Note: This is the second of three blog posts about how social media relates to law firms. These ideas loosely stem from a May 1st presentation I gave for the 3rd annual Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Leadership Forum, held at Harvard Club in New York City.

I have come to believe, based on research from organizations such as BTI Consulting and Hellerman-Baretz Communications, that buyers of legal services find and engage lawyers 60 to 70 percent of the time based on relationships.  A buyer already knows a lawyer that he or she trusts.  Or, a buyer asks a peer for a referral for a specific type of matter.  Or, a buyer turns to a center of influence – a trusted accountant, consultant, banker or business acquaintance – for guidance on which lawyer to engage. So, personal relationships are at the center of everything. 

That’s why it pains me a bit to observe that the miraculous technology of the last 25 or 30 years, some of which I talked about in my previous blog post, that has made being a communicator such a joy has actually built walls that have impeded relationships.  Over a period of time, and probably unnoticed by most of us, it became too easy to sit at a desk and dash off an e-mail, or rely on a web site to operate as kind of a one-way, always-on digital megaphone to the world.  As Gary Vaynerchuk points out in the New York Times best-seller The Thank You Economy, “These (web 1.0 Web sites) merely made it that much easer to truly pander to the idea of service without actually providing any.  In fact, it made it possible for them to virtually avoid dealing with customers altogether.” 

If you work in a law firm, you know the truth of this statement:  Many lawyers serve clients with whom they never have spoken with on the phone, let alone met in person.

That’s just not right for something labeled a profession.  Where’s the dialogue?  Where’s the personal touch, and knowing more about a person than that which might be found on a professional biography?  Where’s understanding not just a client’s business, but his hopes and fears and what makes him tick.

I think that’s where social media is making the biggest difference here in the last chapter of the little timeline I’m exploring in this and the preceding blog post.  Around 2002, the wheel of progress took another turn—this one the advent of digital collaboration and dialogue.  First labeled Web 2.0 and now more commonly called social media, it presents the opportunity to deploy best of technology while restoring human relationships, although sometimes at a physical distance.

In 2003, My Space and LinkedIn were launched, followed in 2004 by Facebook, in 2006s by Twitter, in 2010 by Pinterest, and in 2011 by Google+. The world of commerce has embraced and mastered some, but not all, of the potential of Web 2.0.  Except maybe for some corners of commerce such as the legal profession.

Here’s an interesting reality. In a report I read a year or so ago, of 17 business segments, media is only 6 steps above the least active industry – agriculture.  I find that surprising.  But where are the lawyers?  Oh, yeah, right there at the bottom, one step above farmers. 

Social media have been with us for a decade!  It’s not going away.  I would recommend for our own good that those of us in legal sales and marketing must get a bit more in touch with it.  

First, by way of context, here’s a representation of law firm sales and marketing, loosely borrowed from Miller-Heiman, who years ago really formed my thinking about professional services sales. 

Sales Funnel

At the top of the funnel, or hourglass as it were, are all of the companies and individuals in the world.  In the middle – the point of first sale – are those where marketing and sales activities have produced the right result.  And at the bottom is the development and expansion of a client that has been brought on board.  At the left of the chart I list the marketing and sales activities that help transform companies and individuals from an undifferentiated pool…. into prospective clients……and finally into clients.  This is what those of us in legal sales and marketing do.  We develop strategy.  We plan and communicate internally, and we implement the resources necessary to succeed.  We brand and position.  We go to market, starting with external communications, both paid and earned.  We identify companies and individuals – targets – whose acquisition will define the success of our strategy.  We agree with these targets to move forward together – i.e. close the sale.  We deliver superlative client service that so delights the client that it provides additional opportunities to serve, which in turns creates longstanding, institutional relationships between clients and firms.  That’s what we bring to the table. 

We’re all well-familiar with the tools and techniques that we have used since the advent of law firm marketing and sales to accomplish these tasks.  And now, I think, we need to focus a bit more on some new tools – Web 2.0 and social media – that can be deployed in service to our work.

Next: A step-by-step analysis of how, precisely, social media can be deployed at every stage of the law firm sales and marketing continuum.