Susan Hackett, CEO of Legal Executive Leadership and the former senior vice president and general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) offers some excellent business development advice for lawyers and firms in the ABA’s The New Normal section this week. Hackett has a number of sensible recommendations, including a reminder that if you want to know what your clients think of you, ask. But she also goes beyond the common wisdom to offer advice that could be valuable for lawyers and law firms looking to step up their business development efforts.
One important point Hackett makes is to not overemphasize cross-selling for current clients:
[T]he fact that you do the client’s employment law work does not necessarily mean that the client will value or want to meet your partners who do tax. When cross-selling opportunities arise “organically,” that’s great! But you’re missing my point if cross selling your firm is how you think that current clients will help you generate new business.
Instead, Hackett explains that rather than viewing current clients as a well from which to draw more and more work, firms should emphasize referrals. She recommends asking current clients what it would take to move to the top of their referral lists. Unlike making a cross-sell pitch, this tactic has benefits for all parties – the client gets a higher, more specialized level of service, and the firm gets a reliable referral for the future.
Hackett also addresses the trend of convergence, in which large law departments decrease the number of outside firms upon which they rely. For law firms, this results in an uncomfortable reality:
…the vast majority of firms CURRENTLY representing clients and enjoying at least a satisfactory relationship will be more likely than not to lose good current client relationship over the next few years in a convergence exercise, if they haven’t lost them already.
The idea of losing an otherwise satisfied client may seem counterintuitive, but as Hackett points out, “satisfied” might not be enough to hold on to a client. In order to survive convergence, firms must be more than merely reliable – they must be excellent.
The through-line in Hackett’s article is an emphasis on high quality work and client service. Conversations about business development often focus on marketing, exposure, and brand. But as Hackett points out, to get referrals and retain existing clients down the road, firms must begin by doing first-rate work today.
Posted by Emily Fisher