David Ackert, president of Ackert Inc. and a recognized leader in business development innovation, spoke with Best Lawyers after the 2019 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference. Read on for Ackert’s conference breakdown, his tips on social media and client prospecting, and the hardest business development tips to master. For more LMA 2019 coverage and strategies to market your firm, read our coverage here.

Best Lawyers: What were the three biggest takeaways from LMA 2019?

David Ackert: Legal marketing continues to grow in sophistication as a profession year over year. One of the most pronounced changes I noticed this year was a greater effort by marketers to make their voices heard and respected within the law firm. This concept of creating one’s own seat at the table was echoed in many sessions at LMA19 and I think in the coming years marketers will begin to see more of the recognition they deserve (if they negotiate for it). The top three things they should do to push the envelope, in my opinion, are these:

  • Own the strategic plan. You may not have sat in on the meetings where the strategic plan was created, but you can certainly take ownership of its execution. Most firms look at their strategic plan exactly once per year (when they write it) and leave it to collect dust for the remaining 364 days. Marketers should reference the firm’s strategic plan regularly, and tie every initiative back to it. Also, create and monitor KPIs that track progress toward the plan’s stated objectives. When marketers’ efforts are oriented around organizational goals and backed by hard data, they become even more invaluable as an asset to the firm.
  • Track, optimize, iterate. Many marketers are too overwhelmed with administrative work to be able to focus on strategy, and that’s not the highest and best use of their time. While tracking KPIs is a new, nebulous, and perhaps intimidating activity for most marketers, it can be their ticket out of a mountain of scut-work if they can present hard data proving that a given activity is low-ROI and a waste of time. Tracking KPIs can help marketers focus on the most effective activities, optimize their bandwidth, improve upon existing initiatives, and ultimately achieve better results.
  • Tie your contributions to revenue. Marketing and business development professionals should find ways to get in front of prospective clients, actively generate leads, and pass them off to lawyers once they have matured down the sales funnel. When they can draw a clear line between their efforts and new revenue, their voices carry a lot more weight than someone who can only draw a dotted line between their role and “revenue enablement.”

Social media management can be overwhelming. What tips would you recommend to make it more effective?

Focus on just one or two platforms, not all of them. My team realized that maintaining our company Facebook pages was a lot of work with very little results, so we deleted them and focused our efforts on Twitter and LinkedIn. Your firm will have its own version of this story, but having a few platforms is always better than having too many out-of-date pages with limited activity. In the wise words of my friend Adrian Dayton, just delete your account.

How can a business maintain a proactive approach when it comes to client prospecting?

Again, narrow your focus. Recently I’ve been conducting a lot of research for a book I’m writing on networking and sales for service professionals and I came across a concept called Dunbar’s Number. About 30 years ago, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar posited that humans are only capable of maintaining stable relationships with about 150 people. In other words, each of us only has about 150 people where we “would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar,” according to Dunbar. When you subtract your family and friends from that number, you’re looking at only a dozen or two professional contacts with whom you can actually maintain regular, authentic relationships.

Your company has developed a tool called Practice Pipeline. How does it serve businesses?

Practice Pipeline helps busy professionals focus on their short list of business relationships: the clients, prospects, and referral sources who represent the greatest opportunity for new business. Unlike CRM, which can be overwhelming in its complexity and number of contacts managed, Practice Pipeline is ultra-simple and user-friendly so professionals can focus on business development without a lot of data entry or administrative work.

What is one business development strategy that even you find hard to follow?

Small talk can easily become a bad habit. Superficial conversation, like talking about the news or the weather, is an easy fallback but it does nothing for the relationship. I notice this tendency in myself when I have client phone calls on busy days. In an attempt to be productive, I sometimes rush through the niceties so I can jump into the formal agenda. This approach may make for an efficient call, but it also squanders an opportunity to reinforce my relationship with the other person. The fact is that it takes the same amount of time to ask them about the weather in Nashville as it does to ask them a thoughtful question about their work or personal life. When we are not mindful of this fact, we become lazy conversationalists, but when we make the effort to show concern for specific aspects of people's lives, our interactions become less wasteful. We create more substantial connections with people and they, in turn, become far more likely to make an effort on our behalf.