Blog/Podcast: Shifting into Sales: How Marketers Can Take on Client-Facing Roles

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In-house legal marketers have become commonplace in law firms, but hiring client-facing sales staff has taken longer to catch on. That may be changing, though, as more firms realize they must operate like businesses and more marketers shift into client-facing roles.

Jenna Schiappacasse is one such marketer—she successfully transitioned from Marketing Coordinator to Director of Client Development at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, creating an entirely new position for herself. Jenna joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to share her experience and offer insights for other marketers who want to move into a client-facing role.

Making the shift into sales

Jenna started out as the one and only person in her firm’s marketing department, which meant wearing many hats. Out of all the duties Jenna was responsible for, she realized that her favorite was working with attorneys and clients directly, and she wanted to move her role in that direction.

Jenna planted the seeds of her idea by doing as much research as she could to prove to management that a client-facing sales role would add value. At the same time, she launched a client feedback program, which allowed her to interface with key clients and demonstrate that she could interact well with them. Finally, she showed her managing partner success stories from firms with similar sizes and demographics. With all of this evidence to back up her proposal, her firm’s partnership voted unanimously to create her new role as Director of Client Development.

Convincing partners to create a sales role isn’t as easy as simply telling them it’s a good idea. You have to demonstrate it’s a good idea through research and information. Like Jenna, if you want your firm to embrace client sales, you need to back up your claims with hard evidence.

How attorneys and clients viewed the new sales role

Jenna adopted a “do first, apologize later” attitude, which helped her jump into the challenge headfirst. She was lucky in that she already had a respectful, trusting relationship with her attorney colleagues so this approach wasn’t as scary as it may be for some.

Among clients, the adjustment was even easier. Jenna had amassed a network of clients and prospects over the years simply by starting conversations at events and being involved in the community. Many of the firm’s clients already knew her, and when they learned about her new role, most of them thought that was what she had been doing all along. Because Jenna had done some of the legwork, even without having the responsibilities formally delegated to her, it made for a much smoother transition.

Jenna’s story proves that not every change will face opposition. If you’d like to move into a client-facing role, your firm may be more understanding than you anticipate. Still, you can lay the groundwork for a change by building supportive relationships with clients and lawyers ahead of time, which will serve you well through the transition and into your new role.

What a client-facing role looks like

In a nutshell, Jenna spends her time digging through the holes in her firm’s workload and determining every lawyer’s capacity. She’s constantly looking at billing reports to make sure she’s feeding work to the firm that everyone can handle and that it’s a good fit personality-wise. Jenna compares her job to cooking: she gets to pick the ingredients and make sure the recipe comes out right.

Jenna influences the firm’s amount of work in a number of ways, but her most fruitful techniques for finding clients include: going to events, meeting people in person and spending time combing through existing prospects. She uses LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find second-degree connections and asks for warm introductions from mutual colleagues. She also looks at former clients to see if there’s any way to reintroduce the firm in a different light.

Informal sales training strategies

Even without formal sales training, Jenna recommends that marketers start by fostering relationships with clients just by making small talk at events. You never know what tidbit you’ll pick up that will help your attorneys help their clients. Having that tiny detail in their back pocket can help lawyers connect with clients—and help them realize the value you bring.

Internally, it’s crucial that you truly understand the practice. This doesn’t mean regurgitating lawyers’ bios or the firm’s “about us” webpage. It means forcing lawyers to sit down and tell you exactly what they do, day to day, and piece by piece. You should have an innate understanding of your lawyers, what services they provide and what makes the firm stand out from the competition, which will naturally make it easier to sell.

As most in-house marketers are already aware, being in the legal industry requires thick skin. This is especially true when you’re in legal sales. You must deal with the fact that not everybody is going to want to work with your firm and recognize that it’s nothing personal. It’s less about getting an endless supply of new clients and more about ensuring existing clients have an experience that keeps them loyal to the firm.

Trends impacting legal marketing

First and foremost, Jenna says legal marketers have reached a crossroads where they must assert their value in the industry. For decades, marketers have been considered overhead, or a class within the firm that’s tasked with projects, rather than viewed as strategic advisors. This is starting to change, but marketers need to keep this momentum going and prove that they’re true revenue generators.

Secondly, marketers need to be aware of every step of the client’s journey. Clients have access to so many choices and so much data now, and they’re much further down the decision path by the time they contact the firm. Because of this, marketers need to take every opportunity they can to elevate the client experience, from the first meeting to the closing of their matter.

Finally, data is more important than ever, but marketers should be using it strategically rather than amassing it just for the sake of having it. Use the numbers to show where your most profitable investments lie, and avoid sinking all your time into initiatives that have little measurable return on investment. Dig into the reasons why you do the things you do, and remember that “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t a good enough answer.

Click here to download/subscribe to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast.

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