Bill Turner, Chief Strategy Officer, and Drew Hawkins, Chief Digital Marketing Officer, oversee marketing and communications efforts for the US arm of global law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP (WBD). Together they have decades of experience leading law firm marketing and have created a suite of tools to meet the firm’s demands for actionable intelligence, a client relationship management system (CRM), marketing automation and more.
While some of the marketing technology products used by WBD are homegrown, others are off the shelf. With firm business objectives in mind, the WBD team executed the creation and subsequent deployment of a highly complex amalgamation of interconnected components, while ensuring ease of use, accessibility and attention to detail. adoption at all levels of the company.
Strategies and voices Editor-in-Chief Nathan Smith recently sat down with Turner and Hawkins to learn more about their tech stack, product testing and development, and more. Below is a transcript of their collective responses.
Basically, tell me about the technology stack used by WBD’s marketing and related departments.
Like many Am Law firms, WBD uses a variety of technologies that support the firm’s marketing and business development efforts. Among other functions, these systems and tools are intended to communicate the WBD brand and story to the broader market, identify key decision makers, and facilitate collaboration between attorneys and client development staff to meet strategically to their needs.
At the heart of this technology stack are the company’s CRM system and the company’s data warehouse. The many spokes that plug into the technology stack include systems related to email, marketing automation, relationship strength measurement, data cleansing tools, contextual news feeds, vendors external data management (business intelligence), event management, proposal management, content management, website, SQL server reporting services and Power BI. Externally, the company uses a social media influencer platform and special user experience and search engine optimization (SEO) tools to deliver more relevant and engaging website experiences, as well as a library of branded assets for creating new content.
What was the journey like to get to where you are now? What lessons have been learned from failures and successes?
Twenty years ago, our main focus was on adopting advocates for an overly complex CRM implementation. The firm’s state of technology, attorney preparation, and commitment to data quality were lacking to successfully realize this vision. Much of our execution strategy relied on systems that weren’t ideal for data integration and reporting with other systems. We have also focused on a narrower range of needs.
Over the years, business demands have created the need for a more flexible digital infrastructure for marketing and business development. Externally, these requests would include:
- new channels that were not prioritized before (e.g. social networks),
- the need for marketing automation,
- the importance of research and SEO,
- the need for more dynamic web experiences,
- an increased focus on quality content and thought leadership, and
- enhanced experiences in digital/hybrid events.
Internal demands would include a greater desire for collaborative business development tools, a focus on account-based marketing, management/board reporting, and data-driven decision making. Many of these requests have been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, although most were well advanced before it.
From the user’s perspective, we have a better understanding of what tech advocates actually want and will use. For example, we’ve found that the vast majority of our lawyers are unlikely to use overly complex CRM technology, so we don’t impose these tools on them. However, our attorneys are genuinely interested in knowing who in the firm has recently made a pitch to a certain client, understanding individual networks, whether a contact attended a recent firm event, etc. We have creatively developed a mix of internal processes, system reports and out-of-the-box systems to deliver this key information in an accessible and familiar environment for our lawyers. This targeted approach to technology delivery requires the ability to easily move data between systems, to provide us with the flexibility to use the appropriate technology to deliver the data.
Therefore, during product reviews, we pay more attention to software contracts, API quality and/or SQL table structures so that new data sources can be easily integrated into the CRM and/or enterprise enterprise data warehouse. Creating an open data architecture with common dimensions across functional lines also lays the foundation for other strategic applications of marketing/business development data, which are still nascent within the company. This includes predictive analytics and insights based on artificial intelligence (AI).
In earlier periods, we leaned heavily towards technology vendors who created specific solutions for law firms. Many of the products we buy today are designed for legal purposes, and many of these vendors do an excellent job of solving problems and priorities specific to our profession. However, we are increasingly open to adopting and experimenting with non-legal-exclusive systems if the underlying technology is better and more flexible (even if we have to adapt it to meet our needs).
We also learned the importance of leading pilots and starting small. We tend to favor technology providers who offer pricing/licensing agreements that allow us to start small and stay there until we’re ready to take the next step.
Do the off-the-shelf products meet your business needs?
We use several off-the-shelf products, but maximizing value almost inevitably involves some level of customization. In recent years, we’ve rarely been content to just light up something and mind our own business. There has always been a deliberate setup process, from workflows to user onboarding, that is specific to our team’s needs.
Tell me about what you have built internally.
More than 20 years ago, we built an enterprise data warehouse in a common dimensional framework, to create a single source of truth and an integration point for reporting across multiple functional areas (HR, payroll, finance, technology, etc.). Over the years, our in-house development team has leveraged core Microsoft technologies (SQL server reporting services [SSRS]Sharepoint and recently Power BI) with an internal front end to meet most enterprise reporting needs.
With the migration to a more open client development data strategy and CRM system, we are now able to begin integrating what has long been a missing ingredient – client development data that has the potential to serve as advances to know where the business could go (as opposed to financial statements, which only tell us where it has been).
What problems does your technology solve in marketing, business development, and customer service (research, CRM, KPIs, etc.)?
Our technology addresses a number of marketing and business development issues. However, a common theme is that the stack is steadily evolving to provide a single view of the customer with the CRM serving as the primary source of truth. Other systems all contribute to this effort and we are increasingly developing a better understanding of the quality of our relationships with our customers.
How was the adoption?
As we have become more selective about what technology we choose to deploy (and to whom), we have found that adoption has generally been good. We prefer a small initial deployment to a focused group and test, learn, grow and grow. This initially takes longer, but helps us build user defense and trust. It also helps us better understand the limits of the extent of our adoption, which ultimately allows for better use of resources.
Do you have any advice for your peers regarding their companies’ tech stacks?
We do not claim to offer new or informed advice. Many Am Law firms would likely offer more sophisticated approaches to many technology topics/processes. For us, it starts with the business objectives and strategy of the company, and what customers expect from the company. What markets, practices or industries do we want to compete for? What capabilities do we need to develop that are valuable to customers in these areas? How can we differentiate ourselves from others who would offer something similar? What is the economic theory of success?
Admittedly, in a partnership model, especially a law firm, it can be difficult to find consensus answers around some of these questions. However, we try to align the priorities of the client development team and their digital infrastructure decisions to support and accelerate the overall business strategy.
Kean Miller LLP
Nathan Smith is Kean Miller’s Director of Client Services and is responsible for overseeing the marketing and comics functions of the company’s expansion into Texas. Nathan has worked in legal marketing for 20 years, working with over 50 law firms to create, implement and execute marketing, comic book and public relations programs, both as an in-house professional and external consultant. He is a published author appearing in industry specific publications such as Marketing the Law Firm, International Legal Technology Association and Attorneyatwork.com. He is a full programming member of LMA’s Houston Local Steering Committee and a member of LMA’s Strategies and voices Editorial Committee. Additionally, Nathan is the recipient of multiple Addy Awards for excellence in past marketing campaigns.