Do you know what your clients need? Which services? The problems -- business critical problems, not legal ones -- they are trying to solve? That which keeps them awake at night? How can you find out? What do you need to know? How does knowing what they need translate into more work for you?
It isn't as easy as it might seem to obtain actionable intelligence about your client from that client herself. You need to do your homework before the conversation, run the discussion like an interview, and identify and execute follow-up. My thoughts on doing it right:
- Make a list of your favorite clients, the ones you can't wait to work for, the ones that always pay your bills. These are your target clients, the only ones you should be chasing. Prioritize them based on your assessment of the opportunity for additional work (criteria include the strength of your relationship with the client, the size and scope of the client's legal needs, your ability to respond to those needs, the percentage of the client's legal work you're already doing, etc.).
- Spend a few hours reading as much as you can about the first client on your list. It doesn't have to be done in a day or a week, but you need to know their business, their industry, their competition, their challenges, and most of all how they define success and how well they are achieving it.
- Make a list of what you believe to be the five critical business issues facing that first client. Do those issues have a legal element? Is it work you can credibly do? Are there upcoming developments in the law that will impact your client's ability to do business and succeed?
- Have a conversation with your client, on the phone or better yet in person, at a place and time where you can have a meaningful conversation. Ask her questions about her business, her industry, her competitors, her challenges, how she defines success. Use the knowledge you learned to in your research to sound like you know her business better than she does. Ask a lot of questions without answering them yourself. Talk about the legal elements of her business issues as if you've already solved her problems. Listen to what she tells you.
- After that discussion, armed with everything you learned, identify three things you can do for your client that will help her be smart or happy or successful or all three. They don't have to be complicated. In fact, the more complicated they are the less likely you are to do them. Things like "send two-paragraph summary of pending labelling legislation" or "identify cross-border tax specialist with shipping expertise" or even "invite to concert in late June."
- Do the things on your list. Without fail. Don't put them off, don't talk yourself out of them, don't forget. Do them as soon as you can, then come up with three more and do them too. And three more after you've done those. Keep doing things for your client, things that will help her be smart or happy or successful or all of the above, and she'll soon think you're the best lawyer she's ever met, the lawyer who provides real value, the lawyer who will be getting more and more of her work.
- When you're at a point where you are regularly demonstrating your value to that client, move to the next one on your list. You should be working on two or three client relationships at a time, enough to keep your opportunity pipeline flowing, but not requiring so much time that you end up doing nothing or, worse yet, not meeting the obligations of your practice. The goal is to keep looking ahead, to maximize the value of your business development time, to minimize the burdens, all the while producing results.
I'm sure all of you have your own ideas that work. Please share them as comments to this post so that other readers can benefit.
One last thought: if your clients are not having meaningful discussions with you, they'll have them with your competition. Which do you think is the better scenario?