Competition with peer firms, alternatives to law firms, emphasis on diversity, and more, are forcing legal marketers to evolve their thinking and take a leadership role to drive effective outcomes. The recent LMA West Region Continuing Marketing Education conference “Nexus of Change” focused on three fundamental areas: a macro view of the changing industry; how changes are impacting legal marketers; and managing ourselves as individuals so we can adapt to these changes. Within this were eight key takeaways to riding the wave of change.
We’ve all heard the cliché that there is no substitute for experience. However, for lawyers, it’s also true that effective law firm marketing trumps experience more often than not. A recent conversation with an attorney illustrates this point.
For many years, Seth has been practicing in what is now a very hot field of law. Indeed, he recognized and carved out a lucrative niche, long before others even saw this emerging practice area on the horizon. He has significant experience, yet now he is dismayed because he sees less experienced lawyers receiving much more of the spotlight and bringing in much more business than he is.
This competition is not just from larger firms with greater resources to allocate towards marketing. Nor is Seth a lazy marketer. On the contrary, he invests time and energy into marketing. He regularly speaks at relevant events and hosts webinars. Isn’t that enough?
Regrettably, in today’s marketing landscape, it’s not. Seth is missing out because his marketing is subpar to these newbies. His respectably-sized firm’s website does not promote his expertise. Publications on the site featuring Seth as an expert are years old. His recent speaking engagements are not updated. There’s nothing on his firm’s site about his valuable webinars. Furthermore, Seth’s LinkedIn profile is out of date and doesn’t showcase his recent news.
If you’re like Seth, don’t panic, as there are things you can do immediately to regain your top-of-mind status as a truly experienced attorney. Here are three steps to take now:
Recently, I’d found myself second-guessing one of my core marketing beliefs and something that I have always espoused — namely, that your database is the core of your marketing program, whether you’re a law, financial services or real estate firm. By “database,” I’m referring to your email list – the current, prospective and/or former clients as well as referral sources you regularly email, because you want to remain top-of-mind, all the while providing worthwhile information.
But, I wondered, had the strengths of social media effectively numbered the database’s days? Was I holding on to the equivalent of a VHS method of marketing? Occasionally, I wondered if the database had become obsolete in the world of marketing a law firm or other professional service.
Database Strengths That Social Media Still Can’t Beat
I knew of course, it had not, knowing that there’s a place for both your database as well as social media. It helped to visualize them working as two gears that mesh together to make a stronger marketing program.
Consider that on social media, participants intentionally choose to connect with you. At the same time, there are a lot of prospective, current and former clients, as well as referral sources who you want to communicate with regularly, but who have no idea who you are, who aren’t active on social media, who only use it for personal purposes, or who only check their news feeds sporadically. In other words, focusing exclusively on social media leaves a huge untapped market, that at some point will be needing your legal, financial or real estate services. How do you reach them? The answer is through your email list.
Other timeless benefits stand as testament to the usefulness of your database/email list. For example, there’s no substitute for your law firm owning its email list and being able to choose who you relay specific messages to. Not everyone in your database may be appropriate recipients for certain messages, so you can create targeted lists within your email list. With social media, the message you deliver is more of a one-size-fits-all message.
Database + Social Media = Match Made in Marketing Heaven
Obviously, social media has its own benefits, but it needs to be used in conjunction with your database/email marketing for maximum effectiveness. That is, both strategies should be considered pieces of the same puzzle, which each play a part of the “whole.” Putting it another way, with social media, others are choosing to connect with you, but through your database, you’re choosing to connect with others.
I found my reasoning validated recently via podcasts of other marketing professionals who emphasized the need for a database, as well as a social media presence. This confirmed beyond any shadow of doubt, that social media clearly has its strengths, but the heartbeat of the database will continue to live on.
Before law firms or other professional service firms engage us, they have one question, which tends to be paramount to all else. That question is: What will our return on investment (ROI) be for marketing and public relations (PR)?
This is a legitimate inquiry considering that marketing and public relations is an investment, so you should get a return. The challenge is that there’s not always a clear one-to-one causation (e.g., publishing this article makes the phone ring). This then begs the question: How can a professional services firm accurately measure its marketing ROI? The short answer is through tracking leads in addition to new business.
Why do I need to track leads, not just clients?
Tracking sources of business alone is certainly worthwhile, but you’re losing valuable information if you don’t track leads as well. That’s because, when it comes to marketing legal, financial or real estate services, the primary goal is to generate qualified leads, which are supposed to do exactly that – lead to sales.
Remember, you are making an investment in generating leads, so you want to know the degree of return. If you are making an investment in a specific marketing area, such as advertising on a particular website, and it’s bringing you poor quality leads, do you want to continue devoting money to that? If another investment is bringing you leads that more often than not convert to clients, don’t you want to put more money there? How are you going to know if you don’t track your lead source?
Many firms do track leads generated through their website, comparing, for example, organic to pay per click, which is worthwhile, but it doesn’t paint the full picture. That is often because you’re only tracking where business comes from, but not tracking which leads are not converting. It’s possible you’re generating leads with great potential from an investment, but your lawyers aren’t converting them. That points to the need for help in the business development arena, e.g., sales.
Ok, so how do I set up a lead tracking system?
Too often, firms think tracking requires a complicated, expensive integration system that involves all your email, website and other programs working together. While many terrific software programs are available, selecting and implementing one can seem overwhelming. Don’t let lack of a complex program keep you from tracking, and avoid using it as an excuse. The truth is you don’t need anything more sophisticated than an Excel spreadsheet to get started.
Examples of how we’ve seen law firms capture leads include: using their conflict check process (e.g., some firms do a conflict check before even talking with a prospect). Others use a separate form, which the professionals fill out. Ideally, you want to capture the information on the spot, as otherwise people won’t necessarily take the time to go back and fill in information. Other firms have designated a team member in the office who is responsible for sending out an email twice a week to get details on incoming calls or other leads.
Assign the responsibility for capturing, entering and tracking the data to one person. In a perfect world, every lawyer in your firm would remember to contribute the information as it happens. Don’t let imperfection stop you. Capture as much as you can.
What do I need to track?
You want to be careful how much you slice and dice incoming information because if you make it too complex, e.g. fifteen different categories and five subcategories in each one, people get confused. Start by identifying the categories where your law firm gets business from. For instance, if one category is leads from other attorneys, which practice areas do they come from? You don’t have to list every kind of category; subcategories can be the top three that you think you get them from.
Include categories, such as your website, current and former clients, social media, email marketing, and others pertinent to your marketing, such as seminars or webinars.
What can tracking leads tell me?
Tracking doesn’t require an outside marketing agency, but it can add a lot of value to the process because the agency is going to create accountability. We work closely with our clients’ administrators or paralegals to stay on top of obtaining data and ensuring that it is complete. Then we analyze the information to answer the key question, “Are we making the right marketing investments?”
Seeing the leads as stats in black and white helps firms to understand which investments are working. Upon engaging in tracking leads, it is not uncommon for us to hear from our clients things like, “I didn’t realize we were getting so much from our investment in ABC organization,” or “Look how many referrals we’re receiving from XYZ firm compared to last year.”
By illuminating where your leads are coming from through tracking, you can continue to woo your referral sources and know exactly where to put your emphasis. Conversely, you’ll also see if there are marketing activities you thought were working but the stats tell a different story. For example, you may find that paying fees to be a member of a professional organization isn’t really bringing you leads. However, if you enjoy the membership, or brainstorming with like-minded professionals, you may decide to stay the course. The point is, you will remove any ambiguity about what’s generating a healthy ROI.
What’s the best way to share tracked data?
Make sure you’re sharing the data with the right people in the firm. Determine an effective format to review and discuss your data. If you have a dedicated marketing meeting, that’s ideal, or maybe it’s your partner meeting. You should be reviewing data quarterly or at least every six months.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
It’s easy to see why lead tracking can go by the wayside. Professionals are focused on countless other tasks, to say nothing of keeping clients happy. But before you say “we’re too busy” or “it’s too complicated,” take a step back and assess what mechanism may already be in place to capture what you need. The answer may be closer than you think.
You can learn a lot from baseball – even lessons about law firm public relations, which has more in common with baseball than you might think. First baseball players and public relations professionals both know how to perform under pressure. Second, a baseball diamond is the perfect road map for a foolproof legal PR campaign. If you need to hit your next campaign out of the park, look no further than America’s favorite pastime for inspiration.
In the past few months, I’ve met many law firm marketing directors who have been with their firms 3, 5, 7 years and more. This underscores the significant evolution of law firm marketing over the past 20-plus years, which is when I entered the field.
Indeed, when I first launched my firm, marketing efforts were much less sophisticated than they are today. It’s safe to say, we’ve come a long, long way, which serves as a testament to the acceptance, integration and success law firm marketing has had on the legal industry.
Prior to the turn of the millennium, marketing directors for law firms were nowhere near as prevalent as they are now. Those that did hold these titles faced a myriad of challenges, as often the firms really didn’t know what to do with a marketing director. In equally as many other cases, partners’ expectations and those of the director were less than aligned. This, coupled with the advent of the digital world, made for a revolving door scenario at many firms, as marketing directors came and went.
Fortunately, it seems that, for the most part, we may have gotten past that period of uncertainty. Marketing directors are now viewed as essential contributors to a law firm’s future success. In addition, law firms now recognize that seeing results takes time. This points to a continuing evolution not only of law firm marketing, but also of how law firms embrace and understand the role that marketing plays in establishing and maintaining a thriving practice.
What does this mean for law firms and lawyers? Here are 4 main takeaways.
“All that’s left is service partners,” was how the managing partner of a successful law firm described the continued demise of another brand name firm. This got me thinking…
Over the years, I’ve seen so many law firm business development professionals try to motivate lawyers to market. I’ve seen an equal number of law firms pressure their attorneys to segue from being a service partner to a rainmaker— even a mistmaker. However, I’d never heard a successful lawyer make such a strong case for wanting to get out of the service partner category.
In effect, he was saying that the attorneys who had built a book of business and could get out, had gotten out. Indeed, the rainmakers, able to control their own destiny, as opposed to having it controlled by others, had hightailed it out of the firm. Those remaining (AKA service providers), were basically just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Unfortunate but true, service partners do not command the same respect as rainmakers. While firms need both to survive, when rainmakers leave a firm, service partners become sitting ducks. With no book of business and slim odds that service partners will magically transform into rainmakers overnight, the firm struggles to survive. Therein lies the danger for both the firm and those left to shut the lights out.
The managing partner’s comment about only service partners remaining in a dying firm certainly underscores just how necessary it is for attorneys to have some of their own clients. Sure, it requires some elbow grease, and it will require consistency and a time investment, but frankly, it’s not optional.
Take comfort though, as almost every lawyer can develop business, if they decide to do so; however, it will take time, and panicking over job insecurity won’t help. So, it’s crucial to start taking the steps now to safeguard your ability to control your future.
“Having prospects look at our website is like having me walk into a client meeting in sweatpants.” This is the way a successful financial service professional described to me how she felt about her firm’s outdated website. The comment came from a well-established investment banker, who also happened to be a woman. I say this because she is the only woman at her firm in this professional capacity, with an enviable track record, and it seems even more of a reason the firm would want to heed her cry for an updated website. Women like her are not exactly easy to find in a male-dominated industry. To put it another way: it’s reasonable to presume she was hired not only for her financial experience and expertise, but also to add diversity. Oh, and by the way, she also spent her early career in marketing, so she has a good grasp on the foundations of that field as well.
She used this colorful description to not only emphasize how this professional service firm’s website was hurting them, but also to tell them that a strong referral source had told her the same thing. He almost didn’t refer a piece of business to her because their website paled in comparison to that of their competitors.
This illustrates just how important a strong and vibrant website is to any professional services firm. Regardless of what field you’re in — law, finance, real estate or another professional service — websites matter. This financial firm’s website is not the worst we’ve seen; however, it does not come near to reflecting the caliber of the firm’s financial services professionals. Many of their competitors’ sites outshine them.
To this firm’s credit, they have engaged someone to work on their website, but it remains unclear what that means. Will they be building new website or just updating this one?
I won’t argue with the fact that redoing a website can be a Herculean task, made all the more difficult in legal and financial service firms, which often approach the undertaking by forming a website committee. But getting a new website up and keeping it current and fresh is critical. And once it’s up, maintaining it through a continuous process of enhancing it so that it reflects your firm in the best way possible is mandatory.
The moral of this story? Your website is the gateway to your firm. Social media has many benefits, but for the most part, all roads lead back to your site. Shouldn’t it tell the best story possible?
I have been to hundreds of networking meetings, and for years have smoothly made my way through countless rooms where I didn’t know a single person when I first arrived.
Even so, to this day I can still get those all too familiar twinges of anxiety beforehand. However, I know that I’m not alone in experiencing this particular anxiety. In fact, it’s a common phenomenon, as I recently learned when speaking with a very successful business professional who happens to develop business for law firms.
When talking about this anxiety, she reassured me that it is “weird” – her word – when someone says they relish walking into a roomful of people they don’t know. That’s because, irrespective of whether you’re a legal, finance or real estate professional, the vast majority of us have some apprehension about walking into a sea of “strangers” despite years of doing it.
I was so curious about this strange phenomenon that I sought out a trusted advisor for her take on this seemingly silly anxiety. She rather aptly termed it a “fossil fear” – the fear and subsequent anxiety of doing something that you’ve done countless times before. The anxiety is a fossil from our “prehistoric” past (which may only be ten years), in which we were first intimidated by meeting new people. In a way, the DNA that maintains that old fear lives on, creating new fear (even though we’ve attended more events than we can count where we didn’t know anyone, and we survived).
All the same, that fear-based DNA stokes new fires of dread even as we gear up for our umpteenth experience with meeting new people. So, what are we to do about it?
Fortunately, we can move past that prehistoric or dated fear, thanks to muscle memory we have built up over time. Indeed, we simply need to tap into our muscle memory, which serves to remind us of things like “You’ve done this before and it turned out beautifully,” or “You’ve spoken publicly more than a dozen times and it’s always been successful,” or “These nerves are going to pass as soon as you start talking to someone about what you do, or asking what they do.”
The biggest challenge, so far as I can tell, lies in building up the muscle memory initially. Just as it takes time to develop biceps or quadriceps or any other muscle, it takes time, dedication and resilience to push past any resistance and take that step out the door to the gym, or through the door of a networking event, business development seminar or speaking engagement.
If you’re an executive, attorney, business leader or other industry professional and you find yourself anxious about attending new events, it’s helpful to remember that these fossil fears are just that – fossils. The fear and anxiety are just withering remains of something that was overcome a long time ago.
They are no match for muscle memory, which is alive and active, and can only grow stronger by the day.