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Getting Buy-In

In November, I was invited to speak as part of a panel discussion on “Legal Marketing 101” before an audience of new legal marketers. Near the end of the discussion, a member of the audience asked for some tips on how to get buy-in from lawyers on more meaningful business development and marketing activities – moving “beyond the USB keys,” as she put it. There was obvious frustration embedded in her question, and panel discussions being what they are, there was little opportunity to provide her with a thoughtful answer to what is a big question with a multi-faceted answer. Still, it bothered me that we didn’t provide her with an actionable answer.

Fast-forward to early December. Working against a deadline, a colleague of mine remarked: “If I don’t get this done, I’m toast. The partners I’m working with aren’t forgiving.” And there it was again: the concept of buy-in wrapped up in the idea that “you’re only as good as your last win/performance/deal.” It crystalized the answer in my mind that, as legal marketers, getting buy-in from our internal clients isn’t an isolated task obtained at a single point in time. Buy-in must be nurtured and maintained. As lawyers strive to be trusted advisors to their clients, we too must continually earn our status as internal consultants who will be called upon to help grow the business.

I approach much of my work with ‘buy-in’ as a key objective and/or a necessary requirement for success. I don’t assume that it already exists and whether I’m conscious of it or not, my deliverables have buy-in strategies embedded within them. For me, buy-in revolves around two central themes: influencing action or behaviour and demonstrating results incrementally over time.

It also helps to put yourself in the lawyers’ shoes. Setting aside that you are asking them to engage in activities that they may not feel entirely comfortable with, partners will want to understand how and why they should support or engage in a particular strategy/tactic. It may be helpful to think about the following questions as you prepare:

  • How does it address a specific client need?
  • How will it help grow the business?
  • Does it raise awareness about the firm and differentiate the firm among its competitors?
  • How much professional time is required to ensure success? Where can BD/Marketing personnel provide the optimum level of support?
  • Will the outcome make the lawyers proud of their firm and their brand, in a way that builds confidence and encourages greater proactivity?
  • Is the investment in line with the expected outcome?

(These questions also come in handy when you field one of those requests that you truly believe holds have little or no value for the firm.)

From the legal marketer’s perspective, getting buy-in will also rely on:

  • Effective leverage of firm, market and business information that supports the initiatives you are driving.
  • Client feedback that is captured and shared whenever possible, whether through your firm’s formal feedback process or by tapping into the ever-growing body of research and insight into the legal services buyer mindset.
  • Transparency by reporting on what you do. Share successes and lessons learned, which will help educate your internal clients on how the BD/Marketing function contributes to the business.
  • Adoption a client-centric mindset by positioning yourself and your team as internal client advocates.
  • Producing work of the highest quality. In addition to error-free work, be thoughtful, coordinated and deliberate in what you do and always connect it back to growing the business and/or raising the firm’s profile.

Based on my experience working in-house as a BD/Marketing professional at two of Canada’s top-tier business law firms, patience, persistence and timing are vital. Getting buy-in can be a long, and sometimes uncomfortable, process; there will always be those who don’t need you until they need you. Keeping it should remain top-of-mind in all that you do and will contribute to a growing list of successes.

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