Five Ways to Measure the Success of Your Marketing Efforts

  • September 17, 2014
  • Susan Van Dyke

The numbers don’t lie. If your marketing programs are working, revenues will eventually rise. It’s that simple. But, the incubation period between strategy execution and revenue increase will vary.

While marketing’s purpose is to improve the firm’s financial performance, you can measure the success of marketing efforts through a number of different metrics other than ‘revenue indicators’ or bottom-line figures.

Responsiveness to marketing programs can be tracked through website traffic, the number of calls into your firm’s switchboard, event attendance, the volume of people signing up to receive your publications, participation in webinars, proposal win rates and more.

In generating new business, each law firm's priorities and objectives differ—within any single client relationship, groupings of relationships and/or all client relationships. With this in mind, we know that performance metrics vary. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Some of the most common performance metrics used are revenue (i.e. billings), realization and/or hours recorded (i.e. total net annual growth or decline and/or by practice area/lawyer).

Beyond that, other performance metrics vary and may include client satisfaction ratings or completion of client plans. For firms with a client team approach, there are also metrics to recognize leadership, understanding of the client, effective marketing activities, follow-up and results.

Most experts will advise you to be careful not to fall into the trap of measuring the activity and not the outcome, especially if you’re uncertain whether your strategy is focused on the right audience. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much you’re spending to increase billings if those marketing dollars are aimed at people who don’t purchase legal services.

Keep the end goal in sight. Not all activities need to be measured, so begin with your newest or most costly marketing programs. Start with the end in mind and plan how to measure it.

1. The rearview mirror test: how did your plans fare?

Unlike accounting firms, law firm culture has yet to embrace sales and marketing as a critical part of strategic planning. As our marketing strategies begin to stand up and get counted, this will change.

For this reason, most firms still don’t have business or marketing plans. And I’m not referring to lofty strategic plans—we’re talking about some ideas around next year’s goals and objectives even just jotted down on the back of a napkin. Seriously.

If your firm is large enough to have practice groups with leaders, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not operating with some sort of plan. This can be a simple two-page document outlining the activities you’re planning for the year. Of course, these activities should match your goals and be consistent with the firm’s overall direction.

Similarly, personal marketing plans are excellent road maps and are especially effective in showing your value (Associates: grab your highlighter for this paragraph) during year-end review time. Reflect on your plan and indicate what you’ve achieved, what you’ve spent, and even discuss what didn’t get done and why. This demonstrates your future potential. Your future success depends on your current activity, or as David Maister has said, “Your billable time determines your income, but your non-billable time determines your future.”

Measure success on your marketing program’s ability to meet the needs or desired outcomes of an objective. Remember your business planning here – start with setting your goals, list objectives that meet these goals and then identify tactics that will achieve your objectives. The best objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and tangible). One example could look like this:

Goal: Increase billings in our professional negligence practice by 10% by the end of our next fiscal year.

Objectives: Reach 50% of Vancouver-based real estate agents with our key message in their first year of practice within the next six months. (Your research indicates that issuance of licenses has doubled in the past year and the majority of recent professional negligence matters involved junior realtors.)

Tactics: Contact all the real estate offices and offer to train their new agents on real estate contract pitfalls (with key message: “Give us two hours and we’ll dramatically reduce your chances of writing a bad contract.”)

When developing your plan, remember that you don’t need one big gobstopper of an idea. Break it down into smaller tasks. Do-it-yourself home renovations are often achieved one task at a time. And goals can be achieved through a series of bite-sized tasks.

Typically, there would be several objectives listed and many more tactics, but I chose just one of for the sake of a clear example. Simple math will indicate if there are 300 new agents, we’ve pledged to reach 150 in the next six months. A SMART objective.

If your key message reaches all 150 agents, one of the objectives has been met and if billings do rise as planned, you’ve hit a home run.

2. Newsletters: who’s readin' ’em

Hands up. Who’s dutifully producing a firm newsletter without understanding why or knowing who’s reading it? Yup, that goes for a lot of firms.

Whether you are producing the newsletter yourself or farming it out, it’s a costly activity. There’s plenty of debate around the value of a firm newsletter that tries to be all things to all clients for fear of excluding people. Even if your practice group creates its own targeted communiquĂ© for a distinct group of clients, how do you know if it’s getting read?

The inherent nature of a newsletter is that it’s passive, so it’s difficult to know if it’s paying off. It’s read (or ignored) and chucked away. One advantage to a large mailing is that it cleans up your marketing database through undeliverable mail. For now, let’s just assume you need to build an argument to can or resurrect your newsletter.

Consider the audience. Who’s reading it and what news is most helpful to them without alienating your other readers? When you’re speaking to clients or prospects, ask them if they read your newsletter and what topics they’d like to see covered.

Use your newsletter as a teaser to a batch of topics, and as a promotional pointer for your website. Print article excerpts or introductions – keep them to 200 or 300 words in length – and direct readers to your website for the full text. The bridge between the hard copy newsletter and the online article must be clearly marked and easily traveled. On your website, provide clear directions, “To read the full text articles from our “Cleverly Titled Newsletter”, click here”.

At this point, you can begin tracking your success. Your website traffic statistics report will indicate the number of unique visitors to various “full text” pages on your site. Practically all website hosts offer basic free stats as part of your monthly fees. Typically, they will indicate the number of unique visitors to each page, where the visitor resides (i.e. province, state, country), how much time they spent on each page and how they entered the site, such as through your home page or directly to the page link you provided.

Among other things, you’ll see which articles attracted the most interest and which ones were viewed but not likely read, given the limited time they spent on the page. This is valuable market research and a good testing ground for interest in seminar topics or additional articles. This is where your analysis will really pay off.

Take it one step further. Begin to gather intelligence around the reader’s interest in the topic, taking the newsletter from a passive strategy to an interactive strategy, and one that can be measured. At the bottom of each online article, give readers several options. They can comment or ask questions, request that a lawyer call them, request a white paper or a helpful form or checklist you’ve developed, or they can register for topical events. Remember, your responsiveness to requests is critical in developing relationships.

Following every online article list your phone, fax, e-mail information. It may seem like overkill, but many people still print out articles to add to their “reading pile” and won’t have your website on their screen or your contact information at hand.

3. Pitches and proposals: avoiding a knee-jerk reaction

Responding to proposals is very costly – the costs in all but large firms rest squarely on partners’ shoulders. Done right, good proposals are well thought-out and time-consuming to prepare. So, don’t pitch every request that winks in your direction. Instead, develop your own list of qualifiers, a checklist of sorts that will help you to stay on course and avoid swinging at every ball.

Chances are you’re responding to twice as many opportunities than you should. It’s tough to convince a partner not to respond to an invitation for more work, so let’s consider the numbers.

Start tracking all your pitch and proposal efforts. Create a database or spreadsheet with:

  • the deadline date;
  • client name;
  • client industry;
  • type of legal work requested;
  • responsible lawyer’s name;
  • file or document number of the response;
  • follow-up date; and
  • status.

Ideally, noting the time spent on each response will indicate a more reliable ROI (return on investment) figure. At minimum, keep a “notes/comments” section in this database or spreadsheet and anecdotally note how much time was spent by lawyers and marketing professionals on preparing the response.

Generally speaking, your win rate should be greater than 50%. Look for patterns. Are you most successful in one practice group or area of law over others? Is one lawyer getting a break away and boasting a win rate higher than all others?

Now that you’re tracking your efforts, let’s take a look at what should qualify your interest in responding. The idea here is to reduce the time your firm invests in developing pitches and proposals, but, at the same time, increasing your win rates.

To do so, try to meet with the prospective (or current) client before you begin drafting a response. Learn as much as possible about their needs, goals and challenges. This gives you corporate intelligence that other firms don’t have, which you can incorporate into your response to demonstrate your client-centered approach. In meeting the prospect, you can glean a sense of whether you want to work together and if you ultimately want to respond to their request. It’s also the time to begin building a great rapport with the prospect’s team and demonstrate your genuine interest in meeting their needs.

Also evaluate each request as to whether you hold any special experience with the required type of work, industry or client. Look for things that will set you apart in a meaningful way for the client. Understanding the client’s needs beyond what they’ve stated in the request for proposal is imperative. Your knowledge and relationship with the client organization and your articulating this understanding in your response will tip the scales in your favour.

Do you know why a client requires these services? Do you know what challenges the client faces, aside from controlling escalating legal fees, in relation to these services over the next year or critical period? Who are the client’s competitors and allies? What are their key competencies and areas of growth? What other law firms are pitching for this work and what advantages do you have over them? And how much detail does the client need in your response? A thesis or a summary?

The intelligence you’ve gathered about a client, and their business challenges and needs, over time will directly factor into your ability to respond to their needs beyond what other firms can.

It’s all about the client. If you truly understand their position, preparing your response should be straight-forward. Keep your response focused on the client’s needs and place yourself in the recipient’s shoes, continually asking yourself, “So what?” with each section of your draft. Include a summary of your understanding of the engagement, information about the firm as it relates to the engagement, and proposed approaches to handling the engagement—in addition to deliverables, timing and fees. Whatever you do, don’t overwhelm the client with a verbose response. For many lawyers, this is easier said than done.

If you know no more than what’s in the request for proposal, you can’t get a meeting with the client and you can’t trump other firms with certainty consider passing.

If your response is not successful, find out why. It’s best to have someone not directly involved with the development of the proposal make the call – either a partner or marketing professional. The client will be more candid. Take away some key points and amend your proposal best practices accordingly. It will improve your future win rates.

4. Perception is reality: client satisfaction surveys

At the risk of suggesting we’re all still admiring our own navels, Canadian law firms are not going to the source – clients! – for feedback or guidance nearly enough. Not even close. We’re so consumed with issues concerning profitability, internal governance, management concerns, etc. that we lose focus on the one piece of our business that will unequivocally ensure our success: responding to client feedback.

It is not the quality of the services you provide that matters most; it is your clients' perception of the quality of your services. Discover what elements of service matters most to them and then do everything in your power to deliver what they need.

Most often, gathering client data points depends on lawyer participation. Therein lies a barrier so insurmountable at times that we turn our attention to other more easily accomplished marketing activities or other methods of gathering metrics.

Not only is it important to understand how our services rate with clients, just as critical is how we can improve and address newly revealed client concerns. Surveys or client interviews are effective methods of gathering qualitative and quantitative data for benchmarking purposes.

Applying precious resources toward collecting feedback from all clients is neither necessary nor reasonable. Good intentions to do so will simply not bear out unless you’re a boutique firm with few clients. If you can do it though, go for it! In mid-sized or larger firms, begin with a select partner/practice group/client industry, emerging area of law, or isolate a group of “at-risk clients”. Better yet, hand-pick clients with whom you have only a small piece of their legal work and gain valuable insight into their needs.

Do you know how clients rate you and your firm? Take the time to ask your clients how well you and your firm as a whole are doing. This is a conversation at the 50,000-foot perspective, not the ground-level client debrief after one engagement. Ask about the overall performance of every person who worked with the client over the past year. Doing this in a systematic and consistent way permits you to track your progress and make service advancements each year, thereby improving client retention.

If that's not reason enough, an overwhelming majority of corporate counsel think client surveys are important and many see surveys as opportunities to discuss future needs.

Undoubtedly, the best research is conducted and analyzed by market research consultants, but you can also get reliable, albeit less scientific, feedback on your own. In-person interviews are best, but surveys supported with personal phone calls from the client’s relationship manager can also bear respectable results. Either way, record the client’s feedback in a consistent manner that will enable you to measure your understanding of the client’s needs and your client’s ratings on the quality of the firm’s services.

A practice group or its leader can now be measured on his or her success in addressing or meeting the concerns or needs of the surveyed client. There are a variety of ways to demonstrate success. Do we have a better understanding of the client’s needs? Did we win back work? Is there a compelling argument of client growth? Are we working on premium work? Are we better positioned to win pitches or proposals? Was a client strategy developed as a result of the feedback received or new work opportunities?

A final word on client research: act swiftly on the problems or threats revealed by the client or acknowledge (and minimize the irritation of) those things you can’t change.

5. Media coverage: grabbing the bull horn

If there is one area where legal marketing professionals and lawyers part company, it’s in their interest in pursuing media coverage. Legal marketers will drop almost anything to ensure a prompt response to media and most lawyers will run and hide. What’s not apparent to some, is that a media strategy is about reaching your clients with key messages, not about serving a lawyer’s ego.

With sound media training and a clear strategy, harnessing media opportunities will bring high returns to your firm. It’s an essential strategy for most lawyers and one that’s easy to measure. Economically speaking, the space you dominate with editorial coverage compared to the same space in advertising dollars costs you nothing but time. Further, editorial is arguably more credible than a controlled advertising message and, therefore, more valuable. It’s a third-party endorsement that has impact and yields more interest and readability than most ads.

How do you measure its effectiveness? Map out a plan to get quotedin anarticle placed in a few publications read by your clients or prospects a few times per year. Part of your plan will include reading and understanding these publications and the types and styles of stories they run, a familiarity with the writers and editors and even who is advertising and why. Talk to clients about what they read regularly. Don’t forget about association newsletters and bulletins.

Begin by getting on the resource list of these publications and do respond quickly when they phone. It’s also a good idea to ask your assistant to treat these calls as a high priority.

Exposure in the media is exponential. Once you begin it will quickly mushroom and your efforts will be increasingly effective.

At the end of the year, review your file of media clippings and evaluate how much of your plan materialized and what resulted from each article.

Give all your marketing initiatives the fullness of time to incubate, but be ready to pull the plug if you can’t hold up some success stories from your efforts.

Market for the sake of revenue, not for the sake of marketing – and take the momentum of your success and apply throughout all your marketing initiatives.

Susan Van Dyke, Principal, Van Dyke Marketing & Communications is a law firm marketing consultant based in Vancouver, B.C. She can be reached at 604-876-7769 or svandyke@telus.net.