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7 posts from March 2006

March 29, 2006

How to Conduct Client Satisfaction Interviews - Part 1

A few years ago, the idea of a law firm holding free meetings to formally review client satisfaction seemed radical. But lately, it’s been catching on.

All right, maybe it’s not growing as fast as we business development people would like, but it is growing. According to a survey that will be published next month by ALM Research and The Brand Research Company, 56% of the top 1000 law firms have conducted client interviews and satisfaction surveys. If you are a glass half-empty type, you might note that only 5% have interviewed all of their clients. But wherever I go law firms are talking about doing more interviews, and I have no doubt that these numbers will grow quickly.

Over the last few months, I’ve been writing in this blog about the best way to do client satisfaction interviews, based on interviews with a number of experts, including (in alphabetical order) Steve Bell of Womble Carlyle, Michelle Golden of Golden Consulting, Dan Hull of Hull McGuire, Peter Johnson of Law Practice Consultants, Iris Jones of Akin Gump, Tom Kane of Kane Consulting, Patrick Lamb of Butler Rubin, Laura Meherg of Meherg Consulting, and Gerry Riskin of Edge International.

Lately, those discussions have gotten into some of the fine points of exactly what you should and should not do. In this week’s post and the next one, I’d like to go back to the basics for firms that are considering their first interviews, and provide a summary of what the experts agree on, and what you should do about it.

The most important conclusion

All of the experts agree that every law firm needs to conduct client satisfaction reviews. There are many ways to succeed, but just one way to fail: not interviewing your clients at all.

Here are five reasons you need to start soon:

1) The simple act of taking the time to review satisfaction shows clients that you care, and strengthens your relationships.
2) Formal reviews of satisfaction will identify clients who are at risk of switching to another firm.
3) You will probably get new business directly out of the review.
4) You will definitely get some ideas for improving your service.
5) You want to do this before your competitors. Law firms that do other legal work for your clients are increasingly likely to hold client satisfaction interviews, and try to take away business from your firm. You should get there first.

Which clients should be interviewed?

How do you know which clients absolutely must be interviewed? According to Gerry Riskin: “It’s really very simple. Imagine your worst nightmare: Your assistant walks in and says that a client has asked to have all their files sent to a new firm. Who do you pray it isn’t?”

In time, you may decide to interview every single significant client. That was Womble Carlyle’s goal in their award winning “Stop the Clock” marketing campaign. If that feels too ambitious, decide how many interviews would be realistic in the next 90 days, and use these criteria (from Peter Johnson’s article “12 Steps to a Successful Client Interview Program” with additions from Laura Meherg) to draw up your list:

Longstanding relationships
Top ten in revenues
Opportunities for increased revenues
Concerns about decreased revenues
Perceived problems or threats
Change in client management/personnel
New clients
Cross selling opportunities
Introduction of a new “relationship” attorney
Hunches or tips

Who should do the interviewing?

Now comes the hottest issue and the hardest decision: who should conduct the interviews?

Most experts agree that the interviewer’s personal characteristics and skills are more important than whether they are lawyers or outside consultants. A successful interviewer will be able to build rapport, will know what questions to ask, and will be able to direct the discussion to maximize results.

But some experts say it’s best to hire an outside consultant, because:
Clients will be more candid with an outsider
Trained professionals conduct better interviews
The interviews will be scheduled more quickly and reliably

Other experts believe these interviews should be conducted by the firm’s lawyers, because:
Lawyers have the best understanding of the client’s situation
Interviews strengthen the personal relationship
Lawyers can promise necessary follow-up action on the spot
It is less expensive than hiring outsiders

If you do decide to have lawyers conduct the interviews, the next question is which lawyer? The partner who manages the relationship certainly has the best understanding of the client, and may want to do it herself. But having one of the senior partners conduct the review will lead to a franker assessment, and is a great way of demonstrating that the whole firm is committed to client satisfaction.

Some experts feel strongly that, as Laura Meherg put it “while every attorney should regularly have candid conversations with their clients about performance, results, needs, and goals, for a formal review of client satisfaction to be effective, the relationship/ working attorneys should NOT conduct the interview.”

One of the biggest problems with having lawyers conduct the interviews is getting them to do it. If they are not entirely comfortable with the idea, many will find that they can’t fit this unbillable task into their overcrowded schedules.

In their award winning Stop the Clock Program, Womble Carlyle overcame this problem, by running an internal competition among their nine offices. They tracked the percent of interviews completed by each office, and ran a contest in which the offices with the highest percent of completed interviews won free dinners, bragging rights, and more. It worked.

Tom Kane has advised a number of law firms on this issue, and has seen many different approaches. He suggests a hybrid that starts with a third party professional because “clients are likely to be more open.” This should be followed promptly with a visit from senior management to discuss the results and how to improve the relationship

Given the differences of opinion between experts, I think that the answer depends on the situation. As I wrote in Part 5: “each decision should be based on the individuals who are involved and the fundamental marketing question: what will make this particular client happy? A law firm surveying 10 clients could therefore decide to use partners with 5 clients and outside consultants with the rest.”

Next week, I’ll write about the logistics of conducting interviews, including what questions to ask. If you can’t wait for the details, go to the free resources section of my web page and download a copy of “How to Conduct Client Satisfaction Interviews” from the next edition of my Law Firm Business Development Workbook.

March 22, 2006

How to motivate lawyers to sell

It’s easy to tell lawyers how to increase business development. The hard part is getting them to do it, and do it well.

In the long run, the answer must include compensation. People will change their behavior when they are paid to do so.

Compensation is a huge issue, and will be discussed in future postings. For today, let’s just say it requires an enormous amount of time and effort, and is not a panacea. Most people judge compensation systems by one simple criterion: How much did I get? Since there will always be people who think they deserve more, discussions of the system never end. Sales organizations that have been paying commissions for over a century still fine tune the details every few years to address new priorities and to soothe bruised feelings.

Since changing compensation is a long term approach, marketing pros are constantly looking for techniques that can be implemented in the short term to increase motivation and follow-up immediately.

Adam Severson, Director of Sales at Dorsey & Whitney, recently described one such “quick and dirty” system “to keep score of the number of meetings, lunches, phone calls, etc. that our attorneys were making to their clients and prospects and to ensure coordination so that prospects didn’t get called by 13 Dorsey lawyers.”

Dorsey posted a “very low tech” spreadsheet on the practice group intranet listing the details of each contact: date, name, company, attorney, and type of activity. Group leaders then “sent out reminders every two weeks, highlighting the people who had the most contacts. The results were also discussed in practice group lunches.”

The effects were a tribute to the idea that “less is more”: “This ‘public’ view and support was helpful to drive the competitive spirit in our lawyers and get them active,” Severson said. “We kept score; therefore, they moved.” This is the same tactic Steve Bell used in his award winning "Stop the Clock" program at Womble Carlyle.

Jayne Navarre, now Director of Marketing at Kluger Peretz Kaplan & Berlin offered a similar case study, but with an important caveat. When she worked at a different law firm in the Midwest, they set up a new program with an aggressive goal of 9 face to face sales meetings per month for every lawyer who participated. “Each month, at the practice meeting, those who did not have their lists were subject to interrogation. Participation in the program was noted in their annual review, and hourly efforts were tracked the same way as billable clients. After the monthly meetings, the Biz Dev Manager would put the data into a master list and would attempt to track hits, misses, and help the group focus on synergistic relationships and repeat activities.”

The results? “On paper, this should have been an unqualified success,” says Navarre. “In the real world, it was a mixed success.” The program did lead to some new engagements and increased sales awareness, which had long term benefits to the lawyers and the firm. But after about 7 months, “it fizzled out due to lack of commitment.”

With the wisdom of hindsight, “the biggest problem was that a majority of the calls were poor quality and included stuff like playing cards with their neighbors. It is not enough to send them out to call on clients and prospects - they have to be quality leads.”

It’s easy to spot the errors in a plan after you’ve tried it, but no one starts a new program if they can see failure in advance. One problem at Kluger was that they were trying to break into some new markets that turned out to be overcrowded and too competitive.

That’s why sales experts always counsel firms to focus first on current clients and referrals, before going after new markets. But not everyone wants to hear this advice.

My conclusions? 1) you can motivate lawyers to spend more time selling by tracking activity, and reporting results in a way that appeals to their competitive instincts, and 2) before you send lawyers out to get more meetings, it pays to have a solid plan for reaching the right market. For more on how to create that plan, watch this blog.

March 16, 2006

To sell or not to sell — that is the question

This item continues the discussion of selling in client satisfaction interviews. It was written by Gerry Riskin at 39,000 feet, on his way back from Sweden:

What is the purpose of client visits? Is it as I was quoted saying “to listen and learn, not to sell” or as Steven Bell, Director of Sales at Womble Carlyle was quoted as saying: “At a client service review… the lawyer and his/her client are supposed to dig in and candidly discuss what's going on at the company. It’s a chance for the client to wax eloquent about problems and dreams… At least to this salesman, for a lawyer to uncover problems (or opportunities) and not to provide a solution (yes, even one that the lawyer himself can address for a fee), is the equivalent of a doctor knowing that you have heart palpitations and not doing anything about it…. When a client talks about problems (or opportunities), he/she wants advice and suggestions from a lawyer every bit as much as a patient does from a doctor.”

Based on a conversation with Steven, I don’t think his views and mine actually differ as much as you might think, although we may put emphasis on different syllables.

Both of us are well aware that top rainmakers in blue chip law firms report that they rarely visit a client’s place of business without growing existing work or getting new work. Both of us agree that this is a desirable consequence of client visitations. The key issue is whether selling ought to be the focus of the visit.

I believe that both Steven and I view the primary purpose of a client visit as an opportunity to ensure that there is a high level of client satisfaction and to reduce the probability that the client might migrate to a different law firm. This is achieved through listening and learning. Few lawyers understand their clients’ businesses or industries as well as the clients would like and we agree that this is a critical objective for the visit. It follows that this is a key ingredient of the training of lawyers require to make such visits.

The delicate question is this: What is the appropriate reaction in a client visitation when it becomes obvious that there is a legal need that your firm is not currently fulfilling. My view is that the primary purpose of the visit must not be abandoned (or appear to be abandoned). At the same time I agree completely with Steven Bell that the doctor must help the patient. I don’t believe that Steven is advocating throwing the patient onto the gurney and tossing our note pads into the trash. I used the word “delicate” because there is some judgment to be exercised here.

How can we be appropriately responsive to the need without being unfaithful to the primary purpose of the visit. I can think of several possibilities:
Briefly defer the discussion of the legal matter to a follow up with the lawyer(s) who are best equipped to attract the work and do it with quality.
With the client’s blessing, allow a digression from the meeting’s agenda to address the problem or opportunity at hand but be disciplined enough to return to the original agenda.
There may be different and perhaps unforeseeable options which make sense in the context of a particular meeting. The visiting lawyer(s) must have the discretion to exercise appropriate judgment and make the best choices in the circumstances.

In preparing lawyers for client visits, I stress that the purpose of client visits is not selling, to help lawyers avoid the temptation to conduct the visit in sales mode.

Perhaps what I have described here is indeed selling at the highest level and that is why I think references to Steven Bell and myself if they appear different are mostly semantic except for one. Steven agrees that in a perfect world lawyers would make separate visits for different reasons. He is concerned that lawyers on the client team will not take the requisite time to conduct all the visits they should. If they have only one opportunity, Steven does not want to ignore the sales opportunity.

In my opinion, the bottom line is discipline. If the client team has it, and conduct the requisite visits, they can accomplish both bulletproofing existing clients and growing their business.

March 15, 2006

The most important research on legal marketing

In my opinion, Suzanne Lowe and Larry Bodine’s new report “Increasing Marketing Effectiveness at Professional Firms” is the most important research to date on legal marketing.

As they point out: “Information on using measurement to increase the effectiveness of marketing and business development abounds in most industries but, until now, had never been captured for the professional services arena.” And, as a reformed academic, I LOVE data.

My Law Firm Business Development Workbook quotes a long list of experts on the value of measurement. My favorite quote is from Tom Peters “What gets measured gets done.” Or maybe it’s the one from Ken Rau: “You can’t manage something you can’t measure.” No wait, my very favorite is from Tom Snyder: “Measurement is the engine of change.” Because that phrase leads directly to an important logical conclusion: if you measure the right thing, it’s easier to do the right thing.

So, when lawyers want to increase new business, what is the right thing to measure? According to Lowe and Bodine: “Professional firms that said they were extremely effective [in developing new business] used three particular client-focused metrics in combination with each other…: a) Growing client revenue: ‘Did you grow revenue with your client or not?’ b) Moving the phases of a sale through a pipeline: ‘Did you close the sale or not?’, and c) Listening to the client: ‘Did you listen to your client or not?’”

One obvious implication: coaches should track a combination of revenue by client, the pipeline, and listening. While these items are on many coach’s lists, I’ve never heard of them being the top three.

That doesn’t mean that I will stop measuring everything else. Professional sales organizations in other industries focus on measuring sales activity, especially the number of meetings, because it can take months or years to build a new relationship to the point that it produces revenue. So it’s important to continue to track leading indicators like meetings, to quickly see what’s working and what isn’t.

But I will definitely avoid the variables Lowe and Bodine found least helpful: “forecasting (i.e., envisioning future economic and business scenarios), analyzing market share and alumni outreach programs.”

Now before I stop talking about this research, allow me a moment to revert to my academic roots. In grad school, I spent years learning how to quibble over procedural details, and I don’t expect this study to win any methodology awards from the National Science Foundation. A “six-week unblinded Internet study” never will. When a study is based on volunteers, it’s natural to wonder how well the conclusions will generalize to everybody else. But while we’re waiting for someone to do another study, this one offers the best available data on the most critical issue in business development: what tactics produce the biggest results?

Just one more thing: if I’m going to talk about important data in legal marketing, I must also include Michael Rynowecer’s ongoing surveys at BTI Consulting. His most recent report is especially provocative, since it shows “an unprecedented drop in client satisfaction with law firms… Just 30.7% of large and Fortune 1000 companies recommend their primary law firms. BTI found an astonishing 53.7% of clients ousted their primary law firms in the past 18 months. More than 50% of clients also reported they plan to try at least one new law firm for substantive matters in 2006.”

That’s a whole lot of opportunity for the law firms that are getting serious about selling. So with all those opportunities out there, it’s time to stop blogging, and get back to developing new business.

March 14, 2006

RSS feeds and bookmarks

If you don’t read Patrick Lamb’s blog, you should. And if you do read it, you need to know that it’s moved to www.patrickjlamb.com. Don’t miss the j in that URL, or you’ll end up reading how saxophonist Patrick Lamb is captivating audiences “with his youthful charm, sincerity and pure magnetism” at Wilfs Restaurant & Bar in Portland Oregon.

And while you’re updating feeds and bookmarks, make sure you’ve got Dan Hull on your list. Patrick and Dan are two of the three most popular legal bloggers “all time” according to www.blawg.org. (There’s no need to read the third one if, like me, you focus on marketing.)

March 08, 2006

Should you sell during client satisfaction reviews?

When I talked to experts for my recent posts on client satisfaction reviews, I found differing views on many details. But one thing that everybody agreed on was the purpose of the interviews: as Gerry Riskin put it “to listen and learn, not to sell.” Michelle Golden said it more strongly: “When the marketing starts, it is quite clear that you're not just there out of sincere interest in the customer's feelings, you're also there to make more money. Never, ever, mix caring for the customer with something so self-serving.” Then Patrick Lamb wrote: “I could not agree more strongly with Michelle Golden that these encounters should not be for marketing. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.“

Wait, did I say everybody agreed? Not Steve Bell, Director of Sales at Womble Carlyle, who recently emailed that “purists suggest that proactive ideas (aka selling) should not take place at a client service review. I say ‘humbug.’”

“At a client service review,” Steve continued, “the lawyer and his/her client are supposed to dig in and candidly discuss what's going on at the company. It’s a chance for the client to wax eloquent about problems and dreams… At least to this salesman, for a lawyer to uncover problems (or opportunities) and not to provide a solution (yes, even one that the lawyer himself can address for a fee), is the equivalent of a doctor knowing that you have heart palpitations and not doing anything about it….When a client talks about problems (or opportunities), he/she wants advice and suggestions from a lawyer every bit as much as a patient does from a doctor.”

Steve’s comments came during an exchange about Womble Carlyle’s recent Marketing Initiative of the Year Award from Thomson Elite for their “Stop the Clock Program” which has produced 300 client visits, 200 sales calls with prospective clients, and 30 new engagements to date.

Womble Carlyle’s nine offices first compiled lists of clients to be interviewed. The partner who managed the relationship was asked to interview each client for about an hour, emphasizing that it was non-billable. The percent of interviews completed by each office was tracked and reported on a password-protected extranet site. Offices with the highest percent of completed interviews won free dinners, bragging rights, and more.

As Steve explained: “The secret for any firm that wants to focus on client services is to motivate its partners to get involved, and there are few better motivators than friendly competition, with charts and bar graphs to show whether you are ahead of the other guy or gal.”

The client meetings were organized into four parts. In Part 1, clients were simply thanked for their business. Part 2 asked questions about how to improve service, such as: “Looking back over the past year or so, what could we have done better or differently in order to better serve you?” Part 3 focused on the future: “As you look ahead over the next 12 to 18 months, what are some of the key issues you see on the horizon that we should be talking and thinking about to ensure that Womble will be prepared to serve you well?”

But it was Part 4 that got my attention with its explicit cross-selling. Jonathan Groner, Senior Communications Counsel at Womble Carlyle, first compiled a list of 40 “products” by interviewing practice group leaders about the problems clients face and the solutions Womble Carlyle offers. Typical products included an ERISA review, an equal employment audit, and a review of directors and officers insurance. Then, during the client service interviews, each partner picked out a few items that they thought might help that client and asked questions like “Have you ever thought about ___” or “Has your organization ever discussed/ considered ___”

The rationale, in Steve Bell’s words: “Our clients don't need us to be clinical, third-party interviewers finding facts for facts' sake. They need us to transform facts into solutions. Without Part 4 of the review, we are not doing our entire client service job… At this firm, we borrow our best practices from other industries. Can you honestly imagine a discussion with your financial adviser, insurance broker or car salesman that did not end with him/her making a suggestion about what you should do next?”

I visited Jonathan Groner to get a second opinion, and asked how lawyers felt about participating in the program. “There will always be some resistance to selling,” he said, but the resistance is much lower at Womble Carlyle than at other firms because “lawyers know that this is part of what they have to do.” That made sense to me. When legal marketing experts talk about Womble Carlyle, they usually mention that it was the first major law firm to hire a Sales Director (Steve Bell, in 2001).

I think the “Stop the Clock” campaign is an extremely important piece of data in the discussion about client satisfaction reviews, because it shows that direct selling can be effective. Not by anecdote, but by an award winning campaign with hundreds of meetings and a proven impact on new business.

Note that I said selling CAN work, not that it WILL work. Whether it works for you will depend on your attitude, your culture, and your clients. But maybe you should think about it.

March 01, 2006

Everybody wants the stars

Competition for the most successful rainmakers is getting more intense, according to Steve Barrett, Chief Marketing Officer at AmLaw 100 firm Drinker Biddle. “Every firm has .200 hitters, but they all want Ted Williams.”

The comment came in a wide ranging conversation with Steve, on his cell phone as he drove to a meeting. We talked about the future of legal marketing, and about the trends he’s seen in marketing positions at some of the most successful law firms in the country (Perkins Coie and Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker), and at a large Boston firm that dissolved (Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault).

Although Steve has seen a growing acceptance of the need for legal marketing in the last few years, there’s still a long way to go. Part of the problem is inherent in the nature of the legal profession, and the people who are attracted to it. For many lawyers, the idea of selling still does not come naturally, and falls somewhere between undignified and unpleasant. “The job of lawyers is to help people understand what they can’t do. Sales is all about what you can do.”

But, as Steve pointed out, in today’s world even Trappist monks have found that they need commercial skills to survive. (For a full list of Trappist jams, jellies, and preserves, including Damson plum, elderberry, quince, ginger and Kadota fig, visit www.monasterygreetings.com.)

The problem is further complicated by the fact that most businesses have sales forces that are entirely separate from the manufacturing and operations people who generate the revenue. In law firms, the same people are responsible for selling and for providing service. So selling is everybody’s job.

I was particularly interested in our discussion of how to accommodate different personalities, and who should be trained to sell (a topic which I will discuss in detail in a future post). Steve says that it’s a waste of time to train everybody. In law firms, sales talent is a bell curve. “At the top, you have about 10-15% who get it now,” and Steve believes that new training programs should build on these opinion leaders. “To some extent, we start by teaching the Ted Williams’ to hit a little better.”

“At the bottom,” Steve continued, “you have 10-15% who will never be interested in sales.” The best advice here is to accept the inevitable, and let them make their contributions in other areas. According to Steve, sales training will have the greatest impact with the middle 70% to 80% who are receptive to selling and who have a lot to learn. “With the proper training, many will become consistently productive business generators.”

So the acceptance of legal selling may not be building as fast as we’d like, but it is building. “The lawyers in their thirties get it first… It’s ridiculously more competitive out there, and lawyers simply must start selling to survive.”