The first session on Friday was another session that delegates were excited for, and the big room was packed. Moderated by Patrick Fuller, the Managing Account Director at Hubbard One, the presenters included Twitter favorites like Melanie Green, Director of Business Development and Marketing at Baker & Daniels LLP and Tim Corcoran, Senior Consultant at Altman Weil, as well as Robert D. Randolph, Jr., Director of Marketing and Business Development at Bryan Cave LLP and Steven B. Bell, Chief Client Development Officer at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC.
Tim started the session by saying that the difference between business development and marketing is that marketing is the tactics to build awareness and identity, while business development is what you’re doing to further that relationship. Steve wondered why there should be a distinction between marketing, business development and sales, saying that “we all want to ring the cash register.” He said that everyone in the room is engaged in the buying process every day, and it’s marketing’s role to create awareness. Anyone can take their own lessons from the things that they buy – buying legal services is no different. Buying is emotional and justifying a purchase is logical, though he clarified that an emotional purchase doesn’t mean it’s illogical. He emphasized that companies don’t make purchases, individuals do. So you have to understand the individual. As we all know, clients buy services from peope they trust, like, are capable, and understand their business. This isn’t an illogical process, but they have to trust you. Lawyers sometimes think that they can’t do this business development “stuff,” but it doesn’t have to be a close relationship. They just need to build a relationship of trust. Lawyers also think that they need to explain their capabilities in the buying process, but most clients are not even considering you if you don’t already have the skill set they need.
The panel cautioned that it’s important for marketers to understand the difference between sales and business development, so that we understand what we’re asking lawyers to do in growing their relationships. The data says that the key attributes for clients in hiring firms are client focus, value for money, a willingness to help, and understanding the client’s business. Relationships matter. The panel asked the audience what their lawyers know about their clients and their budget reductions in the current economy. They encouraged the attendees to tell their lawyers to ask their clients how their budgets have been affected and to learn what they’re going through up front. Tim said that he asks lawyers whether they know their clients’ budget changes from the previous year, and they generally don’t. Since clients live and die by their budgets, it’s a key factor in the relationship.
The panel said that we have a new buying equation, and so legal marketers should be leading lawyers and firms to the discovery of this equations. Find out if your clients are experiencing these budget cuts across their company and look for ways to help them. Tim added that as law firm providers, we can look for other ways to please our clients that doesn’t involve doing their legal work. Melanie talked about a sales program that her firm has for their associates, taking them from 1st year associaties through partnership to educate them on how to work with clients. She said that they do use the term “sales” and Rob added that from his perspective, all the lawyers in the firm are salespeople. They coach their attorneys to have business conversations with their clients, because casual conversations won’t bring in business. Tim commented that sometimes the firm thinks they have a solid relationship with a client, but if it only relies on one attorney’s contact with them, versus many to many, you’re in jeopardy. Steve commented that there is a natural role for non-lawyer salespeople to initiate a conversation with a potential client and Nancy Myrland added via Twitter that “this is a very typical model in other professional services firms. Bus[iness] Dev[elopment]/Salespeople pave the way.” The panel mentioned that because you don’t know how many “touches” you’ll have to have in order to push a relationship with a potential client to the next level, lawyers often get impatient. Business relationships can be kept alive by always identifying what the next steps are.
The panelists observed that while some firms are basically silos who share overhead, there are others where the partners actually want to work together and seek out work to help their other partners. Tim said that when seeking out opportunities to have fellow partners brought into the equation to help clients, it’s good for the firm. Melanie said it’s important to be able to break the relationship manager from thinking that the client doesn’t need anything else from the firm. To help this process when lawyers are hoarding clients, one option is to use client interviews to bring in someone else. Through these interviews, the firm can identify the needs of the client and how to meet those needs. Another way to identify what other work a firm can be doing for a client is to do a White Space Analysis from Bill Flannery, which is a client/workspace matrix. It puts the clients on one axis and the work being done on the other, and then looks at where they don’t overlap for opportunities to target. Tim said that legal marketers can help with targeting because of their marketing training.
The panelists then talked about the culture shift at clients’ companies, and Steve said that this is being driven by a shrinking budget – the market is not abundant. Tim commented that demand hasn’t necessarily disappeared, but the budgets to meet that demand have. So the question becomes what are the sustainable changes versus just a blip on the radar. Tim doesn’t see spending increasing again when times get better, because when budgets were reduced, firms still managed to get the work done. And when Chief Legal Officers said, “We can’t predict our legal budgets,” the CEOs and CFOs called them on it. Melanie sees these changes as an opportunity to adapt her firm’s internal culture – to showcase and highlight their message to make it more strategic and focused. Steve said that at his firm, they leverage the lawyers’ competitive nature in a sales contest to drive lawyers without the hammer of compensation. They have an inter-office Sales Contest, and when asked what the winning office gets, Steve answered that it doesn’t matter because the competition itself is the reward. Melanie said that although she looks forward to a time when the compensation structure at her firm changes, she can’t wait for that to drive her lawyers, so she, too, looks for work-arounds. She publishes success stories and “wins” across the firm, which raises awareness of the process.
The panelists then talked about lawyers’ fear of the sales process because of the word “close.” They agreed that there’s no reason to be afraid of it, because “closure” is just the agreement between the client and the lawyer to move to the next step – they don’t have to become like hard-driving car salesmen. Lawyers only need to do a good job of matching their services to the client’s needs in order to get closer to the “close.” As Tim said “A close is just a confirmation that you are the right lawyer to take care of my needs.” So when meeting with a client, lawyers should think through the different skills, tools, etc. that they have that can come up in the conversation. Tim cautioned that law firms shouldn’t think customizing a pitch extends to putting a prospect’s logo on it. Melanie suggested that marketers do opportunity coaching with their attorneys before a meeting with a potential client or existing client to help the lawyers learn how to get the close. She agreed that the legal market won’t go back to the way it was, and said that if lawyers think it will, it’s a problem. She reiterated a statement that seemed to be another theme of the conference: new business is going to come into firms by taking it from others. Steve said that clients have always been in charge, but didn’t know it. Now they’re in charge and they know it.
A question came from the audience as to what nonmonetary rewards the panel would suggest for their lawyers. Melanie said that telling and publicizing success stories has been very useful for her firm. Rob commented that he’s never seen a problem with lawyers being motivated to pursue work, only problems with them doing it the right way. They added that attorneys simply knowing that someone is watching their sales process can be very effective. Steve said that lawyers don’t always know how to manage their clients well, but marketers do and can help them learn. Tim commented that lawyers shouldn’t apologize for being premium-priced. They just have to learn how to provide reasons why they’re better. He also suggested that lawyers remove their clients’ influence on things like how to staff a matter by pleasing them on other metrics and said that during the sales process, create your own category that differentiates you.