The Role of Publishing In The Marketing-Sales Continuum

In most parts of the business world not owned and operated by lawyers, “Marketing” and “Sales” are inextricably linked. Companies carry out marketing solely for the purpose of increasing their sales, either for specific transactions (e.g., advertising campaigns or temporary price discounts) or for general branding (e.g., market awareness or consumer profile). It’s a natural continuum with a built-in feedback loop: sales metrics are analyzed by marketers to assess how well or how poorly various marketing initiatives proved to be, and campaigns are intensified, adjusted, or ended accordingly.

In law firms, the relationship between Marketing and Sales is usually more tenuous and sometimes has been severed altogether. Marketing is carried out by one group of people (generally “non-lawyer” professionals) and sales by another (lawyers, usually partners or “rainmakers”). The two sides don’t always consider that they’re involved in the same function, and often don’t have much understanding of or respect for what the other does.

Firms that lack a proper understanding of the marketing-sales relationship fail to view these elements as two ends of the same continuum. They don’t track sales results against marketing efforts, for example, or fully align marketing to the business development strategy (if there even is one). In many law firms, the only time the salespeople talk to the marketers is to complain about slow business, to demand a one-off personalized promotion, or to answer yet another RFP from a large corporate client. It doesn’t help that the salespeople don’t even like the word “sales” and use it as little as possible, making it harder to accurately describe the relationship internally.

Eventually, as part of the overall transformation of law firms into sophisticated professional businesses, Marketing and Sales will be unified and the continuum/feedback loop will operate correctly as a matter of course (this is already underway in the sharpest firms). The publishing function within law firms can, I believe, play a part in hastening this unification.

Traditionally, law firm publishing has fallen squarely into the Marketing function. From the very first newsletter to the most recently launched blog, law firms have published content in order to increase market awareness, principally by informing clients about legal developments and promoting the expertise of lawyers through their written work. Law firms publish content as widely as possible, necessitating that the content be general and broadly applicable to diverse audiences. Even the name most law firms give to publishing — “content marketing” — expresses its underlying purpose: increasing the profile of the firm and its lawyers in specific practice or industry areas.

What would law firm publishing look like if it were instead designed to support Sales? The biggest difference between Marketing and Sales, of course, is that the latter is targeted and action-oriented: the firm is speaking with one specific customer and offering a very specific range of services in a retainer relationship. There’s no sense bringing articles or blog posts to a sales meeting: that’s like bringing your Match.com profile along on your first date. These items of content marketing have served their purpose: they’ve helped get you the meeting. But because they’re general and widely applicable, they don’t help you get the sale (and they may actually hurt the effort, if the customer perceives from the provision of marketing bumpf that the firm does not appreciate its specific needs).

What you need at this meeting is Sales Content. You need a package of materials geared to this specific client for the specific type of work or case or matter for which the lawyer is pitching her services. This kind of content is more like a research document or white paper created solely for this meeting, to establish the firm’s interest and expertise in the client and the matter at hand. It might be an overview of industry trends and the client’s prospects therein, prior to seeking a role on a major amalgamation or expansion. It might be an analysis of results of the last ten class actions against companies in the client’s industry, or the outcomes of the last five similar class actions the firm defended, to accompany a request to defend the client’s current litigation.

This kind of content is not meant to show off how experienced or clever the lawyers are in general, but to show how the firm understands and is on top of matters directly related to the client and the specific matter at hand. Content like this is not intended to close the deal by itself — invariably, it’s the sales skills of the lead partner and the relationship she’s fostering with the client that plays that role. But the content does supplement and reinforce those skills and relationships by demonstrating the firm’s intense interest and assertion of confidence in this client and this matter.

Creating Sales content requires a different mindset and approach than creating Marketing content, because it will be deployed only for one client and only on one designated occasion. That might seem daunting to a firm that thinks of content marketing as a broad-based, low-risk effort: if the sales pitch fails, then all the content created to support the pitch is wasted. But that kind of effort and risk assumption is the sort of thing grown-up firms do: they understand that Sales requires going many extra miles and that the potential payoff is worth it. And they understand that the content will not really be wasted even if the sales effort fails: it can be fed back and used to analyze what went wrong and what could be done better next time.

Law firm publishing can and should help bridge the gap between Marketing and Sales, but only if the firm makes the conscious choice and commitment of resources to do so. Start thinking today about what Sales Content, as opposed to Content Marketing, would look like in your firm and how it could be used best. There’s no better place to start those inquiries than by asking the salespeople themselves.

Comments

  1. James Bliwas said:

    Content marketing used to be called “thought leadership,” and it is something savvy law firms have been doing for a long time.

    For example, in the early 1990s the old firm Goodman Phillips & Vineberg scrapped its newsletters (which have always had low readership for all firms) and brochures (which all sounded alike) in favor of a glossy, four color business magazine that discussed emerging ideas that readers should be thinking about as they run their companies. It was such a surprise and hit that the firm got requests for additional copies so that the CEO or general counsel could distribute copies to the senior management.

    Today, law firms need to understand that people are hit with a barrage of information. To get theirs read and remembered, a firm needs to tailor what it writes and produces to the needs of the client. Too few recognize this, thinking that because it has a blog it’s doing 21st century marketing. Somehow, that’s supposed to magically lead to more sales.

    As a result, there’s no connection between marketing and sales. The answer may be removing sales from the job requirement of a lawyer and turn it over to a formal sales function within the marketing department. The role of a lawyer in the sales process would be reduced to doing what they do well: Coming in to a second or third meeting to discuss legal issues, or a strategy, but not to “make the sale.”

    @ 10:40 am
  2. Kevin said:

    I agree when you’re sitting across the table — that dedicated content for sales becomes key.

    But what brings people to the table? To me it’s relationships and word of mouth. Word of mouth and relationships dveloped through networking.

    Content, the voice of an individual lawyer, is part of the networking. The part used to talk after you’ve listened to what is being discussed by your target audience.

    I get the sales content, but the greater miss by law firms in their content marketing is the lack of understanding that it’s all about networking.

    @ 11:53 am
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