FINDING YOUR NEXT BIG CLIENTS.
Do you have a list of the perfect potential clients for your firm? Are your partners rallying around getting into these companies? Further, are your partner plans effective at generating new business from the right clients?
Most law firms don’t have a unified, firm-wide business development approach. Typically, individual partners identify business development targets. This approach to business development results in the “single-shingle” effect. That is, the attorneys don’t derive much benefit from being a part of a larger firm, and the firm doesn’t target the best overall prospects for everyone as a whole.
The single-shingle model has several problems. First, it is difficult for an individual attorney to look beyond his or her practice and choose potential clients that have the best firm-wide cross-servicing opportunities. Second, each attorney typically has very little accountability. Third, most professionals anchor themselves on whom they know rather than whom they should know.
The single-shingle model results in very few new firm-wide clients. Firm-wide clients result in better opportunities for all of a firm’s attorneys rather than just one. There is a better, more effective approach to business development than the single-shingle model. This article demonstrates how a better targeting process can work, step by step. The approach is strategic in nature, drives disciplined action and is especially energizing for those involved.
1. Get Traction
The first step is to determine who should be involved in devising the business development approach for the firm. Typically, good candidates are those attorneys who have the big-picture perspective on the services your firm delivers. Smaller teams of four to six attorneys work best because making decisions is easier. Consider creating a catchy name for the entire initiative. Doing so can help create traction across the firm.
2. Define Success Factors
Once the right group has been assembled, it should discuss the kinds of companies that are best suited to be your firm’s next big client. Focus on the attributes of these companies. Attributes might be industry, market capitalization, amount of litigation they are involved in, amount of intellectual property they want to create or protect, or the likelihood that the organization will be involved in significant mergers and acquisitions activity. Even very specific (but hard to define) attributes, such as willingness to spend on outside counsel, are fantastic to consider.
At the end of this conversation, the group should identify no more than five attributes that the group thinks will correlate to your firm’s future success. It is not necessarily important whether these attributes are easy to measure. It’s more important to estimate the right attribute than to select a less powerful one that’s easy to measure.
Avoid the trap of picking an ease of entry attribute such as “how easy it would be to get a meeting with someone at this company.” You are trying to identify a list of the next perfect clients for your firm, not a list of possible clients that are easy to get a meeting with. Getting the first meeting is Step 6.
POTENTIAL CLIENT PRIORITIZATION
3. Rank Opportunities
After identifying the five attributes that you think will correlate to success, give each a weighted percentage, where the total of all attributes adds to 100 percent. For example, you might have one attribute—such as dollars spent on outside counsel—that has a high weighted percentage of, say, 50 percent. Varying the weights of your attributes will allow you to put more emphasis on some than others. Create a spreadsheet with these attributes as columns and all the companies that might be great clients as rows. Then have the team as a whole rank each company on the attributes you’ve created.
Consider ranking each company from 1 to 10 in each attribute. In addition, force the ranking so that there is at least one “1” and one “10” for each attribute/column. Doing this creates more differentiation. Have someone create a simple formula in the spreadsheet to give an overall score for each potential client using the attributes you’ve scored. This should be weighted by the percentage weight of each attribute.
The result of this step will be a very scientific ranking of all your potential new clients. The results will jump off the page. Some companies are much more suited for your services than others.
4. Identify Client-Responsible Attorneys
Once you have your ranking, create a “Top X” list (choose a number like Top 10 or Top 20) of the clients you’d like to pursue proactively. These are the potential clients with the highest scores. With this list in mind, assign an attorney to be responsible for leading the effort with each potential client. It’s very important to have a single attorney responsible for each potential client. The assignment of responsibility will drive focus and accountability.
5. Design a “Give To Get”
Step 5 is very important. Once you’ve got your Top X list, go through it and design what is called a “give to get” (GTG) for each potential client. A GTG is something you’d be happy to do on your dime to earn the right to get to know the client. Examples are a small assessment, analysis or brainstorming meeting. A great GTG is one that is very valuable to the potential client, is relatively easy for you to do and is likely to lead to a deep conversation in an area of your expertise. The GTG lets the potential client “try you out” without risk.
From the client perspective, a well-crafted GTG is very exciting. From your perspective, it is the key to getting a second meeting. You’ll likely have a different GTG for each potential client on your list; you’ll want your GTG to match the needs and styles of the potential client.
6. Build the Path
Once you have your client-responsible attorney assigned, and that attorney has designed a sample GTG to offer the client, the next step is to get the first meeting. This step is sometimes easy and sometimes very difficult. Typically, once you’ve strategically chosen your Top X list, doors will open up, allowing you to meet identified potential clients.
If a client-responsible attorney is having trouble finding a referral or another way in, he or she might ask everyone in your firm as well as vendors and friends who also work with these types of companies. Use all the relationships your firm has to find pathways to your Top X potential clients. Strong referrals are always best.
7. Track and Share Success
Strong and ongoing follow-up is the key to success. You’ll want to gather your group of client-responsible attorneys regularly, perhaps monthly. Getting people together, sharing success and having firm leadership volunteer to help will keep things moving.
Ongoing meetings are the significant factor in driving progress. The old adage of “the best way to ensure cleaning your house is to invite company over” has a parallel here. That is, most of the progress with initiatives like this happens a few days before the big monthly meeting. The social pressure of getting things done in advance of the upcoming meeting is very motivational. Celebrate success in these meetings, but spend the bulk of the time developing the right future steps—working as a team to get unstuck.
TOP-DOWN STRATEGIES WORK
All kinds of business development processes across various professional service industries and firms have been implemented. In our experience, this top-down approach works better than any other. You can use it in conjunction with the typical single-attorney-driven bottom-up approach (i.e., partner plans) and potentially with a cross-servicing approach as well. Adding the top-down approach focuses the firm on the best long-term potential clients and gets people energized to help these potential clients with their GTGs.
With this approach, everyone wins—especially the clients!