Law Firm Marketers: How to Shift from Business Development to Demand Generation

Law Firm Marketing

Chum the Water (share)

In a prior life, I worked as the marketing and business development manager for one of the premier business litigation law firms in St. Louis. If you have never been in a law firm marketing setting before, it’s tough and rewarding work, but I learned early on that the role was equal parts marketing and internal sales. When I say internal sales, I mean selling the attorneys on new ways of thinking about marketing themselves, their practice, and building relationships in a digital-centric world.

At the time I didn’t fully understand why my title included the words business development. In fact, I believe it was added to my offer letter after the interview process and I remember thinking to myself “Am I being hired to generate new business in a legal sales role? Is there commission opportunities?” When I inquired, it turns out that a growing trend was sweeping across the legal world (circa 2009) where marketing team members were being branded as business development managers. In my case, and I believe most of my old colleagues of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Midwest Region would agree, that their business development duties were still marketing-centric. Meaning, the job was to help the firm and its attorneys, generate demand and increase exposure for the firm.

In most industries, the job of a business development manager is to actively reach out and build relationships with prospects, form partnerships, win deals, and are compensated based on their success typically through a commission structure. The business development title within the legal services industry may be a little misleading, especially to outside industries, but there are some cases where in-house marketing and BD professionals are actively reaching out to in-house counsel, building relationships, and generating clients. I’ve met a handful of these individuals, but they were also lawyers by trade. 

I bring all this up because I believe that the average marketing professional (non-lawyer) in the legal services industry has the opportunity to contribute to the sales process in their firm (generating relationships and sales opportunities for their lawyers) but through targeted practice group marketing programs, awareness building, and quality digital content. The modern digital marketer, especially in a B2B legal services setting, should consider ways of acquiring prospect data, creating valuable content resources that competitive firms can’t reproduce, and providing “buying signals” to their attorneys as means to further build relationships and win more cases. That’s the job of a demand generation executive.

From personal observation, I see a few mid-sized law firms starting to adopt a demand generation model, but if you are just getting started, here are a couple of tips to consider:

Rethink your content strategy 

If you look across most law firm websites, it’s an endless ocean of copy with no call-to-action to engage with the firm. Some of the content is good but a lot of it is filler about their 50-year history of serving the needs of the client. 

Start thinking about your digital content as “Premium.” Provide insight in an eBook (i.e. The Ultimate Guide to Selecting [insert practice group] Outside Counsel), whitepaper, or video podcast. Whatever you decide to produce, make it interesting, then extract pieces of it to share in the digital channels your audience is most likely to find it. 

Also, in the demand generation world, there is a debate on whether or not you should gate your content with a form to collect contact information in exchange for the premium content piece. In the legal industry, most law firms haven’t experimented with gated content at all, so in my opinion, it’s worth testing out. Your firm wouldn’t give away an attorney’s billable hours for free, so treat your marketing content with the same respect – it’s valuable. If you adopt a gated content strategy, it will allow you to start generating a database of prospects and mounds of data on their interests and purchase intent over time.

Cold Call With Content

Once you have built your content strategy, it’s time to proactively find some prospects and the digital channels they live in. Some prospects will naturally find and digest your content organically, but I like to take a rifled, account-based marketing approach in targeting customers who will find value in the material. For example, there are many prospecting tools in the market, such as ZoomInfo or Seamless, that will find email addresses or contact information for any prospect. Once you’ve identified key prospects or outside counsel by practice group, load them into your marketing automation tool to start tracking their buying signals, then start feeding that data to your attorneys for follow-ups. And if you don’t have a marketing automation tool to track these activities, now’s the time to start researching solutions.

If you want to learn more about generating demand for your B2B law firm, download our guide.