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law firm marketing automationThe first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” Bill Gates

 

Law firms, although well behind most corporations in their use of and adoption of new technology, have begun to understand the benefits that digital and social technologies bring to the table.  Hoping to expand their reach or trying to position lawyers as thought leaders in their practice areas, a number of large law firms are now actively producing content and distributing it through social media. For the most part, however, these firms are still not aware nor have they begun to consider how marketing automation technologies can augment their efforts, taking an initial experiment in digital marketing to the next level.  Marketing automation represents the next step in the evolutionary path, in order for law firms to make the most of their digital marketing efforts, whether that means staying “top of mind” with clients, cross-selling services or converting leads from LinkedIn and Twitter into new clients.

Marketing automation, as defined by Wikipedia, “refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks. The use of a marketing automation platform is to streamline sales and marketing organizations by replacing high-touch, repetitive manual processes with automated solutions.

So how can these platforms be of use to law firms? In a recent article, Nick Andrews, Digital Marketing and CRM Manager at Hogan Lovells, explains that “Marketing automation, simply put, is the ability to automatically communicate with clients and prospects at certain points during their online contact journey with your firm. The aim is to increase their engagement with a minimum of effort and resource, to ultimately provide new or further instructions for the firm.” The journey that Nick describes is a concept that was first developed by Google and is frequently referred to as the “customer journey.”

Google defines the customer journey “as the process a customer takes before making an online purchase decision, a customer may engage with your brand through many different media channels over several days.” Over the course of this journey, the customer goes through several different stages that include: awareness, consideration, intent and purchase. While it is highly unlikely that a general counsel would decide to hire a lawyer online, nonetheless, clients and prospective clients do go through their own version of the customer journey or in this case “the client journey”.

Specifically, in-house counsel facing a particular issue or problem may very well search the web and social media in order to discover information and people with appropriate expertise. If your firm has been actively blogging and tweeting on this topic then it’s likely the in-house counsel will discover one of your blog posts even if he or she is otherwise unfamiliar with your firm.  If the article is well written and informative, this may cause the in-house counsel to visit your firm’s website to learn more about the author and your firm’s practice group.  This scenario provides an example of the first two steps in the client journey: awareness and consideration.

What happens next depends on what additional content the in-house counsel receives or finds.  If the in-house counsel discovers more useful information on the firm’s web site, this may be enough to prompt an email or telephone inquiry to the lawyer who wrote the article.  However, the in-house counsel may not be ready yet to reach out and instead prefers to sign up for the law firm’s newsletter or subscribe to the feed on the lawyer’s blog.  After all, it’s not every day that a single blog post by itself prompts a call from a prospective client.  Social media marketing may be powerful at generating leads; but new clients don’t typically fall into your lap without an extended process of developing trust.

With marketing automation technology, the process of converting leads into clients doesn’t have to be left so much to chance.  With marketing automation in place, a law firm can automatically send valuable and useful content at each point of the client journey based upon the in-house counsel’s actions (i.e. visiting the website, reading the blog, signing up for a newsletter, downloading a presentation, registering for a webinar, etc…) In many instances, the in-house counsel may do some initial research and then not take any further action. With marketing automation systems, that in-house counsel would be placed into a “nurture” campaign, which would periodically send interesting content to stimulate further interaction. As soon as the in-house counsel took an action (i.e. downloaded a white paper) then the marketing automation system would recognize this and would begin to send more content that is relevant to whatever was downloaded.

That is the beauty of marketing automation.  You can designate the type of content a prospect or client will receive based upon that person’s actions and profile and their response to previous efforts. It allows a law firm to stay top of mind and to continually provide valuable and targeted content. These systems have a rich array of additional features and functionalities that enable you to tightly integrate your marketing and business development efforts.  They also provide a mother lode of data about clients and prospects based on their interactions with your firm’s website and other digital properties.

Marketing automation systems have become incredibly popular in the corporate world. Many of these systems began as email automation systems but have grown to include social media and CRM functionality. The leading marketing automation platforms are: Eloqua, Hubspot, Pardot, Marketo and IBM Unica. They all perform basic marketing automation functions although each has its own unique features and functionalities. Law firms should seriously consider investigating these systems and figuring out which may be the best fit for their own needs. However, as per the quote above from Bill Gates, this technology by itself does not provide the answer.  Before looking to automate, a law firm should make sure that their marketing department is runing efficiently, with a sound content marketing strategy in place. Otherwise, no degree of automation will work.

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