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December 26, 2007

Cross-selling (Part 2 of 5)

Part 1 of this series appeared a few months ago.  Today’s post describes another successful cross-selling effort that I wrote about for Law Firm Inc.  The version that appeared in my December column was a bit shorter, because it had been edited to fit on one page. 

Building relationships through industry roundtables

Lawfirminc_dec_2007_jpeg_crop Selling is all about building relationships, and one of the best ways for lawyers to build relationships is by providing valuable information, in an unthreatening environment, for free.  For many years, law firms have done this through seminars and events in their offices.

Winston & Strawn, an international law firm with 900 attorneys, has had great success with industry specific roundtables for high level executives.  For example, Jerry Bloom and three other partners recently moderated an “in-depth, collaborative discussion” on “Energy Investments for Today and Tomorrow: What You Need to Know.”  It was offered in the New York office one month and in the Los Angeles office the next, with about 25 participants at each session engaged in fast paced, open microphone discussions.

Each roundtable was also attended by several Winston & Strawn lawyers who specialize in different aspects of the law related to the energy industry, such as regulatory (federal and state), mergers and acquisitions, finance, tax, labor and litigation.

Bloom started each roundtable by briefly reviewing key questions that had been circulated in advance, including “How have alternative investors such as private equity and global infrastructure funds affected the landscape?” and “How do you distinguish between competing technologies?”  Then he invited participants to jump in, and handed over the microphone.  Because they were completely unscripted, the Los Angeles and New York sessions went in “amazingly different directions”.

Each time the discussion turned to a legal question, the lawyers in the room had a spontaneous opportunity to demonstrate the depth of their experience and knowledge.  And when clients liked what they heard from a lawyer they had not met before, it was a small step to approach them later for help with a particular legal matter.

For example, one participant in the LA session was Nat Kreamer, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Sun Run Generation, a company that helps California homeowners switch to clean energy by “purchasing power, not panels.”  (Customers sign a contract to pay Sun Run Generation a monthly fee for their solar electricity, and Sun Run Generation installs solar panels for free.)  One of the tax lawyers in the session made several comments that caught Kreamer’s attention, and he ended up hiring that lawyer to help him.

The roundtables are organized through the firm’s Energy Initiative, which includes over 60 lawyers who provide energy-related services in such areas as project development and finance, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory compliance, labor, tax, restructuring and litigation.  Their energy clients range from utilities to independent sponsors and developers of fossil fuel-fired, nuclear and renewable generation resources.  Like many of Winston & Strawn’s 29 practice groups, the energy group holds a monthly teleconference to coordinate efforts and to discuss industry developments, the legal matters they are working on, sponsorships, client pitches and directions for new business development.

This type of industry-specific practice group is especially useful in promoting cross-selling, which Director of Business Development Barbara Sessions calls one of “the most difficult challenges in legal marketing.”  Encouraging contact and building relationships across the boundaries of geography and legal specialization helps lawyers build trust in their colleagues, and spot opportunities where other Winston & Strawn lawyers can help their clients.

Marketing specialists in competitive intelligence, event planning, public relations and other specialties also participate in each monthly call.  When an action item arises, such as a need to research a particular client or organize a meeting, the appropriate specialist takes on the assignment and “does what they are best at.”

From Sessions’ perspective, these tactics are a great example of “making an old idea work” by bringing the right resources to bear on each problem.  The roundtables and other events create peer pressure which “forces lawyers to do what needs to be done.”  These activities help lawyers to overcome their reluctance about marketing and to find more time for it.  And once lawyers see the results, the rest is easy.

The remaining posts in this series will provide a big picture overview of what works in cross-selling, and what doesn’t.

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