Business development & marketing: Divide and rule

Marketing and BD teams need to sell lower-cost or disaggregated legal services to clients – both external and internal

What role do the marketing/business development (BD) teams play in making it easy for external clients to buy disaggregated legal services?

Richard Grove
Richard Grove

Richard Grove, director of marketing, BD and communications, Allen & Overy: We’re involved in the sales process from an early stage so we help make sure that partners consider how a disaggregated approach could benefit a client on any given matter. We then play a key role in ensuring that the messaging to clients (in meetings, presentations, proposals and so on) clearly articulates those benefits. The message cannot be about cost alone. Among other things, clients want to know about quality assurance, project management and the use of technology.

Elliot Moss, director of business development, Mishcon de Reya: The role should be central to the way in which the client-facing solution is presented and executed. The disaggregation is essentially what is behind the curtain; what is in front is a joined-up, seamlessly delivered, cost-effective and efficient solution for the client. The focus has to be on the benefit to the client not on the ‘internals’ – we all want our mobile phones to work but we do not care where the technology comes from.

Michelle Elstein, international business development and marketing director, Olswang

To make it easy for clients to buy in to Olswang’s proposition, BD’s role is to get the messaging right, align it to our brand reputation and know that we have the right technical expertise underpinned by clear project management. Olswang does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to promoting, pitching or selling bundled legal services. We are nimble enough to develop a service delivery proposition around exactly what our clients want. For us, the main impact that BD and marketing can achieve is in relation to the brand proposition and reputation that the client is buying in to.

Julia Hayhoe, director of business development and marketing, Baker & McKenzie: Marketing and BD teams play a vital role in making it easy for clients to buy disaggregated legal services. First, they help clients to define their business need for lower-cost legal services in a simple, commercial way that speaks to the client drivers – cost certainty or reduction, efficiency, risk management and quality. We also scope and implement the service within the business.

Second, they facilitate conversations between clients who are at differing stages in their ‘journey’. At Baker & McKenzie, we host roundtables on this topic where clients can get tips on how to make the case for change in their business, the practical pitfalls to avoid and how to work effectively with external legal providers on this change. 

Lastly, marketing and BD often work beyond their functional role to influence change in the law firm service delivery model to meet client needs. For example, working with HR on new staffing models and skill sets such as project management, working with finance on new pricing models and with IT on new systems.

The key is not to start with a ‘sell’ mindset. Marketing and BD start with the client perspective in mind and then talk to clients about what they need.

We conduct more than 400 client feedback meetings each year in addition to our day-to-day client conversations. Clients tell us they want greater cost certainty, reduction and efficiency, while maintaining quality. So clients themselves are making the case for law firms to disaggregate legal services as a method to get to their business outcomes. We just need to tap into that client desire by taking ideas of how this can work in practice to the clients in a proactive manner. For example, our global managed service proposition draws on project management, technology and lower-cost staffing from our offshore shared services centre in Manila. We have more than 600 people in Manila and tremendous knowhow, which we have developed since inception in 2000. So we’re not selling, but thinking differently about how we deliver services.

What are the biggest challenges facing these teams when a firm begins to disaggregate its services?

Julia Hayhoe
Julia Hayhoe

JH: The biggest threat is underestimating the change-management aspects. Disaggregation requires everyone to think and behave differently. So as well as focusing on ‘what’ needs to change, we need to think about and support ‘how’ we need to change. The ‘what’ can be undertaken by a rational analytical process that can identify the tasks that need to be performed at different levels in differing cost base locations. The ‘how’ requires a focus on behaviour – for example, partners letting go of certain tasks, partners enabling professional project managers to have direct client relationships and so on. This in turn shifts what it means to be a partner.

RG: With the legal services market evolving so quickly, one challenge is knowledge-sharing internally so that new approaches are understood and adopted across the firm. As a team, we work hard to stay on top of internal case studies and market developments so we can help with the cultural change. It is also important that we work seamlessly with other support areas – IT, finance, knowhow and HR – to adapt our business processes to work in new ways. The client experience and the marketing messages have to be the same and our team has an important role to play in that.

EM: Presenting a client-focused, benefit-driven solution that does not focus on the process but on the end user. The temptation of the business process experts is to tell the client about just how clever the newly disaggregated solution is, without focusing on the end benefits – the BD/marketing team needs to hold the line, think client first and put the process in the context of what is in it for the client.  

ME: First, quality and risk assurance that what we are trying to offer to a client translates in to what is actually delivered. Here, being honest internally with what we can and cannot do, or should and should not do, is critical. Second – and more of an issue if we get it wrong – is around pricing a bundled service delivery. Clients want a cost-effective service solution and we want to remain profitable. This requires really close collaboration between members of BD and our strategic development team and we always start by clearly scoping what the client is trying to achieve. We incorporate project management to any tailor-made solution so that we can make sure our service matches our reputation from start to finish. 

Where does marketing and BD sit in terms of accountability in the pitch process when a project is disaggregated or provided from different delivery points? 

ME: We are involved from the very beginning and help to shape the firm’s unique solution with the client. It is a very inclusive approach to the way we deliver and offer disaggregated services: fee-earners from across the firm, from junior associates to partners, join in the conversation with the client and CRM to scope requirements. Then the BD team is responsible for creating the ‘wrapper’ around the packaged bundle of services. It has to be enticing and compelling at the same time, underpinned by what we know the firm can deliver. Accountability to help us achieve that is shared between BD, our strategic development colleagues, the client team and the relationship partner who will assume overall ownership of client satisfaction.

RG: Marketing’s purpose is to help the business win more work. A key way of doing this is through the pitch process. We track our win rate and focus on sharing best practice around the business to ensure that continues to improve. It is our job to ensure that partners are properly prepared and able to clearly articulate what our offering is. That hasn’t changed because of disaggregation and, if anything, we have more to talk about and offer our clients. 

Elliot Moss
Elliot Moss

EM: It depends on what management decides; an enlightened team would say to the marketing/BD team: “Be central, be the voice of the client in the process, in the documents, in the meetings – make sure we don’t get lost looking at our navels.”

How does marketing/BD make pitches a good experience for both internal and external clients?

RG: Preparation is fundamental to any pitch. Our teams spend a lot of time working with partners to ensure they are well prepared. Central to that is having the systems and processes in place to capture the experience that is relevant to a pitch and ensuring it can be easily accessed given the volume of pitches we do. 

However, relevance is the most important thing. You can have volumes of information but if you do not spend the time understanding the brief, the client and their needs, you will not be able to provide a pitch that is relevant. 

ME: We need to stay focused on our best practice approach to making it easy for a client to choose us, by providing: clarity of messaging; content that relates exactly to what the client has expressed; and specifics around what clients should expect in delivery, including timing, budget and reporting. We make sure we communicate the added value the firm provides with each project, whether it is secondments, project management or training. Our goal is to inspire confidence for the client in choosing us as the right firm to work with and trust for overall advice and delivery.

JH: Marketing and BD play a crucial role in acting as a bridge between the client and the firm. Externally, the team works with the client to help articulate their business and legal needs which is then fed back to the business. Internally, the team helps to drive change in the firm’s service delivery model, in terms of staffing, process re-engineering and use of technology. This process helps ensure the client proposition can be delivered to meet both the client needs and at a commercial margin for the law firm.

EM: Put them first and frame the offering around their needs, desires and aspirations. Make it a solution to a problem they have rather than an engineering or cost-saving exercise only.

What opportunities and challenges can be created by having a centralised marketing/BD function?

JH: A centralised function enables you to start with the overall client needs in mind and develop a proposition that draws across relevant internal practice group structures, rather than operating with a silo mentality. Capturing best practice from across the practice group also results in a more holistic view when implementing campaigns, programmes and so on. Central functions can invest in longer-term market positioning programmes, such as major sponsorships, that a single practice group could not afford. They can also invest in specialist experts for the wider benefit of the firm, such as client research/analysis, internal communications and so on.

The challenges are how to ensure that central and practice group teams collaborate and recognise each others’ strengths. Practice groups are very close to particular clients on a day-to-day basis and hold a crucial understanding of the client that needs to be fed into the overall picture of the client. Practice groups are intimately involved in the service delivery so they need to shape how that is evolving at a pace that the business can implement in reality. 

EM: The ability to join up an unjoined-up world. If there is no unified voice or function that serves the client only, then the client will not be central. But the BD/marketing team has to listen hard – to what the owners of the client relationship are saying, to what the technology experts are saying and to what the finance team are saying. If they do not listen and they do not understand they become not just superfluous but actually damaging. And if the listening and the understanding does not translate into clear articulations of benefits and a clear plan of action then the team has failed.

Michelle Elstein
Michelle Elstein

ME: We do not operate this model, as all our team members work alongside partners to develop new business or are ensconced in client relationships. I can see the merits of a commoditised offering and having a team that is efficient at what is more akin to ‘solution selling’. You would need a steady volume of opportunities to make it worthwhile. 

However, the BD person would be removed from the coal face and could miss key information to further develop relationships. The role would be much less client-facing and advisory and more transactional, which would not work for us at the moment.

RG: Our strategy has always been to have parts of the team centralised – as centres of excellence supporting key clients and global processes – and parts decentralised, supporting products, sectors and geographies. This ensures we have quality and consistency and we stay relevant and close to the business with deep market knowledge.

The challenges are to make this matrix work seamlessly and for the decentralised teams to continue feel part of a global team. We work hard at effective communication, shared priorities, secondments between teams and a collaborative culture.