By Tara Marshall-Hill, legal marketing and business development professional
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the buying-selling regime within corporations worldwide is undergoing a massive shift as both buyers and sellers adjust to new realities. As many law firms are already redesigning themselves across virtually all functions in response to the pandemic, the time is right for firms to also rethink their internal sales process and sales culture.
Steve Bell, head of client development and growth practice at LawVision; Jim Stapleton, chief business development and marketing officer at Blank Rome; and Samantha McKenna, founder of #samsales Consulting, joined in a roundtable discussion to dissect the roles marketing and business development teams play in developing and implementing a sales culture and process within law firms. Together, they shared three key considerations for designing a process that creates greater business efficiencies and a more effective business development function.
Define what a sales process looks like for a law firm.
For many law firms, there isn’t currently a defined sales function, and therefore, there is a lack of clarity around what a sales process looks like for a law firm. While each firm is different, a sales process should somehow mirror the classic buyer-adoption process: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and adoption. Sales processes should also incorporate sales technology – a pipeline system, CRM, etc.
According to panelist Bell, “There is a role for every law firm marketer, business developer, and sales professional in this [process], whether you’re in research and data, technology, marcom, communications, direct sales, etc.”
Stapleton added, “Buy-in from senior management is crucial to a successful business development process. Without buy-in from the top, a business development process is doomed to failure.”
There are a number of sales activities in which a marketer can involve hesitant management. One is independent client feedback. This is a common step in any sales process in virtually any industry or profession, though it faces resistance in the legal profession. Generating independent client feedback has myriad positives; including better client satisfaction, additional sales opportunities, better understanding of the client, a stronger understanding of the client’s industry and a closer client relationship. Coaching is another activity that leverages professional sales abilities through training lawyers to improve their prospecting, networking and face-to-face sales capabilities. Ultimately, without buy-in from senior management, there is little impetus to generate a comprehensive, successful sales effort.
In developing a sales process, stakeholders must build in the "if this, then that" mechanisms otherwise the firm’s strategy will be nothing but tackling what's top of mind without any repeatable or scalable success. The results will vary based on each person's unique point of view, abilities and organization rather than a well thought-out templated process.
McKenna cautioned, “Without process, you will never have predictable success.”
Develop a uniform sales vocabulary.
One aspect of implementing a sales process is adopting a uniform sales vocabulary. This ensures that lawyers and professional staff alike are on the same page.
McKenna added, “It's time to adopt the sales industry terms and cease shying away from them. Using this language doesn't change the intent of a lawyer, which is to serve the client. It's merely adding a framework to their business model and having frank conversations about where their business (individual, practice group or firm-wide) is going.”
A sales culture emerges when all the pieces are in place.
Law firms can use a wide range of communications and behavioral techniques to help advance a sales culture. Words and terms such as pipeline, conversion, nurture, and qualified opportunity are commonly used by sales teams. As a result, marketing and business development teams must become accustomed to defining these terms, vocalizing them, and putting them into practice.
[Developing a sales process and sales culture] is a big investment that will take time to unfold. Firms must be ready to invest for the long-haul.
The panelists closed the virtual roundtable with these final thoughts:
Bell said, “Sales departments at law firms are all about profitable new revenue. Same goes for marketing departments at law firms. As firms redesign themselves, all marketing and sales professionals can take responsibility for parts of the sales process and sales culture. There’s room for everybody.”
McKenna added, “Sales is more complex than most people – especially those at law firms – know. We are out of time to pretend that this isn't a skill set and a department that needs to be developed. Hire the experts who can build in a process and mechanisms, who can identify the benchmark at which you currently sit and who can lay out a plan for how you scale, and who can coach attorneys on even the smallest, least sales-oriented actions that can in fact lead to sales.”
And Stapleton noted, “Sales is not about selling. It’s not about charisma. It’s not about convincing a reluctant buyer that they need you. It’s not about steak knives or who has the more expensive watch. It’s about building trust. It’s about building relationships. It’s about investing 200 hours per year to broaden your outreach and learning about your market and your prospects. It’s about understanding what a client or prospect really means when they say “no.” “No” is valuable feedback. It tells you to change your approach or to bring something more valuable to the table or try again later. Sales is about making calls on a Friday afternoon. It’s about helping people. It’s about making an investment that will pay off one day.”