The topic of our LMA panel discussion in April unearthed a vast reserve of valuable insight on how “operations” has evolved within the world of professional service firms, and how that knowledge can fortify your firm from the top down. This summary of our collective experiences explains how firms large and small are feeling the effects.
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This summary features contributions from:
Rebecca Minihane, Director of Marketing Operations at Latham & Watkins LLP
Erika Steinberg, Director of Marketing Operations at Sidley Austin LLP
Gordon Braun-Woodbury, Executive Director of Marketing Operations at KPMG
Jennifer Johnson-Scalzi, Founder and President of J. Johnson Executive Search
What does “Operations” look like in today’s law firm?
Before, the idea of operations was largely undefined, and often ignored until a problem existed. Now, many firms have professionals dedicated to creating efficiencies in their departments and throughout the client experience.
- No clear definition
- Anything the head of the department didn’t want/have time to do
- Considered administrative work
- Part of everyone’s job
- Responsive, not proactive
- Processes and systems
- Tracking results
- Clearly demarcated from marketing activities
- Proactively evolving based on needs of business
What can be accomplished by investing in your operational systems?
When resources such as time and money are utilized, firm leaders need and want to see a tangible return on their investment. Every business has unique areas of opportunity, so deliverables can take on various shapes and sizes. Our panelists had success in these areas:
- Establishing repeatable processes and deliverables
- Developing a framework of measurement
- Building credibility for their department
- Influencing change via discipline and measurement
- Adapting systems and designing the right training
- Creating a consistent user experience
- Leveraging existing technology
How do you decide where to focus your operational resources?
No matter how robust or compact your department may be, there will always be room for improvement. Listening to your people will help narrow the scope of the areas that need the most attention.
- Organize focus groups to identify what processes aren’t working. Bonus: also creates a culture of constructive criticism
- Identify what can be standardized and put a process in place
- Listen to pain points
- Find themes surrounding gaps in service
- Look for simple deliverables that are being performed by people at higher pay grades
- Organize interdepartmental strategic planning sessions to determine your team’s goals
Case Study: Communicating relevant news via newsletters and the like to clients was taking too long; too many people were involved and there was too much bureaucracy. All of this meant the firm was slow to get the message to their market. So, the firm brought together key stakeholders in the process including creative, editors, CRM team, etc. and dissected the process. By questioning the status quo and candidly discussing the small problems that were slowing them down, they were able to rebuild a more streamlined process in its place and get the news out faster than ever.
Challenges to anticipate:
Growing pains are real. With preparation, transparency and communication, your department can navigate the changes ahead. Even successful implementations can encounter the following hurdles, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.
- Reluctance to change
- Pride of ownership for functions that are sent offshore
- Technology may prove old/traditional behaviors are effective
Seeing the value:
1. Using technology to measure the best days to push out client alerts. Beware though, the results may conflict with behavior you are trying to curb (see: Friday afternoon client alerts).
2. Operationalizing the proposal and pursuit process. We took people who showed talent and interest on a dedicated proposal support team, then broke down the process into discrete steps and best practices within each step. The department created a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to document the conditions needed to provide proposal support to a partner; they then set up a template database to produce first-draft template proposals. Finally, they set up an offshore team to handle proposals for lower value opportunities.
3. By conducting time/task studies, the firm not only improved the process and speed to market, but the quality of work as well.
Critical best practices (regardless of firm size):
- Track client activity
- Document your processes
- Provide metrics reporting
- Establish a quarterly scorecard
What’s the point?
No one said this work would be easy, but few worthwhile initiatives are. To have systems in place that measure and report on how marketing activity connects to business development and ultimately revenue is the next step towards eliminating all opinion-based discussions about whether marketing is worth the investment.