Alan Denton from The Results Centre was recently asked to write an article for ‘The Barrister’ magazine on the subject of client relationships. Although it has a clear focus on the legal profession, it has a number of points that are resonant for all business professionals.
Here is a specially adapted version of the article.
Good client rapport is a key part of success for professionals within in any field. It’s a familiar cycle – businesses work to keep clients happy, clients are pleased with the service, the trust between the two grows and the client returns again and again. Of course, a barrister’s role involves managing a myriad of relationships at various levels. It can seem like quite an undertaking, especially with a full-time career in law to manage. But working and socialising go hand-in-hand – it’s just a matter of finding the right balance of professional and personal.
The barrister-solicitor relationship is one of the most important connections to nurture. It is a two-way street, with each party relying on the other to help in making their profession profitable. Individual chambers are often less well-known than solicitors and forming productive working relationships in this area is a simple yet effective business-to-business marketing technique. It doesn’t need to be flashy – in fact, perhaps the best way to think about it isn’t as marketing, per se. Consider it as part of your wider business development strategy.
Marketing is simply about setting up profitable opportunities by meeting a client’s needs. Instigating meetings with key decision makers is essential. Each solicitors’ practice is going to have existing professional networks and it might take some perseverance to gain access to the right people. This will involve some groundwork so in the meantime, it’s important to remember never to neglect relationships with existing business clients. It’s easier to keep a good client than to gain a new one and the main thing a client wants is to feel valued. Inattentiveness on the part of the barrister can lead to relationships petering out, resulting in less business and more hard work.
In order for a barrister to begin building up wider working relationships, they need to reach out to a new audience. This can be achieved via various marketing techniques. These days, many chambers are happy to embrace the concept of marketing. This is a positive step, but good marketing is always underpinned by a thorough strategy and if this isn’t fully in place it’s easy for the results to become haphazard. It’s completely understandable that this might happen – marketing is an entire career path in itself. However, it’s worth being rigorous and starting out on the right foot, or subsequent relationships will be based on fragile foundations. It doesn’t have to be as complex as a law professional might think. These steps are a good starting point for any chambers wanting to reach further afield:
- Identifying the unique selling proposition (USP). The legal sector is highly competitive and barristers will need to make clients understand how and why they’ll do a good job in their particular field before they can begin to establish trust.
- Keeping abreast of the industry. This might sound obvious, but clients and stakeholders want to work with barristers they can rely on. General awareness and understanding will avoid any awkward moments mid-conversation that could undermine trust.
- Maintaining a wider professional profile that is a true representation of the chambers. This could include branching out to social media and making use of opportunities presented by networks such as LinkedIn. Barristers can join groups, connect with colleagues and generally give themselves a professional advantage based on positive perceptions.
- Endeavouring to become widely known – for the right The saying ‘any publicity is good publicity’ isn’t necessarily true when it comes to the law and working in a field that stays on the right side of it. It’s important to be vigilant when focusing on reputation management. Network with new people and develop a personable persona, but never lose sight of professionalism.
- Working as a team. Whilst barristers are independent contractors, they can still benefit from working with the people around them. Clerks should be one of the biggest assets, able to find suitable opportunities for presentations and meetings with clients. Once they understand the aims and values of the practice as a whole, they will be able to make a full contribution.
One of the key skills involved in building up working relationships is influencing. This might also be known under the guise of ‘people skills’ and involves using professional relationships to better understand the client. Perhaps this sounds unusual at first, as influencing has implications of leverage. There are certainly elements of this and the best business people in any field will usually know how to be opportunistic and benefit from a situation. The main aim, though, is to be able to empathise and know what it’s like to be in a client’s shoes. Only this way is it ever possible to know exactly how to meet their needs. A barrister who knows their own field inside out is then able to make their offering conform to the client’s exact requirements. It puts a professional in a powerful position for negotiation.
In many ways, marketing and communications are intrinsically linked to business development. What exactly is business development? There’s no easy answer, and people in a professional capacity disagree all the time. From the point-of-view of The Results Centre, business development has people at its core. It can encompass a range of areas, including sales, lead generation and recruitment, but people and relationships are central. We often advise our own clients to invest in the resources they have rather than relying on recruitment to bring in new ones. This approach sees them achieving real results long-term rather than applying quick fixes to a situation. They are able to develop a strong team who feel confident and motivated.
This same logic is applicable to barristers at all stages of their careers, and investing in the future has benefits for everyone. Looking for new business is both enterprising and necessary, but once conversions are achieved don’t fall into the trap of losing touch with new clients. Whilst it might seem like a lengthy task at the time, keeping clients on side by maintaining the discourse actually saves on resources going forward. Loyal clients are model clients. When you’re able to find them, you’ve mastered a major part of business development.
Barristers don’t need to think of themselves as marketing professionals. Marketing plans and strategies can be left to someone else. Relationship building cannot. It’s often underestimated how important this is in business acquisition – clients rely on barristers, the relationship progresses, a sense of trust develops and in turn, this brings in new cases. A barrister’s own marketing strength lies in their rapport.
Whatever your role or profession developing a stronger working relationship with clients will certainly benefit your career and add make you more valuable to your organisation. To find more about other ways that The Results Centre can improve your career prospects contact us today.