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Expertise plus: promoting a sector strength

16 January 17

The author's second article on developing and promoting a sector focus sets out five essential steps for a firm in developing a sector marketing strategy and putting it into practice

by Adrian Smith

Following on from last month’s article (Journal, December 2016, 44) about the rationale and benefits of implementing a niche marketing strategy, this second and final article looks at five areas of activity that should be completed to ensure successful implementation.

1. Selecting an industry sector or niche

It is essential to select the correct industry or sectors, and a number of key issues should be thoroughly reviewed and audited. If you are already promoting a number of sectors it is still useful to reassess the success of each of your current sector teams. There are a number of key areas for consideration and business analytical tools that should be used to ensure that you choose the most appropriate sectors.

  • External market – use business analytical tools such as PESTLE and Porters Five Forces to examine the current business and economic climate and what are the foreseeable trends, to identify particular growth opportunities in a selection of sectors, and to anticipate potential obstacles to success.
  • Competition – look at the firms that you regularly compete with, their chosen sectors and competitive strategy. Develop a positioning map and identify where you are strongest and can further innovate to win market share. Are some sectors underserved?
  • Internal resources – undertake a McKinseys 7’s analysis and assess your overall business strategy, and internal structures and systems. Does your firm have the capacity and capabilities to provide the sector teams with the level of assistance required?
  • Marketing – undertake a Marketing Mix analysis, know your strengths and weaknesses and also consider whether your lawyers have the skills required to implement a wide range of sales and business development activities.

2. Leadership and team selection

Does your firm have strong leaders and lawyers throughout the different practice areas that already have clients in the sector, and sufficient market knowledge to be credible? Strong leaders and effective team members must be carefully selected; in particular the team leader must have authority and influence within the firm and an ability to lead and coach a team of lawyers and support staff.

There is no room for sentiment or favouritism, and the leader should strive to select the most talented and business-minded colleagues they can attract. The selection process must be robust – are they interested, driven to succeed and will they overcome obstacles and deliver? The team members must represent different practice areas to encourage knowledge sharing and cross-selling opportunities.

Note: other tactics can be used to build up interest in the sector group. For example, a firm could hold internal “immersion events” that allow all firm employees to learn more about the group activities and type of work the firm undertakes. This should lead to a number of younger lawyers volunteering their services, and they can be asked to support through researching the sector, writing articles and attending sector events.

3. Business planning

The team must develop a clear growth strategy set out in a simple business plan. Initially the plan should include a description of top clients organised according to sub-sector and fee value; key contacts, influencers and intermediaries and a realistic list of prospective clients should be listed. The plan should be debated and discussed by team members, with an opportunity for all to contribute.

Once these areas have been completed, the plan should be further developed stating areas of potential differentiation and a value proposition; clear areas of responsibilities should be allocated to each team member with well defined “smart” objectives. The level of current revenues from clients in the sector should be noted and an achievable growth target established.

Note: there is little point in developing a lengthy 30-page business plan, as very few will read it. Use one of the one-page lean business plan templates available on the internet. The first step is to build a list of sector clients, contacts and targets and develop a marketing plan to reach those targets. Thereafter look at your main competitors and develop your value proposition.

4. Marketing and business development implementation

There is little value in creating a plan if this is not implemented effectively. Identifying sectors, undertaking an audit and establishing teams may take around 90 days at best, while implementation must be managed and monitored on a constant basis. This is best achieved through regular team meetings, with a keen eye on commitment to and delivery of agreed actions.

There are many textbooks and articles regarding professional services sales and marketing, as well as consultancies with experience of developing and implementing niche marketing strategies.

My personal recommendation is that a wide range of business development activities should be implemented, customised for each sector group and roles allocated according to individual team members’ skillsets.

5. Accountability and reporting

The final area of importance is accountability and reporting. Without clear and individual accountability the initiative may fail as lawyers end up focusing on client work and not business development activity. The team leader must ensure that each team member is responsible and accountable for tasks that will support the sector team and drive value for clients.

The sector team should have budget autonomy and be required to report to their management board on a regular basis. The budget autonomy and regular reporting will give the sector teams and their roles significance within the firm. This can be enhanced through the use of internal communications and events to promote successes within the firm.

In conclusion, there are numerous benefits from implementing a sector marketing strategy. However, these benefits are not easily achieved, and the challenge is to bring a team together and successfully implement a well-considered and effective implementation plan. The legal market is increasingly competitive, and with ever-increasing innovation and competition from non-traditional providers, sector marketing may provide you with an opportunity to grow your business.

Adrian Smith is head of clients and sectors with HBJ Gateley 

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