Thursday, October 11, 2007

Outsourcing Select Marketing and Business Development Functions Gains Traction©

With the 2008 annual compensation, budgeting and planning processes in full swing, many firms are carefully reviewing and analyzing their highest cost centers in an effort to control them and get the best return on investment ("ROI"). For most law firms, staff, technology, marketing and business development costs are doubling every three to five years. According to recent benchmarks, marketing and business development ("marcom/busdev") budgets are growing up to three times faster than average revenue. Given that exponential growth rate in this highly competitive market, it is crucial to prove that the marcom/busdev budget is contributing a measurable ROI. For some firms, outsourcing either highly repetitive or specialized functions, or those functions for which the current staff does not have the time or capability, makes both strategic and financial sense. Outsourcing can enhance overall service levels and provide access to the most qualified talent without adding to headcount. Some keys to consider:

Which marketing/business development efforts/activities yield the highest return on investment (ROI) for your firm, practice groups and lawyers? If your firm does not track ROI for each marcom/busdev effort,* you can assume that the greatest ROI comes from lawyers' face-to-face meetings with clients, contacts and prospects. Therefore, perhaps the majority of the firm's marcom/busdev investments should be directed accordingly. It is no longer enough to simply provide each lawyer with an annual, individual marketing/ business development budget and "hope" it is wisely spent. With the intense competition between law firms, it is paramount to have all interested lawyers trained in the most critical sales/client development techniques to enhance whom they communicate with; what and how they communicate; and their follow-up methods and system. These skills can be taught using a combination of training and coaching conducted by highly qualified and experienced staff. Some internal marcom/busdev staff have the requisite experience and skills, but most find themselves either short on time, especially to create a systematic program and/or are not as qualified as outside assistance. As a result, many firms have chosen to outsource this strategic function either completely or partially. One firm found an external resource to serve in the Chief Business Development Officer role that has significant relationships with numerous in-house counsel.

Define the specific functions and deliverables of your firm's CURRENT marketing and business development function. Most law firm marcom/busdev departments deliver a menu of support services and products internally and externally, ranging from basic and foundational to sophisticated efforts. At least three law firms knew they did not have the proper marcom/busdev infrastructure and could not find the caliber of Chief Marketing Officer ("CMO") they wanted and needed in their region, so they retained an outsourced CMO who travels to the firm and offices from one week a month to three months at a time. Doing so has allowed them to build an effective marcom/busdev infrastructure in less time with greater assurances of completion. Similarly, many firms have found that outsourcing the media/public relations and/or marketing writing functions helps them achieve appropriate local, regional, industry-based, national and/or global media exposure.

What should the firm's department be delivering that it is not currently? Most law firm marcom/busdev departments are spread too thin, doing too much for too many without direct, measurable ROI. Now (4thQ) is a great time to send around an annual review questionnaire to all Partners/Shareholders asking how well their marcom/busdev support needs are being met, what their expectations are and what else can be done to support their efforts to bring in more business. For example, one firm conducted such a review at the practice group level at year-end 2006 and several groups requested large amounts of money for advertising campaigns. However, the firm's management realized that the groups requesting advertising dollars were doing little else to develop work, and instead management asked that individual business development plans be created and implemented in 2007 before dollars were allocated to advertising.

What is the firm's ratio of lawyers to marketing/business development staff? If it is any higher than approximately 35 to 1, most likely the firm's marcom/bus dev staff does not have enough time available to get all the requests, tasks and jobs done well and produce/track a measurable result. Most marcom/busdev staff are overwhelmed with too much work, too little direction from leadership and not enough professional time. Streamlining efforts and activities towards those that get a measurable ROI not only helps the firm's growth but avoids the turnover expenses caused by frequent staff departures. Most firms can benefit from a management-led, year-end review and subsequent new year announcement containing specific upgrades, changes and/or adaptations that firm owners can expect from the marcom/busdev staff and functions.

*If the firm does not track ROI for marcom/busdev efforts and activities, creating a measurement metric for each majority activity/effort would be a great use of time and money in 2008.

Please contact me if we can be of service to your firm in 2008 on a project basis or on an outsourced basis. Thank you. Julie Savarino, T (734) 668-7008; email

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1 comment:

Jeff said...

Great article. As Caroline Poynton said in Managing Partner Magazine some time ago, "Perhaps for the first time in the long history of the legal profession, lawyers can no longer predict their future and where law firms will be in five years time could be anybody’s guess."

Since 1977, professional service firms of all kinds have added marketing staff at the local, regional, national, international and practice/industry group level (or as one partner wrote to me yesterday many, many, many layers of marketing staff) at an amazing rate. Now it has gotten to the point where few firms know why they have all of these folks. Fewer still could tell you what a really good marketing/business development team could do for the firm.

Many people seem to think that you cannot outsource marketing and business development. But, if legal services, accounting services, consulting services and the like can be obtained from folks outside of a companies walls then surely marketing and business development can too.

Let's start the revolution now before we all become irrelevant!