In the second of three articles, Jon Hepburn from The Fedora Consultancy continues to provide practical business development ideas for small to medium size law firms.
With steps 4 to 7, Jon looks at the importance of research, telemarketing, branding, direct mail and advertising.
STEP 4 Research
How did the apparently all-powerful retailers get to this position? By researching what their customers wanted and adapting accordingly. They look for new services to offer and new business development opportunities to exploit. In fact, with legal services, they see a pot of gold and many existing law firms are not addressing the challenge ahead.
In consumer markets investment in research is a well-established discipline and an integral part of any effective new product development process. But market research is not just done by retailers. It is essential for all industries and particularly ones who face a lot of change and uncertainty.
Research can help you make more informed decisions about your firm's direction. When embarking on research, you need a combination of opinion-based (qualitative) and statistical (quantitative) research techniques.
There are 3 key areas that are particularly relevant to the legal profession:
- Always make sure that you take every opportunity to seek client opinions and encourage feedback. Use questionnaires, but use them effectively. Don't just assume that a posted one will be completed and returned to you. Use face-to-face conversations, response mechanisms on literature, your website and email.
- Client opinion is a most valuable commodity and will help increase your marketing effectiveness. For the commercial sector your client's likes and dislikes, the best time to contact them and their position within the company are some of the keys to knowing them 'one-to-one.'
- Research into your competitors is also vital as it helps you benchmark your firm. Looking at what's going on in the marketplace (both generally and locally) can help you make sure you keep your 'finger on the pulse'.
Let's now move onto research into attracting new sources of business to your firm
RESEARCHING NEW CLIENTS
Think about who you are targeting. Professional purchasers of legal services are more likely to articulate their needs clearly; private clients possibly less so. Ask potential commercial clients whether they are tendering for work at present. If they are not, find out when they will be. Explore their needs; ask them what they are looking for and devise solutions that meet those needs. What can your firm offer that's different? Are you a specialist? Find out how potential business clients like to be approached e.g. initial 'phone call, then a letter.
Whether commercial or private, prospective clients will consider these questions:
- Why should I choose your firm?
- What makes you stand out?
- What will you provide that I can't get elsewhere?
Now, let's say that your firm has decided that the traditional private client work is becoming less profitable and less satisfying and that it is time to consider moving into the commercial market. It will be important to realistically assess the potential demand for legal services in your area by analysing the intentions of prospective commercial clients.
- How big is the new market?
- How is it changing?
- What is the potential market share?
- What are your competitors doing?
This information is often difficult to obtain yourself and so it is often more effective to invest in professional research, such as from a telemarketing company who can conduct this on your behalf. Let's take a quick look at how this could be done.
For this example we are trying to identify the decision maker at local businesses and make them aware of your services for when any changes are made. Potential clients are to be interviewed by telephone using a short questionnaire.
The beauty of a telemarketing project is that you can tailor it to your needs. As with all things, a little planning goes a long way and there are some practicalities that are useful to note.
Agreeing The Questionnaire
Identify the key issues into which you want to gain insight and, in conjunction with your chosen telemarketing firm, develop a set of call guidelines (a rigid script with overt sales patter is not going to work). Use questions that will elicit the information you need. These are just some examples of the type of questions you could include:
- Does your firm have an in-house legal resource or do you source externally?
- Do you have an existing current provider?
- How often you review your requirements?
- Who is the decision maker?
Identifying Your Target Market
The size of the sample for the project can be set according to the available budget. For example, a project to identify businesses with between 50 and 250 employees within 5 miles of the firm's head office may be selected.
- Note that not all businesses will be available, due to them belonging to the Telephone Preference Service. Your telemarketing providers call software should pick these numbers up automatically before the call is answered.
- Keep the questionnaire short - up to about 6 questions - and expect to complete approximately 10 interviews each day. This estimate would need to be confirmed during a short trial. Hence the cost is be driven by the number of interviews required.
- A minimum of 100 – 200 prospects is recommended as a sample size.
- The telemarketing firm should provide you with a comprehensive report at the end of the project. This report should summarise the answers to each of the questions and give an analysis of the responses given.
STEP 5 Law Firm Branding Issues
This is an area that has not yet fully developed among law firms. You may not feel it applies to you, but in an increasingly consumer-driven legal services market, the development of your firm's brand and image will become more and more important. Consumers don't buy features and benefits anymore – they buy brands. Your brand requires its own strategy, in line with the firm's overall objectives. Many law firms claim particular expertise and experience in their areas of practice, but their marketing fails to support that. It doesn't create the short cut that helps potential clients distinguish one from another and they appear no different from any other firm.
Your brand is not a logo, mission statement or 'a promise you make to your customers'. Essentially, your brand is the 'personality' of your firm and is represented by the client-facing staff that are delivering the service. Your brand image belongs in the mind of your customers and serves to create the associations and expectations they have of you. Your brand reflects your implicit values and ideas. In a world of information-overload brands help people cut through the mass of conflicting information. A brand is a short cut to help them decide.
So, what does a brand do? Here is a quick overview of the role that branding plays when considering your business development programme.
For the firm, it:
- Differentiates you from a competitor
- Creates a price premium
- Encourages buyer loyalty and
- Enhances your profit margins
For the client, it:
- Helps them feel more involved in the experience
- Facilitates easier decision making and
- Supports their aspirations
Trust is the key; many supermarkets provide food, petrol, financial services, breakdown cover and the like. They are brands that can be 'stretched' almost anywhere and are readily accepted by consumers, particularly from the younger age groups.
STEP 6 Update Your Promotional Materials
When purchasing legal services there is often a huge information imbalance and clients are subject to processes and situations beyond their control. Therefore some imaginative yet informative promotional material can be helpful in improving their understanding of the situation.
Make it effective, not expensive. Your corporate identity is important. Joined-up thinking makes all the difference here. Think about the target audience and their needs. Developments in digital printing mean that short runs of specialised material can be cost-effectively produced. This is particularly suitable for regular (sector-specific) client newsletters reinforcing the firm's brand and value to clients.
Expert advice on consistency in your corporate identity, both for your printed matter like stationery and brochures as well as on-line communications, is money well spent. Professionally written copy that is clear, concise and encourages action, will make your message more memorable and more responsive.
With regard to your web site:
- It should be regularly updated and encourage return visits from existing and prospective clients. How about a 'What's New' section that really is new?
- A 'Who we are' section. Photographs of your staff, not your offices!
- Give some information for free in advance, to start a relationship with potential clients.
STEP 7 Make Contact
In most instances it is unlikely that many potential clients will be identified with an immediate need for legal services. But where there is that need, arrange follow up procedures with a suitably client-focused member of your team; someone with a grasp of the issues facing commercial clients in your area.
- At this point, knowing something of their circumstances can be extremely useful. Are they looking to expand, for example? Or might they be likely to face challenges that you could help them manage, such as a merger or acquisition?
- If the customer is open to reviewing their legal services provider at some stage in the future, capture the likely timing of that review, offer some of your marketing materials and follow up nearer to the review date.
- There may be some benefit in offering some form of free legal update by email (sent infrequently) concerning an area that may be of interest to the potential client. This would enable your firm to open an ongoing, low cost communication channel with a large number of prospective customers.
In summary, the basics of making contact with potential new clients are;
- Time your approach appropriately.
- Be informed and able to react to opportunities.
- Use suitable methods of communication (find out how they like to be approached).
- Remember that up to seven contacts with potential clients may be needed before any action can be taken.
Direct mail will help build your brand (and chances of doing business) with both existing clients and prospective ones by increasing those all-important client 'touch points'. It has a number of uses:
- To create awareness of the firm locally
- Promote a new service special offer
- Encourage referrals
The more personalised the letter is, the more likely it will be responded to. Response levels will typically be between one and five per cent. This seems low but the low cost to start with means the small number of responses should result in enough business to have made the exercise worthwhile.
In order to generate a reasonable level of response there will need to be an incentive offered to encourage recipients to respond to the mail shot. This needs to appeal to the recipient by fitting with their work or lifestyle and be appropriate to the mail shot. Shop vouchers, a prize draw or a free gift are common.
Remember to get recipients to respond via your website - canvas their opinion, get them to register with you and give them something for their efforts. If the offer isn't time sensitive spread the mail shot over a period of time, send small amounts each week to avoid overloading your admin systems.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MAILINGS
Careful preparation of the database, monitoring of responses and assessment of individual campaigns to identify trends is essential.
An accurate database is at the heart of any effective direct mail program. There are Law Society approved mailing houses available that can help with the design, development and distribution of your mailing campaign. A mailing house can also help with improving the accuracy of the address data.
Be aware that there is no definitive list currently available that would enable any organisation external to your firm to check for deceased clients. Remember this if you haven't been in contact with your clients for a while.
- It works best as part of a relationship-building exercise with clients who have agreed to be communicated with you in this manner and involves collecting and using data to drive relevant, targeted information with a powerful, relevant offer.
- Clear objectives are essential; your mailing should be part of an overall communications plan. You are seeking all the time to identify their potential needs and expand the volume and services provided to them.
- A clearly defined target is better than a mass mailing. Items sent by post gives your firm the widest choice to tailor appropriate communications for clients and prospective clients.
Advertising has important roles to play. These include profile raising and communicating particular branding and positioning exercises. To give your advertising the best possible chance it should be as part of a strategic communications plan and can be very effective if some basic steps are followed. These will maximise your chances of success.
It is essential to define the purpose of what you are trying to achieve. Surveys have shown that advertising can be among the least effective of the marketing disciplines in bringing a law firm's services to the attention of potential clients. Make your firm's campaign relevant to each work type the firm offers, and target the desired audience.
- Create and build awareness quickly by investing in more adverts at the start of the campaign, then reducing the frequency.
- Spending in large amounts for short periods, then doing no advertising for a long period is counter-productive.
- If the budget is available, a more continuous approach to advertising throughout the year works better for existing services.
- Advertising tends to be much more important for a new product or service than an established one.
- By co-coordinating it with a creative and original PR campaign it will have greater momentum and impact - so necessary when the average person is exposed daily to thousands of promotional messages.
Article by Jon Hepburn from The Fedora Consultancy, a specialist marketing consultancy offering tailored services and support to law firms
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.