During this pandemic, most firms have understandably focused on playing defense by engaging in cost-cutting, decreasing pay, and reducing headcount.
But defense represents only half of the game. Rather than just playing not to lose, what else can be done? What does offense look like in this environment? What can firms do to move the revenue ball down the field?
The key to running a successful offense is building on your strengths, and for law firms, their biggest strength is their existing client base. To get the most from this asset, firms must employ an offensive strategy that accomplishes two major goals — protect against turnovers, i.e., avoid losing work to other firms, and score points, i.e., grow new work in current and new practice areas. One of the best strategies for achieving both goals is to implement plays from the cross-selling playbook.
One of my favorite quotes is from legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who said, “You put good fundamentals on a player, you get a good player. You put great fundamentals on a player, you get a great player.”
The problem with most firms is they don’t know the fundamentals of cross-selling, so they are neither good nor great in this phase of the game. Therefore, those that learn and apply the fundamentals of cross-selling can gain major competitive advantages.
One fundamental that great coaches understand is the need to instill a common culture and language so all players work off the same page and possess a mindset that allows them to function at their highest levels. Since the thought of selling more services to existing clients in totally new practices is often not an adequate motivator, leaders must reframe why they should engage in these behaviors.
That can be accomplished by shifting the focus away from selling and more toward serving. Lawyers like to be perceived as delivering high levels of service, so in order to drive more desired action, I recommend renaming this overall process from “cross-selling” to “cross-serving.”
Another hallmark of excellent coaches is the ability to break winning into smaller chunks, focusing on key activities rather than just final outcomes. The following are four such activities, what I call key accelerators, that support the endgame of successful cross-serving.
The Client Feedback Accelerator
From both a protect and grow standpoint, engaging in more and better client feedback is a critical set of skills your lawyers should master. So many client defections can be avoided if the right questions are asked at the right time and if the right actions are taken to prevent their departure.
Asking the right questions can also attract work to you that might otherwise go to other firms. For example, a managing partner can proactively offer to participate (virtually) in a client’s leadership team meetings, and by being present and asking the right questions, can uncover new matters for the firm.
Some key plays to draw up here include the following:
- Identify clients that are most important to your overall revenue.
- Conduct research to identify potential issues and opportunities.
- Develop a set of feedback questions your lawyers can choose from and customize.
- Prepare probing questions designed to uncover new cross-opportunities.
- Create ways to wow your clients so they resist overtures from competitors who are trying to take work away from you.
- Assign people to conduct client interviews and make them a high priority, tracked by senior leadership.
- Swiftly act on any feedback or leads for new work.
The Internal Cross-Connections Accelerator
Successful coaches work hard to create internal chemistry. On good teams, players know each other’s capabilities, they communicate well, they trust in their collective ability to get the job done and they generally like working together.
To get more wins in a law firm, the same dynamics should apply. To get more lawyers comfortable passing clients back and forth to each other, they should develop deeper interpersonal relationships, they must understand the range of services offered by other lawyers, and they should trust that other lawyers will take good care of their clients.
For example, mergers and acquisitions partners who work for large retail clients may find their work drying up during the pandemic, but rekindling relationships with other firm partners could result in new deals they wouldn’t receive otherwise.
Some ways to facilitate your internal chemistry include the following:
- Have lawyers conduct short, highly focused internal presentations on key issues that lawyers in other practices should know about.
- Identify specific lawyers who have potential cross-opportunities, bring them together and ask them to develop a game plan.
- Provide opportunities for complementary practice groups and their leaders to spend time together discussing potential opportunities.
- Provide guidance on addressing potentially sensitive issues like splitting credit and managing expectations around client service.
The Key Measures Accelerator
Most sports teams measure the activity of their players in minute detail because they recognize that correctly executing the small things leads to victory. Similarly, we need to measure our lawyers’ activity in key areas to make sure they get the right things done.
While there are many activities to choose from when it comes to cross-serving, three central areas to be measured and managed are:
- Conversations between firm lawyers where they discuss cross-opportunities;
- Conversations between firm clients and newly introduced lawyers where cross-practices are introduced; and
- Follow-up messaging from the newly introduced lawyers to those clients to stay top of mind.
The Leadership Mega-Accelerator
The main job of a coach is to put players in a position to win. Leaders must set the tone, draw up the right plays and make sure the players are implementing the game plan. Few law-firm-leaders have been taught the art of activating their lawyers to engage in higher levels of cross-serving, so they need to collaborate and develop new tools.
During the pandemic, practice group leaders, executive committee members, and other senior leaders can still be brought together for virtual training and planning sessions, where leaders can receive training and share successes, challenges, and specific techniques. Such efforts can lead to deeper connections between the leaders, more knowledge sharing and, most importantly, specific commitments for action to drive more cross-serving behavior.
Some approaches that can be used to develop leaders include:
- Training on how to overcome common challenges and lead cross-serving efforts;
- Connecting with leaders in complementary groups to jointly drive the process;
- Developing specific cross-serving plans for targeted clients;
- Running collaborative planning sessions within their own groups so their lawyers can understand and provide input into the plans;
- Clarifying roles, expectations, goals, measures and action steps for each lawyer participating in the cross-serving effort; and
- Building a watcher system through which firm leaders and senior management can track and manage the implementation of those plans.
Rather than merely hunkering down defensively, leaders should go on offense to maximize the individual and collective potential of their lawyers. Leaders should know how to craft a winning strategy, create the right culture, and provide proper training and support.
Russ Francis, a former All-Pro NFL football player, framed the importance of leadership well when he stated, “We’re going to have a good year if our coaching staff lives up to its potential.”
For our industry, this means first giving our leaders the support they need to maximize their own capabilities, so they in turn can guide their lawyers to victory.
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Originally published at Law360.com | August 25, 2020