Relationships + Insight = Opportunity (Part 1)

Following on from last month’s post ‘Client Relationship Partners: Leader/Motivator/Diplomat/ Strategist and Sector specialist', Kevin Wheeler looks at the range of roles a Client Relationship Partner must now fulfill.

So, you’ve identified your firm’s key clients and Client Relationship Partners (CRP) are in place for each of them. What next?

Well, one of the first things that the Client Relationship Partner (CRP) and his/her service team will have to do before they can start putting together a client service plan, is identify the client’s key decision-makers and the strength of the relationships that the firm has with each of these.

With many strong relationships, the firm will be guaranteed a healthy flow of instructions across a broad range of legal service needs. With fewer such relationships, the firm is exposed to competition from those law firms with stronger relationships, and may miss out on certain types of work completely. In addition, they may lose out if one of their lawyers takes the client with them to another firm, will probably struggle to get the most rewarding work, and may get dropped completely if the panel is reviewed - especially if Procurement is involved.

Identifying key decision-makers

To identify the key decision-makers, it is important for the service team to draw up an organisation chart showing the roles of key executives across the client organisation. These charts are often available in annual reports or on companies’ websites; they can also be obtained directly from the client – just ask.

Pooling intelligence on the client across the team should allow you to identify those individuals who can instruct lawyers directly, and those who just have influence over such decisions. It is rarely the case that a GC or the in-house legal team have full control over the use of external lawyers by their organisation. They will often have a high degree of influence but senior operational executives can usually have the final say: for instance, HR directors will often use their preferred employment lawyers and CEOs will usually appoint the law firms used to advise on M&A. It is also important not to ignore those decision-makers who, whilst they do not use the services of a law firm directly, have influence over who is used, e.g. Procurement.

These decision-makers can then be classified according to their importance in determining which law firms get the work. A simple classification system is shown below:

5 - Have complete autonomy over which law firms are used for any service.
4 - Have complete autonomy over which law firms are used for certain services, e.g. HR director choosing employment lawyers.
3 - Have some autonomy but must use law firms from a list/panel specified by someone else in the organisation.
2 - Have no autonomy and must use a specific firm for each specific legal service.
1 - Are not allowed to instruct law firms.

Mapping relationship strengths

The next stage is to understand how well each of the members of the service team know these decision-makers. In other words, establish how strong a relationship they have with each. Again a simple classification system should suffice, such as that shown below:

5 - Very strong relationship: known for many years; already being instructed as a trusted legal adviser.
4 - Good relationship: good mutual understanding of need and capability; may even have been instructed in the past, but no current work.
3 - Growing relationship: met several times, including at formal meeting(s) to discuss client’s needs and lawyer’s/firm’s capabilities.
2 - Weak relationship: met once or twice, probably at networking events.
1 - No relationship: never met.

Using these two classification systems, it is then possible to map in a matrix the importance of a decision-maker in providing instructions against the strength of relationship that each of these decision-makers has with the firm’s lawyers. Actions required to build and exploit these relationships going forward then become fairly obvious. For example, if the organisation’s HR director has full autonomy over which employment lawyers to use and yet the firm’s Head of Employment has never met this person, a key action for the CRP and his/her service team is to engineer a meeting between the Head of Employment (or another of the firm’s senior employment lawyers) and the HR Director.

Next time in Part 2, I will look at how you gain further insight into a client’s needs and how you go on to exploit this opportunity.

Kevin Wheeler is a consultant and coach with 30 years’ experience advising professional services firms on all aspects of business development. He has particular expertise in designing and implementing KAM programmes for firms, and coaches CRPs and their service teams to deliver great client service.

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Filed Under: Practice of Law

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