Attorneys are notorious for being lousy managers, especially litigators. An equally widespread, though less acknowledged, deficiency is that attorneys are typically lousy marketers. You can travel to any state in the country and see the same tired methods of competing for prospective clients: billboards, ads in the local bar magazine, ads in the paper, late night TV spots claiming to be the best in the business, and on it goes.
Many younger attorneys are leading the charge into online advertising, and some particularly intrepid attorneys go so far as to post on social media sites, despite warnings from local state ethics committees. This younger generation seems to regard itself as more sophisticated than their dinosaur predecessors, who are actually still using (gasp!) print advertising.
How Much Better Is Online Advertising, Really?
Many of the people who believe they’ve graduated to a more effective form of outreach are just as clueless as the dinos when it comes to justifying the returns on their investments. Sure, they may be able to tell you that they are paying $5.00 per click and spend $3,000 per month for their Adwords account, but that’s where the analysis ends.
Perhaps more transparently, the dinosaurs who are still advertising in the local bar news or the newspaper will tell you that the only reason they continue to pursue such forms of advertising is because it is what they have always done in the past, and it seems to have worked so far. Somehow, that’s a more honest assessment of the reasons for committing a substantial amount of money to an advertising budget than one where an attorney will quote how many clicks he or she received in the last month. One description appears to be business analysis, the other doesn’t even pretend.
What, then, is the best way to market your firm in a measurable and productive way? This article assumes that you practice in a small to medium sized firm, and that one of the partners is closely involved with the marketing decisions—perhaps more so than they should be. The goals are to give you a general approach to marketing and managing the client lifecycle, and to offer specific tools.
First Principles in Marketing
Your maxim in creating a marketing plan that you can bring to your boss or justify to your fellow partners is this:
“You can’t analyze what you don’t measure.”
There are many companies out there that can deplete your entire marketing budget and offer you seemingly compelling measurements of success. Always question whether the measurements actually address your unique concerns as a firm. The usual pitch from such a company is the, “I’ll get you the #1 rank on Google” pitch.
Now, nothing is wrong with being the #1 rank on Google. It’s nice, and it will make you feel important for about 10 minutes. The problem is that it doesn’t address the metric you should be most concerned with: return on investment.
If you spend $2,500 per month with a company to get you that #1 rank on Google, chances are they aren’t going to tell you a couple things. First, they will not tell you how they got the #1 rank. They don’t want to compete with themselves, and they don’t want you to be able to see how they work their magic from behind the curtain, for fear you’ll ditch them and go implement your own SEO strategy. This is a justified fear. If you could accomplish the same results yourself, you would.
Secondly, they will never tell you how much new revenue is attributable to their secret magic search engine strategy. That’s because they don’t know. As soon as they get you the #1 rank on Google, their end of the bargain is fulfilled. Nine times out of 10, the customer (you) is not going to question their performance, but will be overjoyed that they are now the most “visible” attorney on Google, or so they think.
In dealing with these types of advertising/SEO companies (and there are many varieties on the theme), it is important, crucial, to ask a few simple questions so that you can properly analyze the benefits and drawbacks of engaging these companies:
1. How much additional revenue was created by their campaign?
Notice this question is not, “How much additional revenue does the company predict?” but instead is “How much was actually created?” These companies will sell you the sky with some fuzzy math, and will make wild assumptions about future revenues and profits, all in an effort to close the sale and keep you as a blissfully ignorant and happy customer. A typical refrain is, “If you close two new clients per month, and you typically request $5,000 for a retainer, that’s $120,000 additional revenue per year!” It’s horse dung, and you wouldn’t accept such frivolous justification for a proposition in a litigation case, so don’t accept it for your marketing campaign.
The only way to truly know if a marketing strategy is working is to measure its actual performance. There are some great tools out there, which have been the subject of other blogs posts. One of them is ReplyWise, a phone number tracking software, which is worth a look for small to medium sized firms. The great thing about such a tool is that you can assign values (total revenue) to prospective clients that have converted to actual clients, thus creating a very clear picture of your ROI from different advertising channels.
2. Do I care about the company’s proposed metrics of success?
Keep asking yourself why you care about the pitch the marketing company is trying to sell you.
Marketing company: “I’m going to get you the #1 spot in the paid results on Google.”
You: “Why is that important?”
Marketing company: “Because more prospective clients will see you and you’ll get more business.”
You: “How do I know that the people who see me are qualified prospects, that they are actually interested in my services and have the ability to pay?”
Marketing company: “I don’t understand the question. You’re going to be number one. NUMBER ONE!”
You: (Click – hang up).
As anyone who has worked in sales knows, one of the most effective techniques is to tout a particular benefit of the product or service, and then to ask the potential client if they would like to have that benefit, e.g., “Would you be interested in obtaining the number one page rank on Google, and saving $500 per month off of your existing campaign while generating over $50,000 in additional annual revenue?” Of course you would, but don’t let the pitch distract you from investigating whether they can deliver, whether they offer metrics of success so that you know that they have delivered, and whether their proposal actually leads to an increased in revenues.
Remember, it’s better to have a more targeted online campaign with a high conversion rate (the people who click through actually become paying clients), than it is to be #1 on a search engine. You need to ask yourself, if every one of my clicks turns out to be a junk lead, what am I really paying for?
3. How does the proposed marketing campaign fit with your business process?
This question anticipates the next section of this blog post, which will discuss how to create an integrated plan that moves prospective clients through the client lifecycle: lead generation, CRM, workflow tracking, and billing/invoicing. It is useful though, as a preliminary exercise, to think about whether your marketing campaigns integrate at all with your typical business process.
For instance, suppose that you shop out your marketing efforts to an online optimization firm. If you pay them a monthly fee, and never hear from them, except for a monthly report on how well they did securing you the #1 spot, you aren’t integrating leads into your business process. The point is that you want to track leads from the time they are leads, through to the time they become clients, and then to the time they become ex-clients.
The ideal marketing campaign will be holistic in this fashion. It will allow you to see how the prospective client arrived at your doorstep (Google, print ad, website, referral), whether they converted to a paying client or not, and how much money they generated for your firm. That is an integrated marketing solution, because ultimately, you can generate a report that shows, for example, that Google leads are twice as likely to convert to paying clients than bar news leads, but that referrals account for a higher average dollar value per client—even though they are less frequent conversions than from Google or the bar news.
With such powerful information, you can tailor your budget to the most effective areas. You can spend less, and get better results. You can focus on 25-35 year old males with an average disposable income of $60,000, who are college educated, etc. If your marketing campaign integrates with the rest of your business process, you can gain keen insight into not only how effective your campaigns are, but who your ideal clients are. You simply can’t do that if the only thing you care about is being first on a search engine ranking. One approach is breadth, the other is depth. When it comes to marketing, strive for depth and focus.
Client Lifecycle Tools
A “client lifecycle,” as it is envisioned in this post, is tracking the client from the time they first express an interest in hiring the firm until you collect your last paycheck for services. An integrated system that caters to the client lifecycle is comprised of:
- Lead generation (CRM) and marketing analytics tools;
- Workflow, task delegation, file management, and event scheduling tools; and,
- Time clock, billing, and invoicing tools.
Unfortunately, there are relatively few services that address all three needs of the client lifecycle. There are, however, several services that address one or two of these needs very well. Thus, you can cobble together a few services and produce a relatively good working system, should you choose to go that route. Even with the best systems, you will probably need to sign up for multiple accounts, as there will be some small feature that is not native to the software package you are purchasing or subscribing to.
As an aside, the focus of this section is on affordable, cloud-based software systems for the small- to medium-sized firm. There are a few programs out there for $10,000-$25,000 or more that you could purchase the licenses for, and if spending that amount convinces you that you have the absolute best, this blog post probably won’t change your mind. For the more frugal, or sensible, or business-minded among us, here is a ranked list of the top three integrated CRM and lifecycle systems, with pros and cons, envisioning their use in the legal industry. This is based on trials of more than 20 CRM systems, many of which are listed at the end of the article.
Note: Some of these systems require multiple account subscriptions to work together in an integrated fashion.
1. Zoho CRM (with ReplyWise, Google Drive, and Freshbooks).
The first integrated CRM system for the client lifecycle might seem like an overwhelming number of services. In reality, Zoho CRM is the backbone of the system, and the software it uses (cloud-based) integrates with other services you may already use to some degree.
Think of Zoho CRM as a robust database, which allows you to create records for clients, leads, prospects, accounts, and even vendors. The service is not specifically made for attorneys, but it is incredibly powerful and very customizable. You need a tech geek to make this software perfectly suit your needs, but it can be done. Whatever information you want to record, you can. Whatever type of report you want to generate, you can.
The major benefit of Zoho CRM is its integration with other services. You can have your front office staff create a lead in Zoho, assign it to an attorney to do the intake, have your attorney convert the lead to a client, assign tasks with due dates and priorities to paralegals, track how much you offered for a retainer, integrate with Freshbooks to bill the client, send emails to all clients through MailChimp to all current clients for important announcements, store all your client files in Google Drive and access them from Zoho, and even send and receive emails through Gmail from Zoho. All of the client lifecycle stages are covered. Because of the possibility for customization and integration with other services, this service wins the “Best Client Lifecylce” status, hands down.
• Integration with billing, file management, email services and more
• Customizable: display information you want and remove info you don’t
• Robust reports can display your ROI from various marketing channels
• Rule-based logic allows you to auto-schedule events and tasks based on certain triggers
• Great cost: $12/month per user for Pro and $25/month per user for enterprise
• Learning curve is significant
• Lack of native billing/time-clock function, rather than integration with Quickbooks and Freshbooks
2. Capsule CRM
Capsule CRM is a close runner up. It is primarily a workflow system that allows you to schedule events, assign tasks to other users, and store documents. The software integrates with third party programs like Mailchimp and Freshbooks much the same way Zoho does. It’s also a nicer interface than Zoho. The only gripe is that it is not all that customizable. Still, for lawyers who want an easy learning curve and an “out of the box” experience, Capsule may be preferable to Zoho.
• Clean interface
• Rule-based logic for tasks
• Integration with other services
• Reasonably priced
• Not very customizable.
TeamworkPM is almost exclusively a project management software. It has a nice file attachment feature that allows you to do document versioning. Assigning tasks and scheduling events for multiple users is a breeze, and if you only used this for organization within the office, you would be pleased with the software’s performance. The fact that it has a native time-clock is a bonus.
TeamworkPM falls short in the reporting and analysis department, and the billing department. It does not integrate with other services like Zoho and CapsuleCRM, and therefore will leave you wanting as a marketing analysis tool. It is also less customizable than the above services.
• Strong project-management roots
• Good rule-based logic for automatic scheduling/delegating tasks
• Native file management, upload, and versioning
• Native time-clock
• Not customizable
• Does not integrate with other services
Other Runner-up CRM/Workflow Systems Considered:
Chris Buck is a divorce and litigation attorney with the law firm of J. Miller & Associates in Concord, New Hampshire. He is an alum of UNH School of Law and expects to graduate with an MBA from the Whittemore School of Business and Economics in the near future. Chris applies his business training by managing his firm’s marketing campaigns and workflow systems.