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2011 Attorney Marketing: Where Do You Stand?


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Law360, New York (August 29, 2011) -- "When you are thirsty, it is too late to dig a well." -- Japanese Proverb

In two more blinks of the eye, 2011 will be gone and law firms, like other businesses, will be assessing the marketing progress they’ve made this year even as they begin setting their business development goals for 2012.

It seems altogether advantageous for firms to get a head start now; to begin the assessment process early on by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and their successes and failures so far evident in 2011, particularly with respect to a half-dozen mission-critical indices. After all, the sooner you understand where you are, the sooner you’ll get to where you’re going.

The decisive indices of which we speak have proven most useful in our work with clients in recent years. They have the advantage of being broadly generic (and therefore widely relevant) while simultaneously allowing firms to focus on a myriad of specific issues that may be especially relevant to their lawyers. To begin ...

Increasing Client Retention — Client retention is obviously a key element of long-term revenue creation. Our world is fast paced: faster cars; faster Internet; text-messaging; and near-constant multitasking. With everything moving so quickly, we often forget to slow down and make real connections with people. Don’t let the opportunity to get to know clients slip by you.

It is now more important than ever to expand current client activity to include asking clients how your firm is doing and how you might improve. But conducting client service interviews is not sufficient. “I’ve rarely seen any follow-up from these interviews,” complains one in-house counsel of a large Fortune 1,000 company.” The opportunities are worse than wasted. Having led clients to expect responsiveness, you’ve only angered them by dropping the ball. Bad marketing is worse than no marketing.

Focus on each client, one at a time. Don’t underestimate the power of personal connections, which both supports client retention and helps get you to the RED ZONE where new business actually gets closed. Building good rapport with current clients gives them a greater sense of confidence about the quality of your work and your trustworthiness.

In a recent Acritas survey, 53 percent of in-house counsel indicated they intend to fire at least one of their long-time outside law firms. If you’re on that unhappy list, at least make sure you know why. According to marketing guru Jay Abraham, there are three primary reasons why clients leave long-term relationships:

Continually talk with your clients about their responsibilities to their own clients or customers. By addressing their vital business interests so directly, you align your interests with theirs.

What are your client retention metrics so far in 2011?

Enhanced Relationship-Building — To cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship, honor the old bromide: Go where they go; read what they read; know whom they know. In our business development seminars, we emphasize the importance of selling based on the client or prospect’s needs rather than the size of your firm, the number of offices you have, or the awards that your firm has received.

View your relationships as two-sided, not just client-dedicated. Ask them for references and introductions as well as opportunities to jointly participate on conference programs and to co-author articles. Invite them to speak to the younger lawyers in your firm. Provide a guest blog on your website.

Have you ever had a client ask if your firm can sponsor a table at their conference, donate a free consultation, offer an item to a silent auction, or provide an internship for the CEO’s nephew? Smart lawyers, of course, always try to find a way to make it happen. But, while clients often reach out to the attorneys, it’s far less common for lawyers to reach out to their clients.

Asking is a sign you trust and value them. Besides, it’s usually of some benefit to them as well when they provide you with these legitimate (often public) favors. In-house decision-makers aren’t just looking for lawyers. They want firms that they can help grow and thrive as the rewards of your success will eventually redound to their benefit as well.

What have you done for your clients in 2011? What have they done for you?

Growing Business Development Talent – Paradoxically, even as business development training for lawyers remains a key deliverable for marketing consultants, law firms over the past two years have decreased their real investments in such bottom line-oriented programs. The common excuse is the economy: “We’re waiting to see what happens before providing more business development training, support, and incentives.”

It’s myopic, of course, since even minor investment now will yield significant new business three to five years down the line. At a recent ALM Marketing and Business Development Leadership Forum, I was surprised by how many firms are on hold. Those still sitting on the sidelines exacerbate the challenges they’ll face in the competitive marketplace ahead.

It takes time for the most effective coaching and training programs to mature. Trainees (at every level of the professional staff) are seldom convinced right away that they can succeed in building contacts and relationships, and in ultimately generating business.

Investing in your attorneys now will:

Have you increased or decreased your investment in business development training in 2011?

Measure the Success Ratio of Pitches and Proposals — Too often, law firm managers fail to track pitch and proposal activities. Activities need to be coordinated and resources need to be centralized. Follow-up efforts, client responses and time invested as a cost of sales should be built in to the sales/marketing program.

Learn what works, what appears to be irrelevant, what services are of greatest interest, etc. Create a go/no-go decision-making system, whether by office, practice group, industry group or firm marketing committee, to assess the value of past efforts and help determine what work to target — and not to target.

The go/no-go mechanism is absolutely essential in the RFP process, which can suck tens of thousands of dollars out of a firm for no good reason whatsoever. But how do you sift through the sea of proposals? Begin by asking:

If you decide not to respond, say so in writing and give a respectful reason why not. Wish them the best and tell them you look forward to working with them in the future.

How much time have you wasted on RFPs so far in 2011?

Evaluating Community, Business and Nonprofit Organization Participation — You need to jettison nonproductive association activities. By “productive” we mean situations where you will meet, get to know, and have the opportunity to explore client engagement possibilities with business and government leaders and in-house counsel. If you need to choose between the local bar association and an industry group where your clients meet, go for the latter.

Work toward a leadership position in the organization for the sake of the organization itself as well as to advance your marketing effort. For example, membership on a program committee is the fastest way to help the organization manage its agenda and to meet prospects. By leading a panel, you can invite prospects who do not yet know you. You’ll be exchanging emails, holding conference calls and dining with these contacts.

Some leadership roles are hard to fill and commensurately more valuable, for example, service as publication editors. Our clients have achieved terrific recognition and developed new clients who were directly traceable to these editorial relationships.

Organizational and conference activities, as well as alumni groups (both undergraduate and law school) and nonprofit organizations, are naturally superb venues for new lawyers. They can develop marketing skills and enjoy themselves in the process.

Which new organizations were added to your list in 2011? Which ones dropped off that list?

Updating Competitive and Economic Trends — Most universities and local Chambers’ of Commerce produce economic updates that can be invaluable for law firms. Butler University, for one, just completed an online survey of 768 Indiana business executives who show greater optimism about the overall business environment for 2011 and intend to do less outsourcing as a result.

National publications discuss trends. Conferences offer a subtle look at the competition; for example, Alternate Fee Arrangement programs provide insight into what competitors are doing to allay client concerns and win business. Surveys of how in-house counsel make decisions are available from Corporate Counsel, BTI, InsideCounsel, etc.

National databases include data on law firm utilization: who’s getting hired, and for what kind of work. The information is readily obtainable and highly useable, all the more valuable as it tells us a lot about the specific work for which these corporate clients currently retain outside counsel.

What information are you getting now in 2011 that you weren’t getting in 2010?

One important point may occur to you as you review these half-dozen marketing benchmarks. None of it is rocket science. Quite to the contrary, we’re talking about best practices in how we talk to people, how we learn more about the world around us, and how we assess our own successes and failures.

In 2011, as in any other year, the best marketing is common sense uncommonly elevated and systematized. Remember that in 2012.

--By Allan Colman, The Closers Group LLC

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