Account Based Marketing (ABM) at law firms is the way forward

**The below article was originally published via Calibrate Legal by Jennifer Johnson.**

The below is a conversation between Claire Darling, VP, Growth Marketing at Intapp; Kristin Melville, Sr. Director, Global Account Based Marketing at Intapp; and Jennifer Johnson, Founder and CEO of Calibrate Legal. In this discussion, we shine a light on the importance of the CMO function in today’s modern law firm, as well as digital marketing techniques such as Account Based Marketing (ABM) that are helping today’s legal marketers drive firm growth and deliver on ROI goals.  To learn more about the role of the modern CMO as Chief Change Agent in legal, please explore this recent article by Claire Darling in MarTech Advisor.


Jennifer Johnson: Our focus at Calibrate Legal is on modern CMOs and the huge role that they could potentially play in law firms.  But what we see, far too often, is that law firm partners won’t allow their CMOs to fulfill that role. Why do you think law firm leaders are so reluctant to let sophisticated Business Services professionals guide them?

Claire Darling: I think the biggest challenge is that managing partners have not experienced what a great CMO can deliver. And that’s why a law firm CMO needs to be a Chief Change Agent — because they need to show partners that they’re different. They must show their value and how they can support firm growth strategies. They can offer so much more beyond running service organizations – that approach is no longer viable in B2B marketing today and we are seeing this transformation in Professional Services too.

In my own case, as VP, Growth Marketing here at Intapp, I’m tied to driving company growth.  But that’s a concept that law firm partners aren’t used to. In most firms, growth strategy and practice structure are set by the Managing Partner, with limited CMO input. So, the strategic part of the CMO function is basically unnecessary – and the CMO does not get a seat at the table.

I do think it’s possible for CMOs to show that they are really focused on firm growth driving from revenue, because they are the ones that are so tied and close to the data.

JJ: Completely agree!  Over the last year we’ve done a lot of work on helping law firms recruit CMOs. The biggest challenge in these assignments has been that partners and managing partners don’t know what they don’t know. And so the onus is on Business Services professionals at every level within a law firm to educate the partners.  The CMO needs to see themselves as a change agent, the person who drives transformation in the firm – not just the leader of a support or service function.

Kristin Melville: It’s absolutely an education. The Business Services professionals need to demonstrate value by showing that they’re thinking about the business. They’re thinking about firm growth. They’re thinking about revenue opportunities.


CD: You know, it goes back to culture. If you want to be a change agent CMO, you need to be in a culture that is receptive to change.  I think we need to encourage Business Services professionals at all levels to go learn change management techniques, and the art and science of change management.  You can’t tell lawyers what to do. You’ve got to show the firm the value of how you are impacting their clients and their experience.

JJ: What advice would you give to a law firm CMO who wants to get started with account-based marketing?

CD: Account Based Marketing or ABM is complex and data-driven. CMOs are the people that are close to the client data, the insights, and the lawyer expertise — so they are the ideal people to lead ABM.

To be credible with ABM, a CMO must think about where the business is coming from.  What’s the firm strategy? How are they trying to grow their business? Are they trying to grow their business with net new logos? Or are they trying to grow their business through driving more matters through the existing client base?

In the digital marketing world, there is what we call “spray and pray” marketing. And then there’s very targeted Account Based Marketing. The CMO has to decide where ABM fits into the mix. They must analyze their accounts by revenue contribution, profitability, propensity to buy, and white space.  They need to tier the accounts as A, B, C based on current revenue and future potential.  Their go-to-market campaigns and programs need to be built around these tiers.

In my mind, the starting point for any CMO looking at ABM is this kind of deep business and data analysis.  To succeed, they need to build a plan based on their analysis, and get cross functional agreement across the partners and practice groups.  One of the huge pieces of ABM is making sure that all the stakeholders are on board.


JJ: What skills does a successful CMO need these days? For example, is data analytics a skill that a CMO needs themselves or would it be acceptable to have a senior person on their team helping them with it?

CD: I would say analytics is a huge part the CMO’s role, and think every CMO needs an analytical mind. That gives them credibility.  I also think they need to have somebody very strong in operations on their team, that can go deep, analyze client data, and build dashboards for them. I think collaboration is also important, and of course they’ve got be good at educating people. But they also have to be committed and brave. In law firms, sometimes it can be hard to drive change. CMOs need to convince attorneys that Account Based Marketing is going to give them much better results than the typical “spay and pray” events that most firms have been doing forever.

KM: I do agree it is important for a CMO to have an analytical mind. It also helps having someone dive in deeper to slice and dice data. But alignment is just as important. The CMO needs to make sure that the managing partners and all the other stakeholders are aligned towards the same goal, and that they’re using the same tools. We want to prevent data from being kept in separate silos — that’s extremely important for the analytics. Shared data, aligned goals and shared reporting are all critical to success.

JJ: Well, we’ve found that a sizable proportion of current law firm CMOs are not analytical people at all – most of them come from a traditional events-based legal marketing background.  Some of them are a bit reluctant to even have conversations about data driven marketing or ABM.

CD: Yes, we’ve seen this too. ABM requires a very different way of thinking and this can blow someone’s mind if they are more traditional.

JJ: What about technology?  How should CMOs be thinking about the future of their firm’s marketing technology stack for ABM purposes?

CD: I think the technology choices can be overwhelming. There’s a huge amount of marketing technology architecture out there – literally thousands of solutions.  What to use?  I think it’s critical to focus first on your core technology stack, starting with the CRM system. And then you can start building off your dashboards, plugging in specialized apps and so on.

Next, you need to use the technology stack properly, for targeted ABM. It’s much easier to just send that broadcast email — what we call, fishing in the ocean. Whereas what we need to be doing is fishing in a barrel.  It’s harder but the results and impact are so much better.

There are so many ways to use technology for targeted ABM.  Instead of doing one campaign, you can do multiple flavors for different segments of your database. You’re pulling in data from your firm website, which is great because there’s so much valuable data you can leverage.  You can see who’s coming in, what company they are with, what content they’re looking at, and you can trigger a follow up email or an outreach call from a BD person.

KM: Another important point is that law firms sell to multiple decision maker roles – VCs, general counsel, CEOs, CIOs, Directors and so on.  Marketing technology can help you speak to these people in their own language, with content that is relevant to their roles.

JJ: In our recent Digital Marketing in Law Firms Survey, we found that the skill sets and budgets for this kind of work are absent from most law firms.  Maybe firms see ABM as too complex, maybe they don’t want to change, maybe they’re fine with broadcast kind of marketing tactics.  It needs a very special person to champion this approach.

JJ: What elements are going to be most important for an account-based marketing program?  What do we need to have in place for it to be effective?

CD: I think it starts with the target account list and the client profile for each company on that list. What’s the strategy to drive more business for the firm? Where’s the business today? What solution services are they using and not using? What’s the white space? What’s the opportunity with them? Where’s the new business going to come in from?  You’ve got to know who you’re going after in those lists.

Your stakeholders need to be aligned on this list, as well. They also need to be aligned in terms of the topics and themes that will resonate with the clients, and the results to expect in terms of ROI.

You also need the supporting skill set and teams in place. Rather than marketing generalists, you will need specialized resources and analytically based teams that can develop personas, segment audiences, design offers, and measure ROI.

KM: I think marketers need to be subject matter experts in the segments that they’re focused on. In our case at Intapp, we have a dedicated person who leads a team for legal, a dedicated person who leads a team for accounting, consulting and so on.

Also important is data on what clients are doing out there.  What are they reading? What are they looking at? What are they researching?  By analyzing data points, we can know where the client is on their “buyer’s journey.”

That gives us the insight to help us focus on a specific audience with a specific message and a specific channel at a specific time. And that helps us have a huge increase of conversions and engagement.

CD: Yes, that last point on engagement is especially important. At Intapp, we look at opportunities at the sales funnel, but we also look at engagement as a way to measure Account Based Marketing. So how the client and the firm is engaging with you at the content level, what they’re engaging with, which is where the complexity comes in.  We can get down to the individual visitor level on the website, such as they came to an event, or they’ve been on the website engaging with a piece of content.  We build out an engagement score for each kind of interaction.  For example, coming to an event gives a higher score than opening an eBook.

JJ: We know that ABM is a viable growth strategy. We know that it works — it’s been proven in multiple industries and multiple sectors. So, where are law firms in adopting ABM?

CD: I think they’re in the early stages. They may see a need. But law firm marketing budgets are not really growing.  So, firms need to get smarter with their budgets—and frankly, doing these mass broadcast campaigns and tactics is not an efficient use of scarce resources.

JJ: Influencing wholesale change at a law firm is a mammoth task.  We typically encourage people starting ABM to find a ‘coalition of the willing’, pilot something and then tell the success stories. And then the lawyers start to get on board. We encourage people to use a ‘snack-size’ approach to change, so that lawyers can easily adopt and see the value.

CD: Absolutely – I’m completely in alignment with that. I think you start by partnering with a practice group leader in the firm, somebody that is a supporter of marketing. Someone who is a change agent that wants to do things differently, wants to drive more for their practice group.  And the then pilot a key client program for that practice group.  When you show results, the other practice group leaders will come in and say, ”there’s a change happening in marketing and I want this for my group.”

It’s the right strategy. Start small and then grow.

JJ: What other topics around ABM should we be thinking about?

CD: I think a big part of successful ABM is process.  You need documented roles and responsibilities.  You need to be very clear on how things are going to flow, and who’s on point for what. And the other critical aspect is content. This is key to ABM because you will need multiple versions of a piece of content for each type of stakeholder, and for each step of the buyer’s journey.  Your content engine has to be in place. I would not underestimate content creation. Because, if you reach out to somebody once, you need a different message to send them one/two weeks later. You also need to think about different types of content, whether it’s a podcast, video, a white paper, or a Point of View piece.

KM: I think everything you said about content is right. And it’s about relevancy, too. The clients of these law firms are demanding more from their lawyers. They are expecting these firms to be more attuned to their needs. And so that is even more of a reason, I think, for serving up content that responds to what these clients are experiencing.  Having a key client program is definitely a good start.

We are in a new era, not only just for the legal world, but for any business that needs to respond to client demands. These days, the baseline expectation from clients is that things should just work.