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Marketing : Know your client

Every Issue

Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.84

Creating a good relationship with clients requires more than inviting them to the occasional corporate entertainment event.

Many lawyers say they know their clients well because their firm has worked with the client for a considerable time, they know inside-out the laws affecting the client’s business and they take their client to the firm’s box at the football every season.

APSMA research[1] launched at the annual conference in August shows corporate entertainment does not always win new work (and some clients are tired of being wined and dined). For clients, knowing their business, not their football team, is of a much greater value.

WHAT IS REALLY “KNOWING THE CLIENT”?

Lawyers need to have information about their important clients in the following areas:

  • their core business activity;
  • their work environment;
  • where their industry is heading;
  • how the client firm fits into the industry;
  • how your contacts fit into the business;
  • their preferred style of working and communicating;
  • current legal needs;
  • future legal needs based on business challenges and objectives;
  • their budget for legal spend; and
  • depending on the client, knowing the client’s personal background, family and hobbies (including football!).

For practice and marketing managers responsible for managing an internal clientele, the research reinforces the message: get to know your lawyers and their practices better, and feed your own knowledge to them of their client’s business “as the eyes and ears of the firm” to enhance overall service delivery.

Managers can also work client understanding back into tender documents, inform the style of marketing activity the firm undertakes (such as quick, targeted electronic legal updates, rather than generic practice bulletins) and coach solicitors in business development, based on known client needs and preferences.

Knowing the client is an ongoing process. When coaching solicitors to be good marketers, always encourage them to ask lots of questions – it makes clients feel valued and adds to the knowledge bank.

CLIENT-RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT

One of the key changes that has been driven by professional marketing personnel in law firms is the introduction of client-relationship management. The process of client-relationship management is integral to maintaining a positive and productive client.

While the following tips are not new, the research highlights the need to strongly encourage close relationships between professionals and their clients. Activities for “knowing the client” include:

Visiting client business

Nothing compares with lawyers taking the time to visit their clients. It is greatly appreciated and a valued relationship-building activity. Not only does it impress clients, it assists the lawyers in gaining an understanding of the environment in which their clients work.

Listening

Listen to clients. Pay attention to what they are saying. Allow yourself to pick up on their subtle hints about what they want. It is a lawyer’s job to listen, to gain an in-depth understanding of the issues and then advise on the best course of action. A lawyer cannot advise if he or she has not listened to the client.

Face-to-face communication

Take the time to have face-to-face communication with your clients. Gain an understanding of their strategy, industry trends and satisfaction with your services. Face-to-face communication with clients is still one of the most proven ways to turn good prospects into clients, and good clients into better clients.

Client presentation to your lawyers

Invite a client to an informal information sharing session with your lawyers. It provides an opportunity to show that the firm is genuinely interested in understanding the client’s core business.

Demonstrating an understanding of clients’ business

Read your client’s annual report, attend trade conferences and seminars, read their industry publications and metropolitan media. When something of direct relevance to your client appears, send it to them with a personal note.

Client surveys

Client surveys are often welcomed by clients, as they are an opportunity for them to provide feedback and it is an indication that the firm values them as a client.

Billing

Billing is emerging as one of the hot issues between client and firm. Increasingly, clients are unwilling to pay for time if there are no results. If possible, discuss with the client how they prefer to be billed.

A combination of these marketing activities will ensure a better and more productive relationship between firm and client.

NOTES

Contributed by JANE FENTON and ANNA GRUTZNER of Fenton Communications, a communications consultancy with a professional services marketing division (http://www.fenton.com.au). Reprinted with permission from the Australian Law Management Journal, Law Council of Australia, General Practice Section. http://www.lawcouncil.asn.au gps/publications.html.

itcolumn@liv.asn.au


[1] APSMA Research, 2002: Marketing perspectives – closing the gap between clients and professional service firms, with support from Millward Brown, TMP Worldwide and Mercuri International.

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