Blog/Podcast: What Exactly Does a Chief Client Officer Do? Insights from One of the Industry’s Top Executives

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Client-facing sales professionals are catching on in the legal industry, but there’s still an air of mystery around what they do and how they help firms grow. Catherine Zinn, Chief Client Officer with Orrick, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to talk about the qualities that make for a good market-facing salesperson, the industry trends she’s seeing and what exactly she does every day.

Market-facing sales executives aren’t going away.

Catherine oversees a team within the firm, but continues to spend half her time in the market with clients, listening to their wants and needs and learning how she can help them. In addition to daily tasks, such as sourcing new business and keeping pitch meetings on track, Catherine will even help prospective clients do things like join boards and find talent—anything to support them and build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.

It’s an important role and Catherine is far from the only person doing this kind of work: 25 percent of firms in the Am Law 100 have at least one market-facing sales executive. Although legal sales may have started as a bit of an experiment, it’s moved well past that, and it’s now an official trend.

Large firms aren’t the only ones excelling at sales, either. Some of the best sales professionals are in smaller, regional firms that got on the sales and business development bandwagon much earlier. Though these firms may not be as well known, they have much to offer—so, if you’re looking for excellence in the profession, you should be looking to firms of all sizes to find examples of it.

Part of the job is dealing with resistance.

Legal sales professionals are required not only to do their jobs, but also to constantly demonstrate their value to the people around them, including lawyers, colleagues and clients. Of course, when you have this many audiences to cater to, it’s inevitable that you won’t be able to help all of them, or that some of them won’t want your help to begin with.

Catherine’s advice for handling resistance? Don’t worry too much about the people who are less inclined to work with you. You can continue to offer examples of how you might be of service to them, but if they won’t take your help, it’s not a knock against you. Instead, focus on the coalition of the willing, and you’ll find that others will follow at their own pace.

Another way to get more buy-in is to build your credibility. It’s not necessary to have a J.D. as a sales professional, but having an understanding of the market, the law and the way lawyers tick will help immensely when trying to get people on board with something.

There are four qualities every legal salesperson needs to succeed.

When Catherine is hiring someone for her team, there are four core characteristics, competencies and values she looks for. First is grit: the ability to embrace challenges, tough it out and keep going. This is crucial in a role where rejection, resistance and difficult conversations are part of the day-to-day.

Second, client-facing professionals need to be curious. Law firm sales are a rigorous, fast-paced environment, and it takes smarts to handle every demand that gets thrown at you. But curiosity is a specific kind of intelligence; it’s not just being book smart, but also having a willingness to learn (about both people and ideas) and a desire to try new approaches to challenges. Rather than doing what’s always been done, a client-facing professional needs to constantly be on the lookout for new ways to achieve business goals.

This type of position also requires teamwork. A successful executive needs to function well not only as an individual contributor, but also as a member of a team. They should feel equally comfortable leading others and taking directions and feedback.

Finally, someone in this role can’t just be a good salesperson; they have to respect and appreciate lawyers and the law, too. If you can’t empathize with the pressure and rigor that attorneys face in serving their clients, you’ll likely have a hard time doing this job well. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a background in law—in fact, some of the best legal sales professionals have come from the banking and accounting world. You do need, however, a deep appreciation for the industry.

Change is happening—and that’s a good thing.

There’s no doubt that the legal industry is changing, and firms are starting to see a major shift. Many see this agitation as a shrinking of the industry, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. Although the amount of money being spent on outside counsel has stayed flat, the industry as a whole is actually growing, and the total amount of money being spent on legal services is on the rise.

Growth is especially apparent in legal practice technology, such as chat bots and artificial intelligence. While it’s true that these innovations have eliminated some jobs and job functions forever, we shouldn’t lament this change. These tasks are not what lawyers, marketers, sales professionals and other staff were trained to do, nor are they the highest and best use of time. Moreover, this is not the type of work that will keep talent engaged. Instead, we should be excited about creating more space for lawyers to practice law and sales professionals to sell.

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