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How many of your clients think of you as being essential to their growth and profits? How many of them see you as a cost to be carefully managed? The difference is huge.

  • When clients view you as contributing to growth and profits, they can't get enough of you.

  • When they view you as a cost—a commodity—they'll minimize your fees and switch to a competitor when it's convenient.

Irreplaceable resource, or tradable commodity?

A trusted advisor is an irreplaceable resource. An expert-for-hire is a tradable commodity. Which are you?

Probably since the beginning of the legal profession, lawyers have prided themselves on, and consistently emphasized, their expertise. When lawyers had exclusive--or at least unique--access to legal information and expertise, they had something to sell. During the 25-year bull market for legal service, selling expertise was probably harmless. 

Now, however, clients have almost unlimited access to information and expertise. As authors Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel explain in Clients for Life

"Competition, commoditization, client sophistication, and transparent markets mean that few services can truly be differentiated in their own right."

In the most successful client relationships, "the professional managing of the relationship has evolved his or her role from an expert-for-hire to a trusted business advisor; and the firm has developed its overall relationship from a narrow one based on few services and one individual contact to a broad one founded on multiple relationships and services."

Progressive status

Your client-status evolves through progressive roles:

  1. Tradesman: You reliably get things done. A typical start, but not where you want to remain long.

  2. Architect: You help your client develop the vision and strategy, but you're not involved in implementation. This is better, but your ability to grow the client is still limited.

  3. General Contractor: This is a broader, deeper relationship, with a significant revenue stream. But you're still in dangerous "RFP territory."

  4. Developer: You're a trusted advisor, leading your client's agenda. Your team has developed many-to-many relationships, and you have significant impact on your client's success

Client relationships are far more difficult to build and sustain than in the past.

  • Clients demand more value. They are required to do more for less by their own customers and shareholders, and that pressure is passed on to you.

  • Client executives are more sophisticated.

  • To get more value for money, many companies are using refined procurement processes for purchasing legal services, including sophisticated data-mining schemes called Big Data.

  • Executives are time-starved. They could fill their day three times over with people who want to meet with them.

  • Corporations are consolidating service providers and advisors.

When I got into the legal sales coaching business almost 30 years ago, lawyers' universal belief was that if you did good work, success would follow. And for the most part, that was true. During what The American Lawyer magazine called "The Golden Age of Law Firms," relationships were built as much on “schmoozing” as on value, and they often lasted for years and years.

Today, buyers have almost infinite choice

They're pushing to get more value for legal fees. Competitors are fighting bitterly for clients’ business, often offering what a recent ABA Journal article called "suicidal prices" to gain a toehold, keep their lawyers occupied and cover their fixed costs.

If you want to consistently develop deeper, more enduring relationships with your clients, you must shift from the narrow "expert" mindset—where you're focused inward on your expertise, products, and methodologies—to the broader "advisor mindset" where you're focused outward on the client and their highest-level goals and issues.

This means evolving:

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Caveat: You probably can't do this alone

The depth of industry/company knowledge and perspective required of this valuable role requires constant monitoring and thinking about the client's industry, business, economics, future, threats, opportunities, etc.  This is a worthy mission for a client team.

Mike O'Horo

We've already proven how to create and sustain client teams that do this. If you'd like to discuss that, send me an email:

To position yourself properly, and be associated with high-value issues, here's an online course that will teach you how to be effective: Door-Opener: Associate Yourself with Business Problems that Drive Demand for Your Expertise.