April 24, 2016

Retaining clients doesn’t just happen; come up with a plan and follow it

Origination Station

Steve Fretzin
By Steve Fretzin
Steve Fretzin is the author of “Sales-Free Selling” and the upcoming “The Lawyers Networking Handbook,” which will be released shortly. Fretzin has worked with hundreds of attorneys who struggle with growing a client base, sustaining a client base while, at the same time, attempting to keep a well-balanced life.

In the Declaration of Independence it states that “all men are created equal.” While this may apply to how we treat others with respect and dignity, we can choose to be more selective with whom we invest our valuable time.

For the purpose of running a successful law practice, all clients are not created equal. As a lawyer, a critical element to running a fruitful practice is managing your time in an efficient manner. How and where you invest your time can make all the difference.

Imagine that you’re standing in front of an apple tree, which is loaded with fresh apples. Some of these apples are literally right in front of your face, while others are way up high in the tree. For the sake of efficiency, which apples do you go after first? The lower apples may seem like an obvious choice, however, many attorneys are still working entirely too hard climbing ladders reaching for those apples in the tree’s upper reaches.

When discussing low-hanging fruit with my attorney clients, I always start with a discussion of their existing clients. Our goal is to uncover opportunities, which will produce the highest possible value for the time invested.

As we all know, before you can begin selecting apples you must first plant the seeds and water the trees. As this relates to leveraging existing clients, there is a myth that must be eradicated first. The myth is simple: if you service your client properly, they will be loyal to you. If you believe this for even a moment, welcome back to the 1980s!

Times have changed and so must you in the way you manage your client relationships. Statistically, it’s six times more work and energy to find a new client rather than to keep an existing one. That being said, we all have to step up our game to insure that client loyalty is developed with intent. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to develop a client retention and loyalty plan.

Before groaning at the idea of writing a plan, I assure you this shouldn’t take more than an hour to accomplish and can make the difference between success and failure in maintaining and building your law practice.

Here are the three important elements of a client retention and loyalty plan:

Step 1: Develop a list of your key clients and rank them as an “A, B or C” client. As I stated earlier, all clients are not created equal, so be careful in how you rate these folks. I suggest three qualifiers for determining what makes up an A, B or C client.

Ask yourself questions about each client and be honest.

•How good is my relationship?

•Is this a relationship that I can develop and expand?

•Are we friends socially or is our relationship more transactional in nature?

•Does she call me for general business advice or just about the deals?

•Have I helped my client in ways beyond providing legal advice?

Next, try to determine how much opportunity the client has to grow or how connected this client may be.

•Does she have a solid network of decision-makers that she can introduce me to?

•Is her company growing and expanding?

•Are there opportunities to cross-market and share work with my partners?

The last factor in determining who to invest the most time with relates directly to the amount each client has invested with you and your like or dislike of this client.

•Does this client invest a significant amount of dollars with you or did they invest almost nothing a few years ago?

•Was this client a complete nightmare to deal with?

•Did the client cost my firm money due to poor follow-through?

•Did the client continually question and argue my rate?

Based on these three factors and any others that you believe to be important, invest 20 minutes to create a master list of your top A, B and C clients so that you can move on with Step 2 of this plan.

Step 2: What you are going to do here is to develop a list of contact and relationship building points to help ensure that we are investing the right amount of time with the right clients. Based on their ranking, you are going to do more for the high-ranked clients and less for the lower-ranked clients.

To be clear, if you have a B that you want to make an A then be sure to increase the amount of touch points with that specific client.

Here are a few examples of different touch points that you can use to develop stronger and stickier relationships:

•Schedule a lunch or coffee meeting with your client.

•Go out for drinks and get to know one another better.

•Send a card on her birthday and for the holidays.

•Take your client to a game or concert. (It’s important to know what she’s into.)

•Call your client to see how you can help her business.

•E-mail or call your client to congratulate her on something she’s accomplished (business or personally).

•E-mail your client with an article that is relevant to her business. (You can use RSS feeds for this. Look it up.)

•Invite your client to a firm event or another high-level networking event.

•Be a resource for your client. Find her a new vendor, strategic partner or an actual new client.

Use these ideas as a guideline to create your A column, where a number of these type activities would be used. The B’s would receive less contact and the C’s less again.

For example, you might want to have lunch with your A clients four times a year, call each one monthly, e-mail each one monthly and find a solid contact for her twice a year. Again, the B clients would get less of your attention and time, unless you want to make that client an A-lister.

These are just a few of the many things you can do to stay in constant contact and help ensure longevity with your clients. The side effect of this activity will be to open up more doors for additional business and much needed referrals.

The stronger the relationship becomes, the less likely it is that a client will leave over price and the more open to referrals she will become.

Step 3: Scheduling time to execute on your plan is paramount to your success. While it’s great to set up a plan like this, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t implement it. My best suggestion here is to find 30 to 60 minutes a week and schedule time as “client loyalty and development time.”

Without making the time and setting it aside it will never happen for you. There will always be work and distractions keeping you from this important task. Look at your calendar and find a spot weekly where you are least likely to be distracted or busy. You can even do some of this work on the train, in the evenings or on the weekends.

If you had to choose between retaining and developing relationships that already exist and have potential for growth or attending a local networking event and maybe meeting someone of interest, which is a better use of your valuable time?

There may be value in both activities, however, the later will bear fruit much more quickly when you’ve followed your plan.

This article was originally published in the March 21, 2016, edition of the Daily Law Bulletin.

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