Law firm marketing vs. Sales

Adam Smith writes the following question:

“Most businesses know their leading indicators of sales. For example, if the company increases the number of sales calls in January, there will be more sales in April.

Has anyone analyzed empirically what the leading indicators of sales are for AmLaw 200 law firms? Do the indicators include ads in the trade press? Fancy dinners with potential clients? Rounds of golf with potential clients? Publishing articles in legal or trade journals? Giving speeches? Winning jury trials? Closing big deals?

“It strikes me that law firms have very little idea of what business development activities they really want to encourage among their lawyers and so take a scattershot approach to the effort.

“Has anyone thought intelligently about this?”

He conludes that: “All the activities the reader cites contribute to “name recognition” for a law firm, but the actual “sale” (read: engagements to handle a piece of litigation, a corporate transaction, a tax problem, etc.) only occurs when the client has the precise need, i.e., is at the point of pain. No one in the history of the world ever woke up and said, “What I need today is to buy myself a really good contract….‘”

My slightly contrarian view: Lawyers always think of themselves as unique. We’re just not THAT unique. For example, no one wakes up in the morning and says a need a new bank; no one wakes up in the morning and says I need a financial audit; or I need a new accountant. At least, not unless there is an emergency such as your accountant is being indicted. Recently, the same is true of lawyers (especially since a few high profile lawyers were indicted!).

A bank marketing executive once told me: You can’t control sales; you can control only your time. Thus, projecting a 10% increase in sales seems folly. Rather, he said, I prefer to look at the number of calls my team makes. That I can control. The more calls we make, the more deposits and loans increase.

If you’re in the AmLaw 200 (the backdrop for Adam Smith’s commentary), clients do have on-going relationships with law firms. Where there is an on-going relationship, no one is thinking of making a change. But, a client doesn’t need a specific contract or litigation to want to and actually do shift law firms. Recently, several reports were published detailing major clients dropping law firms and taking on new ones.

Thus, the number of contacts, etc. that you make will have an impact on more than just name recognition … and more than just getting an opportunity to sit at the table when new matters are assigned to law firms.

My comment is not intended to address the issue of branding or marketing, but rather to suggest that getting “out into the public eye” can do more than merely cause firm name recognition. Yes, I agree that a major benefit of writing articles, lunch meetings, bar association participation and the like is name recognition … but it can also lead directly to sales (without waiting for the next new matter to be assigned).

Most importantly, though, the law firm must have the infrastructure of outstanding client service in place in order to get … and retain clients in this new world. In all these discussions, technical quality is assumed … and even where there may be a difference, it is very difficult to quantify or communicate that difference. Service is key.


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