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When the economy is in decline, it’s critical to maintain your firm’s profitability so that your strategic -assets—meaning your talented lawyers—stay put. Profitable business is most easily obtained through current clients, but a recession can strain those relationships as clients face their own economic difficulties, seek efficiencies through convergence programs, or are wooed by your hungry competitors. Times like these call for amplifying your client relations program. Here’s how to start.
1. Segment. While all clients could benefit from special attention, you need to be realistic. Rank your clients by how much profitable business they could deliver in the future. Which clients have the highest operating margin, are the most recession resistant, are the best referral sources, or have the biggest growth potential? Pick the top 10 percent, and target them for your client relations program.
2. Research. Clients value lawyers who understand their business, but often we know only a slice of a given client’s strategic direction and related concerns. Regularly pull information about your clients’ business plans, executives, competitors, recent events and industry and political trends. Disseminate this information throughout the team, and meet as a group to discuss the implications for the client’s business and its legal needs.
3. Feedback. You can’t surpass your client’s expectations if you don’t know what those expectations are. Gauge their satisfaction through regular client interviews and find out how you could provide better value to their respective businesses. But be prepared to act on what you learn—allowing a known deficiency to go unaddressed can be fatal.
4. Customize. Based on the results of your research and interviews, create a service plan for each client. Consider all the options. Should you focus on client-handling skills, broaden the scope of your company contacts, create special in-house training programs, or provide a no-cost audit of the client’s business? Be creative, and tailor your plan to clients’ unmet and emerging needs.
5. Cross-Sell. Clients tend to stick to firms that have four or more practice groups servicing them. But when you integrate a cross-selling strategy into your client action plan, remember that the plan must be in the client’s best interests. In other words, you must be able to articulate a positively differentiated benefit to clients if you want to cross-sell a particular service to them.
Sara Kraeski is the Director of Business Development at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP. She practiced as a partner in the firm’s corporate finance group before assuming her current position.
Ann Lee Gibson, PhD , is principal of Ann Lee Gibson Consulting. She consults with law firms on business development initiatives.