Why DIY Marketing Doesn’t Work in Legal – Part 1

Author: Cathy Kenton
March 3, 2014

This post is the first in a series.

For over nearly 15 years I’ve worked with companies that sell products and services to law firms and corporate legal departments. In that time, I’ve spoken with many executives that decided they either couldn’t afford outside marketing/business development assistance or they knew enough to continue tackling their marketing challenges internally.

Early in our conversations, when discussing their goals, they most often cited a desire to build their revenues to a size that would allow them to attract acquisition partners, or they wanted to increase profitability. And yet today, most of those DIY companies continue to struggle to grow or survive. They do so without a plan, and often market by the ‘seat of their pants’.

So, here are the first 3 reasons why DIY doesn’t work in the legal industry:

1. You lack objectivity

Let’s face it. For many legal vendors , your product(s) and/or service(s) isn’t just your business – It’s your baby! You’ve developed it because of a void you identified in the market…and if it works for you, it must be good for others. But successfully marketing and building a business takes more than good ideas and passion. It requires the ability to evaluate market forces with neutrality

2. You’ve become your own focus group

You’re the expert; nobody knows your product/service as well as you. Time and again, I’ve encountered companies that are so convinced of the benefits of their product/service that they fail to listen to their market. Add in an ever-changing communications landscape, and you may not be connecting with your prospects using the channels they prefer. Successful companies find a way to involve their customers and their prospects in both their product development and their communications.

3. Your personal preferences

An early mentor taught me that the only personal preferences that ever matter are those of your customers and prospects, not your personal preferences. Everything from messaging, to marketing channels, to imagery, to the use of color and type style must be geared to your buyer persona(s). Take yourself out of the equation and put yourself into the shoes of your prospects. Will your marketing appeal to them? If not, what are your odds of success? (Answer: Pretty small.)

To summarize, DIY marketing won’t work if you’re too close to your business. You’re the expert at what you do, but can you honestly stay abreast of all the changes to the marketing mix? And can you afford to take your own advice?

Internal Marketing – Bridging the Gap Inside Organizations

Author: Cathy Kenton
February 13, 2014

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about how few organizations really commit to or trust their marketing efforts. Regardless of the size of the organization, marketing typically comprises a significant portion of the budget, but it is not well understood or respected by other members of the organization.

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a sales executive lament that marketing “isn’t particularly helpful’, or a financial manager complaining about marketing expenses, I’d have retired to a sandy beach (with a case of Zinfandel)  a long time ago. At the same time, marketers complain that we’re misunderstood and nobody appreciates what we’re doing.

Bridging the Gap

Marketing departments and budgets are usually the first areas cut during difficult economies or sales slowdowns, and they often take the blame when revenue expectations fall short. In order to succeed in the long term, marketing needs to be unified with every other department within the organization.

So how do we align marketing with sales, business development, finance, and even customer support? We find out what they need and support them. It couldn’t be easier! Treat the departments within the company as valued clients and partners and before you know it, they’ll be your allies and advocates.

One of my first challenges after being hired at Law.com, was to identify and then support the best revenue opportunities. After evaluating several products, I determined that Online CLE offered significant short and long term revenue potential. The problem was, Online CLE wasn’t selling and in an effort to reduce expenses, the product was on the chopping block. Not to be deterred, I worked with the manager of the department, corporate executives, and the financial managers and convinced them to test a different approach to how we packaged our CLE products. With everyone’s buy-in and a small test budget we set out to repackage CLE and market the new offering. Our first test returned such a positive result that everyone quickly got onboard and we were able to efficiently scale-up the offering.

Every day, we marketers write content for our organizations preaching how the company listens to its customers, it’s time we take that message to heart and take our own advice.

In 1992 after a seven-year career as a litigation paralegal, I decided to move into the world of marketing and selling to lawyers. I knew instinctively that my time “in the trenches” would serve me well as I went to work developing messaging and selling technology software to lawyers.

Having spent three months on a law school campus earning my paralegal certificate, I saw first-hand how law students were converted into lawyers. What I didn’t realize until I entered my new career was how many of the same factors that go into legal training influences the way lawyers buy legal products and services.

Why is the legal vertical so challenging?

1. Law School Creates Lawyers – Like medical school, the competitiveness and demand on law students fundamentally changes their personalities. From LSATs to applications, the competition starts before the first day of class. Drop-out/failing rates and class ranking struggles pervade the psyches of students forcing them to focus inward and manage their time selfishly. The better the school, the higher the class ranking, the better the job at graduation (especially in a tough job market). That competitiveness continues into the firm environment.

2. Law Firms have a Different Business Model – A carry-over from the law school mentality, law firms are a bastion of individuality and competitiveness. Rather than pulling together, law firms are made up of pockets (practice groups) that invariably distrust each other. David Maister’s article Are Law Firms Manageable? first published in The American Lawyer, addresses the issues of distrust and competitiveness, and how they impact firm values.

3. Competition is the Name of the Game – The law school process encourages critical thinking and teaches students to advocate every side of an argument. There is no right or wrong, only winning and losing arguments. Three years of arguing in law school, and it’s no wonder lawyers challenge every claim a vendor makes. As consumers, they question ‘the biggest’ and ‘the best’ and they are risk adverse. Few lawyers want to risk trying something new for fear of making a mistake and suffering the scorn of their peers…in short, they’re not early adopters by nature.

My first position after leaving the law firm was as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for a legal technology company that developed and marketed case/practice management software. From the onset, we knew we had to overcome aging Luddite managing attorneys, and reasoned that within a few short years, younger more technologically inclined lawyers would move into decision-making positions and advocate for more technology. Along with our competition, we truly believed that as younger, more tech-savvy attorneys worked their way up the ranks, they would embrace productivity enhancing technology, and by the new millennium, every attorney would use practice management software.

And yet even today, only 33% of attorneys use case/practice management (according to the 2010 “Perfect Practice® – Legal Technology Institute Case, Matter, and Practice Management System Software Study” conducted by The University of Florida Law’s Legal Technology Institute, link unavailable at this writing).

What we failed to understand at the time was that the demands placed on young attorneys to perform require them to narrowly focus on the issues at hand. Most young attorneys enter the practice of law in subservient roles and are required to use whatever technology their firms use. Their goals are limited to getting the job done, and as they mature and move through the ranks, they remain focused on getting the job done, and not on how to do the job better.

This is not to say that lawyers will never embrace technology fully. It is to say that there are factors unique to the legal industry that impact buyer behavior. As sellers of legal products and services, we need to hone-in on the specific buying characteristics of this unique market of buyers and craft messages to address their needs and the drivers that most influence them.

It’s December, Typically a Quiet Time in Our Business

Author: Cathy Kenton
December 8, 2013

In all of the years that I’ve worked in the legal industry, I’ve repeatedly heard how slow business is in December. While nobody likes a party or down-time more than me, I’ve found December presents a few unique opportunities:

1. Take Advantage of the Impulse Buy – If your product or service is appropriate for impulse buyers, develop an offer that takes advantage of end of year-end tax spending. Small firms often look to increase deductions at this time of the year. Create a special offer that expires before December 31st and send it to all of your unconverted leads. You just might be surprised at the uptick in sales.

2. Its Not Too Late to Plan – If you’ve been too busy to worry about a ‘plan’ for next year, now’s the perfect time. With the activity slowdown, this is an excellent opportunity to get some quiet, thinking time. Start big, with your overall goals, and ask yourself this question “what does success in 2014 look like?” Once you’ve got that answer, start breaking it down into the pieces and the timing. Whether you’re starting with revenue, users, clients, or income per customer/client, identify the goal and then work backwards to incorporate milestones and build your plan. Write it down…if the plan exists only in your head, the chances of success are significantly reduced.

3. Learn Something New/Do Something New – Social marketing is more than just buzz. Failure to incorporate a social strategy into your marketing program is certain to result in a negative impact on your business in 2014. But where to start? A website update, a blog, SEO, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all viable options. Pick one…they each have their own strengths…and commit to it. Incorporate it into your plan and set aside some time to learn the benefits and figure out how to make it work for you. There’s a wealth of information (much of it free) online to help you get started.

At this point it isn’t what you do that’s important…it’s doing something! Use your ‘down-time’ wisely and when next December comes around, you’ll appreciate the results. That’s how I’m planning to spend my December slow-down.

Fall Has Arrived…Time to Think LegalTech NY 2014

Author: Cathy Kenton
September 27, 2013

Planning for LegalTech New York is in full swing at many companies. The 2014 event promises to kick-off a year full of innovation as the legal industry continues to grapple with changes to its business model.

Practice efficiency, alternative billing, and cloud computing are just a few of the topics on the table. New technology companies are teeing up their product launches and long-time industry leaders are revisiting their offerings to assure they remain competitive. Where do you fit in?

Something for everyone
With 50% of the attendees representing small and mid-sized firms, and the balance large and mega firms, there’s plenty of attendees for everyone. Small and mid-sized firms are receiving more attention from companies that just a couple of years ago were chasing large law firms or corporate legal department clients.

Will you be ready?
Every year, I hear a handful of exhibitors complain that LegalTech is too expensive and they just didn’t get enough value from their participation. Inevitably some of them drop out and don’t return. Almost without exception, they are the companies that show up, set up their booths and wait for an onslaught of new business…that’s their mistake. Like any marketing effort worth doing, planning needs to go beyond designing and shipping your booth and ordering ‘chotchkies’. The most successful companies start at the end…defining success. They ask themselves:

  • At the end of the show, how will we quantify our success (i.e. # of new prospects, # of meetings, client meetings, new business partnership opportunities, etc.)?
  • What pre-show activities do we need to undertake to assure success? Plan your outreach to accomplish your goals…don’t expect LegalTech to do all of your work for you.
  • What’s our post-show plan? Know before you board the plane exactly how you’ll follow-through on your new business opportunities.

There’s no better time than now to start working on LegalTech 2014
If you haven’t started your LegalTech 2014 planning, or you haven’t committed to your space yet, there’s no time like today! January will be here sooner than you think.

Legal Vendor Advisory, a new voice for our community

Author: Cathy Kenton
June 9, 2013

Selling products and service to lawyers has never been easy, and it’s never been more challenging than it is now. The legal vertical is such a dynamic market, with the constant turnover of decision-makers, disruptive innovation changing the way law firms operate; it’s not easy to construct and deliver messages to cynical buyers. But without our products and services, law firms would not operate at any level of efficiency. For years as a member of the legal ‘vendor’ community and as a consultant, I’ve thought we’ve lacked a say.

What are we missing?

A Forum – New companies entering the legal vertical stumble along, forced to figure out the legal market for themselves, while seasoned veterans struggle to optimize ROI. Imagine the intelligence we can share with ‘newbies’ and veterans alike.

A Resource – Short of a few national tradeshows and conferences, we lack a community meeting place where companies providing products and services to the legal market can join together to discuss news, topics, and challenges we face in both the short term and long term.

A Voice – How many times have we heard ‘no vendors’? It’s our job to change the perception that vendors/providers are only interested in selling…after all some of the greatest minds in legal are ‘vendors’.

When NALV (the National Association of Legal Vendors) imploded in the early 1990’s, it was long before it was fashionable to acquire a domain name. A recent Google search turned up an acronym dictionary that still lists the legal vendor version, but that’s about it…the URL, nalv.org, belongs to the Nigerian Association of Las Vegas! The point is, it’s been well over 15 years since the legal vendor community has had a centralized meeting place to openly discuss the issues facing and transforming our businesses.

While we won’t change negative ‘vendor’ perceptions or solve issues overnight, LegalVendorAdvisory (LVA) is dedicated to helping shape the legal profession and starting conversations between ourselves, the market, and the organizations/publications serving the legal community. A big goal and one that will take time.

To start, this blog will discuss high-level issues facing us as well as addressing our marketing and business development challenges. And, to make sure we have a little fun along the way, I’ll be dedicating Fridays to a lighter post that incorporates my love of wine (drinking it) so keep an eye out for my Friday Vin-Yets.

So, if you provide products and/or services to lawyers, join us and share your opinions.