So you made the panel, but what comes after the beauty parade?

 

Your firm has secured its place on the panel and the selection process is history, so what action should you now be considering to ensure that your firm is always the client’s first port of call.  PACE offers some suggestions.

Congratulations! You’ve made the client’s panel of advisers. The tender process and pitch was tough but your firm was victorious. Well done.

And well done to all your competitors who join you on that panel. They, like you, are eager to start work and get their teeth into some serious fee-earning. Of course in an ideal world that work would be apportioned equally between the panel members, but feedback from law firms suggests that this isn’t always the case. Why is it that some panel firms seem to get more work than others? Why is it that they seem to be that much closer to the key client contacts and decision-makers?

It’s only just begun
The answer lies in what they do after the beauty parade or pitch, and in particular the effort they invest in continuing to build the client relationship. For them the pitch result isn’t the end of the relationship-building process, it’s simply a milestone in a long and hopefully rewarding journey.
If you look at the mindset of these firms, it is different to that of others on the panel. They approach the client as they would a prospective one. They do not assume that they know everything, in fact this is impossible because people, situations and the issues facing an organisation are constantly changing.

The multiplying effect
So the more successful firms put in place plans to monitor and keep abreast of changes as they occur. They build in regular “touchpoints” with their key contacts, which enable them to “catch up” with what’s happening to those individuals, the organisation and its world. They also actively expand the number of key contacts they know at the client and in doing so build relationships with a wider range of people in the organisation. Some of these may be buyers and decision-makers of legal services, others not. Each, however, is important because of the insight of and/or influence they have within the client organisation.

Simply knowing these people exist, however, isn’t enough. The most successful firms then cherry-pick people according to their “fit” with those on the client-side in order to build relationships with them. Over time this creates many allies for them in the organisation—allies, who when a piece of work comes up, have that firm at the forefront of their mind rather than others on the panel.

Insider knowledge
Such multi-level relationships also help the more successful panel firms understand the different perceptions held within the client organisation towards them (and even perhaps towards other panel members). This presents them with a fantastic advantage. Such intelligence can be used to make improvements to their approach—ones which will add greater value to the client and give their firm a more highly regarded position on the panel. Whilst the pitch brief may have specified certain modes of work and service delivery, as time moves on things change. Those firms who are in regular dialogue with key contacts in the client’s organisation will be able to respond quickly to these changes. They may even have been brought in to help the organisation cope with them!

Aspects of added value can be created for the client organisation as a whole and also for key individuals. The nature of each added value element will be different according to the recipient. At the heart of it, however, will be the intention to make the recipient’s life easier, help with issues that affect them or even make them better and more effective within the client organisation. Creating such valuable and tailored “added value” is not possible without getting under the surface of the client and realising all the different motivations, needs and requirements at play. This is not easy and individuals do not open up unless they trust the person they are speaking to.

A matter of trust
So how do you build this position of trust? From our work with law firms over the years, we’ve found that trust is built on how credible the client finds a firm and its people. Credibility is created over a number of interactions and through people’s confidence in what they say and the solutions they propose. The initial impact and first impressions of a firm’s people will also help and hinder the client’s view of their credibility as will the ability to deliver as promised. And fundamental to credibility is honesty, as the minute an individual believes another is being dishonest, all sense of credibility goes out of the window.

In addition to credibility, trust is built through the client believing that a firm is competent to do the task and manage the relationship. Competence is demonstrated through that firm’s and its individuals’ track-record, their knowledge and past expertise. It is also evident in the types of questions its people ask. These are not manipulative, but instead genuinely searching and demonstrating the insight they have and the genuine desire to gain the right understanding.

Credibility and competence reassure people that a particular firm is the best to do the job. Even though this is business and we’re all professional, people are human so there is a third facet, which makes or breaks trust. It’s more irrational in nature and based on emotion—compatibility; or rather “can we work with you?” and “how comfortable are we in working with you and your people?”

Compatibility can be built by demonstrating a genuine interest in the client and its individuals. It comes from listening to them and demonstrating that listening. If necessary, it can be helped by adapting behaviour so the firm’s people do not come across “at odds” with the personalities on the client side. Above all, compatibility is truly felt when individuals believe a firm and its advisers genuinely care about them and their issues.

Keep in touch
With busy, busy fee-earner days it’s very easy, once a piece of work has come to an end, to drop contact with a client. The more successful panel firms recognise the risk in this and know that, over time, lack of contact weakens their position on the client’s “radar”. Therefore, over an appropriate period of time they put in place plans to create a series of contact points. These include things such as a simple call to catch up, sending them a relevant piece of information, inviting them to an event that will interest them, etc.  Collectively these help to maintain each contact’s enthusiasm for the firm and without badgering them. It also prevents the firm being seen as “only interested when there’s a sniff of fees”, which some clients have accused their legal advisers of.

Summary
Your firm has invested significant resources and has earned the right to be on a panel where the client still has choices. The next step is to maximise your return on your investment and proactively plan to be the preferred “first” choice for work. Now is the time to use the client’s interest in your firm to further build your relationship with them. So:

  • expand your range of contacts;
  • increase your knowledge of the client and their world;
  • develop your people in the ways that build trust;
  • and above all, when this current project is over, do keep in touch.

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