How This Am Law 100 Firm Built Its Marketing Technology Stack
By Nathan Smith
May 19, 2022 | 7-minute read
Technology Management Communications Software and Platforms Content Type Article
Bill Turner (left), chief strategy officer, and Drew Hawkins (right), director of digital marketing, oversee marketing and communications efforts for the U.S. arm of the global law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (U.S.) LLP (WBD). Together, they have decades of law firm marketing leadership experience and have built a suite of tools to service the firm’s demands for actionable intelligence, a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system, marketing automation and more.
While some of the marketing technology products used by WBD are homegrown, others are off the shelf. With firm business goals in mind, the team at WBD executed the creation and subsequent rollout of a highly complex amalgamation of interconnected components — all while ensuring ease of use, accessibility and attention to adoption across all levels of the firm.
Strategies & Voices editor Nathan Smith recently spoke with Turner and Hawkins to learn more about their tech stack, product trials and developments, and more. Below is a transcription of their collective responses.
In broad strokes, tell me about the tech 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 WBD’s brand and story to the broader market, identify key decision makers, and facilitate collaboration among attorneys and client development staff to strategically meet their needs.
At the hub of this technology stack are the firm’s CRM system and the enterprise data warehouse. The many spokes that connect to the tech stack include systems related to email, marketing automation, relationship strength measurement, data cleansing tools, contextual news feeds, external data providers (corporate intelligence), event management, proposal management, content management, website, SQL server reporting services and Power BI. Externally, the firm employs a social media influencing platform and special user experience and search engine optimization (SEO) tools to deliver more relevant and engaging website experiences, and a brand asset library for new content creation.
What was the journey like to get to where you are now? What lessons were learned through failures and successes?
Twenty years ago, we were mostly focused on gaining attorney adoption for an overly complex CRM implementation. The state of the firm’s technology, attorney readiness and the commitment to data quality were lacking to successfully execute this vision. Much of our execution strategy relied on systems that were less than ideal for data integration and reporting with other systems. We were also focused on a more limited range of needs.
Over the years, demands on the business created a need for a more flexible digital infrastructure when it came to marketing and business development. Externally, these demands would include:
- new channels that were not previously a priority (e.g. social media),
- the need for marketing automation,
- the importance of search and SEO,
- the need for more dynamic website experiences,
- an increased emphasis on quality content and thought leadership, and
- enhanced experiences in digital/hybrid events.
Internal demands would include more desire for collaborative business development tools, a focus on account-based marketing, management/board reporting and data-driven decision-making. Many of these demands have been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, though most were well underway prior to it.
A common theme is that the stack is steadily evolving to provide a single view of the client with the CRM serving as the main source of truth.
From a user perspective, we’ve done a better job understanding what technology attorneys actually want and will use. For example, we have found that the vast majority of our attorneys are unlikely to use overly complex CRM technology, so we do not push those tools on them. However, our attorneys are genuinely interested in knowing who in the firm has recently pitched to a certain client, understanding individual’s networks, whether a contact has attended a recent firm event, etc. We have creatively developed a mix of in-house processes, reporting systems and off-the-shelf systems to provide that key information in an accessible, familiar environment for our attorneys. This targeted approach toward 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.
As a result, during product evaluations we put more scrutiny on software contracts, the quality of APIs and/or SQL table structures so that new data sources can easily be incorporated into the firm’s CRM and/or 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 firm. This includes predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven insights.
In earlier periods, we gravitated heavily toward technology vendors who created specific solutions for law firms. Many of the products we buy today are designed for legal, and many of these vendors do an excellent job of addressing issues and priorities that are unique to our profession. However, we are increasingly open to adopting and experimenting with systems not exclusive to legal if the core technology is better and more flexible (even if we must adapt it to meet our needs).
We’ve also learned the importance of running pilots and starting small. We tend to favor technology providers who offer pricing/licensing arrangements that allow us to start small and stay there until we are ready to take the next step.
Do off-the-shelf products work for your firm’s needs?
We use several off-the-shelf products, but maximizing the value almost inevitably entails some level of customization. In recent years, we have rarely just turned something on and went about our business. There has always been a deliberate setup process, from workflows to user onboarding, that are specific to our team’s needs.
Tell me about what you have built in-house.
More than 20 years ago, we built an enterprise data warehouse under a common dimensional framework, to create a single source of truth and a point of integration for reporting across multiple functional areas (HR, payroll, financial, technology, etc.). Over the years, our internal development team has leveraged core Microsoft technologies (SQL server reporting services [SSRS], Sharepoint and recently Power BI) with a homegrown front-end to provide much of the firm’s reporting needs.
With the migration to a more open client development data strategy and CRM system, we are now able to begin to incorporate what has long been a missing ingredient — client development data that has the potential to serve as leading indicators for where the business might be going (as opposed to financials, which only tell us where it’s been).
What issues does your technology solve in the context of marketing, business development and client service (research, CRM, KPIs, etc.)?
Our tech addresses a number of different marketing and business development issues. However, a common theme is that the stack is steadily evolving to provide a single view of the client with the CRM serving as the main source of truth. Other systems all contribute to this effort and we are increasingly developing a better grasp of how healthy our relationships with our clients are.
How has the adoption been?
As we have grown more selective about what technology we choose to deploy (and to whom), we’ve found that adoption has generally been good. We prefer a small, initial rollout to a focused group and test, learn, develop and expand. This initially takes longer, but helps us build user advocacy and trust. It also helps us better understand the limits of how wide our adoption needs to be, ultimately making for better use of resources.
Do you have any advice for your peers regarding tech stacks at their firms?
We would not pretend to offer any advice that is novel or enlightened. Many Am Law firms would likely offer more sophisticated approaches on many technology topics/processes. For us, it starts with the firm’s business goals and strategy, and what clients need from the firm. What markets, practices or industries do we want to compete for? What capabilities must we build that are valuable in the eyes of clients in those 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, building consensus answers around some of those questions can be challenging. However, we try to align the client development team’s priorities and its digital infrastructure decisions to support and accelerate the broader firm strategy.