Charles Christian’s latest UnCut comment…

Earlier this week the CEO of a well-known US legal software company asked me for suggestions on how their company could gain a bigger presence in the UK legal market. They already sell through a reseller and wanted to know whether they should attend more conferences and events etc to further raise their profile?

Let’s start with the conferences first… There are already way too many legal tech events in the UK, particularly during the September/October period, which this year saw three events in the same week. But, never mind event fatigue for vendors and delegates, another issue is you only ever seem to meet the same people at these events. It’s déja vu all over again.

More importantly, there is a danger of a which comes first – the chicken or the egg scenario here. Events are very good for reinforcing contacts you already have but unless you have those contacts, you can’t reinforce them. You are Billy No Mates trying to attract attention. Add in the fact that all too often the heads of US vendor companies sweep into the UK maybe once or twice a year for a conference or two – and then swoop out again, leaving ongoing sales and support in the hands of resellers, and the net result is the impact of their event appearances is limited because they are not getting onto or staying on the radar of the wider legal IT buying market.

As for resellers, whoever they are, they are notoriously bad for actively promoting their channel partners’ brands, unless it is the only product they handle. But, this is hardly surprising as resellers are a fickle bunch, who naturally put their own business interests first and focus on whatever gives them the best or quickest return this month. (As one old IT industry vendor once put it to me “A salesman cannot worship at two altars.”)

In fact a few years ago, there was one reseller in the legal IT and stationery sector whose sales force made easier money in bonuses selling soft toilet rolls to law firms than they did from selling software. And, to be fair to resellers, over the years most of them have had their own fingers burned by channel partners, who have either dropped them in favour of another reseller or else decided to cut them out of the loop altogether by selling direct.

So, to go back to my CEO’s question… To seriously hit the UK market, a US vendor needs a permanent UK presence. Someone who can be out there promoting the company and its products on a pretty much full-time basis with undivided loyalty, as well as liaising with existing customers on a regular basis, to ensure they retain a warm and fuzzy feelings about the company.

At the moment the company’s management are still very much seagulls flying in from afar, then flying out again – all of which gives the impression they are not fully committed* to the market. It now needs to take the plunge and cross the (Atlantic) chasm.

* It also applies in the reverse direction for UK vendors trying to break into the US. In recent years the big successes enjoyed by Tikit and BigHand have both followed them opening formal US operations rather than trying to do everything on flying visits to trade shows.