my immediate question, it also directed me to all the sources I needed to dig deeper. So if you want to “rethink and revitalize your life in the law” read Legal Sanity not just for advice on how to make a living, but also on how to make a life.

Long-time readers of this blog know that Gerry Riskin is one of the bloggers I quote most often, and he is always ahead of the curve.  Two years ago I was writing about Gerry’s work on Bulletproofing your crown jewel clients, and two weeks ago I was writing about his predictions of a legal slowdown last August, and his January followup for managing partners on how to “recession-proof your law firm.”  If you need to save some time, maybe you should just read Gerry’s blog instead of mine.

The next blogger on my list, Pat Lamb, has been posting less frequently in In Search of Perfect Client Service for the last few months.  He’s been just a little busy founding a new law firm.

It’s called Valorem Law Group, from the Latin word for value, which right away tells you something important is happening here.  One goal of this group of litigators “is to move from hourly work to alternative fee work.”  Everybody’s talking about that sort of thing, but I haven’t seen a lot of firms doing anything about it.  Until Pat and his partners started.  I will probably have to settle for fewer blogs from Pat in these post-Valorem days, but will be extremely interested in tracking his progress in accomplishing his larger goal which “is nothing short of revolutionizing the client-lawyer experience.”

Last but certainly not least, no review of legal marketing bloggers would be complete without Larry Bodine.  On the very first day that I started searching the web on legal marketing, the first name that came up was Larry Bodine.  His Law Marketing Portal is still the first place I look for the latest developments, and his blog frequently introduces me to new trends and research.  My favorite post from the last few weeks summarized statistics from Wisnik Career Enterprises regarding the number of marketing people in large law firms (one marketing person for every 27 lawyers, on the average) and how long they last (3.8 years for Chief Marketing Officers, less for everybody else, bottoming out at 2.2 years for marketing assistants).

If I focused more on solos, I would now proceed to talk about the blogs from Carolyn Elefant and Roger Glovsky (who in his spare time is also my lawyer).  But I’d better stop here, before I dig an even deeper hole for myself.  No list can include everybody, so wherever you stop there will be embarrassing omissions.  And just let me say that if you are a legal marketing blogger who was not mentioned in these first six, you were probably my number seven.

February 06, 2008

Teaching associates to build stronger relationships

A shorter version of this piece appeared in the January/February issue of Law Firm Inc.

Lawfirminc_jan2008_jpeg_3 When law school graduates start at their first firm, they often seem both intrigued and mystified by marketing and business development.  Intrigued because they know that these skills are absolutely critical to success in an increasingly competitive legal environment.  And mystified because they have no idea where to begin. 

“The practice of a law firm is no longer simply a profession, it’s a business,” according to Catherine Alman MacDonagh, a founder of the Legal Sales and Service Organization and co-author of the recent American Bar Association book, The Law Firm Associates Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills. (Full disclosure:  I am a contributing author.) “Now, more than ever, lawyers must pay attention to client acquisition, service and retention in order to survive and compete, and associates in firms of all sizes have an important role to play.  Just as it is important to build associates’ technical skills, they should be trained and mentored in marketing and business development as early in their careers as possible.”

Paul Hastings, an international law firm with 1200 lawyers in the U.S, Europe and Asia, recently began offering a program to fill this gap. According to Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer Meg Sullivan, “We realized that by the time lawyers get to be partners, habits are engrained.  So we wanted to create a program that would help associates to sharpen the relationship skills that clients ask for, and also enhance client service and satisfaction.”

Midlevel and senior associates in several offices were asked whether they wanted to participate in a ten week training and coaching program on developing new business.  Although it required a substantial time commitment, and most associates have no free time, approximately 25 volunteered in each office.

Sullivan collaborated with the Attorney Development group to create six sessions that reviewed basic concepts of relationship building and business development.  For example, a session entitled “Communicating effectively with clients” was designed to “strengthen presentation skills (e.g., client pitches, meetings with partners as the internal client) and sharpen communication skills (e.g., informal conversations with clients, client meetings).” Others were devoted to networking, gaining business intelligence, leveraging relationships, and more.

Each associate in the program was also required to draft a business development plan outlining their goals and activities for the next 6-12 months.  Finally, coaching subgroups were formed, each with four or five associates led by a partner.  The coaching groups met six times to discuss activities that grew out of the training, including reviewing drafts of business development plans, revising attorney biographies, and organizing activities to build larger and stronger networks. 

The results were obvious soon after the program began, said Sullivan.   “Associates became more proactive in getting out to meet with clients, and they are working very hard to balance their time and fit marketing into their schedules every day.”

One associate facilitated a teleconference call attended by about one hundred clients. Another played a prominent role in responding to an RFP which led to new work. Other associates have run webinars, written articles and white papers for industry publications and served on panels at industry and professional association meetings and symposia.

The lawyers liked it and, more importantly, the clients loved it.  Increased contact led to the kinds of deeper relationships that helped associates progress as trusted advisors.

Sullivan reports that as word of the program spread, “The demand has been overwhelming. By the end of this year, we will offer this training in the majority of Paul Hastings’ offices.”  Then, as the next group of associates rises through the ranks, another cycle of offerings will begin. 

The precise content of the sessions has varied from office to office, because the training sessions are structured for maximum flexibility.   Each begins with basic information and tips, then opens up into a question and answer session.  That’s when lawyers hear the real-life nitty gritty details of how great rainmakers succeed, such as the senior rainmaker who explained how he phones his top 15 clients and prospects every day.  That’s right, 15 phone calls every day.  They also learn that not everyone needs to do this.  Different partners succeed in different ways, as each finds the tactics that are most effective for their individual practice and personality.

But though the details vary, at each of the offices where the training has been offered, three strong themes have emerged, underlining the importance of:

  1. constant communication and relationship-building with key clients
  2. openness and sharing of client contacts
  3. actively managing your network – as you grow professionally, your cohorts will too, so it is important to stay in regular contact.

From the associate’s point of view, programs like this promote skills which will serve them well as they progress to partnership, or even if they move to a different position.  From the firm’s point of view, business development training produces greater associate satisfaction, more satisfied clients and more interesting business opportunities. 

Given that lawyers win, clients win, and the firm wins, it is obvious that programs like this will continue to spread.  And when they do, they will establish good marketing habits in the next generation of lawyers, before they get set in their ways.