Blog/Podcast: Four Ways to Sharpen Your Firm’s Client-Facing Business Development
Orrick is known for leading the charge in client-facing business development, and Neel Lilani, Managing Director of the firm’s global corporate development efforts for technology companies, is part of the reason why. He consults with tech companies on business strategy and manages Orrick’s venture capital relationships, in addition to his pioneering work in business development. He was a guest on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, where he shared his best strategies for advancing your firm’s client-facing business development.
Understand what clients need beyond legal services
Above all, Neel takes a deep interest in each client’s business. This helps him get granular about what clients are trying to achieve, how they want to achieve it and how Orrick can help, even beyond traditional legal services. There are a slew of value-add services the firm frequently provides, such as introductions to investors, assistance with recruiting board members and help finding executive hires.
Orrick offers these value-add services not only because they distinguish the firm from competitors, but also because they provide an opportunity for reciprocity with investors. Ideally, investors will appreciate the deals Orrick sends their way, and in return they’ll send companies that are a fit for the firm. These mutually beneficial relationships can only happen when the firm has a genuine understanding of its clients.
Let partners lead the relationship
Once Neel has vetted a company and confirmed that there’s mutual interest, his first step is to identify the right partner to discuss the opportunity. Then, he and the partner determine when and how to introduce the partner to the client. Neel offers insight that makes for a smooth initial meeting, then turns the business over to the partner.
Even though Neel initiates the introduction, one thing he never does is serve as an impediment to the relationship between partner and client. Once a rapport has been established and next steps are determined, he takes a step back and lets the partner lead. The quickest way for a business development professional to break trust with a lawyer is by overstepping boundaries. Even if business developers maintain their own relationships with clients, the partner should always be in charge.
Work with marketing, but keep it separate from sales
Marketing and client-facing sales are two distinct groups, but according to Neel, they should be closely aligned with one another. Orrick’s marketing department is a vital part of the firm’s client development efforts, and Neel relies on them heavily for their insights, strategies and partnership. Although they’re separate, marketing and sales should always be working in the same direction.
That said, it shouldn’t be assumed that marketing professionals always make good salespeople. As more firms implement externally focused sales teams, some have tried to cut costs by pushing sales duties onto existing marketing staff. Although some marketing people can make that transition successfully, others simply don’t want to, and with good reason: they are two completely different roles. Forcing someone into a sales position isn’t a good solution for the employee or the firm, so it’s best to hire a professional with a willingness and interest.
Hire good people with specific qualities
Neel looks for two qualities in a candidate for a client-facing role. First is enthusiasm, which he defines as someone who’s curious and consultative. They should be passionate about connecting clients with legal services, without being salesy or overly focused on short-term transactions.
The second quality is an understanding of legal services and why and when companies use them. Someone in a client-facing role should be able to have a conversation with a general counsel or CEO, think about services that would be relevant for them and talk about those services intelligently.
Legal sales candidates don’t necessarily need a law degree to have these qualities. But more and more former lawyers are making the transition to sales when they realize they don’t want to practice law anymore—and their law background makes them ideal candidates. Equally qualified are people in client development at other professional services firms. They already understand how to pursue and maintain client relationships, and they can easily learn about the legal side of the business.