It Could Happen to You: Transforming Marketing Operations

By Kate Cain and Cindy Thurston Bare

This article originally appeared on April 2, 2020 in the LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter

Do you remember the movie “It Could Happen to You?” It was a 1990s movie where a cop promises a waitress he will tip her half of his earnings if his lottery ticket is a winner; then he wins $4 million. The cop shares half of his winnings with the waitress and life is forever changed for them both. Wouldn’t it be great if we could transform our marketing departments just as easily?

While change is hard, with good planning and a little luck, you really can transform your marketing operation. While the examples shared here focus on the implementation of new intelligence systems at two firms, they can apply universally to any change effort within your organization.

Begin with the End in Mind

Always begin with the end in mind. So often, we hear about initiatives that fall flat, leaving the people who led the effort puzzled as to why. If you ask those leaders, “What was your business goal? What problem were you trying to solve?” they invariably respond, “We wanted to implement X technology” or “Change Y process.” Implementing a specific technology or changing a specific process is not a BUSINESS GOAL. These are a means to an end – not the end itself. Starting with the destination in mind does two things. It forces you to think through the actual business problem or opportunity you are trying to address. It also inspires you to define what success looks like. A clear articulation of the business goal and definition of success will serve as your roadmap. When Kate drafted her firm’s relationship management and experience management strategies, she imagined what the environment might look like five years after a successful transformation. How will lawyers work? How will the marketing team work? What would be different? Some of those predictions are now playing out…some of that vision is still ahead. By clearly imagining where the firm wanted to go, her team established a roadmap which influenced their priorities and action plans and empowered the team to make steady progress toward that goal. In addition to identifying the specific business goals driving the initiative, it is equally important to understand how those business goals align with firm strategy. As Director of Knowledge Management at Orrick, Cindy realized the importance of collecting richer data about matters and clients to continually enhance client service and support the firm’s industry sector strategy. The initiative’s business goal was directly aligned with its top priorities.

In addition to identifying the specific business goals driving the initiative, it is equally important to understand how those business goals align with firm strategy.

Establish the Ground Rules

Having a focused roadmap will ensure your journey gets off to a good start. Along the way, it will also help you develop the ground rules or “rules of the road.” The sooner you establish those rules, the better. When Sidley’s BD team began adding narrative content to its experience platform, the team wanted to provide as much flexibility as possible. They started with existing content from past directory submissions and asked team members to contribute content that had already been developed. It was easy, but this approach wasn’t completely consistent with the business goals established in the roadmap. The team didn’t establish the right ground rules to connect the dots to their big picture business goals. Without the right ground rules in place, some team members approached the effort as a document management exercise, saving every variation of a matter description, even when differences were insignificant. As a result, a significant amount of content was captured, but additional efforts were required to clean up the duplicative and inconsistent entries.

A key lesson – know where you are going and set up those guard rails from the start!

Instead of looking for an easier route, they should have started by clearly stating the goals related to how the content would be used. Specifically, the goals were to make it easier to build great first drafts faster and ensure the entire team had access to the “latest and greatest” information. This approach would have helped them define the ground rules – build a full story, add to existing information, use consistent language and avoid duplications. A key lesson – know where you are going and set up those guard rails from the start! Even something as simple as naming conventions can make a big difference. Whether tracking opportunities, organizing marketing content into a library for proposals, or entering Chambers submissions, a global team can find information more quickly if you establish naming conventions up front. Especially if you don’t have an experience system, remember Rule #1 – Thou Shalt Keep the Client Matter Number. This number gives you the keys to the kingdom of your firm’s data. Even if your experience list is in Excel or on paper – start tracking that number! Don’t make your pitch descriptions like an episode of The Masked Singer where you are trying to guess which client might be behind each masked description.

Know How Your Team Really Works Today

When starting a change project, it is critical to understand how the team actually works. Let’s take Chambers and other submissions as an example. Is your BD department trained on an official process for identifying experience for Chambers? Or do individuals make up their own? Even if you do have a written process and train every new hire, in large or distributed teams there will always be the official process and then reality. You will keep uncovering workarounds and stockpiles of data you didn’t know existed. Often the only way to understand how the team is really working is to ask questions, observe behavior, and meet face to face whenever possible. When you ask questions, remember to listen for what they are NOT telling you, too. Then design pilot programs with small groups to test assumptions and refine the process before a full rollout. Sidley created a sense of ownership in its project by forming a working group with representatives from each business development team. The working group was tasked with developing “rules of the road” for narratives and other content. When policy or procedure questions arise, the team works together to define a solution. They serve as team liaisons, spreading the word and answering questions about the new tools.

Recognize Change is Hard

Let’s face it – change is really difficult. After a team has been trained and goes back to their desks, their phones are ringing, partners are pushing, and they sometimes fall back to less efficient, but familiar methods they have relied on over time. This is normal, so it is important to maintain a healthy appreciation for the realities of change so you can anticipate challenges rather than wondering why you are stuck. The Marketing Operations Director at one firm took time to meet individually with team members after training to answer questions and clear roadblocks with great success. On a larger scale, but with the same goal, Sidley instituted Q&A sessions with each business development team. Each month, the teams gathered to talk through questions, best practices, and challenges. These are not formal training presentations, but dedicated time to discuss real-life examples as a group. Again, this creates a feeling of ownership.

Measure Impact, Not Just Activity

To identify who on the marketing team needs training or additional support, it is helpful to measure team activity. However, just counting the number of descriptions entered or opportunities tracked will not tell the story of how your transformation has impacted the firm. At Orrick, once the team mastered the habit of tracking experience, the firm’s rankings in the global M&A League Table rose from #75 to around the top 10. The firm was doing the work, and now the market knew it too.

The firm’s rankings in the global M&A League Table rose from #75 to around the top 10. The firm was doing the work, and now the market knew it too.

League tables are a powerful motivator for transactional lawyers and BD teams. Sidley established monthly reporting to highlight profiled deals, which reinforced the fact that this information was being reported and practice leaders were watching and acknowledging those who were actively contributing. Publishing the reports also created a spirit of friendly competition as lawyers recognized their colleagues’ deals represented in the reports. Sidley also works to position the team as trusted experts by having an impact in small, but mighty ways. The team receives internal “Pardon the Interruption…” emails in which lawyers request anything from a sample agreement to referrals for local counsel in Oman or anyone with experience figuring out how long an online retailer has between accepting an order and charging a credit card. Nearly 80 percent of the time, relevant answers are found in the firm’s experience management platform. This connects the dots between the effort invested in capturing detailed information and the impact on solving time-sensitive business problems.

It Can Happen to You!

The goal of transforming marketing operations is not only to increase efficiency, but also to enhance the visibility and credibility of your team. Once you transition from a reactive order-taker to a proactive and trusted advisor, you’ll know you have arrived. After all, having a positive, material impact on real-life business challenges is the destination we all want to reach – kind of like winning the legal marketing lottery. By Kate Cain, Director of Innovation and Design at Foundation Software Group, (she was Director of Practice Information and Marketing Technology at Sidley Austin LLP at the time of publication), and Cindy Thurston Bare, Vice President of Product Management at Foundation Software Group, (formerly Director of Knowledge Management at Orrick).