With the evenings getting lighter and the days lengthening, this time of year always seems to present things in a fresh light. In the past few weeks, we have talked to a number of law firms that want to experience something similar. While they may have great clients, those clients tend to call on their advisers only for certain expertise.
These firms have the ability to help their clients in a greater capacity, but doing so presents a problem.
“We would love to tell them about our additional services,” one managing partner told us. “But no matter how we try and phrase it, the approach always smacks of being pushy and ‘salesy’. We do not want to jeopardise the great relationships we have, but we are not delivering our full potential to these clients.”
Much research has confirmed that increasing top-line growth from existing clients is more profitable than generating it from new ones. Many law firms suggest it is also more difficult. So how do you cultivate bigger and better client relationships in which they can see your firm’s ‘total picture’?
While the client’s understanding of your firm is fundamental, it is only one element in successfully introducing new expertise to them. Your understanding of them will be just as crucial, as will your grasp of your firm’s wider offering. Among law firms, efforts to sell more services to existing clients often stumble over advisers’ discomfort about introducing these new service streams to their clients.
Understanding the client
A detailed understanding of the client and their world can prevent the introduction of additional services as coming across as pushy. The more you understand, the more you can identify ways in which your firm’s wider expertise will help or benefit them. The starting point must be the welfare of the client – not how many extra service lines you can sell.
Ways of building a detailed picture of the client’s world might include:
- Inviting clients to talk to you and other fee earners about their business and industry;
- Attending the client’s industry conferences;
- Attending the client’s own events and conferences;
- Reading the client’s trade press;
- Investing non-chargeable time in building the relationship;
- Using in-house research to keep abreast of clients’ industries;
- Building ‘thinking information’ into the key client file; and
- Using client review meetings to gain a greater understanding of the client, their likes and dislikes and the future as they see it.
In each case, the aim is to explore the client’s bigger picture – the issues and opportunities affecting their business, which perhaps are beyond the current activities your firm is directly involved in. Clients tend to react positively to this interest and accordingly become more loyal. They feel their advisers are genuinely interested in their business and aspirations.
Understanding your firm
To be able to offer more valuable solutions to clients, a client partner and team need to be fully up-to-date with the current capabilities and expertise their own firm has to offer. This is often more difficult than it sounds. As firms become larger and more successful, communication between different departments can fragment. Fee earners often work in silos and have less interaction with other areas of expertise. Their knowledge is limited.
Many law firms are tackling this issue. The best initiatives bring people together. Humans tend to remember more when they hear, see or experience something, rather than when they read it. Internal newsletters, intranets, emails and memos can be effective, but if over-used can become buried in the mountain of other written communication that lawyers face on a daily basis.
Good internal communication initiatives bring people together to talk, share experiences and gain ideas. This can be fostered through inter-department secondments, communal eating and other social areas, inter-department or office events and (wherever possible) open-plan offices.
Escaping your comfort zone
Like many other professional organisations, law firms often function around individuals managing (or ‘owning’) particular client relationships. This can lead to a client relationship determining a fee earner’s personal financial security.
In this light, the introduction of colleagues to their clients poses a risk for some, who may feel the client relationship will be taken over or they will be overshadowed in some way. They may fear a personal loss of financial reward by introducing others or be concerned that colleagues could sour or damage a relationship if they are brought in and then perform poorly.
It is these fears that can prevent additional expertise being introduced to solve client challenges and create opportunities. Fee earners often prefer to stick to their comfort zones, choosing to deliver the expertise that they alone are comfortable with.
It takes a lot of effort to challenge this, but some firms are doing it. Fundamental to their approach is building trust between fee earners and providing support for the firm’s financial health as a whole.
This often involves re-working the firm’s reward and remuneration structure. In so doing, the focus of financial reporting, reward and recognition switches from individual performance to the firm as a whole.
Trust is also largely dependent on how much individual fee earners value each other. This will build up over time and is dependent on positive experiences. We have seen some law firm’s work actively to bring together fee earners to create opportunities for the greater good of the client. They monitor and manage the process closely so that it is a positive experience for all parties. They also communicate cross-selling success internally and use role models where needed.
Expanding the client’s understanding of your firm
The most successful way of introducing new services to existing clients is through dialogue with a client, typically face to face. This provides the most timely and targeted way of introducing the suggestion of additional support. It enables fee earners to tailor the benefits of the service to the client’s situation and enter into a discussion where the client’s understanding of these can be developed.
Some firms also keep clients aware of their capabilities by sending out targeted communications with an overview of relevant projects or deals they have completed. They also use copies of any press coverage addressing alternative areas of their expertise and run seminars on particular issues affecting their clients (to which they invite other experts from the firm to present the solutions).
It is important to reiterate that any communication made with the client should be for the purpose of expanding their knowledge of what your firm does in relation to a particular challenge or opportunity they face.
Motivating clients to want to buy more of your expertise will rely on:
- The client’s understanding of your firm;
- Your understanding of their world; and
- Your understanding of your firm’s world (and possibly influencing certain elements of it to change).
In the past, the notion of cross-selling has gained a poor reputation. This is because some firms, thinking only in terms of themselves, have tried (usually unsuccessfully) to sell or ‘flog’ additional services to clients – coming across as ‘salesy’ and pushy in the process.
However, when cross-selling efforts put the clients’ best interests at heart, they invariably bring about long-term loyalty, producing rewards for client and adviser alike.
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- Business development: get up and go Published 11th December 2008
- Making a Breakthrough Published 14th May 2009