Growing your firm’s most important clients has never been more critical. The significant pressures on your firm—competitors nipping away for more client share or outright trying to steal clients away; businesses merging or being acquired or going out of business; consolidation of outside counsel firms—demand that you put into place a strong strategy for existing client retention and growth. Here are some tips for building a game plan.
1. Schedule a meeting with your firm’s director of finance and ask him or her for an overview of who the firm’s top clients are. This can be determined by identifying which clients make up 80 percent of the firm’s revenue. For clients that aren’t yours, ask to have the relationship partners identified, along with which practice groups currently serve these clients.
2. With this list in hand, meet with the firm’s librarian to obtain a competitive intelligence report for the clients you’ve selected as the ones you’d like to grow (your own clients or other clients you think could benefit from additional services). The competitive intelligence data should inform any plan you develop for growing the clients. Other useful data about these clients is an industry update and information you may glean from their Web sites about current goals and business strategies that might provide the basis for a meeting.
3. For those clients who have a different relationship partner in the firm, schedule a meeting with the partner and show him the information and competitive intelligence for the client. Let him know you would like to help expand the opportunities for business and begin a discussion about how to share credit for the client. This can be a challenging discussion and you may want to meet with a management committee member first to ask for advice on how to deal with this partner. (Obviously it’s wise to select those clients who have “team player” relationship partners to begin with.)
4. Establish a strategy for connecting with the client. The easiest thing to do is pick up the phone and ask for a meeting; clients will usually be happy to meet with members of the firm. Remember, nothing happens until someone makes a move so it may as well be you. Once you have a meeting scheduled, prepare for it by thinking about which questions you will ask at the meeting. This meeting is to learn about the client, its goals and its business strategy. Your role is to listen. It’s best to have an initial strategy meeting with anyone else from the firm who will be joining you at the client site.
5. Go prepared to the meeting with an agenda (written or verbal). Plan to thank clients for their work and to learn about other ways in which your firm or you may help support their ongoing business needs. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask them which other firms they use for legal services (even though you may already know this information) and if they would consider your firm for those services. At the end of the meeting, make sure you leave with a next step—and it should be you who is taking the next step. Try not to put yourself in a reactive mode by leaving with clients saying they will call you. Let them know you will keep in touch to follow up.
6. Identify another client and keep the process moving. Chances are the most difficult part of this process will be dealing with the internal politics. It’s easy to deal with the client!
In summary, identify your targets and obtain useful firm, competitive and industry data to inform your client expansion strategy. Stay focused on the goal and you will see benefits from the work. Deal with internal politics instead of avoiding them. When there’s a detour, just find a way around it.
Silvia Coulter is a Vice President and Chair of the Client Development and Growth Practice at Hildebrandt, Inc., based in Manchester-By-the-Sea, MA.