Three Things Every Lawyer Ought to Know About Digital Marketing

This article originally appeared on JDsupra.com. Shared with author’s permission.

Hinge Research Institute recently polled marketers from accounting firms to better understand how the key challenges for the industry – increased competition, shifts in service offerings, and battles for top talent – are shaping their marketing strategies. The findings translate into valuable insights for lawyers and firms who are facing similar obstacles.

The report separates accounting firms into two categories: “high-growth firms,” which include those that experienced 20% or more revenue growth each year over a three-year period, and “no-growth firms,” which had 0% (or less!) growth every year during that same time.

What did we find? Three useful lessons for law firm leadership:

1. Digital engagement pays off

High-growth firms devote more resources to connecting with audiences through digital channels: email marketing campaigns, social media networking, on-line publishing (blogs, JD Supra, etc.), webinars, and more.

Webinars stand out as particularly popular with successful firms: five times as many high-growth firms include webinars in their digital strategy as do their no-growth counterparts. Similarly, written content in all its forms – blog posts, gated content, original research – are used twice as often by growing firms to increase visibility, generate leads, and differentiate themselves from competitors.

One interesting note: advertising is an important component of the digital marketing techniques used by high-growth firms, which are 57% more likely to use digital ads than their no-growth peers.

2. Audience-facing activities generate the best ROI

Marketing tactics that put accountants directly in contact with their clients and targets – like speaking at conferences, giving webinars, making phone calls, and the like – create the maximum return on investment for their firms.

Why do we think the ROI is higher from these types of activities? Because interacting directly with your audience creates and strengthens the relationships that lead to new business. But conferences and phone calls can be expensive, time-intensive, and difficult to scale. That’s why firms use webinars to showcase their expertise and connect with their prospects, while keeping costs down and billable hours up.

What’s more, by building microsites and knowledge portals like ON24 Engagement Hubs to make their webinar content accessible to clients and new viewers alike, accounting firms are extending the shelf life of their thought leadership to generate additional leads and opportunities.

3. Multi-tiered marketing campaigns produce results

The report offers an insightful case study of how Deloitte was able to engage new and existing clients, using a digital marketing campaign anchored by a series of webinars.

Deloitte’s challenge was a familiar one: advise clients on changes to tax laws while generating new client leads and creating cross-selling opportunities for the firm. Their campaign, which included a strong mix of live seminars, premium content, SEO, PR and webinars to drive awareness and interest, led to enviable engagement:

– High registration and attendance numbers for each of their webinars, with more than 50% of registrants attending the program

– The use of real-time polling and Q&A that allowed for more than 300 audience questions and 900+ responses to four polls

– More than 400 on-demand viewers for the webinars once housed on Deloitte’s website

Download the full report here for additional insight effective digital strategies of high-growth accounting firms.

Five Accounting Webinar Programs that Build Client Engagement

The accounting market is saturated with competition and service commoditization is causing prices to go down. These changes make it difficult for firms to showcase their value and expertise. To counter this, accountancy is going digital and rolling out webinar programs to scale, reach and communicate effectively with current and future clients.

So what do these digital programs look like? We’ve scoured our customer base to examine what kind of webinars accounting firms are running and why. We’ve consolidated those findings in our report, “High Growth Report for Accounting,” but when it comes to actually delivering webinars, we found that these five formats tend to be the most popular among accounting firms.

Continuing Education

Accountants and most tax professionals require continuing education credits to maintain their licenses. So it’s no surprise accounting firms use this fact to their advantage and create their own regular series of CE-accredited webinars. CE webinars draw in large crowds of CPAs. This provides firms with a channel to showcase their expertise and recognize new business. Because ON24 is designed to meet certification requirements set by most governing bodies, our customers can adjust credit allotments based on viewing time and auto-generate certificates for attendees upon completion.

Niche Topic Series

We’re seeing firms build thought leadership in their communities by producing a weekly or monthly cadence of niche webinar topics. A topical webinar series provides firms with a channel to respond to industry news and trends, showcase the expertise of their partners and build and maintain client relationships. Companies can maximize the life of their programs by repurposing live webinars and using them in content hubs for on-demand consumption.

ABM Experiences: Portfolio Updates

The latest tax updates and regulations can be difficult to understand and clients will turn to their accounting firms for guidance on how to move forward. Firms are using this as an opportunity to provide personalized webinar experiences for top clients. How they do this is by running webinars for a specific private equity firm and their subsequent portfolio companies to share how the latest update affects those companies specifically. ABM programs such as these are a great way to retain customers by providing a white-glove experience for high-value clients.

Podcasts

Podcasts are incredibly popular in the accounting space and are a great way to broadcast a firm’s voice to busy financial executives. Firms can have partners host regular podcasts that share their perspectives on industry topics of interest to their target audiences. In addition to webinars, ON24 Webcast Elite can be used to record podcasts with the option of including video and additional resources.

Employee Skills Development

Every company needs to ensure employees are educated on company positioning, can identify upsell opportunities and know how to use company technology — especially accounting firms. For this reason, many accounting firms  use webinars as a tool to facilitate employee training programs. Webinars provide the ability to scale to global workforces and the flexibility for employees to watch at their own convenience. Organizing training content using Engagement Hubs is a great tool to simplify employee onboarding.

To see peer examples and hear a deeper explanation into these programs, check out the webinar Digital Engagement for Accounting Firms.

The Professional Services Industry Needs Freelancers

The professional services sector is knowledge-intensive, using expertise as a primary differentiator and largely relying on people to stay competitive. While talent is undoubtedly a key asset in the industry, talent management continues to be one of the biggest challenges. In 2018, two-thirds (65%) of executives in service-centric industries stated that their organization had to turn down work because they lacked the necessary resources and skills to deliver that work, up from just 35% in 2017.

Traditionally, professional services organizations have relied quite heavily on subcontractors and freelancers to perform some of the work. However, the focus has been on augmenting existing resources during busy periods rather than using external talent as a primary recruitment strategy. As maintaining full-time in-house talent across disparate competencies has become increasingly difficult and some skills continue to be in short supply, professional services companies need to think beyond the traditional operating models.

Use the open talent economy to source expertise

While only a quarter (26%) of professional services executives claim to use on-demand, online marketplaces for freelancers, two-thirds (66%) expect to use them in three years’ time. Additionally, 58% report that they would be unable to conduct business as usual without an external workforce, the highest among all industries.

ON24 Tips:

Capitalize on webinars to showcase the expertise you have access to.

Webinars are a gateway to your most important asset: expertise. Feature both in-house and external experts in your webinars to reveal what your brand is all about. A combination of market insights, case studies, video interviews and in-depth testimonials can prove highly effective.

Demonstrate thought leadership with a comprehensive webinar program.

To capture new business, you need to be at the center of industry conversations and improve your position as a thought leader. Webinars can help you drive those conversations, focus on your points of difference and show how you’re using technology to augment the services you provide.

Develop proprietary data-fueled insights to establish authority.

Understand your prospects’ motivations and pain points, then use that information to create data- or research-focused webinars to highlight your expertise in the areas they’re interested in. Establish authority by contextualizing insights, not just processing information.

Forming external talent networks allows professional services companies to tap into infinite capacity and pull together virtual teams to work on client projects on an as-needed basis. Technology can now automate the process of sourcing and commissioning contingent and freelance workers, and will continue to play a key role in managing and maintaining these ‘talent clouds’.

Why Talent On-Demand Is Necessary

Adopting a more flexible approach to talent management also provides easier access to so-called ‘smart creatives’, who combine technical knowledge, business acumen and creativity. Google’s Eric Schmidt believes these people can have a transformational impact within organizations: “When you put today’s technology tools in their hands and give them lots of freedom, they can do amazing things, amazingly fast.”

Executives in the professional services industry report that 43% of their total workforce spend is on non-payroll workers and service providers. However, there’s evidence that contingent workers are usually undermanaged as only 16% of professional services executives strongly agree that their organization has a talent strategy that encompasses both employees and the external workforce.

Embracing the open talent economy and managing the external workforce more effectively enables professional services providers to deliver innovative services and respond more quickly to new opportunities, as they have permanent access to critical capabilities and skills – many of which are usually in short supply. It also empowers them to gain a firm foothold in the Knowledge as a Service (KaaS) economy.

The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Professional Services

There’s no denying that digital technologies have driven fundamental changes in every single industry, with companies of all sizes swiftly changing the way they do business to maintain their competitive edge. In the face of disruption, organizations in the professional services industry had to adapt their offerings accordingly, assisting clients on their own digital transformation journey.

The professional services sector is diverse, with players ranging from global behemoths providing the full breadth of services in every corner of the globe, to boutique firms with a very specialized offering. It is estimated to be the second-largest employment sector in the US, after healthcare, and is expected to grow to approximately 22.3 million jobs by 2026. It accounts for 11% of the UK’s gross value added and 13% of its employment.

The industry is experiencing rapid change due to the disruptive impact of digital technologies, and companies need to transform their operations and service execution models to adapt to this new reality.

The Pressure of Change in Professional Services

However, change is not a foreign concept as the sector has been in flux for the last three decades. Since the 1980s, management consulting has gradually shifted from offering bespoke expert services to delivering more standardized, technology-enabled services. The boundaries between strategic and technology consulting have blurred significantly. Similarly, leaders in the accounting sector (the Big Four) have been increasingly operating at the intersection of accounting, consulting and even law.

But this industry-wide transition is not without challenges. Client expectations are increasing, competition from digital disruptors is ramping up and margins are tightening. Professional services firms need to find innovative ways to create value and deliver the best possible outcomes to their clients. The time and materials model, where companies charged for the expertise they provided on an effort basis, proved to be highly profitable but is no longer sustainable.

Professional Services Turns to Tech for Help

In the everything-as-a-service economy (XaaS), it has become increasingly difficult for professional services companies to compete. Affordability, timeliness and demonstrable value are among the most pressing client concerns, and there’s evidence that the industry is struggling to meet those demands. Revenue growth has fallen below 10% for the past three years and reported billable utilization dipped to a new low of under 70% in 2018.

Heightened client expectations have led high performers to shift their client engagement models from traditional time and materials or effort-based engagements to delivering services on a performance or outcome basis. These companies have turned to digital technologies to provide innovative services and support more predictable revenue streams. This extends beyond just addressing the disconnect between the front and back office (a problem that has traditionally plagued the industry), allowing them to unbundle offerings and foster engagement outside the project-based model, sometimes even without the need for in-person interactions.

In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, top management consulting firms opted to develop the technology in-house to augment their services. Deloitte’s Emerging Technology Partner, Marc Verdonk, highlighted the rationale behind doing so: “The client is happy because using the tech means ultimately they often pay less, and we can be more efficient, which allows us to continue investing in innovation, and everybody benefits.”

Professional Services Still Needs To Catch Up

In the legal sector, lawtech (often heralded as ‘the new fintech’) has continued to rise in prominence as clients demand more transparency and accountability, and push companies to provide more than just traditional legal services.

However, the vast majority of professional services companies are still playing catch-up. Only a fifth (20%) of IT leaders in this sector claim their organizations have been ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective at using digital technologies to advance their business strategy. Most of their technology investment focuses on alleviating legacy pain points rather than transforming how professional services are delivered or how the client relationship is managed.

Data and technology are the cornerstones of digital transformation, and the professional services sector is no exception. The convergence of the two is set to shape the evolution of the industry in the years to come, and companies need to keep pace with the change if they are to succeed.

How Tech Is Changing Professional Services

While the professional industry is highly skilled, various elements of the work carried out by companies can be repetitive, tedious and resource-intensive. Estimates suggest that close to two-fifths (37%) of time in the professional services industry is spent on one of the most mundane tasks: collecting and synthesizing information. Additionally, the large amount of manual work required to compile data between systems was identified as a top challenge by executives from service-centric industries.

Technology adoption in the professional services space has largely focused on efficiency, with the accounting sector leading the charge by investing in automating the audit and account preparation processes. Other professions, such as legal services, have been lagging behind but automation is slowly filtering through.

Why of AI in Professional Services

Increasing pressure from clients to deliver value at competitive prices – essentially do more with less – means that the sector needs to explore how disruptive technologies can transform the way they operate and deliver services. Applications driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have the potential to create efficiencies and broaden the types of services offered to clients. Spending several days reviewing documents or contracts is a thing of the past; AI-based tools can carry out routine but complex tasks in a matter of minutes.

With AI industry-specific use cases proliferating at a staggering rate, professional services companies will be able to play a key role in contextualizing insight and identifying opportunities in a nimble way rather than just processing information, managing regulatory risk or streamlining operations.

Digital’s Growing Impact

The industry seems to already be adept at turning investments in cognitive technologies into financial benefits. A Deloitte study revealed that AI investment delivered slightly higher returns for professional services companies than the median ROI of 17% across all industries. Along with tech, media and telecom companies, professional services firms have made the highest investments and realized the highest returns. In the UK legal services sector alone, AI and automation are expected to accelerate productivity to almost twice its current rate by 2038, with large firms benefiting the most.

Chatbots are making headway in the professional services industry as they are increasingly used to pre-qualify leads by directing inquiries to relevant information in real-time, and then using that information to fuel personalized follow-up conversations. One example is Parker, an Australian law firm chatbot developed to give basic answers to questions related to changes to data protection and privacy laws, before directing prospects who need detailed information to three fixed price legal advice packages. The chatbot was responsible for selling $15,000 of different types of advice in its first 24 hours.

Tech Adoption is Accelerating

Professional services providers are often cited as slow adopters of technology, but this is changing as increased competition continues to be one of the most significant business pressures. However, investment in a shiny new tool, whether it is AI-powered or not, is not enough. Companies need to understand the business case and formulate robust strategies to take advantage of the opportunity.

A lack of investment in the right skills, which we’ll explore in more detail in the following section, is an area that professional companies will need to address. While the world’s largest professional services and consulting firms average 5,000 to 15,000 in-house analytics professionals, it is estimated that fewer than 8% of these are data scientists.7 Value will be derived from investing in cognitive technologies along with upskilling and recruiting new talent to unlock the opportunity they offer.

How Digital Channels Are Changing Professional Services

There’s no denying that digital technologies have driven fundamental changes in every single industry, with companies of all sizes swiftly changing the way they do business to maintain their competitive edge. In the face of disruption, organizations in the professional services industry had to adapt their offerings accordingly, assisting clients on their own digital transformation journey.

The professional services sector is diverse, with players ranging from global behemoths providing the full breadth of services in every corner of the globe, to boutique firms with a very specialized offering. It is estimated to be the second-largest employment sector in the US, after healthcare, and is expected to grow to approximately 22.3 million jobs by 2026. It accounts for 11% of the UK’s gross value added and 13% of its employment.

The industry is experiencing rapid change due to the disruptive impact of digital technologies, and companies need to transform their operational and service execution models to adapt to this new reality.

ON24 Tip: Demonstrate thought leadership with a comprehensive webinar program

To capture new business, you need to be at the center of industry conversations and improve your position as a thought leader. Webinars can help you drive those conversations, focus on your points of difference and show how you’re using technology to augment the services you provide.

However, change is not a foreign concept as the sector has been in flux for the last three decades. Since the 1980s, management consulting has gradually shifted from offering bespoke expert services to delivering more standardized, technology-enabled services. The boundaries between strategic and technology consulting have blurred significantly. Similarly, leaders in the accounting sector (the Big Four) have been increasingly operating at the intersection of accounting, consulting and even law.

Discover how Deloitte uses webinars to generate thousands of potential leads in record time 

But this industry-wide transition is not without challenges. Client expectations are increasing, competition from digital disruptors is ramping up and margins are tightening. Professional services firms need to find innovative ways to create value and deliver the best possible outcomes to their clients. The time and materials model, where companies charged for the expertise they provided on an effort basis, proved to be highly profitable but is no longer sustainable.

Turn to technology to provide incremental value and increase your qualified lead pipeline

In the everything-as-a-service economy (XaaS), it has become increasingly difficult for professional services companies to compete. Affordability, timeliness and demonstrable value are among the most pressing client concerns, and there’s evidence that the industry is struggling to meet those demands. Revenue growth has fallen below 10% for the past three years and reported billable utilization dipped to a new low of under 70% in 2018.

Heightened client expectations have led high performers to shift their client engagement models from traditional time and materials or effort-based engagements to delivering services on a performance or outcome basis. These companies have turned to digital technologies to provide innovative services and support more predictable revenue streams. This extends beyond just addressing the disconnect between the front and back office (a problem that has traditionally plagued the industry), allowing them to unbundle offerings and foster engagement outside the project-based model, sometimes even without the need for in-person interactions.

In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, top management consulting firms opted to develop the technology in-house to augment their services. Deloitte’s Emerging Technology Partner, Marc Verdonk, highlighted the rationale behind doing so: “The client is happy because using the tech means ultimately they often pay less, and we can be more efficient, which allows us to continue investing in innovation, and everybody benefits.”

In the legal sector, lawtech (often heralded as ‘the new fintech’) has continued to rise in prominence as clients demand more transparency and accountability, and push companies to provide more than just traditional legal services.

However, the vast majority of professional services companies are still playing catch-up. Only a fifth (20%) of IT leaders in this sector claim their organizations have been ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective at using digital technologies to advance their business strategy. Most of their technology investment focuses on alleviating legacy pain points rather than transforming how professional services are delivered or how the client relationship is managed.

Data and technology are the cornerstones of digital transformation, and the professional services sector is no exception. The convergence of the two is set to shape the evolution of the industry in the years to come, and companies need to keep pace with the change if they are to succeed.