In a market poised for a slowdown, the temptation to make budget cuts that may not seem to have an obvious impact on revenue needs to be controlled. These often include indiscriminate cuts within marketing and business development. That said, spending must not stay “business as usual” either. To stay in the game during difficult times, to make a real impact (as measured by revenues, margin, and profits), you need to have a proactive plan, the tools and skilled teams to implement it, and a comfort level with, not fear of, change. When putting change into practice, fear of letting go of past programs, processes, perceptions, and even people, has no place. Merely “doubling down” may result in a doubling down of the wrong things.
Converting problems into opportunities is the name of this game. Here are some tips to consider during challenging times.
Honestly assess the work you do best. When times are uncertain, stay the course with respect to your offering and core competencies. Double down on your depth, not your breadth.
This is the time to do what you and your firm do really well – those are your core competencies. And typically, they deliver the revenue and gross margin that fuel continuous investments for growth. Resist the temptation to launch new business lines as a way to generate revenue simply because a competitor has recently done so. Launching new (breadth) drains your team and depletes the well of resources that could otherwise be spent against your depth: your core practice areas. In good times and bad, but particularly in uncertain times, you need to “own” what you are best at and known for.
Audit who you are. And pay attention to both the soul of your brand and your brand positioning. Look for the gaps between you and the competition that can be used as opportunities.
The soul of your brand – the values, purpose, and authenticity that conjure the image in someone’s mind when they see your logo or hear your name. The soul of your brand is reinforced with a brand positioning that focuses on the specific benefits that sets your brand apart. These benefits allow your audience to develop an emotional differentiation of your brand from the competition.
A down market is not the time to neglect the soul of your brand. It is the time to stay true to who you are. In good times or bad, brand messaging strategy must be consistent up, down, and across channels, practices, departments, and offices. Use elevator pitch exercises to “test” whether your employee base (both lawyers and non-lawyers) is “on brand” when describing the business of the firm. Adding clients and prospects to your interview list, as well as a revisit of client feedback from surveys, will help to validate your assumptions about your brand. You do not need to do a full blown rebrand to do this – ongoing validation efforts are equally if not more revealing. And don’t forget new joiners during this time period – include brand identity in onboarding and training efforts.
When doing a competitive review, seize those open opportunities that directly relate to your positioning in the market. Leverage the open opportunities to the emotional differentiation to help drive purchasing behavior.
Orchestrate multi-channel efforts that will lead to market, industry sector, or key client growth.
Whether via client teams or account-based marketing, generate demand through relationships and follow through. Your best clients, and your strongest sectors, need to have touchpoints intensified. Communication needs to be shared throughout the firm’s offices and within practice areas to others who share these clients or work in the sector. Customization of programs, activities, even content will enhance these relationships. And your client-facing teams need to include lawyers as well as non-lawyers with knowledge of the client and the trust of the relationship partner.
Do not fear sales. Identify the areas of practice that can be independently sold in – and focused on through the entire sales funnel. Let your lawyers be lawyers assisted by qualified sales professionals.
Do not fear the elephant in the room. Sales teams – dedicated, skilled professionals who can sell on your behalf – are successfully being integrated into many law firms. Distinct from business development efforts, sales professionals rely on strong marketing and BD and client team programs to support their efforts to generate demand. These professionals, when well versed in the practice areas they are selling, can help to find and attract prospects, are fluid in identifying potential opportunities, and will provide the follow up and follow through every step along the way. Many of your client companies use sales teams themselves to sell their own products and services – find a category of business to test the waters that relate to these client types.
Do not be afraid to take calculated risks. Prioritize what needs to be done and act on it, with schedules, staffing assignments, and realistic budgets.
Effective marketing needs to be planned. Do not attempt to do it all at once, or on the fly. Once a program piece is complete, go back to your plan, to see what should be put into action next. Even during the down times. And revisit the metrics often to make refinements.
If you do nothing, nothing will happen. If you plot and plan proactively, if you test and refine, your efforts during a downturn can be productive.
About the Author
Paula Zirinsky is co-founder and chief strategist at Structura Strategy Group LLC, a professional services marketing advisory. A former global CMO, Paula has held leadership positions at professional services firms including K2 Integrity (formerly K2 Intelligence), a preeminent risk advisory, and law firms including Morgan Lewis, Morvillo Abramowitz, Fried Frank, and Cadwalader Wickersham & TaftContact her at firstname.lastname@example.org