Posted by Hayley Earlam, senior marketing executive at Legal Futures Associate Concert Networks 
How good are law firms at communicating with their clients? It’s a deeply intriguing question which has certainly given us pause for thought; and inspires us to conduct our secret shopper research  each year.
This year’s research  suggests that there’s still an anti-sales mentality in many law firms. In fact, our contact details were taken on just 36% of the secret shopper calls we made to law firms about a new enquiry. And we received a sales follow-up on less than a quarter of these calls!
Although our research found some progressive firms, these are in the minority; the sales function must be an integral part of the modern law firm if it is to survive and compete with them.
So how come law firms still don’t have effective sales communications?
Jeff Berardi, chief marketing officer for the global law firm K&L Gates wrote a forward-thinking piece on the sales function within law firms, highlighting the following concerns:
Incentives and rewards
Mr Berardi said: “In order to develop a sales function within an organisation, you must be able to properly incentivise and reward salespeople. This holds true for the field of law just as it would for companies in other industries. Herein lies the first, and perhaps most challenging, hurdle to overcome.”
To develop your sales function, you need to incentivise and reward – reflect their contribution to the firm’s success with an annual bonus. Think about how your firm can measure the exact contributions of individual lawyers and sales staff. Do you have the systems in place to facilitate this?
Do you reward your people for cross-selling practice areas? If not, would this happen more if you did? I’m sure the answer is ‘yes’.
The perils of creating an intermediary
Some firms have concerns that clients would find it off-putting to be contacted by a sales person. Mr Berardi believes that the ideal sales person is a hybrid lawyer/business developer – as long as that person has the necessary skills.
But if that is not the case, and an increasing number of non-fee-earners are collecting details for fee-earners (something that we experiences when secret shopping), firms must ensure they provide the right training, systems and processes to support them. We’re sure that customers are less concerned by who contacts them than the message conveyed – and that their enquiry is actually followed up.
The shift away from branding and marketing
Mr Berardi described “a steady move away from traditional marketing/branding efforts toward business development activities”.
He explained: “At some level, this made sense, as business development activities usually are able to demonstrate a clearer return on investment for the money spent. That being said, it became clear to me that some law firms were swinging the pendulum really far in the other direction – they were moving completely away from the marketing efforts that help drive brand awareness and perception, and were putting all their eggs in the business development basket.”
Marketing is imperative to generate new revenue but should go hand in hand with a sales pipeline too – we suggest you look at processes and systems to integrate the two functions.
Changing the culture
Mr Berardi stated: “I have personally been involved in helping to shape the culture of K&L Gates toward its current client service-focused environment, which I believe has had a positive impact upon the growth and evolution of the firm.”
A culture shift is required for many law firms. The ideal is a well-oiled partnership between lawyers and sales. The lawyer, with subject matter expertise being the main client focus, supported by a salesforce that focuses on exceptional client service.
Our secret shopper research highlighted how excellent communication across firms remains the exception, rather than the norm, for most firms and departments. Small changes to systems and processes can have a big impact on client perception immediately, but more firms need to take note.
Mr Berardi believes that “it is entirely possible that we may be experiencing the first wave of change within our industry, as clients become more accustomed to seeing sales professionals within the pitch process and law firms get more sophisticated in their approach”.
But sales professionals must be appropriately rewarded, and current widely used practices need to be adapted to enable a better client experience.