Private client marketing – Five thoughts from heads of department (2017)

In July 2017, I presented another of the successful MBL sessions on “Developing a private client practice”. As the nature and interests of the delegates – and the most pressing issues in the legal market – vary at each workshop, so the key points change. Here are the topics that generated most interest at this session: 

Developing a private client practice – management issues

Understand the financials

A starting point for developing a plan is a thorough understanding of the financials – I’ve covered this topic at previous sessions. When a lawyer is setting up – or taking over the helm of – a private client department they need to be familiar with the financials – after all, a key element of both management and marketing is increasing profit.

The financial structure will determine what mix of senior and junior staff are required, what services to promote and to which clients and at what price as well as the key messages to communicate. The time and money available for developing the practice will also be determined by the financial budgets.

Sense of direction

Business plans need a vision to underpin the aims, strategic choices and resources needed. We spent some time considering the current position of the delegates’ practices and their ideas on what they wanted their practices to look like in the future. Being clear about the future vision is important both in supporting choices about what to do and in engaging everyone in the team in its achievement. Once a compelling vision is achieved, it is easier to set out SMART goals on what must be achieved to get there.

Recognise the needs of different markets and offices

Where private client teams are split across a number of offices it is important that in addition to an overall plan there are plans that reflect the different local markets. Some offices will be long established and have a dominant position in the market, whereas others will be newer and have a greater challenge in developing profile, preference and loyalty. The demographics in each area may be quite different too leading perhaps to campaigns focusing on different market segments, services and messages.

Manage your client base

It takes confidence and time to focus attention on the target markets and client groups but segmentation is an essential part of the strategic development of a private client practice. Serving clients who resist fees is exhausting and can be detrimental to profitability. So either declining “difficult” clients or raising prices was discussed as a way to “cut off the tail” of inappropriate clients and work was discussed.

Develop your people

Most firms will have learning and development programmes. But most of their learning – about client work and business development – will take place in day-to-day informal settings. Leaders and managers need to be good at delegating (“Don’t take the monkey!”) and also skilled at coaching and providing constructive feedback so that younger lawyers are empowered and develop self-confidence. Asking questions rather than telling people what to do is a powerful coaching technique.

Structure follows strategy

There are times when the private client department – and other departments serving private individuals – need to be restructured. Perhaps the introduction of technology makes the ratio of seniors to juniors change, perhaps the nature of clients and services changes or maybe the team wants to reposition itself in the market. The important thing to remember is that you start with the strategy and then adapt the structure to align with the strategy. Not the other way around.

Developing a private client practice – marketing issues

Manage your pipeline

It is stressful living a “feast or famine” existence. But by understanding the sales funnel or pipeline for different types of private client service (i.e. how many contact points and how long between first contact and conversion to client) it is possible to continue some business development activity even when you are busy so that some of the worst peaks and troughs are smoothed out and the supply of recommendations and instructions becomes less erratic.

Integrate your marketing strategy

Too often, the business development activity (whether marketing, selling or relationship management) will be ad-hoc and piecemeal and carried out in isolation by lawyers. There needs to be an integrated plan and campaign where overall aims are agreed, target markets identified, key topics highlighted and a programme of integrated activities are planned out to ensure a transition from awareness raising, through contact programmes and onto conversion and development. An integrated campaign also means that different members of the team can play to their strengths, key messages are reinforced and effectiveness can be measured.  Thought leadership is an excellent way to integrate profile raising marketing activities and insight selling.

Manage web site content

Too many firms write long pages of web site copy and then fail to update it. Understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) – even though it changes so often – is important when developing and updating web site copy. Ideally, the overall marketing plan will highlight the key messages – and the associated topics and phrases – that will enable a content marketing plan to be produced. The web site can then be structured in a way that supports this and the social media content will also serve to reinforce the key messages over time as well as provide regular updates to web site content through the blog.

Use LinkedIn and video

Whilst other social media channels may be side lined for private client marketing, LinkedIn is important. Research shows that people will usually check a LinkedIn profile before recommending or accepting a recommendation. LinkedIn is also a simple way to connect with people that you have met in networking situations and – if you post regular status updates – stay on their radar. LinkedIn also enables you to collect endorsements and recommendations which are always powerful when selecting a lawyer. And you can publish short articles focusing on your specific areas of expertise within LinkedIn so that these remain attached to your profile and serve as a constant reminder of how you are different.

Younger generations and some cultural groups prefer visual communication. They are not interested in pages or screens of words but prefer visual and audio content. Video content – when properly tagged for SEO purposes – will increase your position in the search engines. It also provides valuable content for sharing on social media platforms.

Social media for lawyers is the subject of one of my books.