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| 16 minutes read

CMO Series EP127 - Karen Snell of Kennedys on Modernising & Globalising a BD function

The Business Development function is becoming more professional and more valued by services firms, but there is still a need to modernise and bring global teams together to develop best practice approaches.

On today’s episode of the CMO Series Podcast, Charles Cousins welcomes Karen Snell, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at Kennedys to discuss how she and her team are becoming more effective as a modern global BD function.

Karen and Charles discuss:

  • Why modernising and globalising a BD function is something Marketing & BD leaders should be thinking about
  • How Karen came to her role at Kennedys, and when she realised that modernising and globalising the function was needed
  • How to decide the priorities and what the focus is at this stage of the project
  • The approach for incorporating data and client feedback
  • How to ensure consistency and best practice across global regions that is recognisable across the firm
  • What success looks like for the next 2-5 years
  • Advice for marketing leaders wondering how they can build a more modern and effective BD function


Charles: As business development becomes more professional and more valued by services firms. There is a need to harness technology and data and build infrastructure and processes that allow teams to operate seamlessly and globally. I'm Charles Cousins from the commercial team at Passle. And today on the CMO Series Podcast, we're lucky to welcome Karen Snell, Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer at Kennedys, here to discuss how she and her team at Kennedys are becoming more effective as a modern global BD function.

Welcome to the Passle CMO Series, Karen.

Karen: Hi, thanks for having me, Charles.

Charles: So relatively new actually into the role at Kennedys. Is it eight months or so? Is that right?

Karen: Not even that, I joined in May this year. So just over six months?

Charles: Oh, wow. Oh, cool. How's it all going?

Karen: So far, so good, but I guess I'm not necessarily the best judge of that, I think, if you ask my senior leadership team and the BD marketing team globally, they'd probably give you a much more accurate view of how I'm doing.

Charles: Well. I'm sure you're absolutely smashing it based on your previous track record in the legal industry.

Karen: That's kind of you to say, thanks Charles.

Charles: So actually going off off piste a little bit. Normally we start by asking you to tell us a bit about how you got to where you are. I will come back to that, but really to set the scene of a podcast, I wondered if you could, you know, what we’re talking about when we say digitising and globalising a BD function? Why is this something that marketing and BD leaders should be thinking about?

Karen: Well, I think the two things really go hand in hand. I think one of my challenges, when I first joined Kennedys was really making sure that the team was operating globally. Kennedys has been through a pretty significant growth period over the last five years.  And the BD function hasn't perhaps kept to pace with the growth of the organisation. So really in order to globalise the BD function and having everybody, you know, raise the standards so that everybody is operating at pretty similar levels of quality and consistency globally, I realised that really, rested a lot on sort of digitising what we're doing and not necessarily,  relying on, you know, things like, you know, spreadsheets that are stored in London and not necessarily accessible to everybody else. So, it was quickly obvious to me that, to globalise the function I needed to digitalise it, if that makes sense.

Charles: Yeah. Absolutely. And I guess for the benefit of those listening, who aren't familiar with the size and scale of Kennedys it, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's over 2,000 people across 40 offices across the UK, the Americas, Middle East and Asia Pacific. So I'm sure it's no mean feat making sure that all of those offices and all those individuals are connected.

Karen: Absolutely. And I mean, if you look at that global footprint, you know, you've got, you know, masses of people in London, for example, and in places like New York and across Australia, but some of those offices are very small. So there is no sense in having, you know, individuals dedicated to those offices. So again that making sure that you've got everything available digitally and that you've got kind of global and regional mindsets in that to make sure that those offices feel supported is really something that's sort of top of my agenda at the moment.

Charles: Yeah. Cool. And just to fact check me, was that, was that correct? Is it over 40 offices? Is that right?

Karen: That's right. Yeah. And about 2,500 people at the moment and growing.

Charles: Yeah. Fantastic, brilliant. Well, maybe to give us a bit bit of background on you, Karen. How did you come to be in your role at Kennedys? And when did you realise that digitising and globalising was what the function needed?

Karen: So to answer the first part of your question, how did I come to be at Kennedys? So I've spent my entire career in professional services marketing, starting out really on the sort of communications, PR side of things and over time evolving into a role that incorporated both client development and the sector based approach that was adopted at Hogan Lovells. So about 30 years of experience in professional services, the last 20 of that was spent at Hogan Lovells. And I joined Hogan Lovells in 2003 when it was a relatively small, what was then called Silver Circle or Chasing pack law firm, really with a stronghold in the UK and a relatively small international footprint. And by the time I left the firm, it was, you know, a significant global player with over $3 billion of revenue. So I was really thankful of my time at Hogan Lovells, 20 years, lots of opportunities to do lots of different things and really develop my career. And then the opportunity came up at Kennedys for me to step up into that CMO role or be it for a smaller law firm. And it felt to me that Kennedys was a place where I could really have impact and really make a significant contribution to the firm. And it was really, it felt too exciting an opportunity to turn down. So that's how I came to be at Kennedys. And over the last six months, I've realised, you know, Hogan Lovells as a huge global organization has invested significantly in technology and data. And so some of the things I was very used to, you know, took for granted at a big law firm weren't necessarily there a firm of Kennedys scale. So it's really taking the best of what big firms like Hogan loves have invested in and scaling those so that firms like Kennedy's can really take advantage of some of the things that technology and data can bring to the business development and marketing function.

Charles: And I guess the draw of having someone like you come into Kennedys is almost, you've been on that journey before. So maybe a big part of what you're hoping to do is you, you've sort of walked that route a little bit already. So hopefully you can, repeat that and do what Hogan Lovells went through, at Kennedys, is that the sort of idea?

Karen: That's absolutely the idea. I think so much of Kennedy's really reminds me of what was then levels in 2003, in terms of, you know, a really relatively small partnership that's very well connected, a really high quality client base and, you know, very much based on relationships. And as the firm grows, that kind of connection changes slightly. So you do need much more sort of systems process in place. And I'm hoping that I can bring that experience of my time at Hogan Lovells to bear for the benefit of Kennedys.

Charles: Brilliant. So in terms of digitising and globalising a BD function, is this a single project or multiple projects? How did you decide the priorities and what have you got your main focus on at this stage?

Karen: Well, I think it's almost a vision really at the moment and I think that there will be multiple projects that sit underneath that. The first priority has been to go out to market, to hire a new role um which is head of technology and data. So that's somebody that can come in and really work with me to think about what that road map needs to be. So if we want to be a data driven BD and marketing function, so that we have at our fingertips, all of the relevant data points to make the right decisions in terms of how we're going to develop this client or which of our marketing activities, we should be investing in. I just want a sort of thought partner in developing out what that should look like and almost starting with the the outcome and then tracking back to what the sort of systems process technology we need to put in place over the next 3 to 5 years in order to deliver on that vision. So that's one key priority and I suspect a lot of projects will then then fall out of that. So, but as I say, it's really just a vision at the moment and where I'm working with my global leadership team to define what that means in each of their areas. So looking at, you know, what does that mean in terms of the management of our client program, what does that mean in terms of the development of our pursuits function? How does that impact our colleagues sitting in APAC? So we're all working together to define what the priority projects should be with a view on that sort of long term vision?

Charles: Brilliant. And then you mentioned um then about that sort of data driven BD approach and actually, you touched on it a little bit then, and it was my next question written down that, that idea of incorporating data and client feedback. Are you able to expand on that at all or is it still early days?

Karen: Again, it's one of those things where I I've got a sort of vision and an eye on what the outcome should be, but really need to start to knit that together. There are pieces of client data that sit all over the organisation. So whether that's finance or diversity and inclusion data, some of the sort of relationship intelligence that may be sitting in interaction, for example. And so what I'd really like to do is get to a point where we have almost a client dashboard. So all of those different data feeds as they relate to any particular client are surfaced in one place. And that should really help client relationship partners and, you know, the BD team and client account managers to really make the right decisions in terms of what the priorities for developing that particular client are. So that's on the client piece and almost mirroring that in terms of some of our marketing and business development activity. So if we've invested x of our marketing dollars in a particular activity, what are the key data points to show whether that was successful or not? So that, you know, instead of having a conversation with a partner, which is, I don't think that's a very good idea. You've got some evidence to give them, which says this won't, you know, what you're suggesting won't work particularly well. But, you know, based on the information that we have taking this approach will lead to better outcomes. So it's really harnessing all of that data that sits around the firm to drive both the sort of client development piece um and the marketing activity piece.

Charles: What you've just described there is that something that you had established at Hogan Lovells?

Karen: Not in quite as refined a state as I might have described there. But  certainly we were able to surface data and we had, you know, fantastic business analysis team who were able to support client teams and the wider BD and  marketing function to make those decisions. But it wasn't quite the kind of dashboard approach that I've I described there. But yeah, there was much easier access, I would say to data. That's a really exciting project to get stuck into. Absolutely. No, I think that it will really be if we can get it right, it will be an absolute game changer. And, you know, we're having lots of conversations with our head of data strategy on, you know, how we can align what we're doing with his vision for a data strategy for the firm. And also it's really a cross department collaboration project, although it's BD led, it really will involve, as I said, you know, finance, D&I, our transformation and data team. So it's a really exciting project to be involved in.

Charles: You've got a team spread out across the globe working in hugely demanding roles. How do you ensure consistency and best practice that works in each place yet is recognisable across the firm?

Karen: One of the first things I did when I joined Kennedys and it seems a really, really simple thing, but it was to establish um a global leadership team for the BD function. So that means that our heads of EMEA, APAC and the US are part of my global leadership team alongside the heads of each function which are pursuits, clients and markets and marketing, communications. So that group meets every two weeks and is in frequent contact, whether that's by Whatsapp or Teams or email just to make sure that their views are represented. I think that because Kennedys is traditionally, was a UK headquartered firm, there is a tendency perhaps to make decisions that work for the London market but don't necessarily translate elsewhere. So that was one of the first things I did just to bring that global leadership team together. And we met in person actually a couple of weeks ago and collectively defined what some of our priorities should be, particularly in relation to how we manage um our people in the function. And that really talked a lot about um consistency process, transparency, information sharing. So some of the projects we'll be taking into 2024 will really be focusing on that kind of global teamwork and collaboration and making sure that we have the right systems and processes in place to allow the team to work effectively. 

Charles: And in terms of size and scale, how big is the BD function across Kennedys across those different regions?

Karen: So we currently have 70 people globally. Of that, around 45 are based in the UK. So I would imagine over time that we would see that footprint um evolve. So for example, the profile of the firm's revenue has shifted over time.

So we hit a tipping point this year where more revenue is generated outside of the UK than has been in the past. So I think that as the firm evolves, we'll need to change the footprint of the global business development marketing function. And we're looking at potentially having a core capabilities in three time zones. So there really is a sort of follow the sun approach to how we manage the function making sure that partners have access to skilled practitioners in their time zones.

Charles: Yeah. And that sort of speaks for itself, the fact that you, you know, a big part of your revenue is coming from outside of the UK. It probably shows that that growth, your efforts in trying to grow it are really sort of paying off and bringing things back to digitising and globalising the BD function in terms of success. What does this look like in your eyes? And what are you hoping to achieve, say in one year or three years, five years?

Karen: I think in the short term, what I'm hoping to achieve really is a much more connected and collaborative BD and marketing function globally. And we're already starting to see signs of that, you know, putting together global project teams on things that may have in the past just be led out of the UK. And I think it's also for the people within the function that I'm hoping that the quality of work that they're able to focus on will improve. So if we can get those systems and processes in place and eliminate some duplication of effort, it means that the team can focus on the things that really have an impact either with our partners internally or with our clients. And some of the more sort of commoditised work can either uh be dealt with through, you know, the likes of AI or we can find ways that they, you know, some of those tasks can be centralised. And so that, that we're eliminating that duplication of effort.

So I think that's a sort of short term goal is that the quality of work that the team is doing has improved. And therefore we've got a happier team. I think longer term, what I'm hoping to achieve is, you know, higher levels of satisfaction with interaction with the BD and Marketing team internally. So partners feel that they are getting sort of much higher quality work and advice. And that, you know, the BD and marketing function doesn't have to grow significantly in order to do that. So by harnessing the right technology is the right process, I can keep that head count pretty flat while achieving much more for the firm with the head count that I have.

Charles: So it sounds like there's sort of two sort of elements to that. The first one is driving efficiencies and the second one is that change in people's mindset to that global mindset. Would that be accurate?

Karen: Yes, absolutely. We're now gonna jump into the quick fire round. So this is a chance for people to find out a bit more about you. And who is Karen Snell? So we're gonna just ask some questions and you gotta tell me what comes to your mind first.

Karen: Okay. Go for it.

Charles: What was your first job?

Karen: Oh, my first job was, for those younger people, this will make no sense at all. But there was a high street store called Woolworths and I had a Saturday job working on the pick and mix counter in Woolworths.

Charles: That's incredible. My childhood is I actually probably shouldn't be admitting this. But it was, when my mom wasn't looking, I'd sneak a quick fudge out of the pick and mix and we were walking past. Brill. What makes you happy at work?

Karen: I would say that I am a people person. So I think those connections and those relationships that you build at work are one of the things that keeps me going. So sometimes it's seeing an individual that you may have hired, come on and either be promoted or sometimes even to leave the firm to go on to bigger and better things. But I really enjoy seeing the development of people and the team more broadly. 

Charles: That's a really nice answer. I remember someone saying they were talking about at a law firm, one of the senior partners were worried about offering all of this training and raising the profiles of our associates and then leaving and then the BD individual turned around and said, but are you not afraid that if we don't help them raise their profile and, you know, train them up, they're gonna leave anyway? So I quite like that.

Karen: Somebody actually said to me, what if you don't train them and they stay, that's an even bigger risk.

Charles: Yeah, absolutely. What are you listening to at the moment this could be a podcast, music audiobook?

Karen: So actually, I'm listening to Desert Island Discs. We were at a leadership training course at Oxford Said Centre, a month or so ago and over dinner people started talking about Desert Island Discs and I wasn't convinced. I always thought that that was something that you did in your twilight years. But I was convinced by the people I was sitting around dinner with that. I should give Desert Island Discs a go and now I'm hooked. I love it. Every day. I listen to at least one. 

Charles: Really. And that actually leads to a follow-up question. So give me two of your Desert Island Discs?

Karen: Oh God, this is a very difficult one. First one that really springs to mind is Town Called Malice by The Jam just has always been a song that I have loved. And then the second one Valerie by the Zutons because it reminds me of an era when my first daughter was born and her name is Amelie. So all of my friends instead of singing Valerie sing Amelie to the Zutons.

Charles:  Two absolute belters there. Brilliant. Well, to wrap things up, we'll end the podcast, how we end all of our podcasts. And it's asking you, what is the one piece of advice you'd give to marketing leaders wondering how they can build a more modern and effective BD function.

Karen: One piece of advice, I think, talk to your clients, talk to your partners. It's amazing to me how much marketing and BD activity and spend goes into things that is really not guided by the needs of the business or the needs of the clients. So, I think get out there, speak to your clients, ask them what they want from the organisation. And yeah, I think that that client feedback thing for me is absolutely critical.

Charles: I think that's a brilliant way to wrap things up. Get out there, speak to your clients and go from there. Well, Karen, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for coming on today and sharing some insight around what you're up to at Kennedys at the moment and how you're sort of achieving that digitising and globalisation of the BD function there. Thanks again for sharing our insight and hopefully we can maybe do a part two, maybe in a year's time and see how you've got on with some of these changes you're hoping to implement.

Karen: That would be amazing. Thank you for having me, Charles.




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