“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
Henry David Thoreau
Believe it or not, most lawyers, when left to their own devices, tend to practice law. In fact, many lawyers spend their entire careers practicing law. Shocking, I know! What if I told you that the best lawyers, and certainly the best rainmakers, understand that practicing law isn’t the only focus of building a successful law practice? Rainmakers understand that knowing their client is just as important, if not more important, than simply knowing the law. Why? Because building a resilient practice that generates consistent revenue over time requires clients who will regularly turn to you for help navigating the legal issues that crop up in their business. Thus, if you don’t make it your business to understand your client’s business, you are missing out on a proven way to generate more business for your law practice. It’s hard to overstate how important it is to truly know your client.
Something we say often in business development coaching sessions is that clients don’t have legal problems, they have business problems. When you view how well you understand your client’s business and their needs through a business development lens, it’s easy to see how really knowing your client builds the type of understanding and trust that fosters lasting relationships. The better you know your client and know their business needs, the better you will be able to serve that client through efficiently and effectively solving and avoiding legal problems. Once your client sees you as a trusted advisor and partner in their business, you will have a client for life. Here are some of the key ways we’ve found over the last 25 years to truly get to know your client and their business:
- Land the Relationship: Often, lawyers view business development simply as landing more business to generate more revenue—and if every potential client hired you after every sales pitch, then that would be true. The reality is that you might not land the client on the first try or your existing clients might not automatically send you new matters. Therefore, it’s important to focus on building a relationship whether or not it immediately results in work. Viewing meetings as a chance to develop and deepen relationships instead of merely as sales pitches will set you up to better understand a client’s business and position yourself to help them when legal issues arise. Focusing on landing the relationship instead of the business will also help you avoid coming off as “salesy” or feeling pressured to close because your focus in nearly every meeting you’ll have is simply to know your client better.
- Business Needs are Personal Needs: Who is your client? Is it the company that generates the profits to pay your bill or is it the person who called you with a problem and needs to keep costs attributed to her business segment under a cap in order to get her full bonus? Just as clients ultimately hire you, a living breathing individual and not the bricks and mortar of your firm, the work you do is with a person as opposed to simply for a company. Remembering that this person has unique needs that are distinct from the company they work for and which play into the business considerations impacted by your legal services is vital to connecting on a deeper level so that you can serve all of your client’s needs. Simply asking “How can I do a better job for you?” is one way to demonstrate to your client that you are genuinely interested in finding ways to help her personally, in addition to helping her company. Another effective way to uncover the personal needs of your client is to inquire about how the matter you’re working on will directly impact her daily activities or the goals of her business team—and then deliver your services accordingly.
- Enter the C-Suite: For the companies you represent, every legal issue is simply a business issue to be dealt with in the most efficient way possible. As their lawyer, it is important to view every legal issue through management’s eyes and consider business impacts beyond the legal issue at hand. Consider a breach of contract lawsuit for a product that doesn’t conform to the specs. To your client, it’s more than just a legal problem. It may really be an operations issue, a PR issue, a breakdown in communications between sales and legal or a supplier problem. By thinking of yourself as an integral member of your client’s management team—and thinking of your services as being integral to the growth of their PnL— you may be able to help them avoid problems like this in the future. Asking questions aimed at understanding the nuances of your client’s business model, their growth plans, their competition and the challenges unique to their business will not only enable you to render exceptionally useful legal assistance, but it will help you build the type of relationship that creates additional work down the road.
- Leverage Technology: It is easier than ever to research clients and to stay on top of issues that can impact their business. Following your clients on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook—and following who they follow (often their important competitors, suppliers and industry-related news sources can be found in their follow lists)—will reveal a treasure trove of information to enable you to really understand their business. Setting a Google alert for their name, stock ticker or industry can also help you stay on the cutting edge of relevancy. Clients assume you (and your competition!) are competent with respect to your area of legal specialty, therefore it’s important that you distinguish yourself by showing you care enough to really get to know and understand their business. Reaching out to share a relevant regulation change or to send congratulations for winning an industry award demonstrates a level of interest in your client’s needs that builds long term relationships.
- Go Old School: Technology is extraordinarily helpful in researching your client and uncovering reasons to connect, but nothing beats good old fashioned face to face meetings to really get to know a client and their business. Taking the time to visit your client at her office, tour the factory, meet the team and kick the tires is one of the most effective ways to build a relationship. As email and conference calls have become the norm, the power of in-person meetings has become even greater. Take advantage of opportunities to get together with your clients on their turf and you will not only learn more about their business than you otherwise may have, you will also create the kind of lasting connection with your client that rainmakers are known for.
Knowing your client is vital to creating the type of long term relationship that will generate lasting returns. In the push to land new business, don’t forget to nurture that relationship once you win the engagement. Taking the time to get to know your client and ask the questions that show your desire to really understand their business will not only distinguish you from your competition, it will enable you to render legal advice that is specifically tailored to their needs. The only thing better than developing and deepening relationships for business relationships is providing excellent service. Knowing your client well will enable you to do both.
At Maraia & Associates we’ve been helping professionals become rainmakers one relationship at a time. If you’re ready to become a rainmaker, contact us today to learn more about our programs.