The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way business development is carried out for law firms. As remote working becomes the new norm, the lack of visibility with the new way of working is making it increasingly difficult to understand who knows who, how well and which individuals are interacting with clients across the firm.

In a recently virtual roundtable with The Lawyer, relationship intelligence platform Introhive’s legal industry director Alan Mercer discussed how to break down internal barriers to harness business relationships with a panel of senior law firm business development professionals.

“The key question is about how to break down the silos that exist, not only in technologies and systems but also within people’s minds, to get a better understanding of your client relationships and ultimately translate this relationship capital into revenue growth,” said Mercer, setting the main theme of the roundtable discussion.

A delegate pointed out that even before the first lockdown in the spring, there was already a shift in client engagement and marketing and business development initiatives. Being relevant and personal has become the new focus.

“The shift has been around getting away from the generic approach, which is not working. Intelligence around the relationship you have with a particular client is much more important. The change was already happening before the first lockdown hit and has been moving fast,” said the delegate.

The shift has highlighted underlying issues with data quality and disparate data in siloed systems. A huge amount of digital transformation has taken place in the past six months, which would have taken years normally. These issues have always been there but are being brought to the surface more noticeably under current circumstances.

When firms and their clients have to embrace remote working, knowledge sharing is inevitably affected. At the firm level, it is harder to have a clear visibility on who is interacting with which client and coordinate effective business development efforts.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, there was a huge rush to communicate with clients. As a result, some clients may have been bombarded by calls, emails and zoom meetings from their external lawyers, some clients were unfortunately ignored (maybe due to a lack of contact data) and became “lonely clients”.

Developing new business is the biggest challenge

“We were all a bit guilty of over-communicating initially, and it wasn’t necessarily personalised or tailored. Because we were just reacting,” recalled one participant. “But one observation is that we’ve entrenched into our existing client relationships. Our lawyers probably got closer to their current, existing clients. They’ve tailored their work and communication to them. What’s a lot tougher is how to break into new relationships. It’s hard to breakthrough when you can’t meet face to face. That’s a real challenge to us all,” he continued.

It is a common challenge shared across all firms’ business development teams during the pandemic. While ideas of how to secure new clients are few and far in between in 2020, firms have put more emphasis on cross-selling between practice groups and regions.

“The repeat work we’ve seen over the past six to seven months has been relatively easy to maintain. It’s the new client piece that’s been tricky. So the internal piece has become more important,” said a business development manager of a US firm in London.

“Which clients are we servicing in the US but not in Europe? Or which clients we are doing funds work for but not transactional work for? We are trying to link up those internal pieces to make the most out of the client relationships we have,” he explained.

CRM alone won’t solve the problems

It is critical for firms to understand what relationship they already have, either intra-country or intra-team, and what existing relationships have not been leveraged. But this is where firms struggle the most.

“Once you’ve done a white space analysis of your services with a certain client, if there’s any existing relationship in another subset or department of that company you’d like to talk to, then it is essential for firms to be able to find that information,” said Mercer.

While most of the large firms have established a client relationship management system (CRM), the traditional model has its limitations. Firstly, as a business development manager of a large UK firm pointed out, the CRM system is often seen as a tool used by the business development team instead of by lawyers to expand their own relationships. CRM is seen as just another task for busy lawyers and partners – manually rekeying information about the clients who they know and who they met into a system, from which they get little feedback or insight back.

“It’s all about behaviour. It doesn’t matter how good your CRM system is if no one is using it. Quite often the closest and the best relationships aren’t  reflected in the CRM system, because nobody has bothered to and put the contact or information in.  The ones we had the least contact with tend to have the most information,” said the BD manager.

Technologies such as Introhive can solve the data entry issues with automation, but to get the lawyers and partners’ buy-in, they need to see what insights the data provides and how they can use these to help them grow their business.

“Capturing data shouldn’t now be the issue. Contact and activity data can now  be automated. Once you get past the age old sticking point of building and keep an accurate and up-to-date database, then there are wonderful things you can do with that data,” said Mercer.

For example, lawyers can receive an automated pre-meeting digest about the firm’s relationship and recent dealings with a client. The data can help firms assess the strength of their client relationships objectively based on a variety of factors such as seniority of the relationship, number of contacts, frequency and types of interactions, footprints across the firm and service lines.

Once relationships are measurable, then it is easier to set KPIs, formulating key client programs and strategies to manage them. The data analysis can also help firms spot potential risks and aid with succession planning.

“It’s crucial to have a whole understanding of the firms relationship with a client. If one of your key people is leaving, what impact will it have, what relationships could be at risk, and who else have these relationships and could take the reins?” said Mercer.

The data that would give you the answers often already exists, but is siloed in various different systems and people’s minds. Breaking down the barriers and being able to access this data is often the challenge. In the post-Covid era, where communication and collaboration will continue to be done digitally and remotely, it also determines how well firms can be at understanding the strength of their client relationships and in turning those relationships into financial success.

Alan Mercer

Sponsor’s comment 

In the midst of a global pandemic and a rapid shift towards a new normal, nurturing positive client relationships is more important than ever before. Ensuring you remain an essential part of your clients’ path to success — and remain a part of their budget — is all about maintaining positive experiences.

Introhive enables firms to understand, measure, and drive revenue from client relationships — relationships which are key in helping firms to mitigate losses and bounce back quickly.

Within professional services firms, relationships have always been critical to growth. With 68% of revenue being generated from existing relationships, firms who foster strong relationships naturally achieve higher revenue, profitability, and a greater share of spend.

In today’s climate, your current relationships can be a key source of competitive advantage. With senior business leaders being five times more likely to engage and 84% of decision-makers now starting the buying process via a warm introduction, the need to answer, “Who knows who?” is becoming increasingly important in winning new work and then forming long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

Capturing and maintaining accurate data on your clients and interactions will help you to identify the right people to keep in touch with, spot at-risk relationships, collaborate effectively both internally and externally, discover warm introductions within existing relationships, and enable you to communicate quickly and effectively with your client base during these uncertain times.

Introhive passively captures the data you need and delivers actionable insights to you and your teams. Our platform then maps, scores and visualises relationships at an individual and company-to-company level, showing you how they’re trending and where you can take steps to bolster positive experiences with your contacts.

Introhive works with over 80 law firms globally. Feel free to get in touch to find out how we can help your firm.