[This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring a conversation with Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership focused on deepening client relationships in meaningful (and profitable) ways.]
My post on the allure of “that new client smell,” (in which I pushed back on the notion that “new” clients are somehow better than old ones) led to a conversation with Susan in which she explained the issue from her perspective — namely, from the client side:
Being a successful rainmaker is invaluable in a desert. It also is seen as a ticket to success in law firms. But it has limited value in the eyes of the client. In fact, it can have a negative value. Law firms are often perceived as spending incredible amounts of time, energy and resource prospecting for new work, which could suggest to current clients that the efforts of their external counsel to pursue that ‘new car smell’ may be distracting their fullest attention from preventive maintenance of the vehicle responsible for getting the client around. While partners are off looking for new attribution sources, clients may feel underappreciated, and that could have a devastating impact on work flow going forward.
Rainmaking flows from a steadfast focus on current clients.
As we talked, it became clear that while so much is made of the personal skills and attributes of the individual rainmaker, deeper reflection shows that a highly focused team approach to engaging, understanding and serving clients is key to growing your business. Susan doesn’t pull her punches in advising law firms:
In a shrinking market, before you even think about new business, you better make sure you’re not about to lose current clients first. As convergence trends move more client work to fewer and fewer preferred firms on the client’s roster, there will be a number of firms with long-standing, historically profitable and perfectly productive relationships who will wake up and find that they are one of the 50 firms that will no longer be getting client work as the client moves from 60 portfolio firms to 10 preferred partners.
For every lawyer who has been reluctant to ask the tough questions that initiate conversations that matter with a client, Susan provides some incentive to engage. What’s the nature of the incentive? The promise of clarity in your client relationship that leads to more business. Here’s how it works:
If you’re interested in business development, the people on whom you should be focusing 98% of your time and attention are your current contacts in existing client relationships for they are the keys to not only current revenues, but a great deal of future business. To help unlock this business, focus on value.
It is imperative for firms to understand their value to their clients and how to both communicate and leverage that value going forward. You can best communicate your value to current and prospective clients by (1) conversing with your clients about what they value (asking questions and listening – not telling them what you think), (2) delivering service in a manner that meets or exceeds their expectations, and then (3) working with them to quantify value you have delivered in ways that can be demonstrated and validated for that client and prospective clients.
Next in this Focus on Clients series: Helping Your Clients Make Rain for You
[Photo Credit: Garry Knight]