Direct websites deliver leads? What’s wrong with that?
I would like to consider whether this is the best way or whether an alternative or parallel plan for building your own brand is better in the long run.
It is unclear what percentage of the market is being gained by directory websites. They are proving popular with the Bar because at first glance a decent directory site is as comfortable as chambers. You pay a fee and someone sends you work. Simples. And it is this Simples that is the issue. Simples is a strap line from a well- known price comparison website and is part of the brand. In many respects directory sites, building their own direct access brands, can be compared to price comparison sites. A directory site is a business to return profits to the owners, the profit has to be built in as a layer of cost and the cost has to be paid by someone. For insurers the fees gained through comparison sites have fallen due to the open competition, the same is happening for Barristers with directory sites where Barristers, having little chance of differentiation, only have fees as a sales point. The costs of access to the Barristers (subscriptions) are likely to rise as the directory sites brand improves, in effect their fees will go up as they become invaluable. Barristers will become the unfortunate milk farmer at the hands of the directory supermarket. If you want a little more insight into this go to the Economist July 2015.
In the Legal Futures article of April 2016 Nick Hilborne describes issues facing Barristers accepting direct access appointments. The top three challenges are; administrative burdens, managing clients and ignorance about fees. In my recent meetings with many chambers I have heard plenty of evidence to suggest that the ad-hoc nature of direct access leads/appointments is delivering clients who in many cases are not wholly suited to the Barrister or chambers. This is a common problem for businesses who rely on internet based catch-all introducers. The alternative is to build your own brand to gain instructions that match your services.
The traditional chambers need to be aware that the rise of the ABS will bring competitors who will want to build their own brands and hold market share. This increases the need for chambers to build their brand and clientele; not only to compete but to make themselves attractive to potential investors.
The history of the directory sites is informative. From my discussions with the ex-senior clerks and Barristers who own the sites, it would seem that their history initially lays in frustration with the finance of chambers, in particular the lack of a marketing budget. In effect the delivery side of the supply and demand equation was, and is still being blocked by chambers who will not invest enough in marketing. Consequently those who can see the obvious decided to become the middlemen.
You might feel that the die is cast. However our experience from marketing Barristers, Accountancy and Legal practices to businesses is that businesses want to build relationships directly with the right suppliers. For Barristers this is particularly interesting, as the concept of direct access for business decision makers is either still very new or unknown. You are therefore in the enviable position of being able to take a valuable and relatively unknown service to market. The following steps are an example of a marketing programme designed to generated repeat instructions from businesses and build a brand within a selected target market.
The following plan can be for direct access appointments either from businesses generally, for a specialist service such as employment law, or into a specific sector such as logistics or financial services. For a video explanation go to http://bit.ly/1N6Em9o
- Select a target market. This could be a range of businesses in your locality for example all those with 200-1000 employees. We have found in the last ten years or so that business decision makers prefer to buy from those who know their market/sector. For example construction, logistics or tech. This differentiator helps buyers to justify why they should meet you and importantly sets you apart from the competition.
- Buy two databases. Firstly a database of businesses within your selected criteria and secondly a database of introducers in that sector, for example accountants that specialise in logistics. Ensure these databases are accurate and have the names and email addresses of the decision makers such as FD, head of HR and Legal. For the introducers you will need the details of the relevant partners.
- Create a mini site or section on your website that demonstrates your expertise in the sector, this needs to include a blog and SEO techniques. Information around topics is crucial, for example if you want to promote employment law, a few downloads on topics such as facing a tribunal, shared parental leave, unfair dismissal etc. are excellent for attracting interest. Have a look at the excellent professional profile site: http://tinyurl.com/Flazale
- The prospective buyers and introducers are to be contacted via email, LinkedIn and phone. The objective of contacting them is to understand their situation and if appropriate, arrange to meet them. Please note contact management is not a single event, prospective buyers need to be nurtured. If you tell people enough times that you are the right choice they always believe it in the end. A common mistake is to give up before a programme has had a chance to succeed.
- When you meet business decision makers you will get on with them and they will make all the right noises. If you are lucky there will be work on the table, if not it is essential that you manage your relationship with them so that you are front of mind when the need arises. Pipeline management is a matter of taking whatever steps you think are appropriate to remain in touch. This normally means a call now and again and some regular informative emails, event invitations etc.
To conclude; the evidence suggests that now is the time to build your own brands and clientele within this market place. Understandably there are budgetary constraints within chambers. However in today’s market if you want to retain income within chambers you must build your own brand and clientele.
About Peter Rosenwald
Has been marketing legal services for 18 years. Predominantly a marketing and business strategist Peter is an owner of Chartered Developments and its digital and research subsidiaries. Peter can be contacted at: Peter@chartdev.co.uk