Are Your Partners Business Savvy Enough?

Most firms recognise that they are too focused on transactions and not focused enough on long-term relationships. This blog article explores the issue using the Service-Value matrix.How Valuable are Your Services(1)

The comfortable place for many firms is to be in the middle of the service-value matrix and that might be exactly the wrong place to be! This might mean that either the service is too ‘wishy washy’ from the client perspective or that you’re wasting money doing things the client doesn’t need!

According to David Maister, the Harvard guru, the three levels of value to clients are as follows:

  • Expertise – Major ‘you-bet-your-ranch’ legal work (eg serious litigation or major acquisition etc) where you need the best and the client is prepared to pay for it.
  • Experience – Some important aspects to get right and the client needs a firm with a good reputation, but also wants good value.
  • Efficiency – The client needs lawyers (begrudgingly) but it’s all relatively straightforward and wants the cheapest price and good service.

Looking at this from the firm’s perspective and the service type they can offer, I think there are three distinct offerings:

  • Partnership – the firm has close working relationships with the senior executives and is involved in strategic issues. The client might be treated as a ‘Diamond’ key account.
  • Advisory – the firm has a good working relationship with the client on specific matters, but is less well known in the boardroom.
  • Execution – the firms may be on a panel providing a low cost service on several relatively low value matters. Secondments of relatively junior personnel might be included in this category.

You might take a moment to consider where your firm is on this matrix. Most firms offer a range of service levels. You might offer defence legal work to insurers (Execution) and have a Corporate partner sit in on board meetings (Partnership). This is fine, though you create management and culture challenges when offering such a combination.

The art is to match the service to the value that the client is seeking.

Many firms would like to enhance the value of what they are providing. To do this, partners need to get better at being more business savvy. They need to earn the right to be at the top table and contribute value at a more strategic and business level.

So, how can this happen? Here are some suggestions:

  • Upgrade your research/knowhow/BD team to provide partners with the bullets they’ll need to fire. I advocate that partners need five topics of conversation with senior executives. Many of these will be based on sector issues (competition, legislation, tax etc) but some might just relate to the company itself. You’ll be unlucky if one of these doesn’t strike a chord and get you building a relationship with the C-suite executives.
  • Pick five – ten clients to have on a key account programme and draw up a plan with the client to develop a mutually advantageous relationship. Most firms write a client plan in isolation and best practice (based on a study I’ve done in other sectors) is to write a plan jointly with the client – after all, you’re looking for a win-win! Pick partners to run these key accounts who have the core skills for relationship building.
  • Train your partners in the art of facilitating discussions with senior people. It’s less about presenting and more about asking great questions, listening really well (not just to the words, but the meaning behind the words) and building consensus to take issues forward.

These initiatives should help you move into the highest value ‘partnership’ role in the top right-hand corner of the matrix.

This all presupposes that the client wants to be in a partnership with you – but that’s another article!

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