Archive for July, 2010
Everything I know about business development I learned from my dog Star
When we adopted Star from the Lab Rescue Foundation, we were required to have her trained. We took this job seriously. First, we hired a private trainer. Then we took her to group training. My husband and I even created a “30-day action plan” — complete with milestones — to ensure the training stuck.
A-year-and-a-half later, Star’s about as obedient as the day we got her. It’s not that she doesn’t know all the basic commands like, “Sit,” “Come,” and “Down.” She just chooses not to listen.
Unless there is something in it for her.
If you have a treat or she wants to go with you for a run, Star is the best listener ever. She’ll sit. She’ll give you “paw.” She’ll even give you “other paw” (yes, Star is ambidextrous). That’s when there is something in it for her. The rest of the time… well, we call it Puppy Selective Listening Syndrome.
Sadly, Puppy Selective Listening Syndrome is highly contagious to humans, and lawyers are among the most susceptible.
When vying for a new client, starting off on a new matter or waiting for an invoice to be paid, there is no better listener than a lawyer. Too often, when the “get” isn’t immediate, their listening skills seem to fade.
Listening is a basic tenet of good client relationship management. But it can’t be a part-time job.
We’re anticipating, based on past experience, that Star will recover from her listening problems in a couple of years, when she turns four. That’s about the time they get board of us trying to get her to behave.
Can you afford to wait that long? Give your client a call today and ask them how things are going. When you do, make sure you are listening to what they have to say.
Oscar Wilde once said, “You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.”
When it comes to law firm marketing, the same can be said about your clients. In some ways you do know more than you think you know, although you may not have harnessed that information to benefit your practice. In other ways, if you haven’t taken the time to understand what makes your client base tick, you may know a lot less.
The more you can understand your clients, the greater the impact you will have on them.
A key to building strong, long-term client relationships, is to understand the trends, drivers and needs that impact client behavior.
Trends: What trends impact your clients’ legal needs? Trends typically fall into four categories: competitive, regulatory, technological, economic.
Drivers: How do your clients measure success? Success for business is often based on key metrics such as financial performance or shareholder value.
Needs: What keeps your clients up at night? Consider the risks they face with their current legal needs, costs considerations, the source of the problem, competitive pressures.
By taking a disciplined approach to studying the trends, drivers and needs of your clients, you will provide value to your client that goes beyond the specific legal matter you handle. This will position you for a greater share of work and help turn your clients into great referral sources.
For more lessons about client service teams, read, “Lessons from the Trenches: Client Service Teams.”
My first job was at TJ’s Big Boy Restaurant in Rochester, New York. It was here, at the age of 16, that I received my first formal training in client feedback.
As a hostess, when customers came up to pay their bill, it was my responsibility to collect and track feedback by asking, “How was your service today?” I then recorded the response on a form that I handed to the manager at the end of my shift. Every month, we received a report card and with specific areas in which we needed to improve.
What always struck me about that first job was that was the discipline that went into managing customer relations. They not only created a systematic way to collect feedback, they used that data to improve their business.
Like the restaurant business, the ability to deliver an exceptional service experience is central to the legal profession. Client feedback is perhaps the single most valuable investment a law firm can make to strengthen and expand existing client relationships.
But the reality is that too often lawyers give client feedback lip service. For some reason, lawyers have a hard time asking for feedback and an even harder time listening to that feedback once they receive it.
That is why I am a proponent of using a third-party to collect the feedback. A third party has the advantage of serving as an objective ear for the client. Equally important, a third party can help turn the feedback into action.
As my friend Ramona Cyr Whitley of Luce Forward tells her attorneys, “The only thing worse than not asking for client feedback is not doing anything once you’ve received it.” Client feedback is only as valuable as what you do with it.
At a global level, client feedback is the foundation for better understanding clients, making needed process changes across the firms and positioning your firm more effectively in the market.
At the individual client level, the feedback should become the basis for written action plans to strengthen and improve service going forward.
To read more about lessons learned from client service teams, check out my article, “Lessons from the Trenches: Client Service Teams.”
Next Time: Understanding your client.
Everything I know about business I learned from my dog Star
A “Friday lite” look at law firm marketing and business development
The weather has been getting warmer, so Star has taken to sleeping by herself on the bed in the guest room. But every morning around 5 a.m. she jumps on our bed, crawls between my husband and I and leans in on one of us. I call it our morning hug.
I was reminded of these hugs while doing some research this week for a presentation I did to the San Diego County Bar on building client-centric law firm business plans. I came across an old article I had saved called “Have you hugged your clients today?” (Terri Pepper Gavulic, originally published in New York Law Journal Magazine, October 2004).
The article talks about how law firms tend to focus their efforts on attracting new clients but often do so at the expense of existing ones. As a result, clients consistently state that their law firms don’t seem to understand them, fail to offer practical advice that fits their real world experience and seem to make little effort to expand their relationships.
Although nearly six years old, the theme of this article continues to hold true today. And, like Star’s morning hugs, it should serve as a reminder to law firms that the investment in strengthening and expanding existing client relationships is equal to, if not more important than, bringing in new clients.
If you are interested in learning more about building a formal client development program, check out my new article, “Lessons from the trenches: Client Service Teams.” Also, watch for next week’s post when I take a closer look at the five areas covered in the article: feedback, analysis, business process, service and communication.
I have long believed that being value-driven and profitable are not mutually exclusive. To achieve this vision, law firms must look beyond financial measures alone when defining their business strategy.
This isn’t to say that the financial metrics are not important. Indeed, they are critical to understanding the business and ensuring profitability. The client-centric approach merely recognizes three additional perspectives that need to be examined along with finances.
> Client Insight
> Business Process Improvement
> Market Intelligence
The client-centric approach begins and ends with the client. The baseline question is simple: What can we learn from our clients to help us build our business?
The analysis needs to incorporate formal and informal feedback from clients so the firm can objectively answer:
> How satisfied are our clients?
> Are we a trusted advisor or just providing work in one area?
> What are we doing well?
> Where are we falling short?
Based on this data, the business plan can address service gaps with specific action items.
The next area of analysis is the market perspective. Specifically, who is the firm’s target market and what steps are in place to reach that market in a consistent and ongoing way.
This includes an assessment of client demographics and the trends impacting those demographics. It also requires an assessment of competitor firms.
With a thorough knowledge of the market and the competitive landscape, the firm can identify strategies to support growth.
Business Process Improvement
The next step is to evaluate the firm from the perspective of business processes.
In other words, “To meet the needs of our clients how can we create or improve upon the existing workflow to improve our efficiency, effectiveness and ability to better manage client expectations?
Finally, we return to the financial analysis. The question here is, “What do are numbers need to look like to succeed financially?”
This includes a comprehensive understanding of where your revenues are coming from and what your costs are. Understanding who your clients are, what revenue they generate and for what type of work will further support your efforts to grow and expand.
By combining all four perspectives in the analysis of the business, law firms have the opportunity to build a vision that will allow them to address the client needs, business process improvements, market challenges and financial goals.
If it is true, as I believe, that value-driven legal services and profitability are not mutually exclusive, then law firm client teams offer a first step toward achieving both.
Client teams come in many shapes and sizes. When I use the term Client Team, I am referring to an organized, disciplined approach to strengthen and expand existing client relationships. It is cross-disciplinary in that a team includes attorneys from multiple practice areas within a firm. It is also cross-functional in that the team assesses its ability to support the client from multiple perspectives – as a business advisor, account manager, systems analyst and staffing manager to name just a few.
The overall goals of a Client Service Team are to:
• Solidify existing relationships to retain/expand existing work.
• Identify opportunities and expand the work across practice groups.
• Increase profitability.
• Secure the client as a referral source.
Through these efforts, however, law firms strengthen their knowledge of their clients business and can better understand how key decisions are made. They learn the trends, drivers and needs that keep their client up at night.
Armed with this information and a strong relationship, law firms can open the much needed dialogue around billing, knowledge management and key processes. Lawyers don’t necessarily need to have all the answers, but understanding the challenges clients face are the first step toward solving them.
As law firms consider ways to transform their business model to address market demand (read—better service, more efficiency, predictable pricing), strategic client teams offer an important step in this direction.
When conducting business development, the first rule of thumb is to find a way to make a connection. That connection can be anything… even a dog like Star.
A few months ago I attended a fundraiser to support the San Diego County Law Library Justice Foundation. I was assisting the Law Library Board of Directors at the time in their search for a new executive director, and I wanted to show my support for the organization. Public law libraries are an amazing community resource that few people know about.
I was making small talk with the people at my table and I learned one of the women sitting with us lived in my neighborhood. She asked me what street I lived on and I told her. She said, “You must know the Swains then.” I shook my head no and apologized that I did not know as many of my neighbors as I should. “Unless they have a dog, I probably don’t know them,” I said.
She told me they did have a dog and her name was Abby. I lit up. “I know Abby. That’s my dog Star’s best friend.” As it turned out I did know Peter and Tanya Swain. I just didn’t know their last name.
We ended up having a nice conversation about our respective businesses and our dogs. Soon others at the table were telling stories about their dogs as well. I left with several business cards.
I’ve been writing for several weeks about how everything I learned about business development, I could learn from my dog Star. In some cases, I mean that literally.