Blog/Podcast: Five Business Development Trends Pros Need to Know

Marketing and business development departments haven’t always had an easy relationship with law firm leaders. But according to a recent survey from the Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO), about half of marketing and business development professionals now report that they have external-facing roles — a sign that they’re finally being seen as a trusted part of the team.

Beth Cuzzone, co-founder of LSSO and Chief Business Growth Officer at Boston law firm Goulston and Storrs, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to discuss the survey results and her predictions on where law firm marketing and business development are headed. Here are five of the trends we covered:


  1. The business development, marketing and sales departments are merging.

There was a time when marketing and business development departments spent a lot of energy trying to claim their territory and distinguish themselves from one another. Over time, however, professionals working in these disciplines have embraced their interdependence and many firms have merged these departments (or encouraged them to work closely).

Now, the same thing is happening with marketing and sales. Firms are realizing that there’s no end and no beginning to the business cycle, and sales is closer to marketing than ever before. Here’s why this makes sense: there’s no doubt that marketing drives sales, and sales should inform marketing. Expect to see more firms take a collaborative approach and break down the walls between sales, marketing and business development.

  1. Forget content marketing — it’s all about content selling.

Over the last decade, content marketing has overtaken “traditional” marketing, which was centered on branding and touting firms’ successes and winning track records. Moving to a more client-centered approach was an important and exciting shift for marketers. Now, another shift is happening, this time to content selling.

Content selling is using substantive, individualized information as a selling tool. Rather than walking into a client meeting with lawyer bios and a whitepaper or two, attorneys are now coming prepared with deal points, matrices and personalized industry knowledge on how the client should move forward. Content selling assumes that clients — the majority of whom do at least some research before contacting a firm — already know about the firm’s expertise and accomplishments, and it takes the sales cycle to the next level.

Content selling is yet another sign that business development, marketing and sales are merging. To work well, the content needs to be packaged by marketing — you can’t have one without the other.

  1. Law firms are leading sales.

Firms are starting to make the first move when it comes to closing deals. Historically, business development pros and rainmakers focused on building relationships and pitching when the time was right. Then, it was up to clients to make the final call. Although genuine relationships are still important, firms are recognizing that they aren’t the be-all, end-all and a bolder approach may be warranted.

Now, rather than waiting for clients to reach out with a problem, law firms are asking the questions first: “Are you thinking about cybersecurity?” “Have you considered your insurance risk?” “Have you taken preventative steps to avoid litigation?” They’re starting the conversation and driving sales, rather than waiting for clients to come around. It’s a much more proactive strategy than what firms have used in the past.

This approach ties perfectly into content selling, too. Once you identify a potential client’s needs, it’s not a huge leap to provide that client with useful information (and a taste of what they can expect if they hire you).

  1. Sales executives of the future will have broader perspectives.

Business development and client growth executives of the future will need to take a holistic approach to the job. They should not only have an understanding of their firm as a complete entity (not just individual groups), but they also need to understand the landscape the firm exists in, too. Which practice groups have higher utilization? Where are there industry pricing pressure points? Is the competition growing around a particular service? Business development executives should have the answers to it all.

It’s also important that executives take an outward-facing perspective. Although business development pros should know every aspect of the firm, they can’t spend all day, every day talking with their colleagues. The essence of the role is to connect people, thoughts and ideas — and you have to be out in the world to make those connections. That way, no matter what influencer or decision-maker you start a conversation with, you’ll know exactly what your firm can do to help them.

  1. Firms will finally learn which trends are right for them.

There’s always something new and exciting in the legal marketing world, whether it’s client service teams, podcasts or a new social media platform. When hot new trends come out, it’s tempting for marketers to jump on the bandwagon, justifying it by saying, “We need to stay in line with what’s going on, or at least not fall behind.”

A good marketer is aware of trends, but a great marketer knows which ones will and won’t work for their firm. The industry in general is slow to change, and individual firms may be even further behind than others. If your firm is still heavily invested in traditional marketing, don’t try to leap to content selling; experiment with content marketing first, even though the new buzz is content selling.

Jumping into trends too quickly is what leads to “musical marketing executives” and a revolving door in the marketing office. When a firm adopts a trendy strategy too quickly and it doesn’t work, it leads to frustration for both marketers and lawyers. Marketing and business development professionals should understand where their firm stands — and they should be invited to the decision-making table, so everyone is on the same page.

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