THE LAW FIRM MARKETING PROFESSIONAL AS VALUE ARBITER
Adapted and expanded from
How Businesses Buy Legal Services, Chapter 4
By Larry Smith
definition of real power is always elusive. For a marketing professional, it is
particularly elusive in the context of a law firm. First, the environment is
flat, and your credibility rating may be A-plus with one owner-operator, and
F-minus with another.
Second, most Marketing Directors, including the recently empowered breed of "Chief Marketing Officers," are not lawyers. No matter how "business-like" law firms become, it will still be a challenge for non-lawyers to effect their own agendas amid debate (read: bureaucracy) among the partners.
Of course, it can be done. Non-lawyers can rise to positions of formidable authority, as the laic business managers at some mighty firms Earle Yaffa at Skadden is the prototypical example have proven over the past twenty-five years.
For marketers, the obvious question is how.
Power: Defining It, Getting It
The "how" for the COOs has everything to do with demonstrable value. When partners see what a real business manager delivers at every level of finance and operations, they know it goes right to the bottom line. For those "real businesspersons," its then just a short jump to a first chair at the strategic planning table.
Marketers often have a tougher time, because the fruits of their labor are not immediately tangible or quantifiable. Even when a marketing initiative is palpably successful, it may not be possible to correlate the effort with specific revenue.
So the next obvious question becomes, how can marketing professionals demonstrate their own value? The answer lies in communicating the value of marketing itself. It is by showing that the value of marketing for every partner is defined not by immediate ROI in dollars but by what it allows them, as lawyers, to do for their clients.
By redefining the value of marketing in terms of client relations, you redefine your value. You must speak the language of client service, not the language of advertising. If you make yourself a hero on the critical client end, your personal credibility, and the credibility of the marketing program itself, increases exponentially.
Heres what you tell your partners
Value: Defining It, Delivering It
Superior marketing and selling occur when the buyer is better off because of the experience, regardless of whether the seller even makes a sale. Often, in these pages, in-house counsel say that the marketing they like best is a good substantive seminar where they get to learn something about the law that they can take back to their offices and put to good use.
Every effort to sell the marketing program internally should begin with just such a specific example of how partners can win clients and influence everybody. Power for the law firm marketer is that he or she then becomes a kind of arbiter of value.
"Yes, lets pursue this initiative because it delivers real value to our end-users."
"No, lets not waste our time on that initiative because all it does is talk about us."
With this value-based touchstone in mind, lets take a look at two major events in the recent history of law firm marketing and how they affect the in-house client.
Dont Just Do It
The first is branding.
In manufacturing, a brand is integrity-based to the extent that it guarantees the consistent quality of the product, no matter where its purchased, and no matter who purchases it. A Sony TV operates the same in Singapore as it does in Duluth. But no major law firm can make that claim nor should it try. There are, perforce, differences in style and quality within the organization. In fact, a law firms deliverables ought to vary from lawyer to lawyer because human beings are involved, and human beings behave differently no matter what institutional standards theyve loyally signed on to.
Quality may be equal, but personal styles still vary because the professional services require individualized approaches to widely different client needs. In a dark moment for the client, a lawyer or consultant will apply his or her own personality and instincts to the situation, not a scripted or formally defined "Brobeck approach" or "KPMG approach" or even "McKinsey approach."
The critical message for marketing directors to deliver the partnership is that branding does not really bring any value to the buyer except a certain easy identifiability, which doesnt really tell the buyer much about the firms deliverables. Nor, certainly, does branding provide substantive legal help to a client or prospect. In-house buyers benefit more from a seminar on Title VII that costs $5,000 to produce than they possibly can from a $7 million initiative replete with televised bells, whistles, and logos.
Excise the Seller
Another "event" in the development of law firm marketing and sales strategies provides a fundamental contrast. Were talking about the "sales training" instruction that consultants have provided law firms for the past decade-and-a-half. The approach may vary from sales trainer to sales trainer, but theres a significant link among the ones who have made tangible contributions to the legal profession.
It is an approach to selling that affords corporate buyersnot just useful legal information in a seminar or newsletter that they can take apply to an existing legal problembut a whole consultative process designed to help them better define their business problems as well as their legal problems.
Because the dialogue helps crystallize what the buyers need, both for their companies and themselves, the experience is one that prospective clients will want to have. Its in their own self-interest to participate, not simply a favor to the law firm or whoever might have referred the law firm.
With such selling, the seller ceases to exist, except as a sounding board for the prospective buyer to explore options and solutions. At most, the seller is auditioning for the role of counselor, providing free help in order to win the right to charge money for it in the near future. And, if the lawyer doesnt "get the part," the selling process thats been instigated, and the sensibility that develops on the sellers end, will inevitably lead to success in other consultations with other buyers.
Such sales training thus feeds into the Marketing Directors agenda on two fronts.
First, it is one more "value" message about client relations and client service that, to reinforce their own value, marketing directors must deliver to their partners.
Second, it makes the value concept a reality by actually training those partners to deliver it on a 24/7 basis.
This excerpt from Inside/Outside: How Businesses Buy Legal Services by Larry Smith is published by permission of the publisher, ALM Publishing. Copyright ALM Properties Inc. 2003. All Rights Reserved.
To order a copy of Inside/Outside visit www.lawcatalog.com
Larry Smith is the Director of Business Development for Levick Strategic Communications and one of the leading consultants on media strategy as it directly affects marketing legal services. He was previously the editor of various legal industry publications, including the prestigious management report, Of Counsel.
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