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October 20, 2007

Dumbing it down: getting high-end clients

Last night some people asked me "how do you land or 'get' 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 5 things: Credibility, Relationship, Limit, Persist, Timing. It applies to any size firm:

1. Credibility: 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.

2. Relationship. 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 it 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. Too much talent out there.

4. Persist. The hard part. Landing great clients requires discipline and organization. And the mental health of a slab of chrome-vanadium steel. It's not personal--and 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. Note: On "like", it's a two-way street. They may not "like" you. They may think that they have the outside lawyers they need. "Weak" GCs may even feel pressured to use the lawyers they have--whether or not they are happy with them.

5. 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 came up.

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

Posted by JD Hull at October 20, 2007 11:50 PM


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