To get lawyers thinking about sales, the first step is to set up a system that rewards them for sales. Not a revolutionary idea, but one that many firms don’t implement or implement poorly.
You need to entrench sales and marketing in the culture of the firm. Sales is not a dirty word, it’s what lawyers must do to become partners, build a great practice and make the firm financially viable for the long term.
By simply setting up a tracking system for sales, you get lawyers’ attention. And when you use the system to start impacting partners’ compensation, they quickly change their behavior and get down to business. In some firms, there are partners who simply do sales and very little legal work. They can be the most highly paid partners in the firm. They show the way for entrepreneurial young partners, who quickly see the benefits and build their own practices and become great partners.
Some will say that tracking and origination credits systems can be divisive and encourage internal competition. There are certainly management issues in making a sales tracking system work properly, but these can usually be easily handled. The pros dramatically outweigh the cons in most cases. Most firms with sales tracking systems already in place would never go back.
Track origination credits by clients and matters. In this way, you will encourage new client development and generate business from current clients. Studies show that 80% of your business is generated from current clients. And encourage sharing of origination credits between lawyers and within practice groups to promote team sales efforts. This will help institutionalize clients, resulting in longer-term retention of clients’ business and greater stability for your firm.
I’ve seen sales tracking systems in action that produce stellar results, which have helped make their firms extremely profitable. For many firms, this is the key to really unlocking your partners’ business generation potential.
I would suggest one simple killer strategy that firms should being doing already, which is even more critical during tough economic times. Interview all your top clients and find out what issues are “keeping them up at night”. Then help your clients focus on these issues and resolve them. They’ll thank you for it with more work and market share. This strategy will also help you avoid losing your top clients to other hungry firms approaching them during this period.
Tough times like these lead to many opportunities for smart firms. Another great strategy is to pick up star partners from your competitors in lucrative practice areas you want to grow. These folks are available now since it’s slow, and not normally available in regular economic times. When the economy returns, your new star partners will help your firm dominate your market space and greatly enhance future profitability.
I have seen it done at one of the major accounting firms. They had a sales team of 3 people that followed up on target clients and made sales presentations directly to clients. That was over 10 years ago now. From everything I heard, it was quite successful and well-received by clients. I’ve also heard that some of the larger US law firms have sales teams in place.
Ideally, your attorneys should be doing the sales. However, most attorneys aren’t trained in sales and don’t do a good job of it. I have also seen law firm partners in action who spend virtually all their time on sales and networking activities and are the most highly paid partners in their firms if they get results. If you build the culture to allow this to happen, your young attorneys will recognize this and will be inspired to build their practices rapidly through standard sales techniques.
I know of one large US law firm that bought the rights to a generic sales training course, made only minor edits for law firm use, and now presents it as standard fare to all their attorneys. More firms are starting to recognize the need to develop their young attorneys’ business development and sales skills early on, given the increasing competition for clients in today’s rapidly changing legal environment.