A CRM Primer for IP Lawyers
You have clicked on a link to this post, and this means that you are very likely an IP lawyer who is interested in CRM.
First things first – what is CRM for IP lawyers?
Before we look deeper into the area of CRM, let’s define about what we are talking. There is no clarity without a clear language.
“CRM” originally stands for “Customer Relationship Management”. A CRM program is by definition an unsusual software tool for a lawyer. Lawyer’s business partners are not called “customers”, lawyers have “clients”.
Because of the nature of the work provided by a lawyer, there is an often personal relationship between a lawyer and his client. Lawyers often obtain confident information from their clients which must under all circumstances be kept secret. We are not allowed to store this information in potentially unsafe environments, such as cloud data storages. Unless this is already public information, we are not even allowed to confirm whether a specific person or company is our client or not.
That is not the only difference between a lawyer and an “ordinary” commercial business person.
Lawyers generally do not engage into active sales activities. People who need legal advice typically find specific lawyers because of word-of-mouth recommendations, by publications in the Internet or by a random selection in lists which are provided by professional bodies, such as a local lawyers’ chamber.
This is mainly because of the broad legal spectrum that lawyers usually cover. A lawyer is trained to handle legal problems that cover every aspect of life, from birth to death, from business issues to private problems. Lawyers represent their clients before official bodies as well as in law suits with other individuals or legal persons. Providing sales services for such a professional would be a pain in the neck, because of the sheer amount of different target markets.
In this context, IP lawyers are very different from conventional lawyers. Because of their specialisation in Intellectual Property – for which the acronym “IP” stands – both the typical targets and the services offered to these targets are very specific.
This is why it makes sense to apply know-how of “ordinary” sales techniques to providing law services, and this is one of the few areas where CRM successfully meets law.
What CRM functions are useless for IP lawyers?
Let’s first find out what a CRM system canNOT do for an IP lawyer.
The Wikipedia page for “CRM” says the following:
Customer relationship management (CRM) is an approach to managing a company’s interaction with current and future customers. The CRM approach tries to analyze data about customers history with a company, in order to better improve business relationships with customers, specifically focusing on retaining customers, in order to drive sales growth. One important aspect of the CRM approach is the systems of CRM that compile information from a range of different channels, including a company’s website, telephone, email, live chat, marketing materials, social media, and more. Through the CRM approach and the systems used to facilitate CRM, businesses learn more about their target audiences and how to best cater to their needs.
In very short words: this definition does not apply to CRM systems for IP Lawyers.
There is no value for a law firm to “analyze data about customers history”. There is also no valid reason to “compile information from a range of different channels, including a company’s website, telephone, email, live chat, marketing materials, social media, and more”. And IP lawyers do not need to “learn more about their target audiences and how to best cater to their needs”.
If you don’t understand this then you are not an IP lawyer and you can stop reading my article at this point.
What a CRM system can do for IP lawyers
According to my own experience, CRM is very useful for:
- dealing with enquiries from potential new clients,
- staying in contact with foreign associates before and after an IP layer convention, such as INTA, FICPI, AIPLA, etc.
- sending newsletters to existing clients.
And that’s it. This may not look as being much but CRM is a tremendous help.
A useful CRM system will focus on the above mentioned three aspects that are important for IP lawyers.
Here are a few outcomes of using a CRM system for four years:
- We could bring down our average response time for new enquiries to only 4 hours.
- There is never an enquiry forgotten. We follow up new enquiries until we find out whether the potential new client wants our services or not.
- We found out that we typically need five follow-ups after a first enquiry in order to obtain an actual order from a new client.
- Our felt recognition value at large IP conventions has remarkably increased.
What do I need to know about CRM language?
Typical CRM jargon has only very few technical terms. Here are some of them, presented in the order in which they appear when explaining a CRM system’s operation:
A “lead” is a data record in a CRM database that represents a person who ultimately may or may not be interested in your services. At the time of collecting the respective person’s data it may not yet be clear which service this person would need, nor is it clear whether the person has a budget for these services.
A “contact” is a data record in a CRM database that represents a person who said that he is interested in your services.
Usually, a contact was a lead before it became a contact. When a lead is converted into a contact, a link to the corresponding lead record will appear in the history of the contact.
Changes that you provide in the contact record, e.g. a new address, will not automatically be provided in the corresponding lead record.
An “account” is a data record in a CRM database that represents a company for which a person is working who said that he is interested in your services.
There are two different cases when a new enquiry comes in. The first and more usual case is that an enquiry comes in from a new company. In this case, a new contact record will be created, together with a new account record. When a lead is converted into a contact record, a new account record will be created at the same time. When a lead is converted into a contact and an account, a link to the corresponding lead record will appear in the history of both the contact and the account.
If a new enquiry comes in from an employee of a company for which the CRM has already an account record but there is no record for the respective perion, this is a special case. You should dedicate a procedure for these cases and the new enquiry should be escalated so that synergies in your firm can be used. This is one extra-reason why large IP firms should use a CRM system.
An “opportunity” is a data record in a CRM database that represents an ongoing enquiry. The opportunity does not only contain links to the the data records for the corresponding contact and account, but it has also links to all ongoing communication about the opportunity. Good opportunity data makes follow-up work easy. A web-based CRM system enables close cooperation within an IP law firm for better and more timely follow-ups.
After creating a new opportunity into the CRM database, the opportunity will proceed through various sales stages, as shown here:
An opportunity does not need to follow through all sales stages. Some stages can be skipped.
For instance, the “prospecting” and the “qualification” stages are not relevant for handling enquiries. It is clear that the enquiry only came in because the respective potential new client has a concrete need for our help.
The “needs analysis” and the “proposal/price quote” stages often go hand in hand.
The “negotiation/price quote” stage is sometimes applied when the respective problem can be solved in several ways and when further correspondence is necessary.
The various sales stages can be used for managing a team that handles enquiries. More efficient team members usually handle opportunities more easily through the various sales stages and a good CRM provides management tools for monitoring this.
A campaign of an IP lawyer is either a newsletter or a coordination message before and after an IP convention.
Campaigns are in practice done by sending out mass emails to a number of selected leads and contacts in your CRM database. The quality of the selection depends on the data fields that your CRM system is providing and on the information that you store there when you create lead records and contact records.
Warning! By running a campaign, you are sending unsolicited information to a large number of people. Be careful with your campaigns. They can fire back on you if you make mistakes.
Enough Theory. How does it look like in practice?
Our firm is using a CRM system that hase been tailored to the needs of an IP law firm. I have recorded an overview video about the main functions of our CRM system.
The video can be found here (start at 01:50 minutes into the video):
More videos about our CRM system will follow soon.