Note: This week’s post was written by Matt Sherman, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Welsh & Katz, a mid-sized intellectual property firm. I have never before posted an item written by someone else, but when I saw Matt’s hard-earned wisdom on the Legal Marketing Association’s private listserv, I asked him if I could share his observations with a wider audience. Matt’s advice on how to develop business with key clients is aimed at legal marketers, but his conclusions have implications for every lawyer.
Recently I was asked by a couple of our attorneys to provide an overview of "lessons learned" related to client development programs. We run a few teams here and I have run a great many more at another law firm. Here are a few of the lessons I learned over the years.
1. If the relationship partner (RP) doesn't want to grow the client, it is near impossible to have success. The RP will fight you every way possible and if the RP is a member of a politically powerful practice group, then it's not even worth the fight.
2. It's important to have selection criteria for your program. It can help you keep eager but client challenged attorneys (and their clients) out of the program. Selection criteria can be as simple as
A) Clients must exceed a certain fee revenue, such as $250K.
B) The relationship partner must have a senior level contact at the client (e.g., CEO, CFO, GC, Tax Director, etc.). I don't typically count HR VPs as senior execs, but no reason you can't.
C) The bulk of your work is in at least one strategically important practice area.
3. Limit the program to 20 to 25 clients.
4. Kick out underperforming clients. Sometimes even the best laid plans go kaput, in-house personnel change, markets contract, sub-prime losses mount. Cut your losses and move on. Annually.
5. It's more important to have an inner-circle than to have a defined client team. Don't try to build the perfect client team. Instead focus on the inner circle of attorneys serving the client. As you grow a relationship "team members" will come and go, but the inner circle pretty much stays intact and drives most of your growth.
6. Don’t try to launch a client development program that is “politically correct.” Too many firms try to placate all practice groups by having “at least a dozen clients from each practice group” in the program. All this does is water down the program and will make your life hell. Trust me. I’ve been through such a program and it was a colossal failure. I learned a lot about how not to run a client development program.
7. Don’t overwhelm your client development teams with forms. We all love to cover our tracks in paper, but do so in a client development program and you’ll get nothing more than frustrated RPs who go to the top of the law firm pyramid to complain. Ouch. Granted, you will need some basic forms to identify client contacts, new matters, client team members, etc., but one spreadsheet can capture most of these data.
8. Track ROI on the client development program. This can be based on revenue growth, growth of work in your strategic practice groups, growth in number of executive relationships established within the client, etc. We used ROI to determine which teams remained in the program and to toot the program’s horn to management and the larger partnership. Funny, but the individual RPs didn’t really care to review the ROI reports. They were far more interested in maintaining a good, productive relationship with the client.
9. Add value to the team(s). Each team will be slightly different in what it needs from you. Perhaps the worst thing you can do is provide them a cookie-cutter approach. Find out what the team needs and then work to deliver it. For example, some teams operate where the RP has all the institutional knowledge in his/her ol’ bean. Your best and highest use might be to get a brain-dump and share the information with the larger team. Some times the RP or the team may not know what they need, but as you move forward, you’ll definitely come up with things. There are literally hundreds of ways you can add value to the team. You just have to identify what it is. And, just so you know where I stand, organizing internal team meetings is not adding value.
10. The value of internal team meetings is overstated. Most of the teams I have worked with rarely meet as teams. The “inner circle” tends to meet or stay in daily contact and instructions are filtered out to the rest of the members. Efficient? Maybe. Effective? Seems to work. Ironically, the vast majority of requests for internal team meetings come from PGs/individual attorneys who believe they have expertise to sell to the client or other offices that want to get work from the client. However, there are particular reasons that certain attorneys and/or offices are kept out of a client’s business.
11. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. (Spock, Star Trek). If only we could adopt a little Vulcan sensibility to our firms and our client teams.
12. Ready. Fire. Aim. It's more important to get the program launched than to create the "perfect client development program." You learn by doing, not by navel gazing.
13. The value of client meetings can never be overstated. This is how law firms deepen the roots they have sunk into top clients. You go. You listen. You learn about the client’s goals and objectives. You benefit. More importantly, so does the client.