Automation in business development: is your law firm ready?

Lawyers need to update their business development routines and leverage new technologies to succeed at relationship-building in a post-Covid world.

When lawyers are challenged to think about business development, the typical networking scene at a business conference springs to mind. Dressed up in cocktail attire, armed with our best smile and a stack of business cards, we enter the arena to make new friends and cozy up with potential clients, hoping that some of these contacts will eventually become the source of new business. That scene, however, seems increasingly from a distant past.

As the “new normal” environment continues to hold, lawyers and the law firm leadership are forced to think a bit harder about how technology can be applied to business development processes, and how law firms can innovate the ways they go about executing their marketing and business development plans.

Real-life social gatherings to build relationships and meet new clients is an activity where technology hardly comes to mind. Business development is perceived as a deeply personal and human endeavour. Building your network is of course about human interactions and relationships; we need to see, feel and touch to bond, develop mutual trust and register the right “chemistry”. So there is a pervasive line of thought that business development is one of the activities that are least likely to get swallowed by technology and automation. We urge law firms, however, to reconsider.

Innovation through process automation

As the pandemic-induced “network from home” situation continues to last, law firms and their business development teams need to reimagine the “art” of relationship-building in this new, virtual and sadly cocktail-deprived world.

Automation has been at the centre of many new technological advances, especially when it comes to process improvements. We believe the legal sector has reached a point where automation in business development has become a key element of operational excellence, giving a competitive edge to lawyers in crowded markets with new expectations in terms of client experience and service delivery.

The last few years brought amazing new automation technology that allows law firms to upgrade the business development function, and to update processes that can complement, automate and supercharge relationship-building and client management efforts.

Don’t we already have marketing automation?

Certain marketing automation technology has been around for some time now of course. Marketing automation essentially comprises workflows that allow for lead generation and nurturing via campaigns with massive or automated online messages across email, web, and social media.

Even though it offers interesting options to increase visibility and positioning, marketing automation doesn’t work very well for law firms. There is a problematic lack of scale in most firms (even large international firms, in the end, are composed of individual building blocks -local offices- that have important differences in client base and service offering), which complicates consistent, quality content production, and in turn, leads to a lack of frequency in communication and further issues related to email deliverability or social media impact.

The ideal client profile of typical law firms also complicates matters for marketing automation, as high-value leads simply don’t engage unless there is personal contact on the partner level involved. In particular for independent law firms, with limited resources in terms of resources and capabilities, marketing automation has not yielded the results some marketeers had hoped for.

The most promising leads and prospects, that primarily live in the inboxes and WhatsApp accounts of lawyers, also rarely make it to centralized lists or CRM systems, as lawyers simply don’t make the effort to share and manually insert contacts on shared data platforms.

This leads to a disconnect whereby marketing teams are unable to identify and qualify the right leads and fully understand and leverage the web of relationships that could help them build brand equity and push prospects forward the sales cycle.

Automated CRM

But CRM technology has evolved quickly in the last few years and largely managed to resolve this essential obstacle to more centralized and automated relationship management.

By scraping email signatures and analyzing email server activity, advanced new systems are now able to do all the data entry and list-building without any manual intervention at all. It completely automates contact management, constantly monitors client interactions and can generate accurate client insights and performance indicators such as responsiveness.

Ever clever algorithms are now able to scrape, extract and data enrich contacts from publicly available or proprietary sources, identify relevant prospects (for instance, team members in the legal team of a client you don’t know yet) and even “guess” their contact information.

This allows for fully automated list-building, “get in touch” reminders, and automated dashboard indicators on the state of the individual and institutional relationships with certain clients or prospects.

Automated marketing intelligence

But automated CRMs are only the first step in what technology nowadays can bring to business development. Another important element is identifying the right opportunities to get -and stay- in touch.

Timing and motive are crucial aspects of potential touchpoints throughout your client journey or sales cycle. You have to get in touch at the right time and for the right reasons. This is true personalization that will guide your relationship-building efforts and make them feel like natural, timely and useful conversations instead of uncomfortable, “salesy” interactions that add no value to your prospects.

That is why joining automated contact management with automated market intelligence makes for such a powerful combination. For firms that don’t have large business development and marketing support teams, simple tools such as Google Alerts can already offer valuable automated news streams on larger clients. But the real magic happens when you tap the scale and connectivity of social networks.

In recent years, LinkedIn has consolidated itself as the primary platform for professionals, consistently being ranked as the most trusted platform in professional services. Its penetration in the legal sector is nearly universal. Every single day, millions of posts are being liked shared and commented on.

This eco-system has become a true treasure trove for those that know how to mine it, offering useful prompts in personalized newsfeeds. When you think about it, most of the ideal opportunities for renewing contact and getting in touch are being shared by clients themselves. Whether it concerns important developments (product launches, career moves, company news, campaigns, etc…), there are limitless opportunities to engage in a meaningful way.

By adding connections, following companies and individuals, and engaging with content on LinkedIn, your newsfeed will automatically align itself with your target market and preferences. For those that want to go a step further, LinkedIn Sales Navigator (an additional service offered by Linked – individual licenses are currently priced at approx. 70 USD/month), allow to track, monitor and organize key accounts and leads, making for a powerful market intelligence tool.

Automating Document Production

A third aspect that can be automated to a large extent is document production. In business development, sending out company presentations, proposals or fee quotes will inevitably be part of your business process.

Too many firms remain still trapped in unstructured and under-regulated document production processes. Today there is a broad and quickly growing range of document creation software solutions that can ensure better compliance with document standards, approved and up-to-date content and brand guidelines. Document automation has become a must-have tool to realize more efficiency, consistency and responsiveness. Most of these solutions can be integrated with other document management systems, MS office, image libraries, and CRM systems to unify your firm’s document ecosystem.

Delegating document production to basic admin staff, or marketing teams that lack the proper infrastructure is not only a major source of inefficiency, but also affects the quality and branding of your presentations and proposals, and ultimately the perception of your reputation.

Let’s face it. The traditional business development processes in law firms are broken and too many lawyers miss out on the opportunity to generate more business because underlying business processes are too time-consuming and cumbersome.

Important advances in automation technology, whether it is for contact management, market intelligence or document production, lowers the opportunity cost of business development significantly. We need better and more efficient ways to help us identify and seize opportunities Time is arguably the most precious resource lawyers have at their disposal. Let’s not waste it on yesterday’s business development solutions!

About the author

Steven Ongenaet, Consultant at KermaPartners

Steven is a senior consultant at KermaPartners. His practice focuses on developing and executing business development strategies, strategic marketing, branding and communications. He has a proven track record in the implementation of CRM systems and business development applications in law firms. Steven has 12+ years of experience in the legal sector, both as an external consultant and as director of marketing and business development departments in leading law firms. 

Steven is a senior consultant at KermaPartners. His practice focuses on developing and executing business development strategies, strategic marketing, branding and communications. He has a proven track record in the implementation of CRM systems and business development applications in law firms. Steven has 12+ years of experience in the legal sector, both as an external consultant and as director of marketing and business development departments in leading law firms.
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