Advancing client relationships, one step at a time
When lawyers first try to bring in new business, many expect too much too soon. It takes time to develop trust and build a relationship, especially when it comes to “bet the company” legal work such as litigation. As Kelly Kiernan Largey, National Marketing Executive at Fish & Richardson , a 400-lawyer firm that specializes in intellectual property, litigation, and corporate law, puts it: “Nobody hires a litigator because they saw an ad in an airport.”
So Largey’s firm [a client of mine] encourages its lawyers to measure business development success one small step at a time. The approach is based on Neil Rackham’s concept of advances, explained in his book SPIN Selling . As Rackham defines it, an “advance” is a concrete action that moves a relationship closer to a sale, such as scheduling another meeting, getting introduced to a new contact with the client, or providing a list of references. Because the concept is based on Rackham’s twelve year study of 35,000 sales calls, lawyers find it persuasive.
Largey says the concept is especially valuable in encouraging lawyers to advance relationships they already have by means of informal networking. She cites one Fish & Richardson lawyer who overcame her reluctance with self-deprecating humor. After reading about one formula for developing new business, she poked fun at it in a long email to a business acquaintance with examples like this: “[Start by being conversational] Nice to see you last Saturday [then transition to something work related] and to hear a little about some of the problems you are dealing with. [Show that you can help] I realized later that we never talked about my firm’s work in this area. [Close with an action item]. Should we have lunch next week so I can fill you in on the details?”
The business contact got such a kick out of the email, she picked up the phone to arrange the lunch, and ultimately awarded the lawyer new business.
Only a few law firms teach attorneys to focus on advances, because the idea comes straight from the world of professional sales, and sales is still a dirty word in most firms. Traditionally, lawyers have used the word marketing broadly to refer to any activities involved in generating new business. “Some law firms waste enormous amounts of money doing the wrong things,” says Largey, who was president of the Legal Marketing Association in 1993, and has been around long enough to see fads come and go.
In law firms today, Largey says, there are too many people who wear both the marketing and the business development hats. They typically come from a marketing background, and end up spending time on the activities that lawyers are most comfortable with, such as speakers’ conferences, press releases and in-house events. But to bring in new business, she says, firms must focus on getting lawyers to leave the office, meet with prospects, and advance their relationships.