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October 22, 2007

Dumbing it all down: getting high-end clients.

Last night some people asked me "how do you land or 'get' new high-end clients?" In the question, "high-end clients" are sophisticated users of legal services, which tend to be larger and/or publicly-traded companies. Could I simplify the answer--or even dumb it down--on our blog? The dumb-downed answer I come up with is 6 things: Credibility, Relationship, Limit, Keep Up, Persist, Timing. It applies to any size firm:

1. Credibility. This is an easily verifiable and true portrait of the right people with the right specialties at your shop. If you don't have the portrait, get it. You may need to make changes in your lawyers and staff.

2. Relationship. Just bonding. It needs to be a personal relationship, but not necessarily a strong one, especially at first. See Malcolm Gladwell's discussion in The Tipping Point on the art of the "weak tie". And in my book, you need to "like" that GC, CFO or HR person. It will be very hard for you to keep up the conversation that "we want your business" if you personally think the client representative is difficult, arrogant or a stone creep. Or the "chemistry" is otherwise just bad. No matter how sexy the client, you should pass and wait until they are replaced, get fired or quit. Also, the personality or style of the client rep might tell you something about the client's culture--do you really want this client?

3. Limit. Sell two or three practice areas. Do not try to sell everything your firm does. No one believes any longer that your firm--whether 10 or over 1000--can do it all and do it well, even it if can. Too much talent out there. Also, this goes to Credibility, above.

4. Keep Up. Monitor the company. If it's publicly-traded or high-profile, that's easier to do. Know stock fluctuations and news. The politics and internal events of the client are key here. You can hit them at the wrong time: in the middle of in-house lawyer changes, a company-wide short-term crisis (sometimes knowable, so read the papers) or a merger or acquisition which hasn't hit the media (so not your fault if you don't know). See Timing below.

5. Persist. The hardest of the six things. Landing great clients requires discipline and organization. And the mental health of a slab of chrome-vanadium steel. Rejection, especially at first, is logical and natural--not personal. It's your job to obtain new business. Keep making the contact, but know when to back down in the short-term. GCs and people who hire lawyers are often busier than you. And on "like", it's a two-way street. They may not "like" you. Or they may think that they have the outside lawyers they need. "Weak" GCs (fewer and fewer these days, but you'll know one when you see/hear one) may even feel pressured to use the lawyers they have--whether or not they are happy with them.

And then there's the unruly "factor": Timing.

6. Timing. Which really means luck based on persistence. Right place, right time. But you are making luck happen. Because you persist, you are on the phone with a GC you are hunting, sitting in a some CFO's office, or just sent a happy "thought-you-might-be-interested-in this" e-mail--when something your firm can do for the client has recently come up. Congrats, my friend, Persistence and Luck just collided. And see Keep Up above. Stuff happens to companies--some of it bad, some of it good, some of it knowable. Don't call the GC on the day the NYT reports the insider-trading scandal. Let luck happen without interference from you.

Getting high-end clients. All dumbed down for you--and yet still very hard to do.

And then...you must deliver to keep the client. Even harder.

Posted by JD Hull at October 22, 2007 11:50 PM

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