Guest: Clare Block, Director of Business Development at Fox Rothschild LLP
Episode 70: Morphing From Business Development to Sales Pro
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Today, my guest is Clare Block, Director of Business Development at Fox Rothschild, a national law firm. Clare, who is based in Philadelphia, has significant legal marketing and business development experience, including frontline sales. She’ll tell us about her career path and how that has shaped her perspective on law firm marketing and business development. Clare, welcome to the podcast.
Clare: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Sharon: Glad to have you. Can you tell us about your career path? You’ve had a very intriguing career path. How did you find yourself in legal marketing?
Clare: Well, it was actually an accident. I started out my earliest career working in infomercials. I was a product researcher for those lovely, 30-minute commercials that tell you, you desperately need to have this car polish. I started out doing that very early on in my career. Then, my company up and moved, and I needed a job. A law firm here in Philadelphia, which was a boutique environmental practice, needed a marketing assistant. Not knowing that lawyers were much different than car polish, I went in for an interview. I quickly found out that they were very different, but I was hooked. I was working with really interesting people that were better puzzles and more interesting to me than any product. My adventure in services-based marketing and business development began, and I’ve been doing it now for 29 years and I love it.
Sharon: It sounds great. That’s the first time I’ve heard somebody say they started in infomercials. After infomercials and your first law firm, you segued. What interests me, as somebody who does public relations, is that you segued from a pretty pure PR and communications job into business development. Can you tell us how that happened? How did you go about it?
Clare: When I joined the small law firm, I was mentored by a top-notch PR person. At the time, I started working in law firm marketing, PR was marketing. That’s all anybody was focused on back then. So, I was trained by a public relations professional and I learned very quickly how to work with attorneys, how to access the media, how to use it effectively to promote our work and how to draw in clients, and it was great. I loved it. I did it for eight years, but the more I acquired new skills, the more I started asking myself, “What impact am I having?” In the media, you can see how many people read a publication. You can see the feedback attorneys get when they publish an article, but I didn’t know if what I was helping the attorney do was really generating clients. So, I started asking, “Why are we doing this? What do we want to get out of it? What impact are we having?” Those questions have become a theme throughout my career. Also, after about 10 years, I decided to go out on my own. I had young children, so I started consulting, and lo and behold, I had to win clients. I quickly discovered that while I had the very strong communications skill set, I had to get a crash course on how to get my own clients and how to develop those relationships. I drew on a lot of the stuff that I learned from the attorneys, but I also developed empathy for how hard it can be when that wasn’t what you were thinking your career was going to be. I started winning clients and learning how to do things not as an in-house person, but as somebody who had to build their own book, just like the attorneys.
That five-year period in my career changed everything for me, because when I later decided that I preferred the collaborative in-house environment where I got to work with teams of people, I was able to use those skills and draw on the communications experience, the public relations experience, even the web design that I was doing and take it all back to, “So, here’s how we use this to draw in clients.” After you do all this communications and PR and visibility building, next is having critical conversations with your clients about how you talk about their business and their needs. Being able to do that and coming back into a law firm definitely gave me a better sense of empathy for the attorneys, but I also knew how to coach them. I started zeroing in on my own coaching skills and the more I did that, the more I was drawn into business development as opposed to pure PR. I still draw on those skills every day and I find that being able to explain those tools in the context of how you convert it into business development has been crucial to my entire career.
Sharon: It sounds like you were focusing on how you sell, in terms of the sales skills that lawyers need, not for infomercials, but frontline sales in front of the client.
Sharon: You mentioned that you think it’s a challenge for legal marketers and business development professionals who don’t have sales training to transition to a different perspective. More and more, there are in-house people in legal marketing and business development who would like to move to frontline sales. What kind of training do you recommend they get? If they can’t leave their jobs today, what do you think they should do?
Clare: I think you should get yourself coaching training. Most of the communications people I know have the ability to absorb a lot of information and be flexible in their approach, because that’s the nature of their communications jobs, so you should use those skills to get the coaching training you need. Like you said, a lot of people can’t afford to duck out of their current job and move into a sales role to learn that. There are some great coaching certification programs out there that are really valuable, but if you can’t get a formal coaching program to train you as a business coach, there are ways you can get yourself trained.
Instead of always focusing on the legal industry as your primary source of information, look to where your clients are. Look outside the legal marketing industry and see what other professionals are doing—and there is a significant difference between product marketing and services marketing. We are professional services, so networking with other professionals who are selling services is a great way to learn how they do it. There are organizations out there for accountants, for engineers and architects. The people doing business development in those organizations are doing more frontline sales. They do programs all the time.
Also, as a communications professional, so many of the people in my world are former reporters and highly talented writers. They know how to interview people. One of the simplest techniques I’ve taught people is to ask questions from the client’s perspective. We listen to lawyers; we find out what they want to do; we find out what they think will work, but we haven’t always tested their theories against what the market demands, what the client wants. Communications professionals, in my experience, tend to be very flexible in that they can shift perspective. So, it’s about getting that client-focused mindset, being the voice of the client and saying, “Well, how is the client going to handle legal issues? Is this the focus of what they want?” Taking that apart with the lawyer, that can be really helpful, because you’re getting the lawyer to think outside the legal box. I find that’s something communications professionals do really well, even if they haven’t been trained in sales. It’s drawing on those strengths and then finding the resources. Sales is a process. Business development is an initiative, and it’s an ongoing initiative. You can learn the process fairly quickly, but figuring out how to turn it into a full-blown initiative, I think that’s where we thrive.
Sharon: Can you say more about the difference between the process and the initiative? Maybe I’m having trouble differentiating those two. You seem to see a clear demarcation. How do you see that?
Clare: I can explain a sales process in a couple of simple steps. You acquire a target. You look at an entity and say, “This is the business we think we want to serve.” You qualify and figure out if that business is a real target. You’re qualifying your lead. You then look at your team of attorneys and say, “O.K., who do we have that might meet their need? How do we initiate the contact? How do we have the discussion to find out if there is a need, and how do we meet that need and close the deal? How do we pull in the work? What are the main decision factors? Who are the key decision-makers?” That’s a sales process. That is what you will mostly find people explaining when they talk about business development.
Business development is more than that. You use sales, but when you have a business development initiative, it’s more holistic. You’re taking in the three full aspects of both marketing and business development. You’re looking at things like, “Do we have credibility in this marketplace? Do we have the services that are needed? If we’ve got credibility and we’ve got the right team, do we have visibility? Do people know we can do that?” That’s what your communications professionals tend to zero in on, but your attorneys have to be visible. Finally, “How do we use our credibility and visibility to build that client pipeline?” That is the full business development initiative, and that’s why sales training is only a part of that.
Sales training comes into play when you’re looking at the client development component, but you need to be credible. That’s why we always tell our youngest attorneys, “You have to get to being a great lawyer. You have to focus. Do you have the skill set? Do you have the abilities the marketplace is looking for? The visibility?” Visibility is going to be your public relations, your web design, your “how do we talk to the marketplace” concept. Your clients, your client pipeline, they have to be able to find you. They have to believe you have the ability to do the work, and then you have to talk to them. You have to use that sales process to build that relationship. That’s a full-blown initiative. When you start layering things like, “What is our industry expertise? What is our geographic ability to serve the market?” that is bigger than just the sales process itself. It all fits together and that’s why you can’t have, in my opinion, marketing separate from business development. They work hand in glove.
Sharon: That’s very interesting. I love the explanation. There’s often friction because I tend to think of it as business development. Especially today, business development is more along the sales line, and it’s used in a different way. It used to be that business development was a replacement for the dirty word of marketing in law firms.
Clare: Right, but on that side of law firms, they’re different.
Sharon: Right, yes.
Clare: In a non-law firm, marketing means pushing our services out to the marketplace. Business development is drawing in our clients. In other professional services, they are not necessarily interchangeable, but they’re also often separated. I actually think there’s strength to law firms that if we’re smart, we can draw on it. That is, we use that misnaming of the skill sets to our advantage. Because we have people we need to teach and train, we show them what business development is in the big sense, but all the things we’ve been doing in marketing and communications and public relations, they all fit right together. Even though people have been using terminology, I believe, incorrectly, it’s not as hard of a mind shift for people as it might be in other businesses where they keep the teams completely separate.
Sharon: Right, even legal marketing professionals use different terminology. We can spend a whole day talking about terminology and what it means, but I really love your explanation. It does work hand in hand. You need to be doing your outbound, you need to be drawing people in, and it does go hand in hand.
When we initially talked, you also emphasized the fact that today’s marketing is so much more data-driven. What are some of the basic metrics you think legal marketers can start to move towards, especially if they’re in smaller firms that don’t have the huge automation systems or the big CRM software?
Clare: I think a lot of law firms in general are scared of data, because lawyers are good with words and argument. They tend to argue their marketing budgets more than they do analyze them, but everybody wants to feel that what they’re doing has value and meaning. An attorney only has so many hours per day in their schedule. What are the things that have the most impact for that attorney? What are the things we can steer towards? We sometimes have attorneys who jump from opportunity to opportunity, and when you have a conversation and say, “Well, what did you get out of this?” they can’t answer the question, or the answer that makes me crazy is when they tell me, “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” and they don’t really know.
Some of the basic metrics you can use—and you don’t need big, fancy databases for this—a basic sales spreadsheet will do nicely. You need to look at your total marketing spend, but you need to break it out by channel. What I mean by that is when you look at your total marketing spend, you say, “O.K., here’s where we’ve allotted money towards conferences. Here’s money we’ve allotted towards memberships, money allotted to advertisements,” and you break it out by marketing channel. Then what you can do, and which I actually think has more value, depending upon how your firm’s structured—and this is particularly valuable for smaller firms—you break it out not just by the department, but you go into the practice area and then individual attorneys. You can do it by attorney, you can do it by practice area, and when you get really fancy, you can do it by industry. I think industry’s more powerful than any other area, simply because you can get more granular with that type of data.
When you break out your total spend by marketing channel, you start seeing where you’re allocating your dollars. Then, the next metric you need is total leads generated by marketing channel. What that means is when you are doing an event or you’re attending an organization meeting, you are tracking who you’re meeting, how you are following up. Lots of people know we should do that, but here’s the power of it: even if they don’t actually become a client, but you’re exploring those opportunities, that’s still a lead. When you start looking at total leads generated by marketing channel, that’s a valuable thing, because if you keep joining organizations that people go to once a year, the total leads generated is going to be a lot less than something you attend on a monthly basis. That’s going to start telling you, “Am I really getting a full year’s worth of value out of that particular organization?” You can start evaluating if you’re asked to look at what you’re getting out of it.
Once you’ve taken a look at your total leads generated, you can then look at your conversion rates. So, we’ve gotten 10 potential opportunities out of this organization. Out of those 10, we’ve converted three of them into actual clients, so I know my percentage for my conversion rate. Why is that important? Because you might have an organization where you get a ton of leads, but you’re not converting them well. That’s an opportunity for a conversation with your attorneys: “Why aren’t we converting this? Are these people not able to make the legal decision? Are we not positioned correctly?” That’s an opportunity to talk. If you’re only getting six leads, but you convert five of them into clients, that’s something to pay attention to, too. Again, you can do this at the practice group level; you can do it by individual attorney. I find that when you go through and look at an attorney’s client list and start asking them, “How did you get this client? How did you get this one?” patterns will emerge. I once had an attorney tell me they had to do more writing, yet every time we had a writing opportunity, they didn’t have time to do it. When I sat down and looked at the data of where they were landing clients, what emerged was that they weren’t landing clients from writing; they were landing clients because they were an outstanding presenter and got hired to go corporate trainings. It was very easy to have that conversation with that attorney and say, “I think you need to shift your focus because here’s where you’re getting results.” The data proved to be correct there.
Finally, the other piece of data that I think is valuable is your client acquisition cost, that is, what your spend per channel per activity is. You’re looking at what you are bringing in and what your total cost is. You can’t just look at a number and go, “Wow, that’s a really big sponsorship!” It could be a huge sponsorship, but if it’s generating the right amount of dollars for your firm, it might be worth doing. Having that data changes your conversations with attorneys, because it’s no longer “I think you should do this.” It’s “Here’s what your activity’s showing us. Here’s where you’re doing well; here’s where we need to re-evaluate.” You can have more constructive conversations. That’s why the data matters. The pushback you get from attorneys is because it sometimes scares them; they don’t necessarily want to see what it’s going to tell them. But if you have a conversation and say, “Listen, I value your time and I want to steer you towards the right things for you, and the only way we figure out what the right things are for you is when we look at the data.” I find that when we go from that perspective, it’s a lot easier with the attorneys.
Sharon: Yeah, if you can come with the data, who can argue with that? You might not want to see it, but who can really argue with it?
Sharon: Clare, from your perspective, what other trends are you seeing in law firm marketing and business development right now?
Clare: I think attorneys are starting to learn to market by industry. Whereas we think of breaking up our large groups of attorneys by practice area, which is area of law, our clients don’t necessarily think of us that way. They’re not necessarily worried that we have this incredible, detailed knowledge of non-compete agreements. What they really want to know is, “Do you know non-compete agreements in the context of my industry? Can you speak to whatever industry I’m in, whether it’s medical device or financial services or what have you?” Because oftentimes our clients are not lawyers, or they’re in-house lawyers who are reporting to business people. They are looking to say, “This is the lawyer who knows our business because they’re always working in our industry.” When I see firms—as we’re doing here at Fox Rothschild—pulling lawyers from across different practice areas and zeroing in on the needs of a given industry, I think it’s a much more powerful tool. We can talk about things that are on the horizon, but I think in terms of what lawyers are actually doing, industry-focused business development is something they can connect with and that makes sense for them. When we’re talking technology and other areas of the marketing and business development world, there are some great things on the horizon, but if you’re looking for a practical trend that makes sense to lawyers, that they’re willing to jump into, and that generates results, I think it’s industry-based marketing.
Sharon: That’s great to hear. It’s about time. It’s something that legal marketers have been touting for so long, but it’s great to hear that the ship is turning around. Clare, thank you so much for being here today. Your thoughts are extremely valuable, substantive and thoughtful and I really appreciate that.
Clare: Thank you so much for having me.
Sharon: Delighted to have you. That wraps up another episode of the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst. If you’d like to contact Clare, we will have her information in the show notes. If you like what you heard and you would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download you podcasts, and please rate us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest who can help your firm move forward. Thank you so much for listening.
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