Yes, you have heard it countless times before – at least I hope – but how many of you are working on developing the most radical, mind-boggling, cross-functional programme that your firm has ever seen? Arguably, right now, this issue is more pressing than anything else. You can enshrine it in the credo: It is far better to market to existing clients than to chase your sorry tail looking for new – “OMG not another lawyer trying to sell me” – clients.
Cross-functional excellence has the power to literally explode your client base and start delivering supreme, bottom-line growth. No BS.
One easy exercise to consider, whether your cohort of clients is (largely) private or corporate (or some other shade in between), is to enquire internally how many service lines they have bought since they first instructed the firm. My guess is that the majority will be on the bottom rung: one service line or at best two. You should be aiming with the lifetime client to assess their complete needs and to sell every conceivable line that you can.
This is not some grand, take over the world plan, but rather you should see it as acting (completely) in the client’s best interests. Let’s face apart from losing out commercially, do you really want to see the client go off and instruct someone else when they could just have easily instructed your firm who would have done just as good a job or, more likely, a better job than your competitor, given, at the very least, your intimate knowledge of the client’s affairs.
There are many reasons why cross-functional excellence is not made of supreme importance but, chief amongst those, is the breaking down of barriers that go towards the lack of trust.
You have heard about the Ultimate Question framed by Fred Reichheld: “Would you recommend the firm to a friend?” but that could just as easily be couched in terms: “Would you recommend this client to one of your colleagues?”
In my experience the answer to this question is seldom straightforward, but the reality is that most lawyers never actually believe that even their most illustrious colleagues will do as good a job as them. If anything, the majority are forced into doing something that they do not truly believe to be the right thing. Now, of course, there are exceptions to the rule but things don’t happen as often as you think.
The trust issue, internally, can be broken down into a number of layers:
- Layer 1: I DON’T KNOW THE PERSON;
- Layer 2: I KNOW THE PERSON BUT I HAVE HEARD THAT THEY CAN BE AWKWARD TO DEAL WITH;
- Layer 3: I ASKED MY COLLEAGUE TO DEAL WITH THE JOB BUT UNBEKNOWN TO ME THEY WERE TOO BUSY AND REFERRED IT TO SOMEONE WHO I WOULD NEVER HAVE REFERRED THE JOB TO IN A MILLION YEARS; and
- Layer 4: I WOULDN’T TRUST THEM TO DO THE JOB: THEY SCREWED UP THE LAST TIME I GAVE THEM A NEW JOB/CLIENT.
There is no point assembling everyone from all the relevant departments and delivering a message from on high that henceforth everyone needs to give greater attention to cross-selling, if the trust issue is not first of all addressed. This brings into relief the point of yesterday’s post on straight talk. You need to get past the hurdle of going to speak to someone who may take a very dim view of a more junior fee earner impliedLY criticising their work. You will need to handle the situation very carefully and with a heightened sense of doing the right think.
But if you can crack the trust issue then you will move well beyond the talkers (for the sake of it) to the doers. And more than that if everyone plays by the same rules then you will start to see many more introductions made between departments and a much more collegiate feel to the firm.
There will no longer be the slip of the tongue comments referring to this client as “my client” and each client will be viewed in the round.
The firm will want to undertake some filtration process so that not every client is considered suitable to grow with the firm or to be cross-sold. You may want to ditch some clients, the alternative being that they will be OK for transaction work but they are unlikely to have the potential to grow in the long term. There are no absolutes here but statistically it stands to reason that the more service lines that the client buys from you, the more unlikely it is that they will go elsewhere.
As an aside it would be a good idea to have some minimum service standards so that whichever part of the firm is dealing with the client, they will see no difference in how they are treated.
If you do succeed in breaking down the trust issue – no mean task – then agree a programme that involves:
- a sharing of information on each client relationship;
- how the introduction from one fee earner will be made to the next;
- how you will organise yourselves internally – will you have regular meetings?
- are you comfortable with the scope of the retainer? You don’t want to get into a nasty, drag down dispute where the client sues you for not giving general advice and you then seek to rely on the scope of your retainer;
- Are you going to reward staff if they do make a cross-functional sale?
- Are you content that you have the skills to service the client’s professional needs (think about financial advice) or do you need to collaborate with a competitor?
- Will you offer the client a new fees arrangement if they do decide to put all their business with the firm? It would be as well to consider this from the off before you start trying to up sell.
The critical issue of cross-functional excellence is that you are trying to make your life easier. Why keep banging your head against a brick wall when it comes to identifying new work when it potentially lies at your feet? If you haven’t noticed this is the way that the larger firms continue to structure their business.
Now is time to seize the moment. See the future with less competition but with more of your current work under one roof.