Serving Up a Sales Strategy

Results from the first Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO) survey, “Legal Sales Uncovered,” released in November, confirms that the role of law firm sales professional is becoming commonplace in the profession. But, despite the critical role sales professionals now play in driving bottom-line growth, the report reveals a disconnect in the way these professionals are valued and given a voice within their firms.

The Pay Is Good, but the Stress Is High, and Responsibilities Vary Widely Firm-to-Firm

The LSSO survey’s intention was to help “demystify the roles, responsibilities, salaries and important statistics of the emerging sales and service professionals in law firms” and to reveal new roles and responsibilities of these marketing executives. The survey, conducted in the spring, was distributed to sales professionals within law firms, regardless of size and geography. Approximately 60 individuals responded, nearly half of whom possessed a C-level title: either business development, marketing or both. More than half of the respondents were from firms with 250 lawyers or more.

The entire LSSO report and whitepaper can be obtained here. But let’s explore a few of the findings that demonstrate the impact sales professionals are having within their firms.

Legal Sales Professionals’ Value Proposition

Compensation. First, it’s important to keep in mind just how new these positions are within firms. Indeed, most firms have only added sales professionals within the past five years. Given the seniority of respondents and specialty of expertise required for the job, it is not surprising that 44 percent report a base compensation over $200,000 (not bad). On the other hand, almost 60 percent of this group report a bonus of less than $20,000. This suggests a loose coupling between individual performance and rewards. Said another way, in sales parlance, the position in law firms is typically “underleveraged.”

Sales. Primarily, of course, the mission of the sales professional is to help their firm grow revenue. The good news is that nearly 80 percent of the survey’s respondents report having a direct impact on revenue through sales, and similar numbers report participating on client teams (70 percent) and having direct communications with clients and prospects (90 percent).

Reporting and responsibilities. The bad news is that while these positions possess high rewards and opportunity, they are also fraught with inconsistent reporting structures and wide-ranging responsibilities. Too often, sales and service professionals do not have direct participation in the C-suite or hold direct client responsibility. For instance, while 44 percent say they report directly to the managing partner, only 11 percent of respondents sit on their firms’ management committee — presumably where sales and revenue strategy is being set. And that is a problem. If sales and marketing professionals are as impactful as they think, surely they should have a seat at the strategic table.

Entrenched behavior? It’s possible this disconnect between impact and voice within the firm is a function of the typical sales professional behavior: Doing too much themselves internally rather than acting as the senior leaders they are by outsourcing services and managing consultants. For example, media relations and attorney coaching are the most outsourced functions within a firm’s marketing and sales departments, yet firms still report doing this work themselves nearly 40 percent of the time.

While department budgets likely play a role, ideally, high-level sales professionals within firms would outsource nearly 100 percent of their service tasks to consultants while assuming 100 percent of the responsibility for the results.

How Can Sales Professionals Establish and Increase Their Value?

In addition to more outsourcing, the survey report identifies the following ways internal sales professionals — and their firms — can increase visibility and value:

Rethink Titles

Currently, titles are all over the board and should be standardized to reflect the role and responsibility of the professional. The top three reported titles are:

  1. Chief business development & marketing officer

  2. Chief marketing officer

  3. Chief business development officer

However, newer, seemingly more valuable titles are incorporating the word “client” — for example, chief client service officer. The quicker the legal sales community can standardize titles, the quicker their value within firms will accelerate.

Find Compelling Reasons to Attend Management Meetings

Having to report the results of a team of outsourced consultants, as mentioned above, is surely compelling. Regardless, it is imperative to do something. Maturation of professionalism in the sales function will not occur until the most senior sales and marketing professionals within their firms have a seat at the table where their firm’s strategic direction is set.

Align Goals and Objectives With Firm Revenue

Only about 40 percent of sales professionals report their compensation correlating with their individual goals and their firm’s revenue. This is unfortunate. Traditional practice suggests that sales professionals are more motivated to sell under a commission-based model (call it “correlated” model for legal) because it provides more direct feedback on their work than an unknown annual bonus.

What Should Law Firms Do — and Why?

Law firms are serving an increasingly sophisticated client base. Firms need true sales professionals to help anticipate those clients’ needs and be proactive in their approach to service.

Consider the results of the survey and how — beyond addressing some of the hurdles above — your firm can benefit from including sales professionals in strategic planning.

If you’re committed to “serving sales” — to your clients and prospects — to facilitate more lucrative and loyal relationships, then you have to reserve your senior sales and marketing professionals a seat at the table. After all, they’re responsible for bringing your guests of honor.

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