Four distinct market trends have driven the need for strengthening relationships with current clients and expanding wallet share of their total spend.
1. Mass consolidation of firms
Think about the Merger & Acquisition activity in sectors such as legal, telecoms, utilities, banking & insurance, software, chemicals and other professional firms. All organisations wish to sell their services to the clients of the newly created organisation with which they have joined.
2. Demand for organic growth from shareholders
Business leaders often do not have the resources or most importantly time and indeed money to find new customers.
3. Rate of new service/product development
Consider the exponential growth of offerings in recent years. They all need to attract new clients.
4. Commoditisation of existing services
Cross selling is often the path of least resistance to new revenues.
It regularly fails because the process is not undertaken properly as the focus is put on the selfish seller rather than the needy client. When done effectively it allows professionals to use their expertise to broker resources appropriate for each client by helping buyers gain insight into:
- Problems of which their clients may be unaware.
- Opportunities that clients probably haven’t considered.
- Solutions that clients have not anticipated on their own.
Whoever ‘sells’ is therefore an integral part of the value creation and delivery team.
Four levels of opportunity exist
- New service to current client by existing contact
- New service to current client by new contact
- Existing service to new person in client organisation
- New service to new person in client organisation
To succeed there needs to be a culture of ‘Firm First’ and undoubtedly significant training to overcome the following performance killers:
- Inept selling skills due to lack of knowledge or time.
- Poor understanding of other partners and their practices.
- No incentives or recognition for doing it or consequences for non-achievement.
- Fear of losing client to poor service or losing ‘control’ of client relationship.
- Fear of competing with incumbent firms.
- Reluctance to impose on other partners.
- Career competition issues.
These concerns are responsible for the fact that only 4% of professional firms consider themselves highly effective at this elusive discipline, whilst 77% consider themselves ineffective. What an opportunity! Simple examples to get started might be wills being offered to divorcing couples, Lasting Power of Attorney to those seeking wills and on the business side, shareholder agreements to all new company start-ups.
All business clients should have official business review meetings at least once per year to help further understanding of their goals, aspirations and issues. Most commercial firms only deliver 1.8 to 2.8 services to their top 100 clients and so the potential to at least double this to 4 and beyond is huge.
Cross selling messages can be utilised via your blog, newsletters, video, direct mail, email footer with embedded links or on-hold messages highlighting upcoming conferences, seminars, research, reports, ebooks etc from other partners, industry teams and departments.
To become competent at this much under-utilised route to growing your profits, I advocate the setting up of an “Opportunities Board” lead by a ‘Client Development’ director. It needs to be a senior figure as internal marketers too often lack the authority to put the necessary infrastructure in place. This communicates the importance of the project to the whole firm and regular meetings should discuss the barriers, incentives, risks and opportunities that present themselves. Whilst underlining the client benefits of convenience or economies of scale, the board members will likely involve themselves with debate surrounding compensation, target setting, recording accurate origination of files, control of relationship and the preparation of case and transaction inventories to help the CRM process.
It sounds very simple but much progress can be made in a lunch time meeting where partners and fee earners come prepared with a top 10 list of clients, what they do for them now and their anticipated future legal requirements. This can all be compiled in a simple spreadsheet.
4 Cs to Consider – Compensation, Control, Competence and Communication
All need to be in place to gain maximum results. You might wish to start the process by having a name change from the feared ’cross selling’ to ‘Cross introductions’. When measuring stats for compensation, remember to consider sales that would not exist without the individual’s personal input, projects they contributed to but did not initiate and expansion of work at existing clients. Partners should agree in advance the minimum acceptable performance required. To give higher emphasis to the project it should form an integral part of the annual appraisal process where in depth discussion should take place around success or otherwise in introducing clients to others within the firm and what specific plans are in place going forward.
To overcome the problem of lawyers not understanding the ‘triggers’ for certain types of work I would suggest regular meetings where practice heads or partners educate the rest of the firm as to what issues they solve and the likely outcomes clients benefit from as a result of their input. Remember, clients don’t buy legal services, they buy the results of the legal services.
Another hurdle to be overcome is the lack of trust in other fee earners or departments and this exercise will help to resolve this through improved education and communication. In many firms, partners have little idea who other areas of the firm act for and internal networking meetings should become the norm.
You may need to be creative and offer some non-financial incentives such as internal awards, gifts, perks and ensure the team has some fun.
Final tips for success
- Place the client at the very heart of your thinking. This may require an attitude change. Cross selling is about making connections not about getting a new instruction. Client must see that 1+1=3.
- Your most valuable asset is your internal market so educate and motivate colleagues on an ongoing basis.
- Recognise and reward behaviour. What gets measured gets done. Keep thorough activity records.
- Cross selling is as much about ‘ring fencing’ relationships as it is about growing revenues.
If there are gaps in your service then competitors will not be slow in bringing this to your client’s attention. Once they have an audience, the level of influence and control you have is diminished. Ignore at your peril.
Alistair Marshall will present a session at the 2019 ALPMA Summit: 25 Critical Tools that will Transform your Business Development Performance
In recent research by Pitcher Partners, attracting New Clients was recognised as one of the Major Challenges facing firms. This presentation provides very practical suggestions as to how legal practitioners can master these critical skills:
- How to position your firm and differentiate yourselves from the competition.
- How to use Thought Leadership and be seen as the expert in your given field.
- How to generate more inbound leads to your business.
About the 2019 ALPMA Summit
Operating within a rapidly changing industry can be daunting and even more so without a clear framework in place. Throughout the first season of In Practice with ALPMA we are speaking with industry experts to get their guidance about how to approach the changing world we live in and the answers to critical questions that will help define your pathway forward, all inspired by the themes at the 2019 ALPMA Summit.
Find out more about the ALPMA Summit here.