In the first of a new series in conjunction with One North Interactive, the agency’s CEO John Simpson considers the Death of the Sales Funnel: embracing the full client relationship cycle and creating a relationship experience in order to drive client loyalty, advocacy and new business…

As an interactive agency that assists law firms and other professional service companies with their online marketing and business development, we often get asked what the next new business-related tech trend will be.

People are sometimes surprised to hear that it’s not necessarily a widget or an app. Instead, we’ve found that there’s a much more basic element – client or user experience – that is frequently missing from many law firm business development plans. A firm may deliver excellent legal services but if it doesn’t create an ongoing relationship cycle with clients, the firm may be missing out on key opportunities to grow its business.

From Client to Advocate
Even in 2013, some law firms try to generate a large number of new business opportunities with advertising, catchy taglines and other traditional, impersonal means; they then narrow those leads down to the most viable potential clients. This is very much in keeping with the traditional Marketing Funnel (also known as the Sales Funnel) that we see used at business to consumer companies.

However, in today’s market, that system isn’t necessarily the best fit for the legal profession and other relationship-based organizations. Relationship-based organizations still need to find ways to influence the buying cycle from awareness to purchase, but retention, loyalty and advocacy are just as important.

This is not surprising when you consider that research has shown the majority of general counsel select new legal vendors based on recommendations and referrals from trusted sources, according to a recent survey of US, UK and European in-house legal officers (http://bit.ly/QjevJK).

Word-of-mouth marketing also offers firms another advantage: Growing your business with a current client is much less expensive than funding efforts to find brand new ones.

To maximize their client relationships, law firms need to create a holistic, long-term client experience that establishes a sense of value, trust and loyalty among clients—and encourages them to become vocal advocates for your firm. Firms can build that type of deep-seated client satisfaction by providing indispensable benefits and services in the following ways:

Create new digital ways to connect. If you don’t currently have digital marketing tools in place to help you keep clients informed, consider rethinking your online efforts. You may benefit from launching Twitter feeds about specific industry topics, news-based blogs or other outlets that can help you share information with clients on a regular basis.

Distributing content through sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can also have a bonus effect: Clients will hopefully be encouraged to share the valuable information with the rest of their network, which helps promote your work to potential new clients. In addition, LinkedIn can be a great place to connect with clients, prospects and firm alumni. Bringing people into your network not only showcases your own relationships, but it can also help create connections that could be beneficial in the long-term.

Merchandise your content. Full-service law firm Goodwin Procter is committed to working with start-ups and emerging companies. As a result, the firm decided to launch a website targeted at entrepreneurs. Founders Workbench offers new business owners free access to critical forms, memoranda, best practices and other resources to enable capital-efficient company formation.

Goodwin Procter’s intent wasn’t necessarily to land new clients. The firm created the Founders Workbench to provide what it felt was a much-needed resource for a specific audience. Because the site contains helpful content, it’s likely that entrepreneurs will share it with other entrepreneurs – which builds a sense of trust in Goodwin Procter among a community of people who could someday be potential clients.

Personalize the experience. Providing targeted content to clients can go a long way in demonstrating your firm’s expertise and assuring clients that you understand their business. However, research shows that the majority of those who would benefit from such customization aren’t quick to surrender personal information to receive the tailored content. Luckily, new technology makes it possible for firms to provide the benefit of a customized experience without requiring visitors to explicitly give up any personal details.

Using specified data points and site usage patterns, firms can configure their site to serve specific content or functionality to different users. Whether it’s presenting a new homepage with imagery and content on the specific practice area a visitor was searching for, displaying the associated attorneys more prominently or promoting a related event, much can be done to enable the user to find relevant content much more efficiently, further instilling a sense of trust and value in your firm.

Take the Lead   
Essentially, the client relationship cycle begins and ends with exceeding client expectations. Clients want to hire a law firm that understands their needs. Don’t wait for the client to come to you – be proactive, and work to anticipate and solve problems before your client is even aware they exist.

If your firm can provide solutions in addition to legal services, you’re more likely to earn clients’ loyalty – and if they consider your firm an invaluable resource, your current clients are much more likely to help market your firm to new clients with an enthusiastic recommendation or referral. Websites and social media can help you frame and communicate a more solution-based approach.

As I talk to relationship-based companies – whether that be law firms or other professional services organizations – I consistently hear a need for more focus on existing clients and growing relationships with them. We’re optimistic that thinking more holistically about the relationship cycle can help these organizations put the right focus and investment across a variety of programs aimed at driving growth and advocacy.

* John Simpson is the CEO of One North Interactive and a veteran of helping legal marketing professionals engage with their clients and grow their firms through smart website design and interactive online marketing experiences. He is a frequent author and speaker as it relates to interactive marketing, mobile website design and marketing innovation and can be reached at jsimpson@onenorth.com.