Business development and the cross-sell challenge for law firms

Published 4/17/2017 by Doug Hargrove, Managing Director, Legal Sector, Advanced

As a country, Britain is preparing for change. The ambiguity around what Brexit will mean for the UK has allowed us to make provisions for a variety of outcomes meaning, whatever happens over the next few years, the economic environment will evolve accordingly. During a time of such change we all need strong relationships in business and more so between ourselves and our customers. Retention of the client base is the foundation upon which many business development strategies are based, but our clients do not just deliver the opportunity to retain business but the opportunity to grow it too.  

Business Development doesn’t have to be viewed as knowing the company sales pitch or the hard sell, it can just as easily be the building of relationships with prospects and clients. Each and every member of staff has the potential to adopt the BDM (Business Development Manager) role. To some extent this can be helped by viewing the client as a consumer - a consumer of your services. They will have wants, needs, problems and pains that need to be addressed, and your firm has the capability to satisfy those wants and needs. Every lawyer already establishes a personal connection with their client, empathises with their situation and takes the case on as their own, it’s built into their DNA. To this end; many lawyers already conduct business development activity, it simply takes a different guise to what many perceive as the “sales pitch” but it is no less effective in establishing a client connection and showcasing the firm’s capabilities.

Using existing customers as a source of growth and as a business development opportunity can only be a profitable exercise. It’s proven that it costs 6 times more to acquire a client than to keep one, therefore focusing activity on growing revenue from existing customers is far more cost effective than adopting a client acquisition strategy. Maintaining a strong, happy client base that delivers repeat business, naturally leads to more revenue and,ultimately, referencability, which in turn can lead to new business and complete the business development cycle.

One way to grow revenue streams from inside your existing customer base is by cross-selling your services. However, most people that consume legal services do not think “what else could I buy” – so it's down to the law firm, and the lawyer, to upsell and cross-sell, picking the right time and moment to introduce a new service for the client to consume.

Of course, before you implement a cross-selling initiative you need to understand what elements of your portfolio could be offered to your different target clients, in other words, conduct a whitespace exercise. Map your existing portfolio of services against your clients (especially those with a greater propensity to spend) and understand where you have an opportunity and what type of client is more likely to consume what kinds (plural) of your services. This will instantly give you a sales plan against your existing clients – and by natural extension introduce business development activity to your firm.

A well implemented cross-sell initiative in a law firm will force lawyers to think about business development more, but should that mean that they have to carry a cross-sell or business development target? 

Well, the target doesn’t have to be a value in pound notes, and it doesn’t have to be assigned against an individual. Departments and individualscan be measured against the number of referrals they create or the volume of quotes they produce. As long as there is a consistent metric you will be able to measure if you are being successful and what needs to change.

The ability to uncover new sources of opportunity and grow existing sources of revenue is the cornerstone in any law firm’s business plan. Whether they realise it or not, most firms already embrace business development activity in the way they nurture prospects and target their client base with new service offerings - placing some structure around how this is achieved, making everyone in the firm responsible for business development and considering effective targets is simply good business practice.