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Client Development Through Relationship Building

By Mark Hershman, Hershman Associates

As a seasoned professional, you know the ins and outs of laws and regulations, the guidelines and the sound strategies that will benefit your clients. You have no trepidations offering advice. When it comes to your business, however that confidence often evaporates. For many lawyers the mere thought of client development causes unease. The word “sales” is foreign—and terrifying.

Yet client development is not about sales. It’s all about relationship development. It doesn’t have to be a painful effort. Working with a business/executive coach has helped many lawyers discover how naturally client development can fit into their day, once they learned some basic techniques.

Using the Professional Practice Program, an experienced coach can help you understand and implement a series of tools and actions making a significant impact on gross revenue, from both existing clients and new ones. Five basic principles are the foundation of this approach: who, what, how, tracking and compelling reasons.

Who
To begin a client development program, you need to identify your target audience, beginning with existing clients. Then, the focus can expand to the circle of influencers and referrals. It’s also very helpful to identify the types of clients you would consider your “Dream” clients, the “Good” ones, “So-So” and “Nightmare” accounts or clients.

Don’t laugh. We all have a few clients that fall into that “Nightmare” category. By analyzing which clients bring the greatest return-on-investment of time, you can alert to spotting this same potential in new prospects. You may also learn to say “No, thank you” to a prospect that you instinctively predict will fall into that “Nightmare” category.

What
Next in the Client Development model is the step where you work on what you need to say to clients and prospects in order for you to grow your practice. New business is based on new relationships and renewed relationships with existing clients. You have to connect in a meaningful level. Memorizing a few facts about the client is not enough to project a sincere impression of wanting to help that client.

Being involved in the client/prospect’s growth and future is important to maintaining that relationship. It also helps create Top of Mind Awareness—another goal of what you want achieve. This means you want your name to be the one your contact thinks of immediately whenever someone says “Know of a good lawyer?” This is the foundation of your referral network.

How
In this step, the Professional Practice Program offers several very specific tools to help you achieve your client development goals. This is the step-by-step portion of the program that gets you actually doing the work. Samples of elevator speeches, letters invitations and tips for networking with clients and prospects are some of the very helpful, practical tools typically discussed.

Track
Without tracking the steps you take and analyzing the results, you may be just spinning your wheels. Giving yourself measurable goals is just one of the tactics you can employ to make sure you are actually contacting clients, building relationships and asking for referrals. The actions you take can be simple, but the important part is that you actually take an action and meet your goals. Tracking those actions keeps you accountable to your most important supervisor—you.

Compelling Reasons
You may already feel compelled to take an active role in client development. Or, you may just have a slight nagging thought at the back of your mind that maybe you had better get around to that one of these days. In either case, here is a statistic that will certainly compel you to work on your business development skills. On average:

A 60 percent increase in referrals + 200 percent increase in marketing contacts = 30 percent increase in gross revenue.

Think about that. Do the math. You’ll see client development can have some big pay-offs, ones that are simple and painless, to create. It’s all about the relationships, the contacts and your associates in the practice of law. So the next client meeting you have, take another look. Get to know the person, not just the facts. You’ll see a big return on your investment.

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