A vast majority of law firms today are rapidly increasing their investment in law firm marketing and lead generation services in the face of growing competition with other firms according to the 2016 Joint Legal Marketing Association (LMA)-Bloomberg Law Survey Report. According to the report, “67% of attorneys and marketing and business development professionals agree that their firm is increasing emphasis/focus on business development and marketing efforts.” In addition, practically 50% of respondents state that their marketing budgets will increase 10%+ over the next 24 months. Although competition might appear to be the driving factor behind expanding marketing and lead generation program budgets, the biggest reason cited for expanded marketing and lead generation spending is internal pressure within the firm to generate revenue. Yet with all of this worry about competition and pressure from partners to land new cases, one massive problem continues to destroy ROI: poor response times to prospective client inquiries.
“Companies are making big investments in order to obtain customer queries from the internet, and they should be responding at internet speed.” – Harvard Business Review
Response Times Undermining Law Firm Marketing Efforts
Our “instant need to know and be heard” information evolution on the Internet has ratcheted up consumer expectations and placed pressure on law firms to immediately, in real time, connect and communicate with potential clients. Firms that do not react rapidly to potential client inquiries will, and do, lose those potential clients to their closest rivals who cater to this instantaneous information culture. Under the pressure to respond in real time to client inquiries, what then constitutes an effective and appropriate response time?
Law Firm Marketing: How Long is Too Long to Respond to Prospect Inquiries?
Before your firm can institute a change in policy and marketing focus, a complete review of your legal marketing and communication processes must be performed. At this point, your firm may not have collected client response times and you may be starting from ground zero. Or your firm may have data related to response times, but without a baseline to compare your response times, you don’t know how your efforts measure up against your competition. Consequently, one of the most critical steps in gaining an understanding of how your firm must respond to potential client inquiries is to perform basic market research of your competition’s response times and tactics. But how and where do you begin? Start by assigning someone on your team to do a “secret-shopping” expedition of your competition. Compile a list of the firms you see as your toughest competition both locally in your area or nationally if necessary for your practice. Develop a fictional situation and script for your secret caller to follow while contacting your competitive sample group.
Your first piece of intelligence you should gather is if your competitors have a person dedicated to answering phone calls, or if voice mail is used in place. If a live person is answering calls, are they competent and able to provide quality legal assistance, or are they simply capturing contact information? Bonus: one of the most egregious errors firms make is to route incoming client (call) inquiries to a receptionist who is ill-prepared or too busy to field these critical calls. The most vital statistic, and the statistic that will provide you with the intelligence to craft your firm’s strategy, is to measure how long it takes each of your competitors to connect your secret caller with someone who can provide relevant, useful information. A similar review can be done with web form submissions and live chat services. Live chat services provide potential clients visiting your website with the opportunity to instantly and anonymously communicate with a professional agent who is trained to connect these people with an attorney at your firm.
Prospective clients willing to reach out usually are very motivated to at a minimum learn more about your firm in order to begin the vetting process. Unless a lead has contacted your firm as a result of a referral, it is likely that he or she will continue their search for representation beyond the initial inquiry until convinced that your firm is a good potential fit. Simply put, your firm is at risk of losing new cases to other firms if you cannot match, or better yet, exceed the response times of your competitors.
Harvard Business Review Study on Response Times
In the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) article “The Short Life of Online Sales Leads” research into response times to prospective customer inquiries on the internet indicates that “many firms are too slow to follow up on these leads.” Urgency and the importance of greeting and being prompt in meeting the requests for information from prospects does not appear to be a top priority.
According to the HBR study, 2,241 U.S. companies were audited to measure the length of time it took each company to properly respond to a “web-generated test lead.” The results were less than impressive:
- 37% responded to their lead within one hour
- 16% responded within one to 24 hours
- 24% took more than 24 hours
- 23% of the companies, inexplicably, never responded at all
Even more troubling was the fact that the average response time (companies that responded within 30 days) was a whopping 42 hours or nearly two full days!
When Do Online Leads Go Cold?
In a separate HBR study, which involved 1.25 million sales leads received by 29 B2C and 13 B2B companies in the U.S., HBR reported a disturbing profile of the short shelf life of an online lead:
- 60 Minutes or Less: firms attempting to contact prospective clients within 60 minutes of receiving an inquiry were almost 7x more successful in having a meaningful conversation (qualify the lead) with a prospective decision maker than those companies that followed up with a prospect even one hour later!
- 60x as Likely: firms that waited 24 hours or longer to contact a prospect after their initial inquiry were a colossal failure. Competitors that contacted a prospect within the first 60 minutes of the inquiry were 60x more likely to qualify the lead by sharing meaningful conversations with the prospect
What Are the Reasons Law Firms Are Not Contacting Prospects Immediately?
Law firm marketing programs for law firms of any size are faced with a myriad of challenges. Yet with the evidence clearly pointing to rapid response to lead inquiries being the linchpin of business development, and the first step in landing new cases, what are the reasons firms are not getting back to clients immediately? Here are a few reasons leads are lost – do you recognize any of these?
- Processes: no path, policy, or processes are in place for firm employees or outsourcing firms regarding when and how to respond to prospect inquiries
- Uniformity: firm employees or outsourcing firm personnel are not utilizing the same software or platform(s) in the response process
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM): a CRM is either not being utilized to record responses to inquiries or multiple CRMs are being utilized that result in lost information or gaps in information.
- Time: Retrieving leads from a CRM platform is cumbersome or perceived as too time consuming
- Monitoring: If your firm checks your CRM database (1x) daily rather than continuously throughout the day
- Roles: Firm Intake departments or employees tasked with business development do not have a clear understanding of who is responsible for responding to inquiries due to geographic guidelines, their own interest in generating leads, or internal firm politics
Catalysts Behind Increased Law Firm Marketing Expenditures
At the beginning of this article we touched on the internal pressures to increase firm revenue and the external pressures of mounting challenges from rival law firms as the main reasons behind the explosive growth in law firm marketing budgets the past two years. The 2016 Joint Legal Marketing Association (LMA)-Bloomberg Law Survey Report provides a drilled down look at the most compelling reasons behind increased budgets:
- 68% is internal pressure to generate new cases
- 46% is corporate counsel reducing the number of firms they will work with
- 43% is pressure from other law firms successfully utilizing marketing
- 35% is demand for “specialized expertise” from outsource marketing firms
The State of Law Firm Marketing Response Times in 2017
We have documented the growth of marketing expenditures, the incredibly important value of responding rapidly to online inquiries, and the problems and challenges associated with a lack of response times for firms. The state of law firm marketing in 2017 is dominated by the first responders. Bonus: because prospective clients want immediate answers online, while surfing your website and preserving their anonymity, one of the greatest opportunities is Live Chat. Trained operators type answers to prospect questions (in real-time) providing a level of customer service unmatched by contact forms, email addresses, or listed phone numbers. This immediate touch point has produced an average of 35% increase in lead volume after enabling live chat services. With prospective clients, your competitors, and industry peers frequently visiting your website(s), response time has become and will remain the #1 challenge and opportunity for law firms looking for new cases in 2017. Are you ready for the attention?