The new normal

Change is inevitable but how we as individuals and firms react to it will determine future success or failure

David Edwards

By David Edwards, head of marketing & communications, Baker & McKenzie

The thing about change is, it is constant. It happens all the time in business, in our personal lives, and most of the time we do not even notice it. However, there are times when it impacts to such a degree that we do not know how to deal with it.

Change can come in many forms, from largescale changes to our working environment – such as a merger or acquisition, an expansion into a new market or even a restructuring – to smaller changes such as new team members, new processes or even new management. All of these can bring opportunities for a firm to reassess how it goes about its day-to-day business.

Both internal and external change can have a huge impact on how we operate as individuals and as a firm. It can be proactive and owned, directed by strategic thought. Or it can be forced on us through having to react to
events. For most people, this is the worst sort of change to deal with.

Retired Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, known to some as the ‘grandfather of change’, said in 1995: “The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.”

Kotter famously outlined eight critical success factors in managing change (see page 11). These focus on the ‘how’ of change but for most, it will be the ‘what’ of change that will be most visible. The five most common forms of change are related to new markets, people, technology, regulation or processes. All of these bring unique challenges that can be positive or negative depending on how a firm responds. With the right understanding of change-management processes and the right leadership, any change event can bring about a positive result for the firm and its clients.

How does this relate to the marketing and business development function? They are the front line, the connection with the market and customer. Any change will normally impact what they do and how they do it. How they respond to change will be a key measure of success. 

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The market

The legal landscape is changing. A 2012 report by RBS states that the UK legal profession generated £23.1bn in a year, or 1.8 per cent of GDP and £3.2bn in exports, according to information provided by the Ministry of Justice and UK Trade & Investment. However, reduced spend by clients, increasing consolidation of the legal sector and emerging challengers to the traditional model are all placing demands on firms to respond.

Organisations have reacted to the global economic downturn in a number of ways. Through business transformation exercises to expansion into new markets, they have looked for ways to reduce cost and look for new growth avenues. All have brought opportunities for legal advisers to help those organisations deal with new and often difficult challenges. Making the most of the these opportunities when they come is imperative.  

Therefore, understanding not just the legal market and your competitors, but more importantly the needs of your clients, will bring about rewards. Responding proactively to client needs and anticipating their requirements are what will separate the high performers from those that will continue to struggle in a tough market.

Marketing and business development professionals have a natural eye for opportunity. They should be ‘horizon watching’, spotting the opportunities in their existing markets and on the look-out for new ones. Often, the opposite is true, with the team brought in to deliver the tactical elements of a new strategy too late to help shape or influence it.

The ‘new normal’ is a phrase often used now, but what does it mean for marketing professionals? What is the new normal for your firm? Is it a defensive strategy or one of looking for new growth opportunities? Will you focus on existing clients or have to look towards new markets to enable growth, be they domestic or international? Ensure you are able to answer the questions. 

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The client 

New markets means potentially new clients. What will you have to change in order to satisfy their needs? Understanding the needs of a client or potential client does not always translate into productive relationships. Why? Because many firms continue to push their own area of expertise rather than working on what pain clients are feeling and truly understanding their goals and priorities. 

Building relationships for the long term, which can involve a degree of investment both in terms of time and money, is not easy.

Marketing and business development can take a lead on this. Julia Hayhoe, director of client and business development at Baker & McKenzie, says: “It is about having a different mind-set towards clients, listening to their issues and how you can solve their challenges, not a what can we sell mind-set.”

For some firms, taking this client-centric approach will involve a high degree of change. Who ‘owns’ the client continues to be an area of animated debate in most firms. This approach is an area where the marketing and business development team can engage the leaders of the firm and help shape strategy. If the approach to clients develops, it will most likely result in a change in the roles and responsibilities of the function. Be clear on what the requirements are and how they will be delivered on.

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The function

PwC’s law firm survey 2012 identified three top priorities
for business support activities: standardising business
processes; improving use of technology; and cost reduction. But what does this mean for marketing and business development?

One area often overlooked is the collaboration between support functions. The relationship with finance, human resources and IT should be proactive. Ensuring they are engaged and informed will mean that a more integrated solution to the change is delivered. The potential impact on client service is also high. Maintaining excellent client service through change is difficult. The focus becomes more internal. The function stops thinking about the client experience and thinks more about the process. Fire fighting then becomes the norm.

To get ahead of the curve, marketing and business development teams should be thinking about the impact of any change on the client. A change-management plan should be produced that identifies what will be done to manage clients through the process. Key metrics of success should be identified and measured over time. One way of doing this is through client feedback. Most firms have a process for this and reviewing key themes on a more regular basis through the change will help a firm spot any threats early. Keeping an eye on the ultimate goal will help ensure success of the change project. 

It is a majority view. In a recent IBM study ‘From Stretched to Strengthened’, marketing return on investment (ROI) is identified as a priority. The study found that 63 per cent of respondents believed ROI will become the most important measure of success over the next few years. Ultimately, you should question any change programme in the context of ‘what impact will it have on our clients?’.

The individual

How individuals respond to change will make the difference between success and failure both for the respective programme and also themselves. As an individual, understanding the theory of change is important.
Understanding the different psychological responses to change, and being self aware enough to reflect on your
own responses, is key. But just as important is the understanding of the role of the future marketing and business development professional and the resulting changes this may create.

In its report ‘Building an Engine for Growth’, Capsicum Group, a specialist consulting firm in the legal sector, identified two foundations that need to be built on in order to build marketing into a stronger engine for growth. 

The first, making sure marketers are business people first and marketers second, plays to the understanding of the pressures of the business and the relevant support required. The second, reconnecting marketers with clients, puts marketing and business development front and centre in the role of the voice of the client internally. As an individual, understanding the purpose of the business you are in, the clients you are serving and the role you play in that should be the change you are looking to make. As a marketing and business development professional, you should be asking yourself ‘how can I ensure this change
will make things better for our clients?’.  

The future

‘Plus ça change’. Although it may appear at the outset of any change that it is new and different, the fundamentals remain constant. Ensuring the focus remains on outcomes should be the goal of the modern marketer. History shows us that the marketing and business development function has a good track record of dealing with and adapting to change. Long may it continue.