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Legal Practice Management

Marketing Partner Forum: The value of client teams in customer retention and growth

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager / Thomson Reuters Institute / Thomson Reuters

· 6 minute read

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager / Thomson Reuters Institute / Thomson Reuters

· 6 minute read

If managed correctly, key client teams can be a valuable endeavor for law firms looking to grow their business, according to a recent expert panel

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — While many law firm leaders see the use of client teams to coordinate and manage key client relationships as critical for their firm’s success, they too often fail to realize these teams themselves need to be carefully managed.

Indeed, while most law firms have client team initiatives, many of these are waning or in need of a strategic boost, according to a recent workshop at the Thomson Reuters Institute’s 31st Annual Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum held late last month. In fact, the workshop was one of a number of panels and workshops at the Forum that dealt with the issue of client teams — sometimes called strategic accounts — and how law firms can see real value in terms of higher client spend and stronger cross-selling opportunities when these teams are utilized in the right way.

Turning key clients into a strategic account is a critical step if the firm hopes to retain and grow the specific clients that are identified as strategically important to the firm’s future. The panelists said that identifying those clients seen as key by firm leadership — whether as ongoing strong business partners or as potential untapped sources of business in other areas — is necessary for success.

For more on the Thomson Reuters Institute’s recent 31st Annual Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum, check out our live video from the event

“Firms should identify targeted clients — and be selective,” one panelist advised. “Firm leaders should ask themselves, what do they want to see in a client? And what about the client’s size, industry, location, and other factors makes this an important client? All these selected clients should have identified growth targets.” Panelists cautioned that too many times, firms get bogged down in questions such as this because they are trained to view all clients as valuable. Yet, this can be a costly mistake, especially if the firm hasn’t identified each client’s current value to the firm first.

The value discussion

In fact, a panelist explained, the client team discussion should spark some introspection by firm leaders about how the firm is defining value itself. If it’s all about growing revenue and building relationships with value, then a direct conversation about what clients see as value is necessary.

“Firm leadership needs to ask itself, what does value mean to our clients? What do our clients most need?” another panelist said, adding that firms need to start with gathering client feedback, bringing in some data analysis to better understand what clients are saying about the firm overall, and then conducting follow-up client interviews.

Panelists pointed out that there is a need for gathering both internal and external client feedback. “You have to begin by questioning the client,” said a panelist. “Ask them what they are they thinking, what is important to them, and — most importantly — what will be important to them in five years.”

Indeed, several panels across the course of the Forum cited the critical importance of leveraging client feedback to improve relationships, secure continued or new legal work, and uncover more business opportunities. “It’s about building stories and using feedback to gain insight that will allow you to see other areas in which the firm could help the client,” the panelist said, noting that it’s also important to use client feedback, and especially quotes from clients, to help communicate to firm partners about these client initiatives, ostensibly to build buy-in for a more expansive client team initiative.

Marketing Partner Forum

“Overall, the key steps in this process are first, finding the client voice, then adding data, and finally, framing it around a best practice way of doing it,” another panelist explained, adding that only later should the firm bring in its professionals from finance or IT to add more value and aid the process. “Again, this is often hard to do in legal because there is no patient capital.”

Creating the client team

Not surprisingly, the key component to any successful client team venture is teamwork, the panel said, but even that has to be well thought out. “Teamwork is more than just bringing others in. There has to be a rationale for what you’re doing.” And although there are not hard and fast rules for who or what makes up a client team, many panelists suggested some parameters, such as a team should be no more than 7 to 9 professionals, maximum, and should include both younger partners and at least one senior associate.

And because succession was the original intent of client teams, it’s important to remember that some older partners may view such activities with suspicion and may want to steer their clients away from what they may see as encroachment by other partners.

One way around that, and to foment stronger buy-in from partners, is for the firm to gather key metrics — such as revenue growth and relationship growth — on the clients under consideration to be served by client teams. For example, one panelist suggested that firms could start with a client survey that encouraged partner engagement — but don’t overestimate how much clients love your firm. Firms should leverage competitive intelligence so leaders can show partners what other law firms are getting business from this client.

Once a client is identified and a team is brought together, don’t get hung up on the overall structure of client teams — a too common mistake. “Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. It is a powerful move just to get the key partners around the table,” said another panelist. “But it is important to have that discussion on delivery and growth, even if those two areas are broken up into two separate teams.”

Finally, accountability must also play a role, both with team leaders and firm leadership, in order to institutionalize the client team initiative. For example, performance metrics must be tied to compensation in some way, and all members should share best practices among all the teams. There also should be a continual process to review which clients and team leaders are involved; further, a budget should be established to demonstrates commitment and seriousness on the part of firm management.

Overall, panelists stressed, the establishment of client teams should be seen as a way for firms to answer the question of what does client-centric service look like?

“Leadership doesn’t want to be seen as driving this alone — it should not be a top-down decision,” advised another panelist. “This has to be a business initiative undertaken as a firmwide process, not simply as a marketing initiative alone.

This is the second in series of blog posts featuring key takeaways from the recent Thomson Reuters Institute’s 31st Annual Law Firm Marketing Partner Forum.

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