Driving better outcomes from law firm client team programs was a common theme at a recent industry conference. And for good reason too: some 80% of law firms have such programs, but just 39% grade them as successful.
The 12th Annual RainDance Conference, the signature event hosted by the Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO), proved to be a fruitful place to network with peers and trade notes on client team programs. Here are five takeaways from the conference we thought useful to share.
1. All Clients Are Not All Created Equal
Selecting the right clients is a critical success factor for a client team program, according to Alexandra Monteiro, a business development professional with Barbosa, Müssnich & Aragão. She recommends law firms first segment clients and “manage by facts and not by instinct.”
Client teams should be created only for those clients who are aligned with a firm’s strategy and will make a significant contribution to achieving the goals of the strategy. Failure to do so can result in your program consisting of a mix of “big brand names, old friends, and difficult, over-demanding clients who will not take your firm close to the envisioned future.”
2. Measure What Matters
Client teams are often formed for the clients who provide the most money each year, and so annual revenue is frequently the main client team metric. The experts at the conference, however, questioned the idea of annual revenue being the only metric that matters.
William Flannery, who owns the WJF Institute, honed in on “share of wallet” as a primary metric. For the work law firms want, he recommends simply looking at “how much do they spend and how much is our share.”
Finally, Ms. Monteiro suggested including non-financial metrics such as quality and frequency of client interactions and examination of wins and losses.
3. Gain Buy-in and Then Hold Accountable
Having support from the top is broadly accepted as a critical success factor for any initiative. However, also having the individual team members sold on the program is of equal importance because client team program champions often spend significant time advocating for compensation changes to encourage behavior that supports client teaming.
Mr. Flannery cautions, however, that you “can’t buy trust.” He recommends assigning each team the project of coming up with how desired behaviors and results will be rewarded and recognized. Follow up too is important as he noted “inspection is the biggest motivators for teams.” Deadlines and accountability are pivotal.
4. Meet with the Client and Conduct Formal Client Interviews
The notion that client teams are something that you do with your client, not to your client, in for example, face-to-face meetings ought to be obvious.
Ms. Monteiro suggests joint planning meetings with clients to “develop a deeper understanding of how law firm services align to the client´s business drivers.” Ms. Coulter added “inviting clients to join team meetings at least once a year.”
Beyond the collaboration involved in joint meetings, formal client interviews ensure that the firm understands client needs and current view of service levels. Client interviews allow a firm to learn the desired attributes of a superior client experience service “according to their own perspective, not yours,” according to Ms. Monteiro.
Jonathan Mattson, the chief marketing and business development officer with Tucker Ellis LLP, echoed that client interviews are “about listening,” however his firm also identifies 2-3 future opportunities from each interview, despite the interview itself being a “no sales zone.”
5. Relationships Are Key
Quality relationships have long been the foundation of individual rainmaker success. Taking a broader view of relationships to include the entire firm and client organization, however, accelerates business development potential while identifying relationship risks.
Ms. Monteiro advises establishing a “relationship map and set up a plan to overcome relationship shortfalls.” The best way to tell if a firm has a good team is to look at “the number of contacts they know and how high up they are,” added Mr. Flannery. Lastly, Sylvia Coulter recommends a “zippered” approach where a firm introduces staff at varying levels to the people at corresponding levels at the client. You can have firm leaders visit their counterparts at the client. For example, the firm CFO could meet with the client CFO.
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This post was written by Matt Thompson.
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