Law Firm Partners as Sales Managers

While it is clear to most managing partners that the multi-functional skills necessary to run a firm are categorized as "general management" skills, it is often a surprise that the skills to do one piece of the job, business development, should be called "sales management".

Most law firms lack a putative sales manager. Office politics, disinclination, or time constraints get in the way. As a result, the benefits of marketing, a/k/a, business development, are thinly realized in many firms. While I do not advocate that law firms adopt a new job title called Sales Manager, I do advocate that some one, or group, be vested with this responsibility so that marketing plans are brought to fruition -- a "sale", new matters, new clients.

You probably did not enter the profession to become a sales manager, but it is a truthful name for the task that is required to ensure that a firm has a viable present and future. If, in another life, you have been a sales manager, read another article. If you have never been a sales manager, read on.

What do sales managers do?

SALES MANAGERS INSPECT WHAT THEY EXPECT

In commercial businesses, the monthly sales meeting turns on the inspection process of each team member's steps towards getting new business or expanding existing business. In his or her role as the sales manager, that person reviews the past and future sales efforts openly in the group forum -- what have you done in the past 30 days, how much revenue did you bring in, and what are you doing in the next 30 days to get business. As a result, the manager has a forecast of expected revenues.

In law firms this type of sales detail reporting and inspection is rarely done, such as during a partners meeting. Without a public forum to discuss what each owner is doing to promote business development, uneven efforts are never held up to the light of evaluation. This promotes acrimony among partners, to wit, "I'm doing a lot to get new matters; you are doing little. Why should we be partners?" When sales efforts are held up to the light of scrutiny, some good can occur: notice to under-producers that provokes changed behavior, intercession by peers to assist non-producers, kudos to achievers.

The highest benefit of public inspection, however, is the creative collaboration among partners that may enhance the business development effort, such as sharing contacts, cross-selling opportunities, and success stories that serve as models for others in the group.

Certainly, if as a managing partner, you wish to have more reliability about the expected financial results of your firm, you must look at this inspection process as a forecasting methodology. If, for instance, you have planned for a certain percentage of financial growth in your firm, you must take a month to month read of the detailed activities of your partners as they contribute to this growth line. Waiting to the end of the year to evaluate results leaves one pusillanimous to correct and coach your peers to better numbers.

So, each month, look back thirty days upon sales efforts, and then look forward to the next thirty days (a form is included at the end of this article for that purpose). Evaluate sales efforts by the quality of the actions, the expected results, and the timing of those projections. Put the "sales inspection" as the first agenda item in your partners meeting every month, and use a common form distributed among your peers to facilitate discussion, cross-selling and teamwork.

SALES MANAGERS PROMOTE TEAMWORK

The practice of law promotes individual decision-making. You, and you alone, often decide what is the best strategy for a client. However, when it comes to the growth of a professional partnership, the efforts the team, must be considered. Teams work when the members have a common objective, e.g., "grow the firm 12% this year", and the sales manager is able to spread responsibility among the team members. That way, even members who are not rainmakers can be included in marketing efforts; for instance, they can do research on topics for an executive briefing or other client function, help compile an invitation list into a reliable database, and a host of other "non-sales" duties they feel comfortable doing.

When teams work, they produce results that are significantly better than even combined individual efforts. Whether your firm is organized in a practice area or practice group alignment, monitor the team efforts of people you have put in charge of the marketing to sale process. Managing partners should ask: (1) What specifically is your team doing to create new revenue? (2) Show me your written plan of action to produce these results with individual responsibilities and completion dates (3) How are you counseling non-producers so that they are integrated into your marketing efforts?

If you are a solo practitioner or in a small firm environment, you will need to consider your alliances and referral partners as your sales team. If you have a group of business people and other professionals with whom you network, you should review the referrals that you have sent and received, and openly discuss your business strategy so that network members know precisely the types of prospects they should send your way and vice versa. Manage your network as if it were a sales team.

SALES MANAGERS COACH TEAM MEMBERS

"Coach" is a noun and a verb. The person you want to coach your team is probably not the superstar rainmaker. Typically their individualistic, if not idiosyncratic, methods prevail against the most important attribute of a successful coach -- imparting success to others by sharing talent. To make others more successful, a coach needs to be able to assess performance, offer suggestions for improvement, and be a model for successful sales tactics. Often, the coach has to go out on the sales call to improve a team member's performance. This task, called "riding shotgun" in the commercial world, requires time commitments.

Having played team sports (with or without helmets) is not a prerequisite for being a good coach. Parents are coaches. Lawyers involved in chairing committees in outside organizations, or those participating on boards of directors, have experience in coaching. Successful practice group managers are coaches.

A good coach moves a team towards its goal. Motivating effective action requires that a coach has the authority to hold team members to their promises -- a politically tricky issue among co-equals. Some firms skirt this problem and the time constraint issue by rotating the sales management mantle each year.

CONCLUSION

The last, but most important step in the marketing process, i.e., the sale, requires a degree of management that is left unattended in most law firms. Law firms do not need veritable sales managers, but they do need someone, or a group to oversee the process and duties of sales management as I have described them in order to consistently improve marketing results and the quality of client services. And, consider this: "my life as a sales manager" is better than the canine equivalent.

Copyright 1998, New Jersey Law Journal, Marketplace Tactics. Reprinted with permission.