Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on frequently asked questions for the early-stage buyer.

With the legal industry becoming increasingly competitive over the last several years, more and more law firms have come to realize the value and impact of working with an outsourced marketing firm to develop and implement a solid marketing plan. It has been proven that a well-positioned and strategically-marketed law firm can capture more clients and bring in higher revenues. This three-part series will highlight the most common marketing questions that come up during each stage of the buying cycle, so that law firms can ultimately make intelligent marketing decisions in working with a marketing services partner.

If your firm is still on the fence about hiring a marketing services partner, following are a few frequently asked questions for firm management and decision-makers to consider in the initial information-gathering phase, also known as the early-stage buying cycle. This article will address the early-stage buying cycle, while part two will examine the mid-stage buying phase and part three will focus on the late-stage buying phase.

Purchasing Legal Marketing Services: Early-Stage Buying FAQs

Q: What is marketing?

A: The foremost function of marketing within an organization is to understand the needs and wants of the target market. Products and services can then be packaged, priced and promoted in such a way as to raise awareness and interest within that target market. Marketing is NOT a website, promotional items, a brochure or business cards. This frequently needs to be clarified, as many people believe that tools used for marketing are in fact marketing itself. However, a collection of tools without a marketing communications plan and an integrated approach will typically lead to a very low return on investment.

Q: What functions do marketing professionals perform?

A: Marketing professionals can perform a wide range of duties depending on their level of experience and nature of expertise. At the most senior level, typically a chief marketing officer (CMO), job responsibilities might include: identifying target “niche” markets, developing a compelling and memorable positioning statement, listening to the needs of clients to shape product and service offerings, creating an annual marketing plan and budget, identifying specific marketing roles that others in the law firm can play, and measuring results. CMOs lead the marketing function for the entire firm.

Marketing managers are typically responsible for creating collateral (electronic and print) and executing campaigns in the marketing plan. Some of the duties performed might include: website development and maintenance, content marketing (including blogs, videos, e-books and more), public relations, social media, e-newsletters and webinars. Marketing managers can be fairly autonomous as long as they have a marketing plan and clear direction on priorities.

Some duties that are sometimes asked of marketing professionals that should be the responsibility of an office administrator or administrative assistant are:

  • Ordering promotional items
  • Entering contacts into a central database
  • Scheduling meetings
  • Ordering food and beverages for an event
  • Stuffing envelopes and applying postage for a direct mail piece

The question that law firm management should ask before delegating a task is, “Does this duty require a four-year degree in business?” If the answer is no, then the time of the marketing professional is better spent doing marketing as opposed to administration.

Q: How is marketing different from business development, and does our firm need both?

A: The golden rule of winning new business is “all things being equal, people do business with people who they know, like and trust.” Marketing plays a huge role in the “all things being equal” part of this phrase, and your law firm’s marketing program will raise awareness in target markets about your firm’s services and depth of experience. The function of marketing will also work to distinguish your firm from the competition. Using a thermometer analogy, marketing warms up the market.

For law firms, business development should have a stronger focus on developing partnerships and strategic relationships with referral sources and key decision-makers of your target audience in order to bring in new clients. This might also include developing new markets, such as different geographic areas, or identifying new potential markets for an existing practice area.

Once the marketing implementation has begun, the business development part comes into play. Building trusted, one-on-one relationships is essential, and all the marketing in the world won’t replace this – it can only serve to enhance it. The marketing professionals will do their jobs by putting your law firm on an equal playing field, but then the firm’s management and senior-level attorneys need to close the deals through solidifying the relationships with top referral sources and prospects. Referring to that thermometer analogy again, this is when marketing has warmed up the market so that business development and sales can close a prospect. These two disciplines – marketing and business development – need to be present in any successful law firm, and ideally should work hand-in-hand.

While these are some of the most frequent questions regarding marketing that come up during the initial, or early-buying stage, the marketing FAQs for the mid-stage buyer will be explored in part two of this series.

Debra Andrews is president and owner of Marketri, a Doylestown, Pa.-based full-service professional services marketing firm specializing in inbound marketing solutions that focus on lead generation through integrating content marketing with social media and search engine optimization. Marketri provides results-driven marketing solutions for small to mid-size B2B and professional services companies, including law firms.