[IMGCAP(1)]I recently attended the Legal Marketing Association conference in Austin and got to hear several fascinating presentations. While the content of this one was specifically focused on attorneys, naturally, the trends apply to most professional services.

The session was led by Nancy Furman Paul, who addressed the latest trends in legal marketing and business development. Much of the data came from a benchmark survey of law firms nationwide and describes trends we see with our own clients, legal and otherwise.

Focus on Marketing and Business Development
Survey respondents overwhelmingly agree (94 percent) that their firms are increasing the emphasis on business development and marketing efforts. The biggest driver is internal pressure to generate revenue. Pressure from other law firms that effectively market themselves, a decrease in work supporting internal corporate counsel, and increased demand from clients who want a new billing model are also contributors, to a lesser degree. Though it has been suggested that alternative service providers also provide impetus to focus on marketing, the survey results don’t support this factor as a significant issue (15 percent).

Funding these initiatives is generally in line with the new emphasis. The majority of firms (57 percent) are seeing budget growth for marketing and business development keep pace with the overall firm budget. Only 12 percent saw a decrease, while 31 percent reported their marketing and business development budget stayed the same.

Roles and Responsibilities
Over the past three years firms have seen a significant growth in social media and other kinds of new marketing activities. Marketing and business development personnel have increased their efforts in several areas:

• Practice and process improvements
• Practice and business planning
• Firm strategic planning
• Attorney coaching/training
• Content marketing
• Client service and client relationship management

It is only in the area of social media, however, that attorneys themselves are making major contributions.

Evolving Relationships with Attorneys
The relationship between attorneys and marketing departments is changing, with an overall improvement reported by 44 percent of business development personnel. They list more one-on-one communication, stronger personal relationships, increased trust and credibility, and a better understanding of mutual needs as factors that contribute to this enhancement of their working relationships.

It’s worth noting that only 21 percent of attorneys report the same thing. Fifty-three percent of the attorneys surveyed find working with marketing and business development professionals challenging at times. That’s unfortunate, because they rely on these key people for a variety of critical tasks:

• Gathering company information
• Responding to RFPs
• Ranking and award submissions
• Content marketing

Attorneys feel most positive about efforts to plan and execute events, support for client pitches, building brand awareness and producing quality client communications. They feel least positive, according to the survey results, about other important goals:

• Integrating business development into attorney workflow
• Effectively generating new business
• Strategically positioning the firm
• Generating media coverage

This indicates a real communication gap as well as challenges for marketers in helping firms realize their potential.

Technology
The array of technological resources available to help firms market and manage their practices has never been wider. Many firms have at their disposal tools that include:

• Business Intelligence
• Client relationship management software
• Litigation tools
• Content generation or management services
• Proposal management software
• Pricing management software

Just because it’s available, though, doesn’t mean it’s being used at its highest level. Respondents indicated that business intelligence, CRM programs and many other tools at their firms could be utilized to a far greater degree than they currently are.

The Big Picture
Overall, we can see that increased investment in marketing and business development is accompanying an expanded role for these activities, with greater focus on strategic approaches to yield targeted results. Relationships continue to evolve, with great opportunity to create further value from marketing and business development efforts. Technology remains a key area where improvements in understanding and utilization can offer significant benefit to those firms that are willing to invest time to adopt the appropriate tools.

How much do the findings match what you see happening in your firm? Every professional services firm is different, but most will recognize opportunities and challenges that describe their own in these results.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of bbr marketing, a firm that provides marketing strategy, training and tactical implementation for professional services firms. She can be contacted at www.bbrmarketing.com, or you can read bbr’s blog posts at www.bbrmarketing.com/blog or www.marketingideasforcpas.com.

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