Mission impossible?

This message is urgent:  the current climate means that you have less money to spend on marketing and business development.  You also need to lose two people from your headcount.  Your mission is simple:  you must ensure we do not lose any existing clients, you must make sure they keep buying our services and buy more of them.  You must generate new clients quickly to replace the significant losses in fee income in our sectors and service lines most affected by the recession.  This message will not self-destruct in minutes… This is the instruction that many marketing and business development teams have been given this year.  So here’s the question!  Is this a mission that only Tom Cruise and the fantasy world of movies could pull off or can you really do more with less?

Recessions are good for the brain
Forgive the optimism, but there is nothing like a recession to help people focus their mind on which marketing and business development activities actually give the greatest returns. Now more then ever firms must focus only on those activities that generate tangible results and can no longer afford the luxury of campaigns that may win awards or excite the creative marketing brain but actually deliver little or no income generation opportunities.  It is difficult to measure the long-term effect of ‘awareness’ campaigns but let’s face reality, declining fee income means there is the clear and present danger that can only be avoided by helping your fee-earners to be in front of clients right now having meaningful dialogue that will lead to early income generation.

Laser beam focus
Sometimes we need to keep it simple!  A marketing director I recently spoke with has adopted a simple mantra that seems to help focus the mind.  In his firm the only activities that are invested in are the ones that are proven to achieve one or more of the following:
  • Relationship protection and development meetings with existing clients
  • Relationship development meetings with new contacts in existing clients
  • Relationships development meetings with target clients who are genuinely motivated to meet
  • Relationship development meetings with intermediaries
It may sound too simple but this firm has already stopped many of their previous activities that were thought to be successful but rarely if ever resulted in generating meaningful discussions that led to actual fee-earning opportunities.

Where do you want to be?
History tells us that recessions end.  We are all probably tired of the ‘green shoots’ message already.  An alternative quote I heard recently was from a Grant Thornton Partner who referred to ‘green weeds!’ Green shoots or weeds, there is no doubt that even with reduced budgets some firms will emerge as the stronger and more profitable in 2010 and beyond.  Our experience suggests that the likely winners have already painted a clear picture of where they are trying to get to. Make it visible The most successful firms adopt a ‘project management’ approach to business development.  The PACE Pipeline is a proven model.

 The PACE Pipeline

There are huge benefits in fully understanding this model.  However for this mission many firms use this approach to ensure focus.  We recommend you populate the model and make it visible across all our service lines and sectors.  There are five key areas:
Prospecting – name the clients you would like to win (identified using intelligent selection criteria)
Promoting – the clients that you are currently marketing/promoting to (with the aim of generating a meeting)
Projecting – who you are currently in dialogue with about current opportunities that you wish to win
Protecting – existing clients that you want to keep buying from you and buy other services from you
Pruning – clients that you do not wish to keep as they do not match your vision of the perfect client base of the future So what is the key message here?  The answer was put succinctly by one of our clients who said “It’s simple, if our BD and marketing activities do not influence and add value to the named decision makers on the first four parts of the Pipeline we don’t do it!”

So with reduced budgets and headcount what have we observed in the legal and professional services sector?  The most successful firms we have observed have used a stop/start/continue approach to help them define where they will invest their time and smaller budgets.

You must already have the answer to this.  Carry on doing all of those things that you deliver results based on the criteria I mentioned earlier under the ‘laser beam focus’ heading.  If you can’t answer with a definitive yes to one of the four criteria, then it might fall into the stop it now category!

Our conversations with senior BD and Marketing professionals in global, city, national and regional law firms have told us some of the activities they are doing a lot less of and in many cases have stopped – without any negative effects!

An all too often request is “we need a new brochure”.  Brochures do not sell.  We are talking here of the feature dumping type that attempt to tell clients about your services and how wonderful your firm is.  You can often take a firm’s name off a brochure and quite frankly any other law firm in the country could use it.  They often look the same and read the same.  Who doesn’t say that “clients are at the heart of our business” or “we take time to really understand our clients”? There is a difference between brochures and what I describe as ‘dynamite collateral’.  The golden rule is if you produce any printed material it must offer significant value to the recipient.  Telling them about your history an d listing service lines rarely does.

Random, reactive requests
We’ve all met them.  The fee-earner who says “we must do this now”, “we have to be at this event”, “we have to get this tender in by Friday”. What are the cleverest firms doing?  They are not doing anything that isn’t part of the clearly defined and populated Pipeline.  If there are parts of your firm that don’t know where they are trying to get to them a great use of your time is to help define their perfect client base of the future.

Beware of the ‘bluebird’
A bluebird is an opportunity to propose for business that first appears with a phone call request, formal RFP or tender document.  It’s a ‘bluebird’ if you didn’t know about it before the request arrived. Many of your fee-earners are under pressure, leading to the false belief that we need to bid for everything out there.  This is one of the biggest wastes of time and money in legal and other professional services firms.  You probably already have a bid/no bid tool in place.  If you haven’t or it’s overly complexed we recommend you consider the following:

To bid or not to bid

to bid or not to bid

Some will argue that the above guide it too simplistic.  No one has ever convinced me that bidding for work where there is no relationship, no chance to meet the client and no insight beyond the logic of a tender document is the best way to spend your time and money and secure profitable fee income.  

PR Agencies
Like any business there are some great PR agencies and some that really do very little to earn their fees.  Take a look at yours and ask yourself some questions.  Are they reactive or proactive?  Do they really understand your firm?  Does all of their activity help you generate dialogue with the names on your populated Pipeline?  Do they really, really care about you? One firm we know has dramatically reduced their external spend and have achieved more by using their own internal talent.  Some agencies achieve amazing things.  Keep them at all costs!

Newsletters and e-newsletters
Stop anything that does not offer ‘HUGE AND DYNAMITE’ value to the recipient.  Your clients are inundated with pointless communications; make sure none of it is from your firm.

What else is being stopped?
Some of the other things we see the shrewdest firms doing less of or stopping completel y include:
  • Spending time and money on people in your referral network that never actually facilitate an instruction
  • Uncapped budgets for client entertaining
  • Telesales approaches that generates ‘polite’ meetings.  Only use this approach if it generates meetings where clients are very motivated to meet your fee-earners as opposed to forced meeting where you might get “you’ve got 30 minutes to tell us why we should use you”.
  • Attending events that do not generate meaningful business dialogue with names on your Pipeline
  • Any activity that is not ‘joined-up’ and not owned by fee-earners who will follow through
  • Thinking that only partners can be involved in BD and Marketing
  • Attending pointless meetings.  Only go for the parts where you add or receive value
  • Using any suppliers that don’t earn their money and exceed your expectations
A final stop
Enough is enough!  It is not unreasonable to suggest that every law firm, every professional service firm, in fact any business in the world is first and foremost a sales and marketing concern.  You can be the best lawyer in the world, but if no one knows about you, you will starve!

I suggested earlier that a recession sometimes brings the best out of the human brain.  So what are the best brains starting to do?

If you haven’t already started a culture of BD and marketing across your firm you must begin now.  Go right to the top.  Your managing partner and board need to champion that business development and marketing input is as valuable as any current fee-earning activity.  After all, that only exists because someone, somewhere, at sometime did something! Recruit champions across the firms.  Not just partners.  I know of one city law firm whose reception team live and breathe business development and marketing.  Get your people engaged.  There is time and resource in your firm that is being paid for not being used.

Spending your time wisely
Spend more time with the parts of your firm who have designed their client base of their future.  Identify the services or sectors that are well led with champions of BD and Marketing and apply your expertise to populated Pipelines. If you spend time with other areas of the firm your energy should first go into helping them define their future and building a Pipeline.  Wherever you spend your time remember laser-beam focus.

Dynamite collateral
Identify and develop dynamite collateral that adds HUGE VALUE to clients and motivates them to want to meet with you.

Seminars and events
Organise small scale, joined up events owned by fee-earners that start with a seating plan.  Every name on the list must be key decision makers and influencers identified in your populated Pipeline.  The aim of any event should be to motivate a contact to enter into meaningful dialogue after the event.  Fee-earners must own each contact and know what to do before, during and after the event.

Talk more to your clients
I can’t count how many time lawyers tell me they spend lots of time talking with clients.  It is true of course.  But what are they talking about?  The bulk of conversations are bound to be regarding the work that clients are currently paying you to do. But how much time is spent really understanding your clients beyond current fee-earning work?  I work with one firm where partners can now give a confident presentation of their clients opportunities and threats over the next couple of years based on political, economic, sociological, technological, environmental and legislative factors.  When you achieve this level of understanding it is becomes easy to know what and how to market and business develop with clients. One more thing.  Ask your clients what marketing activities are the most valuable to them. As them what they see as added value.  Then plan to deliver it.

Wake up to a whole new world
I am apparently part of the analogue generation.  A dynamic new member of our marketing team has opened my eyes to the fact that there are people out there who seek and absorb information in a different way.  Welcome to the digital word! There are six channels you should consider that are simple and require little or no investment other than some time:  LinkedIn, Facebook, Xing, Twitter, Youtube and Ning. I need to be honest here, as an analogue person I can be cynical.  I have been proved wrong, as we have just secured a significant speaker platform in the USA through a connection made in this digital world.  This stuff works! We have also seen an increase in online seminars both aimed at potential and existing clients.  Done well they can cost effectively touch huge audiences at minimal investment resulting in meaningful follow on discussions.

Do you accept your mission?

Tom Cruise’s character always receives a coded message for his fictitious missions. In the real world of the marketing and business of law, the firms that will achieve their mission for 2010 and beyond have already decoded the message and identified their strategy and laser beam tactics to achieve more with less. Just as in the movies, the story of these firms will have a happy ending! > Back to Articles Contents

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