Why CRM Adoption Will Make or Break Your Marketing and BD Department

It’s no secret that lawyers have a reputation for being tech laggards. And while some lawyers embrace tech-aversion as if it’s some quirky idiosyncrasy, in truth most lawyers are eager to adopt technology when the advantages are clear.

The problem behind low tech adoption at law firms is that lawyers are paid to be discerning. They’re also trained to identify leverage. So when a law firm’s tech initiative doesn’t align with its lawyers’ best interests, it’s doomed from the start. I won’t pretend this dynamic doesn’t exist in other industries, but the legal sector is especially sensitive to it.

Take CRM adoption, for example. While 70% of law firms have invested in CRM – a figure that approaches 100% among enterprise law firms – CRM usage is another story.

At roughly half the firms with a CRM, one in twenty lawyers (at best) actually uses it. At the other end of the spectrum – the “success stories,” mind you – about one in fourteen law firms have managed to achieve moderate adoption of their CRM (though I’d argue that a 60 – 80% adoption rate is merely a good start).

Status Quo vs. Seeking a Competitive Advantage

Some partners might look at the chart above and feel a sense of relief: Whew. Looks like we’re not the only ones hemorrhaging money on our neglected CRM.

Some might wonder how 7% of law firms managed to get their lawyers to use the CRM. Some might spot something else entirely:

A Small Percentage of Law Firms Have a Massive Competitive Advantage Right Now

Let’s think back to why your law firm invested huge sums of money into CRM. You didn’t invest in software. Or a next gen database. You invested in a future state. One where mission critical data comes out of hiding. One where lawyers and BD teams proactively identify new client and cross-selling opportunities that make sense. One where the marketing team has the contextual data it needs to enhance client relationships at scale. One where partners know when it’s time to initiate, strengthen and salvage key client relationships.

CRM still holds the key to this grand vision. That hasn’t changed. What got overlooked (or overestimated) was CRM’s ability to unlock the vision. Let’s be clear; CRMs can only fulfill their promise when they contain comprehensive, up-to-date data. Data is the fuel your CRM engine needs; CRM just can’t work when your pleas to “fill ‘er up!” go ignored. Granted, sometimes for good reason. More on that later.

Some law firms have already written off their CRM as a total loss – they just can’t envision a solution to the data entry side of the equation. They’re not getting rid of it altogether, though. It’s bought and paid for. Plus, CRM still serves a purpose for those who actually use it. But without wide scale adoption it’s essentially useless at the organizational level, which was the underlying promise of the intelligent future state.

If given a do-over, many law firms would not have invested in CRM. Rather, they would’ve opted for a less expensive, low-frills database, or maybe just stuck with a free solution. Not because the future state is suddenly less desirable. Not by any means. It’s just that there are serious doubts as to whether widespread CRM adoption is achievable at law firms.

But what about the small percentage of firms that figured out CRM adoption? What are they doing?

Think about it. While most law firms are still plagued by inefficiency – the same level of inefficiency that warranted a massive investment in CRM – some are actually operating in that future state where relationship intelligence flows freely, from the real time dashboard in the corner office to the pre-meeting intelligence delivered to the BD rep’s smartphone.

The Two Types of Marketing and BD Teams

More firms will figure out CRM adoption in the years ahead. If you accept this statement as true, then it’s a given that your firm will operate in one of two realities:

  1. One where relationship data flows freely.
  2. One where teams and individuals continue to operate in silos, lacking the same intelligence other firms use to continually raise client expectations.

Let’s examine a few ways in which marketing and BD teams thrive at firms with access to relationship intelligence across the organization:

The marketing function at a law firm with relationship intelligence:

  • Can proactively build the firm’s brand by using data to engage in timely interactions with the people and communities that matter.
  • Can use contextual cues to create and deliver relevant, useful messages that add substantive value for clients, as opposed to mass messages which, at best, are created for a persona.
  • Can create event-based rules that enhance each contact’s experience with your firm at scale, from onboarding to advocacy.

The business development function at a law firm with relationship intelligence:

  • Can combat the convergence trend by using data to pinpoint the firm’s most viable cross-selling opportunities.
  • Can build compelling cases for cross-servicing clients while doing away with the discovery and qualification meetings that waste colleagues’ and clients’ time.
  • Can identify business opportunities where partners and lawyers can start conversations from a position of strength.

Firms with High CRM Adoption Rates Will Have a Clear Recruiting Edge

If you’re a highly skilled marketer or BD professional, where would you choose to work? A law firm where accessible, comprehensive data empowers you to build an impressive portfolio and advance your career? Or a law firm where holding data hostage and guesswork are the norms? There’s no comparison. None. Why would a respected BD pro or rainmaking lawyer work at a firm where she routinely gets shot down for baseless internal meetings when she could work at a firm where access to data allows her to proactively build business cases that ensure productive discussions from the start?

As more firms create a data-rich environment, talented marketers and BD pros will gain leverage because they no longer will be forced to tolerate a work environment that doesn’t facilitate achievement. It’s also reasonable to assume that the next generation of data-embracing lawyers will prefer the collaborative environment as well.

Where Is the Sense of Urgency?

If we have proof that it is indeed possible to unlock the desired future state in which most  law firms have already invested heavily, and if not making this vision a reality will only make it harder to acquire and retain clients, why then, after CRM has been around for decades, is adoption still so low?

The above chart illustrates a variety of reasons why lawyers don’t use CRM. Upon closer examination, though, low CRM usage can be attributed to one of two reasons:

  1. Motivation, which is covered by “lack of accountability” above.
  2. Difficulty, which is covered by everything else above.

In the past, law firms could chalk up low usage to cumbersome data entry and complicated technology. This made it easy to ignore the elephant in the room: motivation. A partner could rationalize continued low CRM usage by saying, “Even if we take the painstaking steps to address a compensation system that blatantly discourages lawyers from using CRM, they still won’t use it because it’s more trouble to them than it’s worth.”

A few years ago, there was merit in this statement. But no longer. Now that firms can solve all aspects of the “difficulty” side of the CRM usage equation with a customer relationship automation tool that bolts onto the CRM, the only thing left to solve is motivation, which is solvable. Law firms can’t rationalize the elephant in the room anymore.

How Can Law Firms Address CRM Usage Motivation?

“Lawyers love to see precedent,” says John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group. “A lawyer in Cleveland will say, ’Prove to me CRM works!’ You can say, ‘Well, here’s what our Cincinnati office did with CRM. They took a team approach winning this big client. Joe had a part. Bill had a part. Sally had a part. And they were all willing to make it happen.’ And the lawyer will begin to get it.”

I also believe that, in lieu of internal precedent, lawyers will be increasingly exposed to the success stories of other firms, creating a culture shift snowball effect in the legal sector. In other words, if you don’t want to address motivation, just wait long enough and it will address itself.

We’re already seeing a gradual shift away from the ‘what’s in my column is in my column. I win, you lose’ mentality, as Remsen puts it. This shift will only accelerate once law firms realize the full extent to which a team-oriented environment that rewards intelligence sharing is positioned to expand business and pilfer clients. Conversely, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a law firm changes nothing yet achieves sustainable growth while competing against data-empowered partners, lawyers, marketers and business developers.

For more revenue-boosting ideas, check out our recent blog post on empowering your law firm’s marketing and business development teams.

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