Someone asked me the other day: “What do you think is the hot new thing in law firms these days?” and I responded, “Strategic account teams—aka key client teams.” He looked puzzled and said, “isn’t that old, not new?”
While I was taken aback, I thought about it and decided, yes, key client planning and the various initiatives surrounding that topic have been around for years now, and in fact 80% of the key client teams as we know them are ineffective. Sure, focusing on the client, going out and speaking with them has likely produced some small or incremental results. But until a firm’s strategic accounts become truly an integrated part of the firm’s strategy, they are nothing more than simply another initiative into which only a few partners have bought.
The Big Four, Oracle, IBM, Xerox, Salesforce, and numerous other highly profitable organizations with focused strategic account leadership, would never imagine NOT having strategic accounts driving their revenue growth goals. In fact, in an industry where demand remains flat, it’s the only strategic initiative that is going to get a firm’s revenue into numbers that matter. Why does this work in every other industry and not so well in law firms then? A few reasons.
First. the key relationship lawyer often lacks the competitive selling skills necessary to take the entire account to another revenue level. Only when he/she collaborates with the client, across the client, and across the firm, will opportunities for adding value and thus, growing share of wallet emerge. A lot of effort and energy goes into account planning and while brilliant lawyers they may be, strategic sales people they likely are not. What’s the solution? Hire strategic account sales people. We will see more of this from the firms who take the lead in this area. Team them up with partners and clients and the results will be amazing. Building relationships at the highest levels within the client organization is critical for strategic account success. This includes board members, and C-level executives. Which leads us to the second reason.
Second. Expanding relationships gets tricky. Who gets the credit? Frankly it doesn’t matter if the revenues go up, so do all the compensation numbers. Yet, with comp being a primary recognition system at the majority of firms, people fight over origination to get the “credit” and thus the recognition. Hiring professional sales people will change the game a bit because they will be measured on their success which means they will have to take some credit for revenue in the door. What’s the solution: well, one is to create a contest of sorts. Frankly that’s why firms’ biggest clients with sales teams have sales contests. So people compete to drive revenue. Everyone can win if they reach their goals. And the second solution is figure out how to share credit. In fact, all clients should be firm clients and there should be no origination. Get people to focus on the right things and to collaborate and revenue will continue to go up.
Third. Account management. It is not easy to manage peers/other lawyers at the firm. Related to First and Second above, keeping momentum going, and the lawyers on the team interested in regular meetings can be challenging. To maintain a forward-looking momentum, focus on the client’s goals and what are the related anticipated legal needs. Invite the client to at least two to three team meetings per year so it keeps information first-hand and fresh, and keeps the team and frankly, the leader, motivated. Having the client at team meetings is a very important aspect of helping the team to be successful.
Last, over-communicate results. Letting other members of the firm know how successful the account/key client teams are performing is important. For one reason, funding the teams’ visits to clients and other team activities, will be critical going forward, and leadership will want to make sure there is support for these expenditures.
Silvia Coulter is a Principal Consultant with LawVision and a founding board member of the Legal Sales and Service Organization. To learn more about Strategic Account Management, you may order a copy of SAM-Legal: Turning Key Clients Into Strategic Accounts. Silvia may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.