I have the opportunity to meet with law firms across Asia Pacific (APAC) and regardless of size or specialty, at a high level, the common strategic goals generally revolve around growing revenue and profits, attracting new business, strengthening client relationships and reputation or brand.
However, the strategies and initiatives devised to support these goals – new lateral hires, expanding a practice group, or opening a new office, for example – are typically quite diverse. Yet many firms seem unable to clearly articulate the specific business challenges they face in pursuit of their strategic goals.
To make better decisions and support common strategic goals effectively, it’s crucial to have a better understanding of your business, where you are now and what the challenges are (people, processes or technology). This will enable the firm to prioritise where to focus its efforts (i.e. quick wins, biggest bang for money, etc.) and gain senior partner support.
Among the questions you might ask are:
Where is our revenue coming from? Which clients are profitable? Which are not? How has client spending changed? Who are our customers and how do they interact with us? What people and teams are doing well and why? What processes do and don’t work? Which technologies deliver and which don’t?
In this article, I’m sharing some insights in the areas that seem to resonate the most in my conversations with a wide range of law firm stakeholders.
We’re all agreed that winning ‘new’ business from an existing customer or a new client is fantastic. Where many firms struggle is understanding the time, effort and cost of the win. Or even how that new ‘matter’ was generated for the firm. Was it a referral, a tender, or from an event? Responding to a tender might require the latest partners’ biographies and CVs and the most recent matter experience.
Do you have ready access to this information and is it up-do-date? I’ve worked with firms that are using ad-hoc manual processes, disparate systems and spreadsheets to manage vital information which makes the task of responding to tenders challenging and frustrating, especially for marketing and business development teams who are usually the ones doing the heavy lifting, often at short notice. In this situation, how can you streamline this process and enable your team to focus on more strategic, value added services for the firm?
Improved collaboration is a big statement. To each of us it means something different but fundamentally I believe that collaboration across a firm is key to becoming more profitable. It’s six times easier to sell to an existing client than win a new client and critical when looking to increase spend across the firm’s top clients. Of course, if you want more work from your existing top 25 customers you first need to know who these customers are and who is working with them. A less than holistic approach to a customer relationship means missed opportunities.
Multiple factors can influence collaboration across a firm; size, practice groups, offices nationally or globally, culture and KPI’s. In the end it’s about understanding where exactly your firm is engaged with a client. Do we have multiple contacts? Multiple matters? What’s the year-to-date billing, or the year-on-year billing trend? Are there any open opportunities? How about internal and external referrals? What do we have planned for the client coming up? The best type of collaboration has your client at the center. Engendering a clear and coordinated approach to servicing your client and maintaining a strong customer relationship will invariably work wonders!
The practice management system or solution (PMS) is the key to holding useful client data and billing information. Imagine the partner who wants to hold a briefing for both key clients and potential prospects. How do you create the invite list? Where does the information reside? How do you identify key contacts by industry, geography, or position, for example? How long does the process take and who needs to help?
The information you need is likely to be available somewhere. The question is where. Chances are it’s in the PMS, a spreadsheet, a partner’s head, all or a combination of these places. What the marketing and business development team of a law firm can do without, is the need to manually collate information from multiple, disparate sources. It’s a lot of work, it comes at the expense of accuracy and timeliness, and simply isn’t a good use of their skills or time. Partners rightly expect more value-adding activity from their marketing and BD teams. One way this is enabled is through better integration of available information and tools.
Across all touch points, winning new business and seeing a new matter magically appear is great for the firm, especially if it’s a net new client. Winning a net new client is rarely about a single interaction, though. There are multiple touch points across weeks, months, even years.
What are the touch points? How did we get the contact? Is there an existing business relationship with this contact? How could it be leveraged? Do the marketing and business development team know so the contact can be included in and invited to activities they would value? What topics are they most engaged with for a better, more proactive conversation? How many events did they attend before becoming a client? Can you track and allocate ROI for the events?
If your firm doesn’t have visibility of this information, how can it know what business development and marketing activities are most successful in driving new opportunities and winning new business?
Do the necessary people have access to the information they need in a timely manner so they can make well informed, confident decisions? Multiple solutions equate to multiple data repositories – time and billing, marketing automation, company profiling, client interactions, Outlook – the list goes on. Are you able to access all this information from one place or are you relying on people to perhaps manually export CSV files from multiple systems and import those into yet another tool to produce a report?
Once you get intimate with your firm’s reality and can identify what’s potentially standing in the way of getting more impact from your initiatives, you are better able to decide how to go about achieving your strategic goals. Where one firm might look to change processes or recruit new specialist partners, another might up business development activity or adopt new technology. The key is that by getting the measure of what’s working, what’s not, and how to improve the effectiveness of your marketing and BD activity, you’ll be able to articulate what areas need to change, envision the pathway to success and deliver.
Business Development Director, APAC