Back in early 2016 I published an article entitled, “Cross-marketing Your Legal Practice” to explain the importance of cross-marketing legal services as a value-add for your existing clients. In reviewing that article I’ve identified a few additional pointers that I believe would round out the conversation and help you get real traction in the very important area of business development. There are three key components to success when trying to proactively cross-market your firm.
#1: Know what your firm does and who you feel comfortable referring.
Before running out to cross-sell your firm, stop and think for a minute. What practice areas do we do that are most closely related to my practice area? If you are an estate planning attorney, for example, wouldn’t the obvious cross-marketing opportunity be with your tax group, real estate group or family law group? While you should be open to all practice areas, there may be a few that are more on the nose. As an estate planner, you are just less likely to run into class action, IP or big PI cases than other attorneys. Once you’ve determined what areas to focus on, search out and meet with the attorneys you may be sharing clients with.
Now, some of the grumbles I hear from attorneys about cross-marketing relates to a few potential pitfalls that may occur during the process. For example, giving a matter to your partner who, unbeknownst to you, may do a lousy job or poorly communicate with clients. Another concern might be your partner potentially stealing your client away from you. Now, while these things happen from time to time, your first job before focusing on the cross-sell is. to really “VET” the lawyers with whom you will be bringing in on your client deals.
If you know your partner very well and have observed how professionally and skillfully she works with other clients, your comfort level will go way up. If you are meeting with new partners, get to know them on a personal level as well as professional. I had a business associate years ago that would talk negatively about others while we were having lunch. Not very trustworthy, so that relationship ended quickly. The key is to meet with and QUALIFY the partners that you believe will make you look good to your clients, while also mitigating the risk of having issues down the road.
#2: Get prepared with the right questions to before meeting with your clients.
Congratulations on selecting a few solid partners to bring in to meet with your clients. You’re ready to move onto the new step, which involves getting a list of questions prepared for your next client lunch meeting. These questions will be critical to identifying opportunities for more work, without having to ask for it. Yes, you heard me right. You don’t have to ask for the work. By asking questions and identifying areas of issue, your client will ask you for help! Nice, right?
In order to help you along with that process, here are a number of questions that you could ask during a lunch meeting to uncover potential business.
- In business cash is king. How are you doing with collections and receivables?
- How are relationships with your vendors? Are they living up to their commitments to help your business succeed?
- How do you use non-compete agreements?
- How does your business protect confidentiality and long-term customer relationships?
- When was the last time you had your estate plan reviewed?
- What do you think would happen to your assets, including your business, if you were to die without having an estate plan in place?
- When was your estate plan drafted? Any recent changes in your family?
- How are you going to transition the business when you retire? Does your plan include an asset protection plan?
- Is your corporate book up to date so that your business does not lose its limited liability?
- Are you expecting any transactions that will impact the business and you personally?
- Do you have issues regarding employees, vendors or customers?
- Do you have a succession plan for the business?
- Do you and your partners have a shareholder or buy/sell agreement in place?
Labor & Employment:
- When was the last time your company handbook was reviewed?
- Do you have restrictive covenant agreements, or do you have a need for such agreements?
- Do you have any plans to hire or fire any employees in the near future?
- Any big changes to grow or reduce your labor force this year or in the next few?
- Do you have an employee incentive plan?
- How’s your family? Everyone getting along all right?
- Any changes to your family dynamics?
- Between the business and family, there are usually a number of pressure points. Where are you finding the most stress?
- I know that you are working to grow every year. Any expansions to your space or location?
- Do you have real estate holdings and how are they doing for you?
- Are you in a lease and when is it coming up for renewal?
- How do you protect your name and signature products from being copied?
- Have you estimated the value of your intellectual property in the last few years?
- I noticed that you don’t have a trademark stamp on your logo. Do you own the federal trademark on your brand?
#3: Execute on the right approach to successfully help your clients.
As mentioned earlier, the key is to focus on the areas that are closely connected to the work you currently are doing for your client. The questions listed above can be started just by asking about your client’s business. A normal question would be, “How are things going?” Or try, “What’s the game plan for the next year to grow the business?” Or, “What are some of the challenges you are having this year?” The key is to be super interested and curious. Come prepared with a number of questions that might lead to identifying the legal or business risks she might be having.
Once you’ve got her talking, keep digging. For example, if she mentions that things are great, but these darn suppliers are giving her the runaround, there may be some potential contract work or collections. If she admits that there’s no employee handbook in place, you may want to ask about their turnover or risk for lawsuits.
Once you’ve identified a new matter, try your best NOT TO SOLVE IT YOURSELF. The whole idea behind cross-marketing is to bring your client to the table with the expert, which isn’t you. Just get all the details together, recap the problem or need for your client and say the following, “As it turns out, Barbra, we have one of the best tax attorneys in Illinois who I know can help you with this issue. Let me set up a meeting for the three of us and we can work this out with him.” That’s it!
As her attorney, she trusts you to help avoid the risks and hazards associated with growing her business. This meeting does exactly that, and also helps you generate more work for the firm. As the client’s “one-stop-shop” you will be able to help ensure the service and work product is quality while also making it very hard for the client to leave. Edging out the competition has never been more important than today.
So, let’s wrap this up in a bow. You have to get to really know, like and trust the partners you will be referring your clients. Then, you must begin scheduling meetings with your clients to ask questions and identify new legal opportunities or ways to help. Lastly, you should be following through to introduce your client to your partner to drive the new matter into the firm. Follow these guidelines and you will drive more business. The best part? You generate more originations and not necessarily more work for yourself.