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THE MAGAZINE      September 2002
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The Good Idea! Issue

Get Going in Segment Marketing

Heather Gray-Grant

So many competitors, so many target clients, so little time. It’s difficult to conceive of new, different and effective ways to market legal services. But a fundamental change in perspective can make all the difference to your future success. Why not let the client’s need for efficiencies motivate your approach? It may not sound cutting-edge, but it is.

 

This article is reprinted with permission from the LawMarketing Portal web site, www.LawMarketing.com, where law firms learn to get more business.

Let’s talk about professional services marketing. Specifically, let’s talk about what law firms already do—marketing by practice area or industry group—and how to take it to the next big step. That next step is segment marketing.

Marketing by practice group is really a first tentative step toward segment marketing. The difference between the two approaches is subtle but vitally important. It’s a matter of your motivation. In the future, successful legal marketing will result from coordinating around the needs of clients, rather than the needs of law firms. That’s the motivation at the heart of segment marketing.

Consider the Firm Makeup

But, you ask, don’t law firms already focus on the client? As marketers, aren’t our clients’ interests at the forefront of all decisions we make? At a macro level, yes. At a micro level, perhaps not as much as you think. To draw out the subtle difference, here’s a quick look at the evolution of the marketing function in typical law firms.

We started some 20 years ago as the corporate image police, marketing on an institutional level. We made sure everyone’s C.V. looked the same and that the logo was used, and used appropriately. We hosted sponsorship receptions, which, in those days, were among the few acceptable ways to get the law firm’s name out there.

Then the legal marketing world moved to a department-wide focus—the labor department, the business department, the litigation department and so forth. These large groupings made the job of firm administration much easier. Thanks to the resulting efficiencies, firms began to see the benefit of further dividing into practice or industry groups that were perhaps even cross-departmental in their makeup—and had a much greater focus on the client.

In all these structures, however, you’ll see a similarity. They are built on internal needs and improvements—what’s best for the law firm. Practice groups, for example, tend to start organically from two or more lawyers who share similar skill sets or experiences, or who have connections with people in similar businesses. The lawyers decide to work together to better leverage their investment of time. By helping each other market, they get greater exposure to a wider target market. They can speak at more conferences and attend more seminars. They can share marketing expenses. Most importantly, they can collectively achieve greater depth of experience than their single competitors—another benefit the firm can sell back to the client or prospect.

Does the client benefit from these coordinated marketing activities? Absolutely. The primary beneficiary, however, is still the law firm or the lawyers.

Fundamentally Different: Change Your Point of View

Segment marketing is fundamentally different because it is primarily motivated by the client’s perspective. It’s about attitude and implementation. Market segment groups are not easy to form or run because they are often cross-departmental or span different practice groups. On the other hand, while the lawyers are specialists, they don’t see themselves as high-profile silos. Instead, they are highly skilled individuals ready to quickly form into high-performance teams when needed. Indeed, they anticipate that their value will be as parts of various teams.

As team members, they are not afraid of high levels of accountability. At the same time, they tend to be quite entrepreneurial, unafraid to push the firm’s boundaries of what is and isn’t traditionally done on both the administrative and marketing sides. In sum, these groups filter all their actions through what’s best for the client, rather than what’s best for the law firm.

Ease on Down the Road: Starter Steps

Revamping your business development toward segment marketing may seem easier said than done. But it is doable. Here are potential steps for easing into segment marketing, with examples of actions taken at my firm, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP.

1. Have one segment of the firm conduct business differently.

When Fasken Martineau started its technology practice, we realized through market research that we had to structure it quite differently from other areas of the firm. We discovered that our target clients in the technology arena desperately needed top-tier advice, but were afraid of "deep-pile carpeting" firms. So we created a separate but parallel corporate image. The resulting sub-brand allowed technology clients access to the full firm if they needed it, but made them more comfortable with the image of their day-to-day lawyer group. We also instituted a "business casual" dress policy for the technology practice lawyers at a time when that wasn’t done. The clients loved it.

2. Hire a different set of staff for this segment.

Bring in non-lawyer professionals. Or select the lead lawyer or the client-relationship lawyer according to criteria different from that used elsewhere in the firm. In the case of our technology practice, we hired a "retired" high-tech millionaire entrepreneur to help our firm develop a bleeding-edge technology segment by getting close to the clients and finding out how they really wanted to work with their lawyers. We installed an associate as the chair of our biotech practice because he had the most experience with, and exposure to, that target market and would be considered the most credible by them. He built credibility in that position with the rest of our lawyers over time.

3. Open separate offices closer to the target client base.

To better accommodate its technology clients, our U.S. affiliate, Perkins Coie, opened two new offices: one in Menlo Park several years ago, and one only a couple of miles away from the firm’s main office in Seattle—an area that was the business center for a number of the firm’s big high-tech clients.

4. Restructure compensation for this group alone.

Consider both the clients’ and the lawyers’ perspectives when setting the new practice group’s compensation. For example, several years ago, we were one of the first firms in Canada to embrace the concept of shares for fees from start-up technology companies.

5. Consider your services as individual products.

Move past the concept that legal services are integrally tied to traditional, ongoing client relationships. Our technology group developed two products early in the game for its target group: the IP Asset Audit and TechStart, which is a cost-effective way for start-ups to get their legal work done.

Build Buy-in for the Next Step

How do you obtain buy-in for initiatives such as these? Nothing is more powerful than a suggestion directly from the client. Conduct client surveys and audits. Do your research. Build your business case. If at first you don’t succeed, remember that true segment marketing goes against some fundamental premises of traditional firm marketing. You’ll simply need to persevere.

Law firms don’t like change, and for years they have marketed themselves based on what seems most efficient from an internal perspective. Taking practice and industry marketing to the next step is a tremendous challenge—and not one that should be approached too quickly. Take baby steps, and keep in mind that it isn’t called the cutting-edge for nothing.

TIP: Do Your Research

The best argument a marketer can present for change is a strong business case, and the best foundation for that is strong market research. Take the time to ask your clients what they want, and how they want it.

Heather Gray-Grant (hgraygrant@van.fasken.com) is the Vancouver Director of Marketing for the Canadian law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, and President-Elect of the Legal Marketing Association. This article is based on her presentation at the 2002 LMA annual conference. She can be reached at (604) 631-3151.