“As clients get larger ... they have all sorts of different arms, which you as the corporate finance lawyer might not be thinking about,” says Hill, managing partner of the 140-attorney firm. “Start trying to create relationships with some of the other individuals within that client who are in different areas of the business.”
For example, a client for whom you handle tax planning may also need help with employment law or intellectual property law.
“If I’m a corporate finance attorney, my likelihood of going out to lunch with the woman who’s head of HR may be fairly remote,” says Hill. “However, if I start thinking about and talking to the principals about, ‘OK, well, who does your employment law work?’ or, ‘You should know more about our employment law work’ ... they begin to not have 14 different law firms but maybe three or four, and maybe ultimately one or two.”
This kind of business development approach is a win-win for both the service provider and the client, says Hill.
“Nobody of those 14 [other firms], with rare exception, has a real understanding of your total business,” says Hill, a fact that he points out to clients looking to consolidate service providers. “And there’s no real consistency between what one firm does and what another firm does.”
Hill says this targeted approach can be applied to any professional service firm, especially those whose employees have individual goals and who aren’t working as effectively as they could be as a team. It’s a matter of getting employees to change the tunnel-like vision they often work with and stop concentrating on how just their specialty can help their company.
“There’s statistics that really show dramatically how much more effective account management is with a team versus people hoarding (clients),” says Hill. “The profitability of firms that actually do this kind of team account management are so significantly higher than firms that still have four or five rainmakers who hoard the clients and say, ‘These are my clients, and you can work on them, but don’t ever think about getting too close to them.’”
It’s also a great tool for customer retention, because clients aren’t looking at one lawyer or one sales representative as the sole person in the company they should be dealing with.
“Over time, you develop a stronger bond, they know more of your people,” says Hill. “So if Jim Hill got hit by a bus or Jim Hill left to go to another law firm, there still are other relationships within the firm that may very well keep that client at the firm versus just packing up his business and going somewhere else.”
This business approach also has allowed employees at Benesch to gain confidence in their ability to create business relationships for the firm.
“It’s more comfortable because you may be initiating a relationship with the head of HR, but you already know there’s a lot of people (at your company) who know people within that organization,” says Hill. “So, you’re not just calling somebody up out of the blue who doesn’t know you or your firm from Adam and saying, ‘Why don’t you come out to lunch with me and I’ll tell you all about our employment law practices.’”
HOW TO REACH: Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP, www.bfca.com