How Many Law Firms Fail This Business Development Test?

Tom and Mark, two brothers who had worked for 26 years to build their company, reached a pinnacle moment. Their now substantial wealth was fully invested in the company. The brothers were reaching a point in their lives where they wanted to ensure the future financial security of their families. After considering a number of options, the brothers were looking at potential acquisitions in order to build the business. Going public seemed to be just the ticket to embark on this new path.

Tom and Mark asked business acquaintances who they might talk with about the process. The brothers received a few referrals, engaged in a few phone conversations, and settled on two advisors who they decided to interview in-depth. The 2 interviews were scheduled for the same day: one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

Advisor A showed up with a team of 4 people and their reliable, pitch-winning PowerPoint in hand. Advisor A had done their homework and it showed. The presentation focused on how Advisor A had worked in this industry for years, taken brother-owned companies public, and detailed their understanding of the trusts actually owning the company. Advisor A even managed to work a metaphor on sailing—Mark’s passion—into the presentation. The brothers marveled at all the ways the firm was able to touch their experience.

Tom and Mark left the meeting impressed.

Advisor B—just one person—arrived at precisely 1:30. The brothers spent a few minutes on small talk. Ed, the Advisor, asked the brothers to recap their story of how the company got started. Reluctantly, the brothers began—wondering why Ed hadn’t done his homework. After 20 minutes, Ed politely interrupted the brothers and asked why they wanted to go public. The brothers reiterated the need for liquidity, their desire to make acquisitions, and ultimately provide for their families.

After listening to the responses, Ed shared an observation about the use of the trusts, like the one used for ownership of Tom and Mark’s business. Ed suggested he only sees these kinds of ownership structures when the owners are especially concerned about privacy. Ed asked how the brothers felt about keeping their affairs private. The brothers quickly admitted they harbored a passion for keeping the family affairs private. Ed then produced a list of disclosures the brothers would have to make if they opted to take their company public, none of which the brothers had seen before.

Ed offered two alternatives to going public. Each option would boost the company’s liquidity, required virtually no new disclosures, and could be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of going public.

The brothers quickly lost track of the names of Advisor A.

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Both Ed and Advisor A walked into the meeting with the same information. Advisor A simply talked about the depth of their experience and how it applied to the scope Tom and Mark discussed. Advisor A implied success based on past performance—not based on the unique circumstances of this project. Ed, from Advisor B, used his experience to anticipate Tom and Mark’s needs and articulated how he would apply the knowledge to their specific situation.

Anticipating needs moves you from the client’s vendor to a trusted partner.

Death by “I did what the client asked.”

Anticipating needs is all about staying one step ahead of the client. It demands you constantly think beyond stated scope and scan the horizon for:

  • Occasions to make a project sail smoother
  • Routes to get the client to their destination faster
  • Alternative scenarios to avoid issues likely to cause a bump in the road
  • Opportunities to deliver more than what the client has outright requested

The majority of professionals in today’s world live by the motto: “I did what the client asked.” These professionals, by definition, are not anticipating needs—or adding value.

Anticipating needs doesn’t require ESP. A formal approach to tackling a client’s issue will get you 90% of the way there (the other 10% is having the guts to trust your instinct).

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This excerpt is from my new book Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits—an Amazon Top 30 Customer Service Best Seller and named a Best Book of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews. Already in use at over 150 law firms, the 17 activities within Clientelligence are proven drivers to superior client relationships. A consistent and systematic approach to developing superior client service skills gives you unparalleled access to your clients' most complex—and premium-rate—work.

Download the first chapter of Clientelligence, or order your copy for even more detail on how to anticipate your client’s needs, here.