I come to law firm business development from the marketing and communications side of things — branding, graphics, web sites, brochures, newsletters, writing, informational content, etc. (the awareness and positioning piece). When I landed my first law firm client, I immediately joined the Legal Marketing Association as I realized I needed to learn about the legal industry and how to better market legal services. I continue to learn and observe, and I try to share much of it here on this blog. Here’s my latest observation:
The business development pipeline is the missing link of law firm marketing.
What is a business development pipeline?
It is the keystone in the whole process of marketing the law firm, where the rubber hits the road. It is simply a list that assigns and under which individual attorneys assume responsibility to contact and pursue new business/expanded business relationships. But to be effective, it must be used as part of a deliberate process of identifying new business prospects, making contacts, scheduling actions to be taken, following up on actions, reporting on actions, measuring results and reporting and recognition of efforts/outcomes. Firms that adopt a pipeline system will succeed at increasing business. The problem is that most law firms feel they can skip over this because they are “kind of” doing it already. And they don’t have time. So, it never gets done.
Sales pipeline basics
There are many ways to create a pipeline, also called a sales funnel, and they are all pretty similar. They always start with current clients, a review of revenues and a SWOT analysis (of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Here’s how Jim Hassett describes it in his book Legal Business Development, A Step by Step Guide. (What I like about his book is that it is written with the busy attorney in mind. You can pick up the book and approach any chapter in any order, and get valuable tips to put into action right away.) In Chapter 5: Your Practice Group Marketing Plan, Hassett writes, “A marketing plan for a practice group or an entire firm provides a big picture framework for deciding which business is worth going after, and which isn’t.” “Once goals are defined, the next step is to identify your target audience. Just write down the names of people who have potential for new business that will help you meet your goal. If you don’t know their names, start with job titles, or organization names.” His book provides many tips on understanding the sales cycle and on using sales pipelines and CRM software, but a tool as simple to use and manage as an Excel spreadsheet will do.
According to Hassett, “I am a big believer in using group reports to motivate lawyers. When I coach groups of lawyers, I use weekly reports to help create a culture that encourages business development and celebrates success.” He recommends measuring client advances, defined to mean any step that brings a client closer to a new engagement. Action is the operative word here. Writes Hassett, “However carefully you develop your marketing plan, it will be wrong. The only question is: will it be wrong sooner, or wrong later?” The plan, then, “should be made just good enough to direct action, and then tested in the real world.”
Putting it all together
Firms have become more marketing savvy and are busy developing and refining their brands, logos, web sites and marketing collateral. That’s part of it. And lawyers are out there selling — whether they know it or not, or whether they use that word or not. But what many firms are missing is the commitment to a strategic and concerted effort to shake the tree to get more of the business that they most desire. When it all comes together, you will have a brand and a marketing strategy that differentiates, marketing and sales collateral that support all of the key areas of business and client types that you are a pursuing in order to achieve your business development goals. Integrated and ongoing. Think about it. Or go back to your cave.