The Lead Pipeline: Nurturing Prospective Clients Will Pay Off Later
By: Sharon Berman
Published: The Daily Journal
In today’s law firm lexicon, the terms “marketing,” “business development” and, to a certain extent, “sales” are entrenched. However, an aversion to the use of “lead” and “lead generation” regarding a law firm’s business development still exists because of the perception that such terms are the calling card of a salesperson, or harken back to the days when attorney advertising was prohibited.
Nevertheless, if you’re going to generate new legal business, the first step is to establish a qualified lead – a prospective client who fits within the parameters of the services you provide.
If a lead isn’t converted into a client shortly after first contact, it is imperative for a firm to focus on three areas: capturing the lead information, keeping it in the pipeline, and nurturing it. Law firms are sometimes weak in maintaining or building on these three areas, which can transform a lead into a client.
While it’s great to get an email or phone call with an inquiry from a qualified prospect, and a few days later have a signed fee agreement and a check deposited into the client trust account—it doesn’t always happen this way. This doesn’t mean the lead should be dropped or discarded; rather with the right care, feeding and patience, your lead has the potential to become a valuable future client. The key is for the law firm and the appropriate attorney to remain on the lead’s radar.
Capturing the lead and making sure it’s in your database is the first part of the process. If you don’t get the lead in the pipeline, there’s no way to build on it. For example, if a qualified prospect calls to discuss your services but doesn’t become a client, you’ll still want to get their contact information and referral source into your database. Firms have a tendency to only put actual clients in their database, or clients and referral sources. As a result, you overlook large number of prospective leads by not including people who’ve indicated a more-than-passing interest in your services, but perhaps without making you the attorney or firm of choice…yet.
You may have read the statistics that say it takes anywhere from 10-24 “touches” to convert an introduction into a client. While most people give up after the third or fourth unsuccessful touch, it is important for you or your firm to continue with subsequent touches through your marketing pipeline. You can never estimate when in the marketing process one of your touches, which have previously gone unnoticed, will instantly capture attention because the lead suddenly has a need to get a deal done.
To capture the information about potential clients, it is imperative that you develop a simple and easy to implement mechanism to prevent such information from being lost. Building this process affords an educational opportunity in ensuring your attorneys, administrative assistants, paralegals, etc. identify potential leads, and most importantly do not discount such information or data. For example, you get several calls as a result of your e-newsletter from people wanting more information about an issue you covered. For whatever reason, these people aren’t on your existing e-newsletter distribution list, but after talking with them you realize they fit your client profile. An attorney might have a short conversation with a lead, but ends the call without having taken down any information. Unless that attorney and others in the office realize this is someone they should continue to communicate with, any opportunity to showcase your expertise and positive results to build on this lead will be lost.
Capturing lead information is also a key element in your firm’s ability to track sources of business. Firms often track where their business is coming from by analyzing which industries or fields clients are drawn from, but some qualified prospects will, for whatever reason, fail to convert to a client. This source data, even for failed lead conversions, is key for your firm to successfully market themselves in the target market. You may learn that you are running an advertisement in an industry trade which generates leads, but you’re not converting them because of your hourly rates or you lack the depth of industry expertise they’re seeking. Listen for what your callers tell you, and as important, for what they don’t say. Unless you capture that data, you won’t have the information to fine tune your marketing investment or strategy to pull ads or build your qualifications.
To calculate your real conversion rate, you must track the number of prospects who contact you, and the number of prospects who become clients. Don’t be discouraged, very few professionals convert everyone they get in front of—even if they think they do.
Nurturing a lead to convert to a client means continuing to foster the relationship by demonstrating your firm’s expertise and validating its credibility, as well as communicating the firm’s personality and culture. This is the way a prospect will see you or your firm, and then decide if it’s a proper fit.
Use a variety of methods to demonstrate your services. Different leads respond differently to different methods. Communicating in a podcast will have a positive impact on a certain group of leads; leads in another group may automatically delete your email with the podcast. And there are still a lot of targets out there who respond to “snail mail.” Each contact method employed for these leads qualifies as a touch, and tracking and analyzing your results will tell you which methods have more impact and achieve positive results compared with others. Regardless of methodology, you should vary in degree as to how personal each touch is. Ideally, every third or fourth contact might be in-person or on the phone, with those in between coming through email or direct mail.
Not every lead warrants the same degree of attention, which is why you want to try a tiered structure to your method and frequency of contact. Your top leads may receive a phone call or lunch every quarter, with several touches in between via mail and email – distributing a by-lined article, an invitation to a webinar, or an announcement about a new office opening. Those leads on the lower tiers might receive your e-newsletter or hardcopy newsletter with a personal handwritten note. The leads you believe are the least likely to convert…the bottom rung…may not receive any personalized communications.
Including firm promotional material in your communications, in your firm’s unique style, is fine to a certain extent. Remember though, the point is to impart clear and unambiguous information that shows you are the go-to person or firm that can solve a lead’s problem. What reinforces this expertise is third party credibility that is built from being published, quoted, ranked on a list, and praised by existing clients— where such third parties are respected industry members, influential websites, known research firms, or trade journals that validate you expertise or standing.
Today’s world of online social networking is another source of leads that you also want to get into your firm’s pipeline. Those would be the new contacts you develop through sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. As you expand your ‘in real life’ network and build relationships, you want to ensure that your qualified prospects are accounted for in your database, which may be separate from your on-line social media distribution. Those who follow you on Twitter or who receive your LinkedIn updates, are not yet leads—although you are effectively nurturing relationships with them, as you would with identified leads. The goal is the same: to convert them to identified leads and then to clients.
Taken together, marketing, consistency, and persistence are the keys to nurturing lead relationships. What you’re sending, emailing, or calling about must be relevant and on-target to the lead, but does not need to be blockbuster to be effective as a touch. Developing something new, creative, and different is terrific, but only reaching out when you have that kind of marketing means sporadic marketing, and delivers sporadic results, at best. Consistent repetition builds results exponentially. Like other aspects of your business, nurturing leads takes time and patience, yet will yield optimized growth for years to come.
Have you touched a lead today?
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.