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4 posts from June 2008

June 25, 2008

Roundtable report on business development best practices, Part 2 of 2

Spending

Several participants at the May meeting of the Boston Legal Business Development Roundtable expressed frustration at the types of things that lawyers want to spend marketing funds on, and the things they don’t. 

Lawyers sometimes use marketing department funds to speak at events which charge fees to speak to an audience that includes potential clients.  These “pay to play” presentations, as they are called, can help develop new business – but only if the right people are in the audience, and only if the lawyer is willing to put in some hard work to follow up after the talk.  One roundtable law firm has developed a process that approves expenses like this only if the conference has a good track record of producing business, and the lawyers have a plan to follow up with audience members. 

Another marketing budget issue arises when lawyers want to spend $20,000 or $30,000 or more to “buy a table” at a charitable or bar event.  Surveys have shown that about 70% of law firms buy tables like this and consider the expense a marketing tactic to make new contacts.  In the eyes of roundtable participants, the marketing results usually don’t justify the expense.  As the day of the event approaches, marketing staff often find themselves scrambling to find associates who are willing to sit in those expensive seats.  And even when the table fills quickly, going to the dinner accomplishes nothing by itself.  Participants must meet the right people, and then follow up, follow up, and follow up some more.

Internal coaching

While expensive events often waste scarce marketing resources, several roundtable participants agreed that spending money on one to one coaching is much easier to link directly to new business.  In the current economic environment, budgets are being squeezed and every expense is being scrutinized.  So it is a very good thing to be able to prove that your actions and your job are directly linked to new business.

One roundtable member works as an internal coach.  Almost all of her time goes into helping lawyers to find and cultivate new clients.  She’s been at her current firm for about a year, and now meets regularly with about 40 lawyers (70% of the partners in her office), and occasionally with the rest.  (To date, coaching has been offered only to partners, but lately some associates have begun talking about their need for this kind of help.) 

She conducts three or four coaching sessions on a typical day, and also attends practice group and other meetings.  As she explained her job to our roundtable group, the other business development experts kept probing for details.  Some sounded a bit envious of the way she is able to spend her time, and the results she has been able to achieve.

The sessions have been generating results.  As the word spread within the firm, more and more lawyers have taken advantage of her services.  She attributes much of her success to the relationships she has been able to form, by helping each lawyer to go at their own pace, and to work on the things they care about.  

She focuses on whatever lawyers ask for, from preparing for client meetings to planning how to follow up after a conference, to leaving more effective voice mail messages.  She also tracks each lawyer’s activities and results in a master spreadsheet.  This puts her in a great position to promote communication.  On a number of occasions, two lawyers who don’t work together have talked about their independent efforts with the same client, and the coach has been able to improve coordination simply by telling them to speak to each other.

Most lawyers will be happy to tell you that they are not experts on bringing in new business, and would welcome some help as long as they are convinced that it will be useful.  So once they get over the initial hurdle of asking for marketing advice, they are happy to ask for more, especially when they begin to see the results.  When new business comes in, it raises confidence, and makes lawyers willing to spend more time on marketing.  It’s a great example of a virtuous cycle; the more they do, the more results they will see.

“Our firm may continue to work with outside consultants to provide coaching like this,” she reported, “but the lawyers appreciate having someone in-house.”  There are many reasons for this, from relationships to knowledge to cost, and a number of large law firms are expanding their internal coaching programs.  There will always be situations where external coaches are preferred, but I, for one, think that internal coaches are the wave of the future.

June 11, 2008

Roundtable report on best practices, Part 1 of 2

A few months ago, I wrote about the first meeting of the Boston Roundtable on Legal Business Development, a group of senior business development professionals from the largest firms in Boston. 

Our second meeting was held a few weeks ago to discuss "How to sell business development internally." This two part report describes several of the key topics we discussed in our 90 minute meeting, which strayed far from its title into a variety of challenges and best practices.

Publicizing success

One great way to promote the business development function within a law firm is to make sure everyone knows when it works.  At two of the five firms at this Roundtable, one person has taken responsibility to track success stories, and to summarize and distribute the information in a consistent format.

One of the firms publicizes success stories at every partners’ meeting, the other does it online.  When each attorney signs on to their computer in the morning, they see a standard intranet screen with a number of news items about the firm.  One section of the screen is consistently devoted to a business development success story, describing how a new engagement came about, and including a picture of the responsible attorney.

This leads to a friendly competition, and promotes communication between practice groups and offices.  On a surprising number of occasions, attorneys first learn that the firm is working for a particular client from these online articles.

Communication

At large firms, it can be embarrassing to admit how often two teams from different offices of the same firm have submitted proposals for the same legal matter.  In essence, the law firm has bid against itself.  This is not only an enormous waste of resources; it makes the firm look incredibly inefficient and foolish.  There are many ways to avoid such gaffes, including client service teams, systematic processes for responding to RFPs, and proper use of CRMs.

But they all come down to the same thing:  communication.  When lawyers learn what their partners are working on, and for whom, it not only avoids embarrassment, it also opens up new opportunities for cross-selling.

One Roundtable firm holds monthly networking meetings for its attorneys in the late afternoon one Thursday per month, including free beer.  Another has a lunch the first Friday of every month, with their own lawyers speaking about new business, plus an occasional outside speaker.  (Full disclosure:  I recently spoke at one of their lunches about “The top five ways to increase your legal marketing results in a down economy.”)

Hiring sales people

The conversation then somehow shifted to a discussion of hiring sales people from other professions for legal business development.  One participant, who has a sales background, said, “When I started working with law firms, I needed a lobotomy to change my personality and adjust to my role.”

In law firms, lawyers do the selling.  Legal business development is a sales support role, and many go-get-‘em sales people find it hard to adapt.  Several at the meeting agreed that when sales people were hired from other fields some turned into stars, but many more did not work out.  “After they have been at a law firm for about month, they think: ‘What in the world have I done?’”

Within a law firm, business development staff must sometimes “perform lots of extraneous tasks to earn the right to coach.”  And they must also become masters of prioritizing.  Soon after they start, they will “find themselves at 150% capacity” and an important part of the job will be “figuring out who to disappoint” because no human can possibly perform all the tasks that will be requested.  In a firm with 300 partners, you will have at least 300 bosses, and most of them will think that their top priority of the day should be your top priority.

Noise in the system

As if the number of bosses were not enough, there is an astonishing amount of “noise in the system... unimportant junk that you can easily spend all day on.”   One example is the ever increasing number of “best lawyer” directories.  When the topic of directories came up, there were many sighs and pained looks.  Most of the directories are seen as a complete waste of marketing time and money and “absolutely awful.”  Said one participant: “I wish they would just go away.” 

If marketing people agree on this, why do legal directories continue to prosper and multiply?  Because marketing people are not the bosses, lawyers are.  And many love to see themselves in such lists, whether it’s the best lawyers in downtown Detroit, or the best lawyers in the world.  The people who sell these directories tell lawyers that they bring in new business, and the lawyers don’t have the time or experience to know that in most cases the only person who makes money is the one who publishes the directory.

A few directories had fans in our group, including PLC Which Lawyer and the Chambers Guides.  But most did not.  I don’t want to get sued, so I will not list the names of the specific directories that elicited the loudest groans.  But in Part 2 of this Roundtable report, coming soon, I will discuss other marketing expenses that, in the eyes of these experts, are a complete waste of money.

June 10, 2008

Two webcasts on marketing in a down economy

On Wednesday June 18, I will present a National Law Journal Web Audio Conference with Tom Kane on “The Top Five Ways to Increase Your Legal Marketing Results in a Down Economy.”  This presentation is similar to the talk I’ve been giving in large firms, complete with PowerPoints and handouts for developing an action plan.

For a less formal, more interactive discussion, sign up for my June 26 West Legalworks webcast with Arnie Herz on “How to Keep Your Clients Happy in a Down Economy.”  In some states, lawyers can earn CLE credit for participating; see the WestLegalworks announcement for details.

For more details on these and other presentations, see the list on our web page.

June 04, 2008

What are the top marketing priorities in a down economy? Part 2

In the six weeks since I posted Part 1 of this series, economists have issued a number of conflicting forecasts about how long and how deep the downturn will be.  Similarly, lawyers seem split about what the economy means to them. 

In those same six weeks, I’ve given talks on “The top five ways to increase your legal marketing results in a down economy” at a number of law firms, at the Massachusetts Bar Association, and at the New England Legal Marketing Association.  (For information on future public presentations, and a discount offer on my June 18 National Law Journal webinar see the list of presentations on our web page.)

I always begin by asking for a show of hands on the question, Will the down economy affect your practice?  I spoke to one group last week where everyone said no.  The day before, I had spoken to a group where everyone said yes.  Most of the time, the response has been mixed.

I believe that many lawyers who predict “no” will be wrong.  In my post on the economy last January I quoted a Business Week cover article about how the US has spent $3 trillion more than we have earned since 2001.  That’s a lot of money:  three million piles of a million dollars each.  Some day China and our other creditors are going to want it back.  In the meantime, that monthly interest keeps piling up.  (Full disclosure:  To put my answer in context, you should know that at my first non-academic job I earned the nickname “Doctor Doom.”  Let the record also show that I was correct, and that company went out of business a few years later.  But I digress.)

The legal profession moves slowly, so it takes time for bad news to be translated into reduced revenues.  Most lawyers don’t care that much whether the average practice will be hurt.  They only care about whether their practice will be hurt.  And many will be, unless they figure out how to turn this challenge into an opportunity, and take business away from less nimble competitors by delivering more value.

Which brings me back to the topic of this series of posts:  how does the economy affect your top marketing priorities?  The answer depends not just on the nature of your practice, but also on whether you choose to play offense, defense, or not at all.

When I spoke on a May 14 panel at LMA New EnglandMark Greene, the chief marketing officer at Nixon Peabody, said that in a down economy, “Everything should be focused on driving revenue.”  He also explained the need to devote more energy to current clients:  “Now is a good time to visit clients, to learn more about their business and their industry, and a good time to offer additional services.”

When somebody from the audience asked what marketing item should be cut last, Mark said sales consultants and coaching.  In his words, “Anything that gets lawyers out with clients is good... I recommend that in a down economy firms put at least as much stress on sales and sales coaching as they ever have.”  But he also emphasized that “It would be a big mistake to completely abandon other types of marketing and lose momentum until absolutely necessary.”

It will be interesting to see how many firms follow this advice.  According to American Lawyer Media’s 2008 Law Firm Business Development Practices Survey, 76% of large firms offer “ongoing coaching, mentoring, or other sales training support,” and 57% offer sales training.

Will those percentages hold steady?  Or maybe even increase when lawyers find themselves with more non-billable time for marketing and want to maximize results?  We’ll see.