Experience management and how to get one's arms around it surfaces in every conversation that I have with firm leaders and senior marketers. As I noted in a February 2012 blog post "Experience Management - it's been elevated to mission-critical," cross-selling and revenue growth are the two top concerns of firm leaders as they see a future of shrinking demand for legal services and higher expenses. These issues remain at the top as we approach 2013 - but firm leaders are no closer to having a handle on how to cross-sell more effectively and otherwise drive new revenue.
According to Altman Weil's MergerLine(tm), through the 3rd quarter there have been 68 law firm mergers completed. In Q4, there are several high profile and notable ones in the works - Fulbright's merger with Norton Rose and SNR Denton's three-way merger with Fraser Milner and Salans are two that will create literally thousands of laterals. Lateral integration is also at the top of firm leaders' list of concerns - how do they quickly embed and inculcate a few laterals into the fabric (and client base) of the firm, let alone many hundreds?
The simplest answer is effective experience management. Sure, but how? It's not easy, but it's not nearly as paralyzing as you think. Reframe your thinking about how to go about it - don't start with the lawyers and their many and assorted lists of deals and cases; start with the clients - the buyers of legal services. What do they want and need to make buying decisions in your various practice and industry areas? When your planning starts with the end in mind, it ensures that your focus, and consequently, your action is relevant.
To prepare for a recent experience management presentation to a Lex Mundi Americas group of senior marketing and business development professionals, I surveyed the group about their hottest button issues and concerns, wanting to understand where they were in the experience management life cycle. Most of the 19 respondents were in mid-sized to large law firms.
Here were their burning questions:
- What is the limit of experience information that can be published that doesn’t affect the confidential client information?
- How can we motivate the lawyers to keep the experience database updated? How do we keep it current?
- How do we handle it when there are several practice areas working in one transaction? Is it better to consolidate as one big transaction, a transaction with different points of advice or several different matter entries?
- Is it common to ask the client if the experience information can be published?
- What is the best way to demonstrate the benefits of such a system to the attorneys, especially as an offset to its costs?
- How are people doing this effectively? How do people connect to time and billing, follow-up, self-service, website, proposals, etc. What accountability share is there - lawyers vs. admins vs. BD/marketing staff?
- Best practices, what systems are out there in the market, usability of system (lawyers, BD staff)?
- How can we do this cheaply, but effectively?
I asked the senior marketers what their greatest challenge is regarding experience management:
- Keeping the information updated
- Leveraging data from other systems via integration
- Getting the lawyers to cooperate
- Which matters to highlight and capture
- Convincing firm of the need for such a database
- Resources to plan and implement it
- Managing all the reports, rankings, pitches, web, etc. that need this data – and getting the right data to them all
- Getting lawyers to think beyond the work they do (cross-sell)
- The ability to capture specialized/unique skills
- Disorganized process and incomplete data
Nearly 60% of the respondents do not have an experience database. These firms are struggling with multiple data sources - Microsoft Word documents, mini-databases, Excel spreadsheets - and many of these documents are closely-held by the partners. The ones that responded that they do have one are mostly "thinking about it" or are in the earliest planning stages.
Because the process of gathering thousands of matters into a single, flexible location is so debilitating, I thought it would be helpful to share best practices that we have developed for the launch of a successful experience database.
1. I previewed the secret above: Start with your ultimate end users (your clients) and work backwards >> your lawyers >> marketing/BD team >> IT.
2. Identify your top three use cases for your experience database (a few examples below). Choose only three to start - you can always expand it post-launch. Building a tool that satisfies the needs of all your use cases will take years - and the goal here is to get a workable tool launched in a matter of months - six months is average, depending on the quality of the data.
- Client pitches, proposals, RFPs
- Client expansion conversations – cross-selling
- Website – bios, practices, industries, more
- Surveys – Thomson League Tables, Chambers, other
- Lawyers – KM
- Lateral integration
3. Lawyers must use it or they won't keep it current. They won't care about it if, in some way, they don't own it. Build it to be used by everyone in the firm - not just the marketing department.
4. Successful experience management is the perfect blend of people, process and technology. Don't start with the technology tool.
People. Who needs this information? Who must be involved?
- Clients – ultimate users of the information
- Lawyers – practice group leaders, users of the information
- Practice group marketers – consultants to the project for their practice/industry teams
- Marketing/BD managers - users of the information for pitches, proposals, reports, surveys, rankings
- Project manager in your firm – day-to-day oversight and accountability
- Vendor partner – strategy, best practices, day-to-day project management, guidance, training, launch and post-launch.
- Gather all the experience lists you have – scour pitches, proposals, website, personal matter lists – don't get bogged down in the formatting; different formats are OK
- Analyze the efficacy of this data – do lawyers trust it? (if they don't, you can't move on to any of the next steps. They have to trust the data first.)
- Create consistent presentation styles for matter and narrative format for your proposals, web, reports, case studies, surveys, etc. for the experience you have
- Develop your strategy: Who will use it, for what will they use it?
- Meet with your vendor/IT partner to review all of the above and plan your tech strategy/approach.
Technology and Integration.
- Build v. Buy - 58% of the marketers said they are or are planning to build it in-house compared to 25% buying a third party tool. In an ILTA survey we did in February 2012 of IT professionals, the results were the opposite - the majority planned to buy it.
- What third party vendor to choose? Choose a vendor partner who intimately understands what lawyers do, law firm project strategy, and the process and the people aspects of such an endeavor in a law firm. This will make a huge difference in how smoothly the project goes and how much consulting value they can bring to the table.
- Functional requirements - Your vendor partner will create these for you, and will design them based on your use cases and conversations with your IT team.
- Integration – where does important data live? It’s all about leveraging trusted data that lives elsewhere - time/billing, CRM, document management system, conflicts, website, HR database, etc.
- Mobility – experience on-the-go - The most effective cross-selling takes place spontaneously, when lawyers and clients are on the move. These opportunities are lost 80%+ of the time, because experience data lives somewhere back in the office. Lawyers need it at their fingertips when standing in a movie line, riding in a cab with a client, and having lunch or a drink. Velocity(tm) is the answer to this - it puts this trusted data into your lawyers' hands via their smart phones or tablets.
The next critical piece is content - who contributes to it, who owns it. That will be my next post.