May is "Mental Health Awareness Month". I'm not sure I can remember a more important time to acknowledge this and have a real conversation about mental health.
Luckily, I see a positive change in our firms; there is more of a willingness to have the conversation, continue the conversation, and show vulnerability when it comes to the topic of mental health.
I have asked some of our marketing friends to share how they are trying to avoid burnout and how they are looking after themselves. Burnout is an issue I've been watching closely (and providing data on). It is a very real topic for marketers right now. Put another way, self-care is critically important and these marketers capture this sentiment beautifully.
These sentiments highlight good self care and positive mental health practices for us all to take in and replicate.
Logan Tracey, NYC
Logan shares her wise words with us, and is working hard on two things: creating boundaries and being respectful of her team's work-life balance. It can be rare to find colleagues who are so respectful and thoughtful of how their actions and intentions are perceived:
"I’ve been focusing on creating boundaries for myself in 2021, and while I definitely monitor email after hours and on the weekends, I am forcing myself not to respond until work hours unless urgent.
It’s tough for me to have open items on my list when I know I can quickly handle and move onto the next thing, but I am practicing holding requests for office hours, unless it’s an emergency.
Cheryl Foster, St. Louis
Director, Practice Growth, Brown Smith Wallace
I schedule time to exercise and have been intentional about getting time alone—just for me.
Cheryl points out the importance of self-care and how this simply has to come first for her. I know many agree, and the practice of this is so incredibly hard. The "alone time" is crucial for many of us, extroverts or introverts.
"During this time, I had to learn to make self-care a priority. I schedule time to exercise and have been intentional about getting time alone—just for me. For all the working parents out there, I'm sure you understand how challenging that can be!
Roy Sexton, Detroit
Director of Marketing, Clark Hill Law
I’m also more forthcoming than I’ve ever been with colleagues and leaders about what I need for balance, and the response has been positive.
Roy is a shining beacon for all of us. His ability to share and show vulnerability with his work family is inspirational:
“I do feel like I’ve been burning the candle at every end possible. I’m not sure there’s any wick left! That said, I’ve also found this to be a strangely rewarding time because it has, at times, leveled the playing field, allowed us marketers to drive our firms toward digital tactics that actually work, and has afforded us a kind of singular focus one rarely gets in this career. But that comes at a price – low energy, neglected relationships, no exercise, spending far too much money at Amazon.
Tahisha Fugate, DC
Senior Manager, DEI Client Development, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe
Calm is a super power.
Tahisha's self-awareness on how to support your ideal life is incredibly empowering. Making deliberate decisions to live intentionally gives us control at a level we all strive for:
"Get into the habit of asking yourself, 'does this support the life I’m trying to create?'
If you are trying to create a more intentional and mindful life, you have to make hard decisions to rid yourself of the things, people, jobs that don’t support that life."
Jennifer Shankleton, Cleveland
Director of Marketing, Brennan Manna Diamond
It's going to take time, patience and care to fill us all back up again. Let's continue to normalize talking about how we are really doing, and feel comfortable leaning on each other for support.
Jennifer raises the ever-important piece of this conversation, which is, we just don't have this conversation enough. And, even if we do, there's no quick fix or immediate solution:
"A comedian and mom posted to social media this week: 'We are all hanging on by a thread, right?' The comments section was full of confirmations. The consensus: we don't talk about this enough.
Just because we see the light at the end of the tunnel does not mean that we can flip a switch and we'll all be ok again.
Kellie Erlacher, Jacksonville
Director of Marketing, Lewis, Longman & Walker
I try to avoid burnout by taking short, 15 minute breaks, maybe 1-2 times a day. I used to think that powering through the work day, with no breaks at all except for a quick lunch, was the best way to work...
Kellie reminds us of the so-easily-achieved, but often pushed aside, power of small breaks. The ability to think clearly and offer a different or better perspective is so real after recognizing the importance of giving your brain a short rest:
"I try to avoid burnout by taking short, 15 minute breaks, maybe 1-2 times a day. I used to think that powering through the work day, with no breaks at all except for a quick lunch, was the best way to work. I would crash after work and often be too tired and drained to enjoy my family at the end of the day.
We are grateful and inspired by your intention, your positivity, and your relentless pursuit for happiness and well-being to continue to support mental health.
Pat Courtemanche, Chief Marketing & BD Officer at Dorsey & Whitney
This year has sharply focused the need for society, and each of us as individuals, to do better. That is perspective...
"Perspective. I’m thankful for perspective.
So much pain and injustice has been laid bare this year. So much love and compassion, alongside hate and division, as well. The highs and lows are the most extreme I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
This year has made it possible to feel more deeply. This year has sharply focused the need for society, and each of us as individuals, to do better. That is perspective.
I believe good things will result, and I’m thankful for that."
David Heinke, Director of Business Development at Grant Thornton
"I praise the evolution of technology that allows accounting marketers and sales professionals to leverage the power of Teams, Zoom, and Skype so we can virtually interact and share ideas with our clients and prospects.
Second, I pause and remind myself to empathize and actively listen to clients, prospects and co-workers’ fears, challenges and needs during this period of uncertainty.
Last, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be a part of the dynamic and essential ecosystem of the audit, tax, and advisory industry."
I pause and remind myself to empathize and actively listen to clients, prospects and co-workers' fears, challenges and needs during this period of uncertainty...
Amber Bollman, Director of Client Service Initiatives at Barnes & Thornburg
These blessings have kept me grounded and hopeful in a year that has been filled with so much heartache and uncertainty...
“I’m immensely thankful – as I am every year – for my good health, friends and family (of both the human and fur variety).
These blessings have kept me grounded and hopeful in a year that has been filled with so much heartache and uncertainty.
On a lighter note, 2020 has also made me thankful for fresh air, long walks, wine, a slew of binge-worthy podcasts, and Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ album.”
Ashley Defay, Business Development Senior Specialist at Latham & Watkins
"This year I am really thankful for something that actually touches both my personal and professional life – I had a health challenge this year where I had to have surgery during the pandemic (which can be a scary experience).
My colleagues, firm, and friends stepped into my medical leave in a way that I could have never expected, and I am grateful to know that people and my firm were there for me in my time of need – especially since all my family lives in another state."
My colleagues, firm, and friends stepped into my medical leave in a way that I could have never expected...
Michael Blachly, Chief Marketing Officer at Gray Reed
I am reminded of what really matters. A close family and many friends are truly a blessing in these times...
"I am probably more thankful this year than I ever have been in my life.
2020 has certainly been a year of hardship. But because of this, I am reminded of what really matters. A close family and many friends are truly a blessing in these times.
I am also thankful for my work family; for my team and my firm who have worked so hard this year.
Honestly, there are so many things to be thankful for. If 2020 has given us anything positive, one of them is the chance to pause, reflect and take a moment to say thank you to all those in our lives and for what is given to us.
Amy Shepherd, Chief Marketing & BD Officer at Ballard Spahr
"This year, more than ever, I am thankful for resilience. I see it at every level of our firm, and I am blown away in particular by the incredible resilience and flexibility of our marketing and business development team.
While managing complicated and often daily changes to the way we work, navigating childcare and elder care issues, and absorbing the incredible weight of the state of the world, our team has demonstrated patience and creativity and risen to every challenge, turning out impactful content and leading new initiatives to help our attorneys generate business in a virtual world.
I am also grateful for the warmth and support of the legal marketing community. The virtual world has provided a platform for increased engagement and networking, which I truly appreciate and have found incredibly beneficial."
...our team has demonstrated patience and creativity and risen to every challenge...
...put together by Kate Harry Shipham, "eternally grateful"
I hope in this week, of all weeks, you get to pause and reflect and know what is important to you in your personal and professional lives...
I am eternally grateful for my partner in life, my husband, and for our sweet and kind daughter. I am thankful for the clients I get to partner with and problem-solve with, and how I get to be part of their extended work families. I am thankful to all the people in my network; I see each and every day how hard you work and what you are striving for. I'm grateful to my friends and extended family, both near and afar, and the love that they show me every day.
I wish each of you a happy Thanksgiving - I hope in this week, of all weeks, you get to pause and reflect and know what is important to you in your personal and professional lives.
Be safe and stay positive.
What is more challenging is keeping the culture of their firms alive in this virtual setting. We’re hearing that firm leaders are unsure how to preserve the culture of their firms when their people can’t live and breathe it each day. This challenge threatens how successful firms can be with their greatest asset: their people.
Marketing and business development professionals are in a unique position to help curb this issue. Their roles touch everyone and everything in their firms. Their character types are typically ones with more natural and heightened EQ and interpersonal skills. One of their functions is to listen for and understand where connections can be utilized or leveraged, which involves having that closer connection in the first place. Their vantage point is wonderfully unusual.
We interviewed six CMOs from law and accounting firms who are tackling this issue of preserving firm culture in a virtual setting. Put simply, our experience is that the best way to understand and think about culture in a professional services firm is that it’s ‘the way we get things done around here’. Each of these CMOs are getting things done with their teams. They are helping and pushing their people to still experience their firm culture together despite being apart.
We sincerely value the candid and perceptive thoughts shared by each. Thank you to Murray, Bruce, Courtney, Pam, Linda and Dave.
- Murray Coffey, CMO of Haynes and Boone, an international law firm
- Bruce Ditman, CMO of Marcum LLP, an international public accounting and advisory firm
- Courtney Kiss, CMO of Johnson Lambert LLP, a national CPA and consulting firm
- Pam Metzger, CMO of Porte Brown LLC, a regional accounting and consulting firm
- Linda Moss, CBD&MO of Dykema, a national law firm
- Dave Southern, CM&BDO of Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP, a national law firm
How CMOs are contributing to firm culture in a virtual setting
Six key themes were evident after talking with each.
1. Culture = professionally vulnerable
We all know to be professional in our roles. Additionally, with an actual window into everyone’s homes over the last eight months, the lines between professional and personal are very blurred, and in many cases, lost altogether.
Kiss regularly checks in with her team, one on one:
“Being transparent about how people are doing – professionally, personally, mentally and emotionally – is so important right now, and unless you take the time to check in with the team, it’s impossible to know.” Kiss uses these one on one check-ins to talk shop and project statuses, and also subtly pivot to “ask how everyone is feeling”. She gives her team permission to be very candid and honest with their own situation.
Coffey also prioritizes one on one settings to understand how each team member is handling their professional and personal life balance:
“We should be aware, now more than ever, that each person on our team is an individual and will respond to the stress of living through a pandemic differently.” He adds “So, do the things we are supposed to do. Check in, engage in a little goof-off time together, and never assume you know what may be brewing under a seemingly serene surface.”
Both Kiss and Coffey are humanizing the situation we are in and asking their individual team members to acknowledge and talk about their vulnerabilities. Their ability to be so naturally in tune with their teams’ emotional intelligence is hard to do, particularly when they themselves are also dealing with the same issues.
Moss shed’s some insights on how she deals with this.
“My team wanted to hear from me, and I have to make time for that. I am in tune with these elements and so I prioritized that; it’s important. You have to put aside any lack of energy you might be experiencing to be the leader your team needs of you, and talk about how they are each being impacted, from all angles.”
Synonymous with professionalism is the projection of a certain technical quality, a strong and diplomatic communication style, and an unwavering strength despite any circumstance. Covid has unraveled this for many. It has pushed our working lives and personal lives into one another in a way that no one has ever experienced before. These CMOs are using their empathy and personal leadership styles to encourage a lowering of the guard to talk about the transition we are all currently in.
2. Culture = unwavering long-term focus
A firms’ culture shouldn’t blow one way in 2019, and then change direction and blow the other way in 2020. Even in the most trying of times, a culture should be something far more steadfast. Good CMOs understand the need to acknowledge the present and to also project into the future to help keep focus and purpose amidst the chaos and uncertainty.
Southern shares his view on the importance of long-term focus:
“Each of our team members have shown a terrific ability to keep our long-term goals in focus and step up to ensure that we make progress every day - in addition to ensuring that we're dealing with all the continued press of business.”
Kiss shared that continuing to plan for the future is the glue keeping a lot together right now:
“Of course, we need to deal with the here-and-now, but it brings me a lot of hope to start putting plans together for when the world goes back to “normal”, or even in our new normal. It is exciting to reimage how we might do things.”
With long-term thinking, the ability to see opportunity – and to embrace that opportunity – is something that Moss has encouraged and values:
“I am fortunate to work with a team of marketers who love to get things done. My team is full of high-driving people who were relieved to be able to step up, focus and find opportunities to contribute to the firm.”
Moss encouraged her team to celebrate that moment, because in times of uncertain change, being able to see the long-term and the opportunity “is rare and special.” She further added that:
“Work was a source of satisfaction and was one area of our lives where we could have some control. We applied ourselves to uncover ways we could seize the moment and gain traction after the pandemic somewhat leveled the playing field. There was a real sense of urgency to make an impact for the long term.”
This longer-term thinking is always hard in a world where firms are typically focused on year-to-year short-term growth. True partnerships with a vision instill a culture that goes 3, 5, 10+ years forward to show its people and clients who they really are and what they are striving for. This strength of vision attracts like-minded people.
3. Culture = acknowledging the likely after-effect
Few of us have had to deal with a pandemic in our lifetime. The narrative has shifted to the “new normal” and what that looks like. In my view, nothing about our current situation is normal, and nor should we accept that it is. We are right in the middle of a global pandemic and “transitional” or ”temporary”, even “survival”, are words that I think many may better relate to.
CMOs are acknowledging the current situation and relating to their teams in realistic terms. In this, they are acknowledging what the likely after-effect will be on their people and team culture.
Ditman offers this very real take on this moment in time:
“This is a real emergency. When we are called upon to work in an emergency, don’t take it lightly that you are asking so much of these people. Understand it is not just their work, it is their life. Get good people on your team to reflect the culture of the firm, and then treat them with respect.”
Coffey believes that the pandemic has triggered our basic brain function to be focused on day-to-day survival, a part of a neural network that is sometimes referred to as our reptilian brain:
“It is my strong belief that the pandemic has put us all in an extended fight-or-flight mode. The previous short term emotional and energy dip we felt after the reptilian brain stands down, is now much longer lasting. The effects of this are palpable."
Ditman shares the likely effect on his team as a result of the type of characteristics marketers typically have:
“Extroverts are being isolated. Highly social people can’t socialize. This will have an effect.”
Coffey understands how this is playing out day-to-day right now and also in the years to come:
“People are sleeping more hours yet not feeling refreshed. They are eating comfort foods but getting no comfort. For the first time they may find themselves in extended conflict with loved ones. I expect that in the coming years we will hear much about the global impact of millions of us being in fight or flight mode for so many months.”
4. Culture = technology
It is interesting that technology comes up as a common theme. It is because of the wonders of technology that we can have this virtual environment. It is also because of technology that we have the struggle of how to maintain firm culture.
Metzger shares the following on how technology has been essential:
“The Covid environment has definitely accelerated our adoption of many new initiatives that are working well to keep us all in touch and maintain the culture of our firm. As a result of converting internal meetings into a larger, virtual event the feedback has been outstanding and everyone is excited to contribute to this new format. Additionally, technology additions to our firm allowed us to easily collaborate on virtual team meetings, quick video calls and general updates.”
Kiss has also used technology in a new way for her team which may not have otherwise happened:
“We had a positive and productive virtual team experience when we held a virtual ‘brainstorm and reflect together’ exercise. Using the technology of the firm and its shared platform, we came together to share differing perspectives, observations and relatable common goals. These moments allowed us to gain insight into framing what we tackle in the next few weeks and months.”
5. Culture = noticing nuance
These sentiments resonate on what the more nuanced pieces are that are keeping people at our firms. After all, individuals make up the culture of the firm, and should be protected and developed.
Southern has worked in firms where a people-first culture is paramount. He shares “Our managing partners have put a lot of energy into communicating continuously and in a very transparent way. They have sent a daily email to all members of the firm, sharing client successes, personal achievements of members of our firm wide community, and even ideas for helping everyone ‘keep their chins up’ throughout our remote experience”. Southern adds that this has “really been an inspiration.”
Re-state (what may seem) the obvious:
Ditman shares that “When Covid hit, I made a point of reinforcing team spirit, reinforcing collegiality, and restating our business objectives.”
Kiss says that “Being appreciated helps keep motivation higher. Nothing is worse than working hard and not knowing that your efforts were meaningful.”
Lead by example:
Coffey shares that “The hallmark of great leaders is to lead by example”. He wants CMOs to acknowledge that “we cannot be the psychological salvation for our teams.” What we can be, he continues, is to be leaders who are “emphatic, patient, resolute and stoic in their outlook about their team members.” He adds that “if leaders are taking time for themselves, your team sees you are taking time for self-care, and they will do that too.”
Predict natural energy dips:
Moss offers that she “needed guard rails against complacency”. She shares that “one of those guardrails was sharing successes, and another was ‘learning-sharing’ calls to encourage professional development and continued learning". She says that down times are natural right now, and she sees one of her many roles is to be in tune with that personal side of her team.
6. Culture = the lighter side
Embracing the lighter side and enjoying what you do each day is an element of firm culture that is easily forgotten in such a serious and worrisome time. Remembering to value one another’s company and inject some fun and laugher into our days is making these CMOs bring back feelings of normalcy and team spirit in inventive ways.
Metzger shares that their team and greater firm have held some socially distanced activities to help people connect, notwithstanding the pandemic. She says they have held some “safe-distance lunches and a lawn bingo event” which has been a much-needed in-person experience.
Moss shares that her team is competitive and loves games. “We shared our favorite comedy movies and tried to match the movie with the teammate who submitted it. We conducted a scavenger hunt within our homes. We even hired a professional to conduct a family feud game. They are fun! And, they work for us.”
Coffey says that it’s important to “smile more, laugh easily, embrace the eccentricities of working from home, such as annoying dogs, cat bombs, and kids needing a hug and a cookie.”
To recap: Acknowledging and encouraging professional vulnerability. Unwavering long-term focus. Dealing with the affect-effect. The wonders of technology. Noticing the nuances that matter most. Embracing the lighter moments. These themes are perpetuating culture during this transitionary moment in time. They require different skills and mindsets than many are used to.
There is incredible power with knowing how our marketing and business development teams are preserving their culture right now. It takes everyone. Leaders need their people to both believe in and practice it despite not being able to see it personally each day. Individuals need their leaders to be overly visible and have a level of empathy that surpasses anything they’ve experienced previously.
Let’s talk about the problem with titles in legal marketing.
Many legal marketers take pride in their title as they can accurately reflect technical proficiency, seniority and credibility. There are, however, many examples where this is unfortunately not the case. This presents a tricky dilemma for many team leaders.
For example, is the experience of a legal marketer who holds the title of Business Development Director and who has 25 years of tenure the same as a legal marketer who holds the same title, but who has less tenure? Are the technical demands of a legal marketer who holds the title Senior Manager in a global firm the same as a Senior Manager in a mid-sized firm? Is a legal marketer who holds the title of Director and who manages a team of five in a mid-sized firm more or less qualified than a Director of a team of three in a large firm?
The problem is that there are no standardized rules that are applicable when determining what titles should be used when labeling legal marketers. This really matters because labels are truly just that. They stay with that professional throughout their whole career and people frequently judge others based on those labels. This is despite legal marketers all having different experience in variously sized firms and roles.
Further, layer onto this problem these two additional nuances. First, partners’ understanding about what titles are applicable at each level of a legal marketer is greatly different in each firm. This is because there is still a large variance on what partners think of and perceive marketing and BD roles to be in their firms; they have all started from a different place on the value of marketing. Secondly, firms are not always getting title-to-salary or title-to-experience information correct when making hiring decisions.
The need for standardization
I’ve asked two legal marketing veterans and CMOs to weigh in: John Byrne and Trish Lilley. Byrne and Lilley each have 30 years of experience leading marketing and BD teams in law firms. Additionally, both have held multiple leadership roles within LMA and currently lead their respective regions, the Midwest and Northeast respectively. Byrne is the CMO of Chicago firm Gould & Ratner and Lilley is the CMO of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan headquartered out of New York City.
Byrne agrees that many small, well-intentioned decisions on titles can lead to a confusing result: “Titles are always a bit of alchemy, especially in larger departments.” He adds “Any CMO wants to be able to build their department the way that it makes the most sense. But often internal processes and policies, and pay ranges, get in the way. Marketing pay ranges are often compared to other departments within the same firm.”
Lilley similarly shares this view: ”There’s a huge need for standardization in this area within legal marketing and business development”. She continues “While we (department heads/team leaders) can craft our own schemata within our firms, we face a dilemma when hiring because there is no uniformity relating to titles and roles across the industry. This makes the candidate assessment and getting stage of recruiting much more labor-intensive and time-consuming than it should be, and that inefficiency often flows into the interview stage of the process as well.”
These comments go to the heart of addressing the lack of standardization that legal marketing leaders are faced with when hiring and building their teams. While the default is to compare and contrast on titles across the industry, when there is no uniformity on titles generally, this task is problematic.
The need for internal differentiation
In addition to the lack of standardization in legal marketing titles, I also frequently see team leaders struggle to deal with how to differentiate their existing team members to distinguish them and reward them based on their efforts and contributions.
Both Lilley and Byrne also weighed in on this difficult task.
Byrne talked about the limitations within the current structure of titles as we know them. He stated that “there are issues with layering people when they need to move up, but the titles don’t always help that if someone is already a Director, say.”
He continued on to acknowledge how tricky that really is, as these issues impact both the person you’re trying to change the title for to acknowledge their efforts, and then for the other people in the team who may feel slighted because of any title changes around them. He said that in practice what typically happens is that “the title can be the same, but the salary, bonus and raises are far different” for different team members. External people to that team or firm, however, won’t see this internal recognition.
Lilley shared her vantage point on how to adequately structure different team members’ titles, noting the difficulties with more junior legal marketers: “I do think that the greatest disparities and variations we in hiring roles see across positions are found in the ranks of coordinators and specialists. I have come across both very junior specialists and those so senior that they left those roles to take first-chair and/or client-facing positions at other firms. Coordinators and specialists are both non-exempt at certain firms and both exempt at others.”
This is a practical side effect of wrongly labeled professionals. They have to then explain their moves when seeking external advancement so they can be understood and placed into a certain title bucket that makes sense to the person hiring. And this works well if those buckets are neatly defined; unfortunately, that is often not the case.
Practical takeaways for team leaders to move forward
There are no easy answers to these issues. And proposing significant changes to these issues will of course take time to take effect and create the meaningful change that is needed.
Having said that, there are some takeaways that Lilley and Byrne shared that can help us all in the meantime:
- Lilley stated “Historically, I have partnered with my firms’ talent management departments to establish consistency across titles even when functions differ. For instance, I would establish overall expectations and position requirements regarding project and people management, level of autonomy, and delivery expectations.” Lilley also added that these position requirements would be consistent across the firm and tie into the existing structure of other titles, to establish some uniformity.
- Byrne stated “Adding ‘senior’ in front of the title can help. Or moving that person up the title ranks one slot but then putting "associate" or "assistant" in front of it to help keep the others at that higher rung from feeling like they've now been put upon by someone else's promotion.” These relatively small title changes can often have the most significant impact on an individual marketer; bestowing confidence and recognition upon their efforts.
For further consideration…
I’ll also add these five thoughts for your further consideration, especially when hiring professionals into your team.
- Evaluate professionals on more than title. Take someone’s title into consideration, as they can be very meaningful, but don’t look only at title. When you’re looking behind their title, consider their overall years of experience (including any prior non-law firm experience), the firms within which they’ve worked (some firms have very few layers, for example), and the level of sophistication of their marketing and BD experience.
- Remember that not all Managers manage people. Don’t mistake Managers or Senior Managers for people managers. Most at these levels are very strong in project management (that is, managing people on a project-by-project basis), but have no formal people management experience. Those with formal people management experience should highlight this where possible as it sets you apart.
- Preserve the CMO and Director titles for roles with complete ownership. The top title – a CMO or Director - should be fully empowered by firm leadership to develop their firms’ BD and marketing strategy. If you don’t have this empowerment and complete autonomy, you are likely a senior manager wrapped up in a Director / CMO title with limited authority. This title may be nice in the short term, but in the long term it can prove tricky if seeking external promotion. Consider Byrne’s comments here of layering more titles at the senior end of your team if appropriate.
- Elevate those functioning above their title. If Coordinators and Specialists are solely responsible for a Practice or Industry Group, then they are likely operating at a Manager level of technical capability, and you should recognize that. Label their efforts with an elevated title to reward them; if you don’t, they may look elsewhere. Find a way to distinguish them from their peers who require more frequent direction. Keep at the forefront of your minds Lilley’s comments here on how junior titles can equate to significantly different capabilities.
- Develop your own framework. Despite no standardized rules, develop your own internal rules or policies to help you with your own team. Consider additional layers or client capabilities to differentiate people who have the same title but who have very different levels of experience. Also consider implementing ways to challenge and incentivize at each level and invest in people management experience for your Managers and above. Finally, provide each level with what they need to accomplish to meet expectations at their title, as well as what they need to do to exceed expectations. And importantly, promote those who exceed expectations. Because if you don’t promote them, they will look outside to go up.
Legal marketing titles can be accurate or they can be misleading. While we are all in this existing structure together, implement these takeaways to ensure greater consistency for our legal marketing professionals. They work hard and deserve a correctly labeled title and recognition from their peers and leaders.
Attorneys and accountants are undergoing a seismic shift from being technical specialists to business problem-solvers. Professional services marketers — like Esther Bowers, Director of Client Service Initiatives from Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and Brian Duffy, Regional Sales Leader, Midwest market, at Grant Thornton — are helping their firms accomplish the former. Below, they share their perspective and advice to others facing this challenge.
The need to be client-centric
Attorneys and accountants are trained to be technical, subject-matter specialists. They advise and provide counsel on specific issues and are trained to solve a specific problem or mitigate a specific risk.
These specialized technicians are now being challenged to apply their expertise in a new way: to become more generalist in their approach, and to be a “business solutions provider” who can predict, analyze and solve a client’s business need, ideally before the client knows it is an issue.
They have to change the way they brand and describe what they do, both internally within their firms and externally to their clients. What they do has to speak to and resonate with their clients — who are the ones demanding this change — not just to an attorney’s or accountant’s own insider language.
Being a business solutions provider is what these technical professionals must be. This is a profound shift for most attorneys and accountants. And few are making the shift with ease.
Role of marketers in this change
As a professional services marketer, you are primed to help your technical professionals be a business solutions provider. One of your main roles is to help them refocus to be client-centric and help them achieve that status.
Barnes & Thornburg is a law firm with nearly $400 million annual revenue, more than 1,000 personnel and 14 offices in the United States.
Bowers was one of a few chosen professionals to lead and instill client-centric efforts. This has seen Barnes & Thornburg through higher and consistent revenue growth than many of its AmLaw peers, despite a mostly flat market for legal service buyers.
Bowers said the key to this success is offering clients practical and holistic problem-solvers who are successful because they are “asking, understanding and then communicating the client’s business and legal objectives and keeping them front and center with everyone who touches that client.”
Grant Thornton is an audit, tax and advisory firm with $1.74 billion annual revenue, more than 8,000 personnel and 59 offices in the United States.
Duffy contributes to the firm’s go-to-market strategy and how a one-firm approach is part of instilling a client-centric approach.
He said his professionals need to be “problem-solvers for their clients’ most challenging issues. Whether it’s compliance (i.e. they don’t have a choice) or about strategic and organic growth, we must distinguish ourselves in the marketplace and assist in managing threats and risks within their business.”
Being client-centric is not a choice, it is the way attorneys and accountants need to behave in order to keep their clients and attract potential new clients.
Bowers points out that a “team-based and collaborative approach with the firm provides the best opportunities for client institutionalism.”
Duffy notes that they’ve moved beyond fee discussions with their clients, to a place where clients “trust us as fiduciaries of their money” to be out in front of their business challenges and help them avoid potential risks.
While some firms have already completed this transition, few empower their marketers to be an active participant on that client account. Simply maintaining or reacting to a potential client need or lead is not the same thing as helping to steer and control the experience a client has with the attorneys or accountants.
How can we move this forward?
Duffy said that at Grant Thornton it is about instilling a behavior: “On the journey to get to that point of trusted adviser status with our clients, one thing we do and instill in our people, is the importance of being engaging listeners. We teach them to ask thoughtful questions that are relevant to their business and their challenges.”
He said anyone can have a pleasant conversation about something generic. But there’s “an art to being conversant in relevant topics and tying that back to their business.” This behavior is now part of the Grant Thornton culture and helps with its one-firm approach at the frontline with clients. This allows the firm to deliver to their clients the best resources in the firm to address their needs.
Bowers says that Barnes & Thornburg have similar practices, and transparency from both sides is fundamental: “There is an overwhelming need for both firms and clients to share more information and have enhanced communication to deepen relationships.
“The two groups desire more collaboration but the first step is greater transparency which can lead to innovation and solutions.” This practice allows each side to share, learn and ask the right questions to achieve the client-centric model.
She said this means that a “client management approach includes understanding the primary drivers of value for specific clients and what we are doing to deliver.”
What does all of this mean for professional services marketers?
Bowers offered this:
- Have a holistic, team approach. Educate and empower everyone at the firm to be focused on the client’s business and creating solutions that contribute to meeting their business objectives — this is what enhances the overall “client experience.”
- Leverage firm resources and talent. Think outside of the day-to-day services your firm provides, and offer flexible solutions, resources, technology and data that your clients need to advance their goals.
- Check to see if it’s working. Conducting value audits and having an accountable feedback loop, which all ties into individual and firm performance, is essential to maximum effectiveness.
Duffy offered this:
- It all starts with the firm culture. Instill, encourage and reward behavior that digs in deep and creates a culture of client-centricity.
- Learn from your efforts. Learning from the firm’s overall efforts, which includes the wins and the losses, is an essential piece to constant course correction.
- “One firm” — clients don’t think of the numerous segments or practices that form a firm. Nor should they. When speaking to and asking questions of a client, it has to be a one-firm approach.
And I’ll add this for the marketers who are less experienced than Bowers and Duffy:
Whatever approach or practice resonates with you and your current environment, you can always rely on certain questions to help shift an attorney’s or accountant’s mindset to refocus on client-centricity. Help your attorneys and accountants with these ideas:
- Become more knowledgeable about your client’s business plan. Get them to share this with you and get your key professionals in the room when they are having strategic sessions on this plan.
- Facilitate issue-spotting and problem-solving. Asking open-ended questions without knowing the answer creates uncertainty: You may not know the answer or be able to solve the dilemma. But that is not the point of this task. The point is you are learning about their business and its challenges.
- Know who your client’s top business advisers are. And this can involve introducing other professionals to your client so they have business solutions providers from a range of services.
Being a business solutions provider is the next frontier. You, as professional services marketers, are perfectly positioned to help your attorneys and accountants reach this client status.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for 10 years and prior to that was an attorney. She loves what she does, and is always open to continuing the discussion: firstname.lastname@example.org
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