[This is the third in a series of posts featuring a conversation with Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership focused on deepening client relationships in meaningful (and profitable) ways.]
Prospecting for clients is a project that many lawyers find challenging. The thought of meeting new people and selling business can be daunting for someone who only ever really wanted to be left alone to practice law. For these lawyers everywhere we offer some information and advice that should come as a relief. Rather than making cold calls, there is another much less painful and far more productive method for growing your business. The secret is to help your clients make rain for you.
In our conversation Susan Hackett noted that while attractive websites, insightful conference presentations and pleasant cocktail parties may increase a lawyer’s exposure to prospective clients (and thus certainly are laudable efforts), “new” client work comes from referrals by existing clients. In fact, Susan believes that most of her law department colleagues would say that they award an overwhelming majority of new work primarily on the basis of positive referrals by existing clients. Accordingly, firms that fail to earn referrals are not getting as much new work as possible, in spite of all the other “special sauce” things they might do. This is advice no law firm can afford to ignore.
Most new business comes through referrals by existing clients.
For the nuts and bolts of how this works, I asked Susan to give us some insight into the process from the client’s perspective.
Some client referrals come in response to a direct inquiry by a prospective client to his or her colleagues asking: `Does anybody have any experience with a firm that does X?’ And some referrals come from the kinds of credentialing that help the retaining inside lawyer discriminate between contestants to choose the winner in a formal or informal RFP-type process.
While several firms may be considered by a client in either of the above scenarios, whether through a formal contest or through the in-house counsel’s network research, a selection from the group of well-qualified finalists usually is made only after a trusted colleague with experience using that firm directs or endorses the client’s decision by saying something like: `I think they’re the go-to guys/gals for this project – talk to my gal Sally when you call.’ Any way you slice it, new business is predicated on the ability of the prospective client to validate the firm or specific external lawyers with trusted colleagues who currently use their services. Who are those colleagues? Your clients.
To be top of mind with your clients you have to do something more than simply provide the agreed-upon services or send a periodic passive newsletter that can be filed. You have to connect at the place where your expertise and excellent service meets the client’s pressing needs. The only way to ensure you’re hitting that mark consistently is to ask the client regularly`how are we doing?’ and then, most importantly, to act on the feedback and report progress to the client.
A recent LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell survey of in-house counsel in Western Europe reported the following troubling information:
Most respondents were also very happy to participate in feedback programmes conducted by their law firms, although less than half had received an invitation to provide this. However, law firms appear to be even less committed to using customer insights to help strengthen their relationship. Only 28% of survey respondents said that their law firms came back to them to share the results and communicate improvements or changes that would be made as a result of feedback received.
That sounds like an invitation to a meaningful conversation with your clients. Will you accept?
Next in this Focus on Clients series: If You Delight Them, They Will Stay
[Photo Credit: Paul G]