I don't think it's news to any professional services Business Development Director that client loyalty today is a very different concept to what it was 10 years ago. Then clients didn't move. So long as the work was being done in a professional, accurate and relatively efficient manner; clients were happy to remain loyal to their service providers. Relationships existed between individuals, not between businesses.
Today's market sees more and more clients using procurement teams to acquire service providers, the growth of the in-house legal team, a much more fluid resource market and new pricing pressures and arrangements. Organisations require law firms to conduct business in a commercial way. This means that firms must have clarity on what their business offering to clients is and how they can structure their organisation to accommodate customer needs. As a result, it has become painfully obvious that law firm business development departments need to adopt and manage a pipeline process.
Firm-wide business and client development initiatives, like sector targeting and key client programmes, help to bring focus to those areas of business that can bring the most growth and opportunity. It also helps firms to be more coordinated in their approach to clients and indeed to improve their reputation in certain industries. Many firms over the last few years have chosen to adopt similar initiatives as a way to upskill their legal personnel on how to manage relationships (both strength and risk) to attract and more importantly, retain work.
However, to successfully do this, pipeline management needs to be adopted to ensure there is a clear picture of the quantity and value of the work available to pitch to, that will sustain a particular practice, sector or work type for the near and foreseeable future.
Acquiring a mature pipeline tool that integrates with the organisation's CRM, will ensure that the firm is in a position to contribute and categorise all upcoming opportunities into a central system, that will, over time, provide valuable analytics across all business development programmes. Understanding how much work is in the pipeline can inform Business Development Executives and Partners on the health of practice groups and programmes, and give them the information they need to make strategic decisions about how to improve the condition of their pipeline. Whether that be expanding the breadth and depth of relationships, providing additional value added services, taking steps to understand why the firm is not a preferred provider and correcting issues raised; or acquiring new legal skills to improve market reputation in key sectors – firms are now in a position to understand the value of their work and act accordingly.
Firms cannot wait for pitches to come through the door. They need to ensure they have positioned themselves prior to the pitch to ensure the firm is a consideration for the client; or even better, the firm is the only option following the success of prior work.
An added bonus of acquiring a pipeline management tool is it can help bring process to a Business Development team that currently manages pipeline in a decentralised and ad hoc way. Often it can be difficult to educate a Business Development Executive to adopt a certain approach without having software that can guide the process. Business Development Directors would do well in bringing a consistent approach to pipeline and relationship management, across their whole team, to ensure that they can provide the robust analytics required to manage a commercial business.
Operations teams can also use the information to ensure lawyers are fully utilised and make sound decisions about resourcing legal work.
Given how important these issues are to the development of law firms' business, you will be pleased to know that we are going to explore this discussion in detail at the upcoming InterAction Share 2017 on 8th June 2017 for existing InterAction customers. If you are a CRM Manager and your Business Development Director isn't planning on attending, we would urge you to encourage them to join us. The event will provide a good understanding of the tools available for pipeline management and introduce them to Business Edge, in two great insight sessions.
All Business Development Executives know that pipeline management is a key component of Business Development in the future, so let's start educating ourselves on the options!