Law firms are warming up to the idea of the bona fide sales professional, according to a new survey of 53 law firms conducted by the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) conducted in conjunction with ALM.
“It’s not a new topic, conceptually, but there’s a bit of a crescendo on the topic in legal right now,” explained Mr. Fleischmann in an interview with Bloomberg’s Big Law Business about the survey. Mr. Fleischmann, the global marketing director for Baker & McKenzie, elaborated:
“This means partners must move past the misconceptions that ‘the image of a salesperson conjures up,’ he said. The point touches on a source of tension between lawyers and their non-legal sales staff who, in an increasingly competitive legal environment, are paid to market their services and help them find new business opportunities.”
According to a data chart included in the LMA publication, about one-third of respondents (31%) said their law firm anticipates hiring “non-lawyer client-facing potions in the next two years. However, there is a disparity among firms based on attorney headcount. For example, just 21% of law firms with between 100 and 300 attorneys have such plans. The percentage jumps to 38% among larger firms – with 301+ attorneys.
There are other indications of a trend towards sales professionals in law firms as well. Some respondents (42%) indicated their law firm had already hired “staff with primarily market-facing responsibilities.” In addition, 93% said they provide “some form” of business development (BD) training or coaching.
Brand New Research on Law Firm Marketing and BD
Read the summary: Emerging Story of Law Firm Business Development
Download the complimentary PDF Report and register for the webinar on October 27, 2015
Law Firm Culture Still a Big Hurdle for Sales
Adversity to sales isn’t new or even exclusive to legal circles. At the 2015 LMA conference, key note speaker Dan Pink said the word “sales” is often associated with adjectives like “sleazy” or “yuck” or “pushy.”
To that end, there are considerable challenges to the notion of a professional salesforce in law firms. The authors suggest these are deeply rooted in law firm culture, and perhaps tradition:
“Some industries and professions use sales teams to develop and maintain a pipeline of work. But lawyers view client relationships as both personal and proprietary, and delegating even part of the sales function to others can be viewed as a threat to a lawyer’s standing in the firm.
The ALM study indicated two barriers to the successful introduction of sales professionals into law firms: (1) partner objections reflecting a culture adverse to change, and (2) a lack of understanding of the sales process itself and the role of the sales professional in that process.”
Some 64% of those who had not “hired sales professionals cited ‘a culture adverse to change’ and ‘partner objections’ as the primary barriers. In addition, 28% of respondents cited “lack of knowledge of the formal sales process.”
Sales Imperative: Process and Collaboration
“Law firms are a unique category of business in that the lawyers are both the product and the sales force,” according to our own Matt Thompson in a post for LawMarketing.com titled 6 Tips for Aspiring Rainmakers to Sell the Invisible.
“This means traditional sales techniques designed for organizations that sell a tangible products through a dedicated sales force, don’t translate well. Lawyers are in essence, selling the invisible, as Henry Beckwith wrote.”
Mr. Thompson writes that law firms sometimes trip over tactical concerns in establishing a sales pipeline. “Success is driven less by the specific method chosen and more about coming up with a simple process that is followed consistently,” he said. “Define a few opportunity stages and create a simple process for tracking deals through the pipeline.”
Process generally requires at least some component of collaboration, and usually quite a bit. Messrs. Fleischmann, Iredell and McMurdo conclude the LMA piece with a strong emphasis in those areas:
“Firms that have a strong culture of collaboration across siloes may be best positioned to effectively deploy sales professionals if they heed the following advice: (1) focus on the sales process, (2) clearly define and communicate the role of the sales professional in the process, (3) focus compensation on team success and sales management skills, and (4) hire those who reflect the same character and qualities a firm would expect from its lawyers.”
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
LexisNexis InterAction Unveils Law Firm BD Module