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4 posts from December 2005

December 28, 2005

How to review client satisfaction - Part 1

Every law firm needs to plan regular reviews of client satisfaction. The nature of each practice will determine whether this should be done with a few simple questions or a sophisticated formal process. But somehow, it must be done.

There are four main reasons to review client satisfaction systematically:

1) Reviews will identify clients who are at risk of switching to another firm. When JM Associates conducted face to face interviews to measure satisfaction for one group of law firm clients, they found that 22% of them were actively thinking about switching to a different firm.

2) The very act of taking the time to review satisfaction shows clients that you care, and strengthens your relationship. The JM Associates study also reported that “One hundred percent of the clients interviewed were complimentary about the process... [and] looked forward to specific follow-up tailored to their company.”

3) You may increase short-term business. 60% of the clients in the JM Associates study purchased additional services in the two months after the review.

4) You will definitely get new insights into how clients perceive your work and new ideas for improving your service.

If you decide to review client satisfaction, it’s as simple as asking a few questions (see Part 2 of this posting, next week).

For most firms, I recommend formal reviews: 30 to 60 minute face to face meetings with key clients. To assure objectivity and openness, it’s better if the interview is conducted by a senior partner who does not manage the relationship.

Send the questions in advance so clients know what to expect. Make sure that the client knows that your aim is to improve communication and service, and that none of the meeting time will be billed.

The goal of this meeting is to give clients a chance to speak freely. Listen. Take notes. Don’t argue or defend yourself. If you are the kind of person who may be unable to prevent yourself from arguing, consider asking someone else to conduct the interview.

After the meeting, send a thank you, and a short list of action items from the meeting. Then follow up.

Part 2 of this posting will list some of the questions you should ask, and Part 3 will describe how one AmLaw 100 firm -- Akin Gump -- is using client service teams to build stronger relationships and increase new business.

December 21, 2005

How to get referrals

For many lawyers, referrals are the single best source for new clients. It’s much harder to get business from a stranger than from someone who’s been referred. The hardest part is getting the referral.

Spontaneous referrals. When a partner, a friend or a client offers to introduce you to someone, follow up immediately. Thank them, then define a specific next step such as scheduling a meeting for all three of you. If that’s too much to ask, consider requesting that your contact make a call or send an introductory email. If your contact seems uncomfortable or unlikely to follow up soon, ask if you can call the person directly and whether it’s OK to use your contact’s name.

Soliciting referrals. If you wait for others to offer spontaneous referrals, you will miss out on many opportunities. Make a list of clients you’ve pleased in the past, colleagues, and friends, and actively solicit referrals from them. And whenever you get a compliment from a client, ask for a referral.

How to ask. Practice a general request like this: “I’ve been setting up meetings lately with people who can help me brainstorm the best way to [insert a general statement about your specialty here, e.g. work with biotech firms, improve estate planning, etc.]. Do you know anyone I should meet?” Test it out on a few colleagues, then start asking. Plan to make 5 requests to get 1 or 2 referrals.

Follow up. As soon as you get a name, immediately contact them to set up a face to face meeting. If you must wait for someone else to set up a meeting, see if there’s anything you can do to help, such as drafting an introductory letter. If there’s a delay, find out why. Obviously, your relationship with the referrer will determine exactly how aggressive you can be here. But people who offer referrals will usually appreciate conscientious follow-up. When you first meet, don’t try to sell yourself. Ask for advice and listen to them, until you understand what they want and need.

Thank people. When people give you referrals, you can’t thank them too much. Send emails, handwritten notes, chocolates, and lunch. Occasionally, you will find people who have large networks and are generous with referrals. Treasure them, thank them, and buy them expensive gifts.

Take the first step today. List five people who might give you referrals – satisfied clients, partners in your firm, college friends, and distant relatives. Contact all five and ask for referrals.

This posting was adapted from the new edition of The Law Firm Business Development Workbook. Download referral_quick_ref.pdf.

December 14, 2005

How to increase revenue by adding value

In my book AdverSelling, one principle for increasing sales is “add value.” Chapter 4 includes the story of how DeBeers adds value to the diamond trade not just by controlling the market, but also by stimulating demand with advertising.

When DeBeers’ started the Diamonds are Forever advertising campaign in 1947, diamond engagement rings were far less common than they are today. The ads suggested that if a young man truly cared for his fiance, he would prove it by investing one month’s salary in her engagement ring. A few years later, the ad campaign upped the ante to two months’ salary, and still later to "two or three months."

At the end of the day, a diamond is a very small rock. Do you know how much that little rock actually costs DeBeers? Here’s a clue: depending on their quality, one carat diamonds sell to consumers for about $3,000 to $18,000 (according to the web jewelry store Blue Nile). Now guess how much of that cost comes from mining and cutting that one carat diamond, and how much is “added value” (the answer appears below).

When lawyers sell their services, their success ultimately depends on their relationships with clients. In the book Stop Selling, Start Partnering, Larry Wilson describes how sales professionals can increase revenue by adding value to those relationships. Wilson describes five key elements of adding value:
1. The wonderful paradox is that when you genuinely put your customer’s interest first, it will ultimately be to your benefit, even though this may seem naïve or altruistic on the surface.
2. Break it, shake it, and remake it. The mindset of partnering is that everything can and should be improved. Everyone who sells should constantly ask “What can we do better?” and then proceed to do it.
3. Manage the moments of truth. Each and every time a client deals with your firm is a new “moment of truth,” and to add value you must manage these interactions to insure that clients are fully satisfied.
4. Value-added service implies not only meeting customer expectations, but constantly exceeding them.
5. Run toward problems since problems are inevitable in any relationship, and the success of a partnership involves solving them quickly, honestly, and creatively.

I’ll have more to say about how lawyers can add value in a future blog posting about David Maister’s classic book The Trusted Advisor.

If you apply these ideas, and clients perceive that you add value, they will be willing to pay more. But your markup will never come close to DeBeers’. Remember that one carat diamond that cost $18,000? According to the book Glitter and Greed, the cost to mine and cut it is under $20.

December 07, 2005

Should lawyers blog?

Legal marketing expert Larry Bodine answered that question with a resounding yes in a recent presentation to the Chicago chapter of the Legal Marketing Association: “Blogs can be a great tool for establishing a law firm and especially for building awareness of a specific practice group or individual lawyer.”

One success story Larry cited was a patent law blog by McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP that gets 30,000 visitors per week. Another was “In Search of Perfect Client Service,” which is ranked #2 on the list of “Most Popular Blawgs All-Time.” (A “blawg” is a blog about the law.) Patrick Lamb, the attorney who writes the blog about perfect client service, says it’s “the best marketing tool he’s used in his 20 years of law practice.”

As Larry summed up the implications: “There are 1,131 law firms with blogs in the US, according to Blawg.org. Those that don't have them by 2006 will get left behind in the dust.”

But before you sign up to start your own blog at Typepad or Blogger or WordPress, you should know that some experts disagree. I first read about Larry’s talk on LMA Listserv, a message board for members of the Legal Marketing Association. Within two days of the original item, 25 spirited responses appeared – some in favor of blogs, some against, and some with mixed opinions.

One issue raised by several LMA experts is something I talked about in my presentation on “Using Blogs in Marketing” at the recent ISA Sales and Marketing Conference: blogging can take a lot of time. So it must be stacked up against all the other marketing tasks you could be working on, to see whether you agree with me that it’s a priority.

When I gave my ISA talk, many people were more interested in the non-marketing uses of the technology. For example, Randall Murphy, the president of Acclivus, had a number of ideas about how to use private password protected group blogs to facilitate communications between the dozens of sales trainers who are constantly on the road teaching his courses.

I had a similar conversation a few weeks later with Bill Ives, author of the blog Portals and KM (Knowledge Management), which tracks the practical applications of blogs, wikis, and other technologies. Bill’s book Business Blogs: A Practical Guide (written with Amanda Watlington) includes 5 chapters of case studies illustrating a wide variety of uses.

One of Bill’s favorite cases was a blog set up for 16 top doctors at a California hospital, when they needed to comment on plans and proposals for redesigning its campus. In the old days, say a few months earlier, they probably would have sent each other lots of mass emails and attachments. Blog technology provided a more efficient way to communicate. Instead of dozens of emails with confusing trails and outdated attachments, all the facts and comments on each topic were neatly organized in a single location.

They did not even call it a blog, since many people associate that word with teenagers, web diaries and angst. Instead, they used terms like “knowledge managament system” and “transparent searchable archive.”

The biggest benefit became obvious at the end of the project when they had to write a final report. They now had a searchable archive of their entire work process, including all discussions and related documents. This increased the comprehensiveness and quality of the final report, and reduced the time it took to write it.

Blog search engine Technorati now tracks 22.3 million blogs with 1.7 billion links. According to their most recent report on “The State of the Blogosphere,” someone somewhere starts a new blog every second, and the total number of blogs is doubling every 5 months.

So you can be sure that this technology is in your future. You may or may not use a blog for marketing, and you may or may not call it a blog, but you will use the technology.