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Digital Marketing

Don’t Waste Your Marketing Dollars With a Bad Sales (Intake) Process

Five big improvements you can make to bring in more new business.

By Mark Homer

So far in this digital marketing series, we’ve talked about defining your marketing strategy and building your law firm’s brand “by design” and not default. In future articles, I’ll dive into different digital marketing tactics that can help you build your firm. First, we need to discuss something that will affect any return on your marketing investment: your sales process.

Unfortunately, many marketers fail to discuss sales. So it’s something many law firms don’t even think about. And that is a mistake.

Yes, most law firms prefer to use the term “intake” instead of “sales.” That’s fine. Just know that if you aren’t approaching your intake process with appropriate sales strategies, you are likely losing a bunch of business that your marketing dollars are sending you.

Optimizing Your Intake Process

We ask prospective law firm clients a lot of questions about their current metrics: the number of leads that reach out to the firm, how many leads on average turn into clients, average case values, and more. (I plan to devote an entire article to key metrics you should track so I won’t go into too much detail here.) We ask because we want to understand the firm’s typical conversion rate of potential new client leads to actual clients. Often this data is not readily available, which is a sign the firm’s intake process hasn’t been optimized.

There are important issues with not having systems in place to provide consistency to your intake process and how you track your metrics. First, you miss out on working with clients that have problems that you can help solve. Second, you are unable to consistently manage and respond to the incoming leads that your referral and marketing efforts are generating. Lastly, without measuring your process, you cannot confidently improve or predict the amount of growth in your business that a successful marketing strategy may provide.

We often tell law firms that if they plan to invest in working with us to define and execute their marketing strategy, they must also work to improve their intake process.

Here Are Five of the Biggest Improvements to Make

1. Getting Back to Leads Quickly

The Clio Legal Trends report did a secret shopper study that showed 57% of law firms never responded to a voicemail and 60% never responded to an email. These were emails and voicemails that were left with an exact issue that matched the law firm’s top practice area, as described by the firm’s website. I can guarantee that you will never turn a lead into a client if you don’t call them back. Furthermore, the internet is full of one-star law firm reviews warning others that they reached out to a firm and never heard anything back.

Five minutes is the gold standard for responding to an incoming lead in a consumer-facing services business. This is supported by data from the Lead Response Management Study, which shows that you are 75% less likely to get ahold of a lead after the first five minutes. According to the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report, 79% of consumers expected a phone call in under 24 hours. Most law firms fall into the category of consumer-facing versus business-to-business, but at the end of the day, I say people buy from people, not companies. So, even if your clients are businesses, you need to be responsive when someone reaches out to you.

In that secret shopper study, the phone fared better than voicemail or email. Still, 27% of law firms were unable to be reached by phone. The data shows that law firms are not meeting prospective clients’ basic expectations of timeliness in response to their inquiries. It’s disheartening when you think about the money law firms pay for marketing to try to reach potential clients.

You may think it is crazy when people like me say you should respond to queries within five minutes. You are busy with client meetings, court, filing paperwork and much more. The good news is there are a lot of shortcuts to help you move toward the five-minute goal. Keep in mind that:

  • Responding within five minutes does not mean having an initial consultation in the first five minutes. It means letting the prospective client know that you understand they need help, that you want to help, and then scheduling a time to chat further.
  • You, the lawyer, don’t have to be the one telling them that. Others on your team can be trained to follow up — whether that means just being more aware of answering the phone quickly, reaching out to leads that come in via chat, or responding to lead forms on your website. It’s essential to educate lawyers and staff on the importance of monitoring leads to get new business — otherwise, it is easy for the people to default to urgent client work.
  • You don’t have to solve all their problems in that first call — you just want to keep them from calling another lawyer. People who search Google for a lawyer are probably calling other law firms, too. Fortunately, the data tells us that many law firms will not meet the basic expectations of that caller, because they won’t call them back! Most prospects are happy to know they got ahold of someone who can handle their issue, and that they are scheduled with a date and time for a follow-up phone call. If your firm gets a meeting scheduled on that first call, the prospect will stop going down the list of law firms they found in Google. Don’t forget that many prospects aren’t just going to call; our data shows that about 20% (and growing) of potential new clients would rather fill out a form or look for an online chat option.
  • Finally, one of the best shortcuts is using outsourced call and chat operators. (I practice what I preach and personally use Smith.ai.) Using these services means that clients who reach out to you over the phone or through your website’s chat or text can immediately talk to someone, whether early in the morning or late in the evening. You set up the standard message you want to convey and the virtual receptionist can take the information needed and let the prospective client know that someone will follow up with them in the next 24 hours. Also, a shared calendaring system or a tool like Calendly allows the outsourced operator to schedule appointments for you or your staff right when they have the client on the phone or chat. Finally, if you receive a lead form on your website, many call companies can have their operator call the lead to ask more questions and possibly get them scheduled on your calendar.

Before you invest time or hard-earned revenue in an expensive marketing strategy, be honest with yourself and make sure that your staff is ready to handle the increased lead flow. Keep in mind that if you are asking a marketing agency to help you bring in just five to 10 new cases a month that could require 100 or so leads a month to process to get to the 10 “right fit” clients. If your team won’t be able to handle that volume of calls, consider adding another receptionist or assistant with “sales” in mind. Or, look to one of the many great outsourced call and chat services.

2. Consistent Messaging for All Frontline Staff

Once you’ve thought through how you will respond to incoming leads promptly, you need to think about to respond consistently.

It’s worth taking the time to build basic scripts for how to answer the phone. If you work with an outsourced call and chat vendor, they will require this. Typically, they can provide some sample scripts they have developed over the years working with law firms.

How do you focus your script when questions from prospective clients can be all over the place? Let’s refer back to the data from the Clio report to see what information prospective clients are looking for from a law firm.

  • 82% want timeliness in the response.
  • 81% want answers to their questions.
  • 80% want a clear understanding of the next step.
  • 76% want to understand how much their legal issue will cost.
  • 74% want to know what the full process will look like.
  • 64% indicated the friendliness and likeability of a lawyer’s tone was important.

Based on this, you should build your process to hit these points on the first or second call, and through follow-up emails.

For example, if an intake specialist, outsource call agency, assistant or paralegal is answering the phone, they should be able to understand the basic legal problem and whether or not your firm handles that area. If there is a good fit, then your script can talk about the next step in the process. For example:

“Yes, ‘Mr. Prospect,’ we provide great service to handle the legal issue you are having. The next step in the process is to do a conflict check and have you do a preliminary consultation call with ‘Mrs. Lawyer.’ I can set up that call right now while I have you on the phone. While we get that scheduled, do you have any other questions for me?”

You likely have standard processes clients go through with your law firm, depending on their issue or matter; you can turn that into a script as well. If you keep it generic and include some caveats, you can train your staff to use that script to help potential clients know what the full process looks like.

If there is not a fit with your practice area, geography or some other reason, have a good and empathetic response for that, too. Whether it is some information on your website, a list of lawyers that you recommend in that practice area, or maybe just your bar associations referral service, try to be helpful and send someone in the right direction. I have seen many positive reviews for law firms from prospective clients that were just happy to be listened to and referred to someone else that could help them better.

The item in the above list of client expectations that lawyers push back on the most is the fact that people want to know what their legal issue might cost. I hear all the time that things depend so much on variables they can’t give a prospective client a real sense of cost. There are some more significant issues here, but there are already articles by lawyers who have successful practices with alternative pricing strategies like fixed fees or subscription models you can check out. But even in the standard billable model, you typically have a sense of the range of most of your cases, for example, arming your team to say something like:

“Our average divorce case ranges from $5,000 for simple types to $15,000 for the more complex. There are issues that could make it more expensive, but our process is to identify those things as early as possible and give you the option to choose whether to move forward at that higher cost.”

Most consumers aren’t asking for an exact amount, but it is fair to expect a price range. Use your past case history to arm your team with this information.

The data shows that less than 10% of law firms can meet these average expectations. Therefore, once again, if you are timely in answering the phone or responding to a potential new client, and you arm your team with scripts that cover these basic expectations, you will significantly increase the likelihood of turning these prospects into clients.

We didn’t even get into advanced strategies if you have an automation system for your lead management like LawMatics, Clio Grow or LeadDocket. These tools can take the lead information, follow up with a text message confirming appointments, send some automated emails describing your process in more detail, and ask someone to fill out more detailed information before the consultation phone call, including e-signing pre-call contracts you may require. That is just scratching the surface, but this article is to help you understand and create the process in the first place.

3. Communicating the Way Prospective Clients Want

According to the Clio Legal Trends Report, while 68% of prospects reach out via phone, 25% reach out by email or other electronic means. Interestingly, this number tracks with data we’ve gathered that shows a 25% increase in leads when a law firm added live chat versus just having a phone and web form.

People typically reach out in a way that is most convenient for them. So, if someone reaches out via email or text, you may want to reply to them that way. But I also recommend that you ask new clients the way they prefer to interact with you, whether via phone, text, a client portal or in-person meetings. Many law firms have not adapted to the new needs of consumers and still require in-person meetings way too often. Know that even before the COVID-19 shutdown, there were many successful law firms that rarely met their clients face to face.

Consumers today can get groceries delivered to their door, get home repair quotes by sending videos of the problem to a contractor, and get a prescription from a tele-doctor over Zoom-like meetings without leaving home or work. For many people, taking the time to travel to a lawyer’s office is a huge inconvenience. Yes, some consumers may still prefer coming into your office and you can support that. But going forward, you should consider whether a prospect (or a client, for that matter) must come into your office to be able to hire you — especially during the COVID-19 shutdown. Plenty of your competitors do not require this, so you may be at a disadvantage.

4. Tracking Prospects in a System

To make sure you are following up on every lead, you need a system to track the leads.

A lead-tracking system also enables you to report back to your marketing agency about which leads are becoming clients and why others are not. This is an important feedback loop that allows your agency to make adjustments to your marketing campaigns based on this data. Having your own tracking system lets you control the data and track which marketing investments are successful. You should not rely on various marketing vendors to tell you if their campaigns are successful or not.

A lead-tracking system also allows you to track essential metrics such as month-over-month number of leads, your team’s response rates, and your lead to client conversion rates. If you have multiple practice areas, you can see which practice area team is doing better for your overall firm.

Lead-tracking systems are not the same as practice management systems. They serve two very distinct purposes. I like to think of a lead-tracking system as your overall customer relationship management system, while practice management systems are for case management and matter-by-matter information tracking and reporting.

All good lead-tracking systems, such as Lawmatics, Clio Grow and LeadDocket, should have the ability to automatically feed information to your practice management system.

As mentioned earlier, many lead-tracking systems can also help streamline communications and guide a prospective client to becoming a client through standard email templates, automatic follow-up messages, calendaring system integration, e-sign contracts and more.

However, you may not have the time or resources to add yet another system right now. Because tracking is very important, though, you must do something, so I often recommend just using a simple shared Google Sheet to start. Begin by tracking the basic intake data with fields for questions such as:

  • Initial lead contact date/time
  • Lead contact method (phone, email, web form, chat, in-person)
  • Initial response date/time:
  • Contact name
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Preferred form of communication
  • Category of issue
  • General notes on issue
  • How they heard about the firm
  • Next step (call scheduled, not a fit, refer to another firm)

Note that “lead contact method” is going to be a very loose metric at first. For example, the number of prospects who will say they found you “online” will be very high. But if you pushed that issue, you would likely find that some were Google searches that never heard of you, while others were referred to you but went to Google to find your phone number. For now, ask this in passing but don’t focus too much on it. Keep the intake call focused on the client’s needs and issues; diving into “how you heard about us” is turning the call to focus on what the law firm needs.

Once you begin using lead intake tools such as Lawmatics, you will be able to utilize integrations with Google Analytics, Google Ads, call tracking and more to help pinpoint where the leads came from. The intake system will be able to fill this question in for you for many people.

5. Getting a Second Chance: Nurturing With Email and Text

Few of your prospective clients will become actual clients right away. It could be that these prospects are just researching the process. Maybe when you walked them through your process they weren’t ready or, quite possibly, life happened and they got busy. At some point, they may need your help. Unfortunately, instead of remembering how they found you the first time, many will just go back to Google to search — and they may not end up back on your website.

Fortunately, when you capture prospects’  phone numbers and email addresses during the intake process, you can ask whether they mind if you follow up via email or text. Most will say it is fine. Then you can add them to your email marketing system and send a series of emails or text messages to them over the next few weeks. That way you can stay top of mind with them. When they are ready to talk to a lawyer, they simply need to look on their phone for the email or text they received from you and click on the phone number to call you right back.

When using a follow-up email campaign, we recommend that you continue to educate the prospective client. They came to you looking for an answer to a problem. You can reinforce your firm’s expertise by sharing the resources you have on your website (articles, videos, checklists), common questions you get about that topic (FAQs), and even a peek inside with what others say about working with your firm (testimonials).

Putting It All Together

You can see there are many opportunities for your intake (sales) process to help or hurt your ability to convert good leads into new clients. I suggest you work through this list in order and get good at one step before jumping to the next.

As someone who owns a marketing agency, I am here to tell you that before you spend more money on trying to get more leads through marketing, you must be able to respond to leads in a timely manner, allow your team to consistently provide them with the basic information they are looking for, and track all this information somewhere.

Fortunately, minor improvements in each of these areas could catapult you to the top 10% of law firms in terms of meeting prospective client expectations.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Mark Homer Mark Homer

Mark Homer is CEO of GNGF, a leading law firm marketing agency. At GNGF, Mark leads the team to help empower and educate law firms to grow their practice. He is co-author of “Online Law Practice Strategies” and often speaks around the U.S. on marketing and social media ethics for law firms. Download GNGF’s latest guide, “Know Your Legal Marketing ROI,” here. Follow Mark @mark_homer.

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