When I meet with a new client, I have a list of questions that I use to get a feel for the current state of their practice, where they would like to be in 5 or 10 years, and what are the obstacles that need to be addressed in order to realize their vision.
When the discussion turns to business development, I always ask the question, “How often do you talk to clients you’ve worked with in the past?” The answers I get used to shock me. Now I generally expect an awkwardly long pause followed by, “Hmm, you know, I’m not sure. Probably not as often as I should.”
I have been is sales and business development in some capacity for my entire career. One old adage that you will always hear in sales meetings and read in business development books is, “always start with the low-hanging fruit." This means when putting together a business development plan, the first thing you want to do is identify the opportunities that will take the least effort to convert into revenue. For an attorney, in most cases, the low-hanging fruit is going to be clients you have worked with before.
The Benefits of Focusing on "Low-Hanging Fruit"
Staying in touch with "dormant" clients has many benefits that make the client acquisition process much easier.
- Past clients know you and the quality of the work you and your team deliver.
- You already understand their business and their decision-making process.
- Getting former clients to meet you for coffee or lunch is much easier than it is for people you do not know.
- You can be selective. Seek out clients that you enjoyed working with, who valued your input and paid their bills with a smile.
- Even if there is nothing you can do for them today, maintaining this contact increases the likelihood that you will be their first call when the need arises.
- Past clients can be great sources of information and referrals.
What You May Be Missing
Okay, so I can hear many of you through my computer screen saying, “Come on Rob. We did great work for these people last time. They surely will call us when something comes up.” That would be nice if it were true, but experience has taught me, and thousands of others, that there are many reasons you might not be their first call.
First, there are a lot of attorneys out there who would love to have that client’s business. Whether they are contacted by an attorney, or just happen to meet one socially or in a professional setting, the longer it has been since they last heard from you, the more likely it is they have other alternatives that may be more front-of-mind.
Second, by not staying in-touch with these clients, you may be missing out on cross-selling opportunities. Let’s say that you worked with a small business several years ago helping them set up their corporation. In the time since, they may have added quite a few employees and need to have employment policies in place, employment agreements, management training and other services that can reduce risk related to employing staff. Maybe the company has grown quite a bit and needs to move to a larger office. They definitely could use someone to advise them on the benefits of buying vs leasing, and help negotiating whatever deal they decide to pursue.
I could go on and make an extensive list of all of the cross-selling opportunities that may be available, but if you are not maintaining an open line of communication with clients, they either will not address these issues, assume these projects are not in your wheelhouse and call someone else, or God-forbid, type the letters L-E-G-A-L-Z-O-O-M into their Google search bar.
In any case, each of the above are valuable projects. If you cannot personally handle a matter, you can have one of your partners handle it or refer to another attorney that you would like to develop into a reliable referral source.
6 Activities That Will Ensure Long-Term Client Retention and Growth
Now that we have established the importance and value of maintaining contact with clients you have worked with before, let’s talk about what you can do to make sure it happens.
- You must have a plan. Make a list of activities that need to be performed and block-out time on your calendar to get them done.
- Have an easy-to-use method for keeping track of your last contact and next contact with each client. This could be something already available within your practice management system or some other database, but the key is, it must be accessible and easy to use. Although I have a couple of different online tools I use to track my activity and make notes about conversations, for tracking my clients contacts I just use an Excel spreadsheet with my clients name, date I last connected with them, a couple of shorthand notes and the date I need to reach out to them next.
- Try to have 2 lunches per month with a former client you haven’t connected with in a while. I know this is probably not possible right now, but when we finally get the COVID crisis behind us, having lunch or coffee with dormant clients should be a priority. I read a very good book long ago called, “Never Eat Alone”, by Keith Ferrazzi. In this book, Keith stresses the value of spending one-on-one time with clients, potential clients, co-workers, and anyone else that is important to the success of your career. After I read this book, anytime I ended up eating my lunch at my desk, in my car, or at the hotel restaurant, I felt like I had missed an opportunity to develop an important relationship.
- Put out a monthly newsletter or write articles for your firm’s blog and email a link to your clients (This sounds familiar). As I have mentioned in earlier posts being seen as an expert in your area of specialization is very valuable, especially in a world that more and more relies on technology and social media to develop and maintain connections.
- Keep an eye out for news that could be important to your clients and send it to them with your thoughts on how it could affect their business. But remember, don’t just look for issues that relate only to the services you provide. For example, if you helped an air-conditioning installation and service business put together an employee handbook a few years earlier, and you see an article about new regulations regarding freon storage and disposal, that is something they would want to be aware of.
- Pick Up the Phone – If you do nothing else, at least pick up the phone and make a call. I’m not talking about a cold sales call. From time to time, call your clients to check in, see how their business is doing and let them know you will always be available should they have any questions or need some help. With everything that is going on in the world right now, this is something you can start doing TODAY.
This article has gone longer than I hoped. This is obviously a subject I am very passionate about. At the end of the day, this article is about building relationships. In my career, beyond the recognition and awards, beyond the compensation and benefits, the relationships I have developed with my clients and co-workers is what I value the most. Having the types of close relationships that go beyond the client/counselor level, make every part of everyone’s job easier and more enjoyable. And you might even get the occasional free lunch out of it.
If you would like to talk to hear more about the ideas discussed in this article, please contact us at email@example.com or call 800-863-5272.