The New Normal For Law Firm Business Development: Client Service
The following is a summary of my Marketing and Business Development panel discussion at Academy for Private Practice, the excellent Above The Law conference that was held a week ago in New York City. Much of the discussion is based on my many years in a NYC law firm, ongoing conversations in my current role with solos, mid-size, and large law firms, and our new E-Book, More Clients, Happy Clients: The Law Firm Guide to Delivering Exceptional Service.
The session was about marketing and business development, which, though related, are separate functions within the firm.
Marketing is about getting the word out about the firm’s overall message, benefits, and capabilities. Efforts include websites, blogging, social media, newsletters, speaking engagements, webinars, ebooks, digital ads, videos, and so on.
Business development, on the other hand, is more a function of sales, a word that makes lawyers cringe. It happens after the marketing plan and efforts are in place. It involves creating strategic relationships, nurturing the ones that exist and that marketing efforts have brought in, identifying trends, using technology to identify client patterns, cross selling, working with practice area groups, conducting research and analysis, etc.
For this discussion, I’ll use business development to encompass both.
Studies have shown it cost 6-7 times more to find a new customer as it does to retain a current one. And, surveys have indicated that clients leave not because of high prices but because of poor service.
So, delivering a high level of service is not just the right thing to do, it also pays to keep your clients happy.
I focused on two essential ingredients in the law firm client service recipe: Technology and Education.
- Business development and marketing professionals at the firm need technology solutions to parse the data on revenue reports, hours worked, projects, and information on top performing clients.
- Mine industry data. At one firm I worked for, back when “big data” was simply data, an electronic (and paper) repository decades in the making contained such uniquely valuable information that it became part of the pitch that made clients come to us and stay with us. An entire “litigation support” department evolved from that database.
- Use cloud-based practice management solutions which offer clients a portal for better communication and document handling, along with online billing, invoicing, and convenient payment options.
- Continuing Education: At the turn of the century NY became a mandatory CLE state and the librarians decided to take on the task of becoming an accredited provider. We used that status to host major conferences, educational events, and a video library that we then offered to the in-hosue counsel of clients who were grateful for the opportunity to learn and to fulfill their CLE requirements.
- Build client service teams at your firm. Teams include players from the library and marketing departments, accounting, paralegal, records, associates and partners. Everyone. These teams go deep in their research and analysis, response, and outreach. Teams can be broken down by client needs, such as Technology and Training, Alternative Pricing Models, Continuing Education, Blogging and Social Media Outreach, Content Initiatives such as E-Books, White Papers, and Guides.
- Use Blogging and social media for outreach, education, and awareness. See: Social Media and Blogging Advice from Lawyers and Law Firm Administrators.
To summarize: Law firm business development is no longer just about results. It’s about relationships.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Here are a few of my responses from among the questions that were posed to the panel:
When you go to pitch a client what are the three things you would stress as most important to making a pitch likely to be successful?
- Don’t just know the client’s issue, know them, their business, their industry. See: Law Firms vs. In-House Counsel In a Changing Legal Environment.
- Show how you use technology and innovative, creative, and metrics driven solutions, including AFAs, to get results.
- Listen more than you talk (This point resonated).
Describe trying to land a client and completely blowing it – either at the pitch or otherwise – and what lessons were learned.
During my consultant years, a potential client found me through my website, sent a message and i set up a meeting with them – two founding partners of the company. I set up a video conference and proceeded to wow them with my domain knowledge and made awesome suggestions based on that. Thing is, I didn’t know the details of the problem they were trying to solve. They reminded me of that after I droned on.
- Lesson #1: No one ever listened themselves out of a job. But you can talk yourself out of one.
- Lesson #2: improve the intake process
If there is one single message you would like the people listening today to take away what would that message be?
If you’re unsure where to start in your marketing and business development efforts, ask your current clients. For every customer complaint there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent.
Don’t ask broad questions, be specific. For instance, don’t ask: “how can we serve you better?” or “how did the team do?” Ask, “Can you give us an example, or examples, of how we met or did not meet your expectations?”
There are, obviously, a lot more ingredients that go into the client service mix but this is all that 20 minutes allotted me. And, it’s a good place to start when thinking about business development goals and practices in law firms.
The 2nd Annual Academy for Private Practice will be held in Philadelphia, PA, next year. Check it out if you can to learn, meet new people, and deepen relationships.