When it comes to getting, keeping, and growing large accounts, the day of the lone-wolf rainmaker has passed, never to return. That worked during the 25-year law boom because everybody was buying legal services.
When everybody's buying, you're more order-taker than salesperson. One key relationship or friendship, and you could be golden for a long time. That seller's market ended in 2008; it's gone forever.
In the buyer's market that will be with you for the rest of your career, one person simply cannot do all that needs to be done. Now, you need to ferret out, investigate, and validate potential opportunity continuously. You need more hands on the oars, just to defend and sustain what you already have. To grow the client, even more so.
Let's use a litigation analogy. Is litigation success solely the product of the first-chair's genius or courtroom prowess? (I think we can eliminate the latter, since only a small percentage of cases ever get to court.) In law, litigation is perhaps the ultimate team sport, depending as it does on varied, timely, and coordinated contributions from many different people. Together, they inform the decisions made by the lead litigator and keep things moving forward at the necessary pace.
Major account development is no different. Everything is based on relevance. Given the constancy and pace of change in business, that has a short shelf life and must be continually refreshed. There's no demand for solutions to yesterday's problem. Associating yourself with "yesterday" makes you a vendor, and vendors have almost no pricing power, and have little access to those making decisions about tomorrow's challenges.
To-Do: Welcome all voluntary contributors
Your aspirations for a significant client team should include:
- Deliver your work product in a way that keeps the client loyal and yields a reference account
- Grow your business strategically and economically
- Prepare for the client's and your own future
What it takes to do that
Gather intelligence from business publications and other sources re: macro economic trends; industry- and company issues that make you relevant
Identify stakeholders within the company, and their respective self-interest and success criteria
Organize raw industry data into useful intelligence. Convert those issues into Door-Opener hypotheses that earn you access to key stakeholders
Brief sellers and team leaders on each Door-Opener's relevance to this client, enabling a seller to stimulate and conduct a productive business conversation
Motivate existing contacts to connect you to other stakeholders to test a hypothesis
Over time, become an industry expert, knowledgeable about the important issues afoot in the industry and conversant with their implications
Conduct simple Socratic interviews with principals at the client to determine the impact that an industry-specific business problem has on the company and its people – and thereby qualify legitimate opportunities for sales interaction that buyers welcome
Commit to and honor sales-activity and -results goals; budget time and conduct disciplined sales activity; make use of coaching; conduct timely, consistent follow-through; track progress and results and be held accountable
Lead a team by facilitating a continuous process that yields meaningful goals, metrics, participation, alignment, feedback and performance. Learn and manage a group decision process
Set clear, measurable sales goals; develop and communicate strategy and tactics; monitor performance; correlate rewards with behavior; apply standards equitably
Accept primary responsibility for this account’s growth and success; assure client satisfaction and feedback; acquire timely feedback and translate it into modifications to all of these processes
Continuously monitor the client's industry to sustain and refresh your relevance
Track movement of principals into and out of your client
Identify relevant topics to earn access to new arrivals
Track all team activity and client contact to prevent things slipping through cracks
One person simply cannot do all that. You need a team. Not a nominal team, made up of reluctant conscripts, but a real team. An inclusive team open to all self-motivated volunteers.
If you circulated an open invitation to everyone in your firm -- not just lawyers, but everyone -- to contribute to this team, how many people do you think would volunteer? You'll be pleasantly surprised.
The key word is "contributors." You don't need hangers-on. They're dead wood that will only hold you back and wear you out. Those are the people who only see obstacles, who always know why something won't work. They're toxic.
I mean people who opt into contributory roles you've defined to accomplish the bullets above, or who define new forms of contribution that you didn't think of. They'll only opt into roles they're confident they can succeed in. That means you don't have to motivate them, manage them, or train them. There are more of them than you'd think, throughout your firm, and they've been waiting for some way to contribute. Let them.
A recent example
Debriefing the two primary relationship partners following meetings with about a dozen legal- and business principals at a large client, it was clear that there was huge opportunity at this client, but as I told those lawyers, not if the effort was limited to the two of them. They needed more hands on the oars.
They published a list of contributory roles and invited anyone in the firm to volunteer to contribute in that way. They were stunned by the response. Forty people opted into various contributory roles, and many suggested roles we hadn't thought of. This included lawyers at all levels, paralegals, librarians, admins, IT people. It's even more surprising when you consider that the team meetings were to be held at 8:00am, off the clock. (So many non-exempts volunteered that the firm had to get a Wage & Hour opinion.)
People want to help
If you can get past the old hierarchical thinking that approximates a caste system, and get out of people's way, they will help.
Then, turn them loose. Use a facilitator for guidance, but let the team run itself, do its own analysis, make its own decisions and mistakes, and grow. It'll take a bit of time for them to trust the new autonomy, and to learn how to function as a team, but once they do, it's nothing short of transformative. Firm leaders who've experienced it describe it as "messy, loud, occasionally chaotic, but hugely effective."
Do you want to be part of your client's future? Do you have the courage to trust the people you hired and relinquish control in exchange for the ability to accomplish huge goals?