What is the single most difficult marketing tactic?

Aug 28th, 2014 | Law Firm Marketing, Legal Marketing in Brief

We are often asked what is the single most difficult marketing problem facing local and regional law firms.  Our answer: database development and management.

What we mean by this is simple – most law firms do not have a reliable and updated system of managing client and other contact information. Software companies call it “client relationship management,” or a CRM program.  More simply put, it’s your mailing list.  (Just how much fun is it in your firm when it comes time to deal with the holiday card and gift list?)

If lawyers were as diligent organizing and managing the contact information for their clients and referral sources as they are about the documents for their cases, they would not have a problem. But when it comes to capturing essential marketing information, as a general rule, many law firms are sloppy. A law firm’s single most valuable asset – aside from their expertise practicing law– is the client and referral source list, and for most firms it’s scattered about, out-of-date and missing key information.

This is a critical problem for which each law firm must find a solution. When we work with law firms to develop a marketing plan, we typically start with a client survey. What we have found in surveying about 5,000 clients from dozens of law firms across the country in recent years is that, almost without exception, law firm clients say they want emailed updates from their lawyers, the lawyers they trust most, about the law and how it will affect their personal and business decisions. Based on this, any lawyer or law firm who thinks their clients do not want this kind of communication is wrong.  (This is true of tort practices, too. Clients universally want personal safety information so they can protect their families from accidents.  Referring lawyers say they want it, too.)

And, frankly, it’s bad business not to provide such information. No one disagrees with Dale Carnegie who said, “Tell the audience what you’re going to say; say it; then tell them what you’ve said.” The only way a law firm can accomplish that kind of frequency of communication with its client and referral source base is if they have an organized and updated database.

If what the clients say they want isn’t enough to motivate a business law firm to solve this issue then consider this: studies of billions of dollars of approved corporate legal invoice indicate regular updates like we are describing also translate into higher hourly billing rates.  In other words, the better your mailing list, the better your database, the more valuable your services are considered, the more you can charge.  For plaintiffs firms, the frequency of communication that becomes possible translates into top-mind-awareness over time. In other words, you get the call, you get referred rather than the TV advertiser.

Here are some steps we recommend to tame the database monster at your firm:

1. Change firm culture

The major roadblock to effective database management is changing familiar behavior. The firms that experience the most success with this are those that sit down as a group and agree they are going to prioritize this at the firm. Hopefully, lawyers will begin to form a habit that the people they meet (clients, potential clients and referral sources) end up in the database. If lawyers are not able to do this, then the firm must establish processes for others to do so. Everyone must be fully informed about why the database is important and trained to ask the right questions. Who did you have lunch with today? Should they get alerts or the firm newsletter? A holiday card?

2. Identify a task force of three to five people from the firm to lead the database development/clean-up and management process

In order for this effort to be successful, it must have buy-in throughout the firm. The best way to achieve that is for a small group to research the options and lead the process for the entire firm. Using internal law firm representatives, rather than simply an outside consultant, will increase your ability to create firm-wide buy-in for whatever path you choose.

3. See if your current case management/time and billing system has a reasonably priced marketing module available

In the early 1990s, hand written time logs and basic document management systems started becoming a thing of the past with the advent of electronic time keeping and billing. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to most vendors at the time that those software systems should have been developed with a marketing component, as well. About a decade later, many of those companies did develop marketing modules to add on to the existing systems, but they came at a premium price. Those modules, at a more reasonable price, are now available for some systems and might be the right answer for your firm. Investigate that option before turning to other CRM software systems.

4. Research Outlook-based systems, or if you use Macs check into Daylite

Now, there is a generation of software companies with names including IntelliPad and ContactEase that use Microsoft Outlook as a foundation. These can be reasonably priced, user-friendly options for many law firms. Recently, we have worked with firms in the Apple world that successfully employ Daylite as their CRM in conjunction with iMail.

5. Evaluate the options, including installation and ongoing support

The single most important criteria for any database management system your law firm adopts is this: Is it easy for people to use? Get some references from other firms about the software vendor’s performance during installation and in subsequent support.

6. Develop a process that will ensure information is entered, updated and purged on a regular basis

It takes months to demonstrate, evaluate and then fully install a new CRM system.  Many firms just avoid the issue because of this required investment.  Once in place, however, the job is not done. A database is only effective if updated information is entered, and outdated information is purged on a regular basis.

7. Use the database

Now that your firm has this valuable tool, you have to use it. Send single topic alerts—information affecting the client’s day-to-day decision-making—on a regular basis.  Compile your best-read alerts (you should be using CANSPAM compliant software that shows your open rates, among other metrics) into an emailed newsletter sent quarterly to clients and referral sources, adding in a dose of firm news to support credibility (think awards, hiring announcements, key rulings, verdicts, settlements or retentions.)  Generating content should not be a problem. Every day in emails, letters, phone calls, briefs, lawyers are giving advice that can be repurposed as helpful information for a general client audience.

Here’s a specific example of what we mean. We received a wonderfully detailed and informative letter recently from our IP lawyer about our newly-registered trademark “Alyn-Weiss’ Monthly Marketing Brief®”. Within that letter was guidance that could be slightly rewritten and used as numerous blog posts on the law firm’s website. We think the lawyer could modify various portions of his letter to us to create two or more “client alerts.” These could be written alerts or sent as emails. He could send these alerts over time directly to all of the firm’s business clients so they understand issues related to fully protecting their marks. From a single letter advising us he can generate content that may get him work from online search, from other lawyers who don’t handle IP or other clients of the firm.

Do we mind that a letter he charged our company for (which probably contains information used before in his other letters but was customized for our trademark and our business) is subsequently modified and used this way? Absolutely not. The lawyer’s understanding of our business, his forethought and diligence and responsiveness, and his demonstrated expertise with IP, in other words, his overall relationship with us, is why we retain him. We know what he advises us to do he also advises others in similar situations to do.

Firms that have addressed the database as we describe above have never looked back on the time and money spent as not worth the investment. When firms implement a database system, we quickly hear “We got a case” following an alert being sent. This is not an expense but a capital investment.  And, the near immediate response and increase in revenue once the database problem is harnessed makes it all worthwhile.

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