Sarah Boustouller is that rare thing; a partner at a law firm who’s a CIM qualified marketing specialist and not a lawyer. We talked to her about her journey to becoming a partner and her role as head of marketing at Stephensons Solicitors LLP. We also discussed the many ways in which you can prove your value as a marketeer, why support functions need to professionalise, and why it’s no longer good enough to only benchmark your marketing activities against other law firms…
Making partner in a professional services firm as a business development (BD) or marketing specialist is rare. It is happening more often, but the pace of change is slow and it’s still the exception rather than the rule. When the BDLN spoke to Sarah, we left with one of her comments ringing in our heads, “If we want more marketing experts at the top table, the answer is simple. We need to show our value and make ourselves invaluable.”
If you want to build a marketing empire, then see Sarah’s seven tips below…
1. Professionalise & train, train, train
We need people to respect the marketing profession and, in order to achieve this, we must professionalise.
Professional services firms encourage their people to use their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours. But, firms far too often focus only on solicitors and on their technical training. I see no reason why support functions shouldn’t have exactly the same development opportunities. I think it’s critical to challenge yourself to learn new things that are outside your expertise and niche. We should therefore be pushing for our own CPD in areas that will make us even more effective. We should make absolutely sure that we’re staying right up to the minute with our professional qualifications so that we’re ideally placed to give the best advice to our firm. Training and qualifications will put you one step ahead. And that’s right where you want to be!
Investing time and money in our on-going professional development is not only the right thing to do to improve our skills, but it is also really important in our efforts to get technical people to respect our professional opinions. When I give advice, I need to demonstrate exactly what makes me qualified to give that advice. We need to earn our stripes. And by mirroring the approach of our legal teams and by earning accreditation in the same way that they do, we are on a more equal footing, as it is a marker that is easily understood and respected. It shows that we are up to speed with the latest industry thinking, and we can say with confidence to our firms: ‘this is best practice.’ So this is what we should do.
2. Have a relentless focus on ROI
If you are planning to build a case for becoming a partner, you’ll need to prove the value that both you and your team bring to the table. You have to become acutely aware of Return On Investment (ROI) and how to demonstrate your value. You have to track, measure and clearly explain what you and your team are doing and what positive effect they are having. You cannot just say that the marketing team have done x and it’s fantastic There have to be facts, numbers and hard evidence if people are really going to take your opinions seriously.
If this is something you haven’t done before, one of the easiest ways to demonstrate the positive impact of a marketing function is to focus on your online channels. You can evidence a ROI and it’s a good way to bring business in and make a notable difference.
At Stephensons, we overhauled the website and I started to build an online skill set within my team. Then I was able to show tangible and measurable results which confirmed an increase in repeat visitors and more online enquiries. These enquiries directly linked to a rise in fee income and proved that we had achieved a greater share of voice in the market. And, because these results were quantifiable, I could set out my case to secure further investment and continue to build on this success.
If you can prove it, then you can start to get buy in. You can build a narrative that explains to the partners that it is a journey that will ultimately reap rewards.
3. Perfect your approach and make yourself visible
When it comes to demonstrating value, it isn’t all about metrics; it’s also about your approach. How you work collaboratively. How you support your people. How you make yourself visible and accessible. So all of my team rotate around our offices. We sit with different teams and in different parts of the firm so we can absorb and learn. Doing this has enabled us to get involved in things that we would otherwise have missed. Getting stuck in and becoming a valuable member of the wider team means that others will quickly understand the importance of a marketing perspective across many areas of the business.
4. Prove your value by understanding your client
All of the lawyers at Stephensons have their own clients. This personal client base drives them to deliver a high quality service. My ‘clients’ are our partners and our staff. They should be able to expect an outstanding service and know that we’ll do what we need to do as professionally as possible. We’ll ask them what they think the driver should be and what they’re looking to promote. We’ll tell them where the market is going, but we’ll also take time to ask them for their input. It’s collaborative – but it’s always my team who sorts the mechanics out.
We want to make it easy for our lawyers to achieve their goals and ambitions. That’s crucial to getting the recognition you deserve. And the interesting thing? It’s no different from how they deal with their clients. Again it’s about mirroring their approach.
5. Build a marketing army
My path to partner meant that I had to move away from the more day-to-day activities and take a strategic view. And I could only do that with the support of an incredible marketing team. A team who are able to treat our fee earners as important clients and deliver a brilliant service for them. And a team who understands the strategy we’re implementing because they helped to build it. It is therefore essential to create a collaborative culture within which the team know exactly what marketing is doing and why. If I just dictated my own strategy, then they wouldn’t have the confidence, skills and enthusiasm to go out on their own and deliver great results for our firm.
6. Bring a different perspective
Law firms need someone who is a ‘marketing’ expert to tell them what’s going on in the ‘market’. Of course, a partnership that contains only core legal will still have some marketing insight – because they’re out talking with their clients. But our expertise will mean that we ensure that the firm is market-led and not product-led. We can advise the firm on what we should be doing and we can place this in the wider context of the activity of what’s actually happening in the real world.
This is one of the key reasons why marketing people should be at the partners’ table. If we aren’t there, everything becomes product-led. And, as we know, law products, at their core, are all the same!
One example of this ‘bigger thinking’ is benchmarking. Law firms have a tendency to benchmark themselves against other firms of solicitors. We don’t! Our approach means that we benchmark our marketing effectiveness against bigger consumer brands. Brands that are increasingly becoming our competition. We’re in a market with new players and ongoing consolidation. When you measure the success of your marketing activities, thinking only about the legal sector is no longer good enough.
7. Deliver something unique
Innovation and driving new business is good. But you should never ignore your core client base. As marketeers, we need to explore new markets, but we also need to reinforce the reasons why we’re still a good choice for our existing clients.
That’s why we developed Constant. It’s an exclusive membership scheme for Stephensons’ clients. It contains benefits that are relevant to our members and plays to our core strengths. We wanted to deliver something that showed that we understand who our clients are and something that would be of real value to them. We knew that we could easily give away gym memberships and shopping vouchers, but this just wouldn’t fit with what we were actually trying to achieve. We wanted to look after our clients with the benefits that they’ll need at specific points in their lives, but that are also linked to the services that we can offer them.
It’s another example of thinking in a way which is market-led and not product-led. It helps us to be at the front of people’s minds because we’re being useful. And perhaps they’ll remember us when they need a lawyer.
I think that the message to professional services firms who don’t see the value of promoting BD and marketing staff to partner level is simple. Do you value the amount of work coming in to your firm? Is it important to you how you’re perceived in the market? And are you bothered whether your message is consistent or not?
If this is important to you and if you want to compete with firms who already have senior marketing people within the partnership, then you will need to recognise the benefit of the specialist work that marketeers do. And, most importantly, you will need to promote it!
Sarah Boustouller is a partner at Stephensons Solicitors LLP.