Our Advice to Virtual Business Development and Marketing Leaders
- Posted by Poston Communications
- On April 14, 2022
- communications, leadership, legal marketing
Whether your business development and marketing team is still at home because of COVID-19 concerns or you’ve made the bold decision to go virtual permanently, there is no doubt that working remotely has its pros and cons. As a team that decided to eliminate our own office space two years ago, we discuss this often, particularly as it relates to serving our law firm clients well.
The fact of the matter is: Relationships are fostered when you spend time with one other – whether that’s your team bonding around the watercooler or your CMO meeting with practice group leaders for updates on sales leads. If we aren’t in the office, how can we proactively ensure that these important conversations are still happening?
If we don’t take proactive measures to foster those relationships, what’s at risk? The success of your business development, public relations and communications programs.
Thankfully, we can adapt to the changing work environment by taking cues from some of our industry colleagues whose marketing teams reside in operations centers, separate from attorney offices. They regularly share strategies with us for building and nurturing relationships with attorneys across practices and geographic markets, and their perspective is helpful as the rest of us create the new culture now required of successful business development and marketing teams.
Here are our best practices for CMOs to incorporate and teach their teams to embrace.
Walk the halls. Even if you only come into the office once per week, block your calendar so that you have ample time to go door to door, floor to floor. Yes, maybe not everyone will be there at the same time, and yes, maybe their doors will be shut, but we must create opportunities to bump into the lawyers we work alongside. Ask about their latest cases, biggest worries for their clients and what publications they are reading. It can be brief and informal, but use the time to gather as much information as possible.
Lead the meetings. Whether practice group meetings in person or industry team Zoom calls, create the agenda so you can put yourself on it – and right at the top. One Florida-based CMO takes the first 15 minutes of these meetings to ask a series of questions related to business development and public relations, all aimed at getting her attorneys to give her the information she desperately needs to help the rest of the marketing / BD team succeed. “What trends are you seeing in M&A?” “What are the largest deals in our region that we’re not involved with but are watching?” “What are your clients asking for in a letter of intent?” These inquiries, posed at her latest M&A meeting, yielded strong PR pitch ideas for our team.
Make phone calls. Create a rotating schedule that allows you and your team to make two short phone calls per day to attorneys active in your business development program. Don’t schedule them; just pick up the phone and call. If you don’t get an answer, leave a voicemail. That alone could spark activity from busy attorneys.
Hold regular joint calls with everyone involved in the effort. No one wants extra meetings, but what if you held one meeting per month that packed a punch? Invite professionals on your team who are focused on business development and public relations – and encourage them to align their activities. For instance, your business development manager for the real estate team mentions a homebuilder the practice leader is courting. Your PR team could secure a bylined article opportunity for your attorney, who then could interview and quote the homebuilder on “emerging markets in the Southeast,” for example.
Work only and exclusively with those who will participate. While legal marketers would love it if each attorney in the firm would participate in every business development opportunity, we know that’s not realistic. If attorneys are busy and don’t respond or decline every opportunity brought to them, don’t stress. Keep a list of opportunities presented and declined and put those attorneys’ names on a list to come back to later. Even if you have only a handful of active participants, you will have much more success working with those who want to be led.
Understand expectations and communicate them to your attorneys. Waving a magic marketing wand would be great, but true business development success requires work. While busy attorneys rely on their marketing teams to do much of this for them, the reality is simple: Attorneys can either do the work on the front end or the back end.
For example, take a banking regulatory attorney who, despite being one of the highest billers in her firm, knows that for our PR team to secure top national interview opportunities for her (think The Wall Street Journal), she must outline a list of topics that she is comfortable addressing up front. Her colleague, a healthcare lawyer working with hospital systems, prefers to do the work on the back end when we secure a bylined article opportunity with Healthcare Executive. Both of them have to come to the table with substantive information – it’s just either up front or after our pitching.
As a side note, the attorney who wants interviews but doesn’t “have time” to put together a list of topics also doesn’t have time to prepare well for the interview. Lack of quality preparation leads to bad interviews, poor coverage and frustration for everyone involved.
Make sure the entire program is hinged on clear and precise alignment with business development goals. CMOs who enjoy a collaborative relationship with CFOs, pricing professionals and others who “know the numbers” can focus their marketing and public relations efforts on areas that are most profitable for the firm. Know what services are selling and for how much and devote as much of your time as possible to promoting the most profitable.
Budget for travel. Particularly if your team will remain remote or hybrid, marketing departments must invest in traveling across offices regularly. Go ahead and calendar visits for the next year. Start a running agenda for whom you will see and what you will cover. Maximize your time and make it productive. And the same goes for your service providers who partner with you in these efforts – we see significantly greater results when we are able to visit with the attorneys face-to-face as well.
Ask leadership for support. It’s no secret that the law firms with the strongest business development programs are backed by firm leadership. It is more important than ever to encourage your managing partner, practice leaders and others with influence to push attorneys forward when it comes to marketing. The busyness left by the pandemic and our strong economy won’t last forever. It’s critical to invest in our law firms’ futures by not letting down on business development.
Acknowledge and address problems early. In spite of these tips, however, the truth is that many business development, marketing or public relations professionals just aren’t great at establishing or maintaining relationships from a distance. Problems can be especially painful because an important part of our role is to collect information and “connect the dots.” Therefore, it is very important to see when results or impact are waning. Once identified, the truth about the challenges of working remotely needs to be confronted, even if that means dealing with a wonderful employee who insists on “never going back” in spite of any revealing changes in performance. To be candid, we are starting to see challenges arise and, unfortunately, few are being acknowledged or addressed quickly and effectively.
It’s not easy creating a culture that prioritizes business development and marketing, but we know you can do it. We are here to help! Contact us at [email protected] to connect today.