Many firms include a marketing section in their plan and budget. But what they really mean is marketing and business development (or sales). They are two different functions, and if you don’t understand the difference, you might not be getting the results you would like from your marketing initiatives. So before you determine your marketing resource needs, budget allocations and training plans, let’s examine these two important components to your marketing function.
Both marketing and sales are focussed on increasing revenue. They also require similar knowledge and skills, so you’ll often find experts in both areas in a marketing department. But they are, in fact, very different functions, and should be planned for and funded separately.
One of the best definitions I found for marketing is that it’s the systematic (not opportunistic) planning and execution of activities that seek to bring together buyers and sellers. Marketing helps to clarify your service offerings and benefits (a great marketer can also identify and mitigate your weaknesses); identifies your target market and the value systems they attribute to your service; determines what messaging is required, and where; and gets the right message to the right people in the right way at the right time. Imagine marketing as a net, thrown out strategically to obtain the best possible chances of a good catch.
Marketing also includes a broader range of activities including client relationship programs (i.e. client service, client surveys and audits); strategic planning; PR and communications; branding; social media; etc. Marketing also conducts research (on the marketplace generally, the targets specifically, the competition, etc.) to clarify values, benefits, pricing, location, and any shifts in the marketplace that might require tweaking with the service or marketing plan.
Marketing occurs with virtually every business and service; but product marketers don’t necessarily translate well into the service industry. Similarly, law firm marketing is unique in so many ways that while other service marketers may look good on paper, most don’t tend to survive or do well in the law firm environment without a lot of coaching and mentorship. This is why organizations like the Legal Marketing Association are so important.
Sales or business development (“BD”) is comprised of the actions that occur between two parties: the seller and the target buyer. Imagine that the best marketing can do is to throw the net within ten feet of a group of target clients. It’s up to sales/BD to reel in those clients, usually one by one.
Sales strives to learn and then meet the needs of the target client. What do they need? When? In what format? With what conditions? For what price? BD is only partially about the long-term relationship. For example, if a longer-term agreement is needed to sell the client, BD will include those terms in the negotiation. But their focus is really to get the client in the door. Then it’s up to marketing to maintain that client relationship.
BD isn’t simply about bringing in brand new clients. It can also be useful for cross-selling existing clients, or bringing back past clients. Essentially, sales is about landing more work for the firm.
Making It Work
It’s easier to track BD success rate: simply count the increase in clients or work value. If it’s there, your BD is doing well. If it isn’t, your BD is weak (or non-existent). Marketing is more difficult to track because it can take six months to two years for marketing to “pay off”. Marketing is a longer process, and there is no direct correlation between marketing and sales success. Further, this is a sequential process: you can’t experience ongoing strong sales unless you spend some time and money getting your marketing platform figured out first.
I’m often called into firms to help them build their practice, or recruit more lawyers. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have the platform to do so yet. Their brand is generic. There are no differentiators. The culture is scattered. They have no sense of strategy or direction. Their marketing may be weak; their client service program non-existent. They have very little in the way of repeatable process. Their practice areas don’t operate as teams, and don’t know how to market or sell themselves. It goes without saying that the practice areas then don’t know how to sell each other, so cross-selling isn’t that effective. It takes time and some money to sort this out; but without a strong marketing platform in place, a firm has little hope of substantively improving on their sales, or attracting new lawyers.
But once the structures mentioned above are in place, the selling can begin in earnest. This includes targeted plans for client or industry pursuit; cross-selling programs; assertive campaigns that span advertising, PR, Web, etc. Again, why don’t we go there immediately? Because most intelligent people can tell when there’s no substance underneath. An individual lawyer who is great at their area of law and client service can always attract new clients. But that’s not why firms need marketing and BD. They need it for the 3/4s of the firm that is not at that level of expertise, reputation and client management capability. Thus, the need for structure, branding and practice area management systems before you can focus on selling.
How Do We Start?
Begin by developing a strategic plan, then a marketing plan so you know where you’re headed. Then work on a strong marketing platform. When that’s close to completion, start to identify and build plans for pursuit of specific targets. You might want to start with a cross-selling strategy as those clients already know and love at least part of the firm. Ensure you have a documented game plan for each, and a budget to ensure you have the funds to actually go after the work. Closely monitor implementation of the plans, and track the results so you can see what’s working, and what isn’t. As with most new firm programs, it’s best to start small – with a pilot group. Once you’ve had some practice and see how it works, you can broaden your BD program to include more target clients or industry groups.
This takes time and some knowledge of marketing and BD. If you don’t have the expertise internally, don’t be afraid to bring someone in who can help get you started. For the equivalent cost of a single file, you can easily make a significant difference in your revenues this year, and on into the next five years. Ideally, whomever you hire helps to document the strategy and implementation, provides some training to your lawyers and staff, and creates repeatable processes so that with time, the firm can learn to do this on its own.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org