By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
I recently attended the Legal Marketing Association conference in Austin and got to hear several fascinating presentations. While the content of this one was specifically focused on attorneys, naturally, the trends apply to most professional services.
The session was led by Nancy Furman Paul, who addressed the latest trends in legal marketing and business development. Much of the data came from a benchmark survey of law firms nationwide and describes trends we see with our own clients, legal and otherwise.
Focus on Marketing and Business Development (BD)
Survey respondents overwhelmingly agree (94%) that their firms are increasing the emphasis on BD and marketing efforts. The biggest driver is internal pressure to generate revenue. Pressure from other law firms that effectively market themselves, a decrease in work supporting internal corporate counsel and increased demand from clients who want a new billing model are also contributors, to a lesser degree. Though it has been suggested that alternative service providers also provide impetus to focus on marketing, the survey results don’t support this factor as a significant issue (15%).
Funding these initiatives is generally in line with the new emphasis. The majority of firms (57%) are seeing budget growth for marketing and BD keep pace with overall firm budget. Only 12% saw a decrease, while 31% reported their marketing/BD budget stayed the same.
Roles and Responsibilities
Over the past three years firms have seen a significant growth in social media and other kinds of new marketing activities. Marketing and BD personnel have increased their efforts in several areas:
- Practice and process improvements
- Practice and business planning
- Firm strategic planning
- Attorney coaching/training
- Content marketing
- Client service and client relationship management
It is only in the area of social media, however, that attorneys themselves are making major contributions.
Evolving Relationships with Attorneys
The relationship between attorneys and marketing departments is changing, with an overall improvement reported by 44% of business development personnel. They list more one-on-one communication, stronger personal relationships, increased trust and credibility, and a better understanding of mutual needs as factors that contribute to this enhancement of their working relationships.
It’s worth noting that only 21% of attorneys report the same thing. 53% of the attorneys surveyed find working with marketing and business development professionals challenging at times. That’s unfortunate, because they rely on these key people for a variety of critical tasks:
- Gathering company information
- Responding to RFPs
- Ranking and award submissions
- Content marketing
Attorneys feel most positive about efforts to plan and execute events, support for client pitches, building brand awareness and producing quality client communications. They feel least positive, according to the survey results, about other important goals:
- Integrating business development into attorney workflow
- Effectively generating new business
- Strategically positioning the firm
- Generating media coverage
This indicates a real communication gap as well as challenges for marketers in helping firms realize their potential.
The array of technological resources available to help firms market and manage their practices has never been wider. Many firms have at their disposal tools that include:
- Business Intelligence
- Client Relationship Management (CRM) software
- Litigation tools
- Content generation or management services
- Proposal management software
- Pricing management software
Just because it’s available, though, doesn’t mean it’s being used at its highest level. Respondents indicated that business intelligence, CRM programs and many other tools at their firms could be utilized to a far greater degree than they currently are.
The Big Picture
Overall, we can see that increased investment in marketing and business development is accompanying an expanded role for these activities, with greater focus on strategic approaches to yield targeted results. Relationships continue to evolve, with great opportunity to create further value from marketing and business development efforts. Technology remains a key area where improvements in understanding and utilization can offer significant benefit to those firms that are willing to invest time to adopt the appropriate tools.
How much do the findings match what you see happening in your firm? Every professional services firm is different, but most will recognize opportunities and challenges that describe their own in these results. If a few of these issues hit home, let us know how we can help!