Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thinking Outside the Business Development Box

Being a successful business developer often requires thinking outside the box. That’s because some things about business development may seem counter-intuitive, at least on the surface.

Think about it: the fundamental goal of business development seems to be about getting things for yourself: more Clients, more work, more engagements and, ultimately, more revenue for your firm and for yourself. It seems like it’s all about you.

But if you approach business development this way, you will often fail. This is because, in reality, successful business development is not about you. It’s all about the Client.

Good business developers know this. They are all about the Client. They are genuinely interested in their Clients. They make it a point to learn all they can about the Client’s business and industry. They ask good questions and then listen so that they can identify and understand the Clients' issues, challenges and needs. Then they find ways to help them. They build relationships. They provide superlative Client service. These are the things that make them good business developers. Then there are the great business developers...

Slow and Steady Wins the CRM Race

To win the CRM marathon, you have to take things at a slow, methodical pace. I often work with Clients who are so eager to roll out their CRM systems that they just can't wait. They want to implement all the bells and whistles, integrate with all of the firm’s other technology, automate Client intake, replace the conflicts system. While we're at it, we might as well solve world hunger.

While I applaud the enthusiasm, my counsel to them is often one word: why. This isn't meant to be a sarcastic or snarky question they need to answer for me. Rather it’s the question they need to ask themselves before they embark upon that ‘boil the ocean’ CRM project. There needs to be a really good answer to the why question before moving forward with any CRM initiative. If that answer is not particularly compelling, it can wait until phase 2… or phase 22. By compelling, I usually mean that it will help the firm or attorneys save a lot of time, fix a challenging problem or get closer to their business development goals.

Because CRM isn't a project or an initiative, but rather a fundamental change in the way the firm manages relationships, there will always be time to tackle that complex problem, to implement that new, cool feature or to integrate with that software or system. Some of these projects can be incredibly complex and expensive and often they take time – time that could be spent on implementing the core functionality that the attorneys and marketers need to develop business and grow the firm.

A better goal for CRM success is this:just try to be a little better each day. Put one foot in front of the other, start with baby steps. Walk before you can run... repeat.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The CRM Marathon

When you first begin to roll out a CRM system in your firm, it's easy to get carried away and want to really take off right out of the gate. It's perfectly understandable that you might get excited about the potential of CRM to help the firm solve problems and automate processes. You know how effective CRM can be in improving communication, coordination and Client service – so it’s tempting to run around telling everyone what it can do.

Can it fix the mailing and event lists? Absolutely. Support the firm's Client teams? Of course. Allow the business developers to track referrals and opportunities? Sure. But realistically it when it comes to CRM, it’s often better to pace yourself. There are a thousand things you can do with CRM, but if you try to do too much too fast, you often won't end up doing anything very well. Besides, the last thing you want to do is over-promise and under-deliver.

Instead, slow down and pace yourself. Remember, CRM success is a marathon, not a sprint. It involves a fundamental change in the way that your firm thinks about and manages its crucial relationships. While change is good, it is also rarely easy and it takes time. If you just take deep breaths and move forward one step at a time, you will be better prepared for the long haul. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Business Development Homeruns

Business development is, in part, a numbers game. As with baseball, the more times you are at bat, the more likely you are to get a hit. In the business development game, the more interactions you have with prospects, the more likely you are to get a new Client. But focusing on the numbers is only half the game. If that’s all you do, it could take you a lot of time and work to really see results.

To really improve your business development batting average, you also need skill – and a strategy. Start by working smarter, not harder. Look for the best prospects – the ones who are the most likely to hire you.  Start with current Clients. They are writing you checks, so presumably they already like you.

Next you should consider prospects that you or someone else in your firm has a relationship with, but who are not currently your Clients. Because of the existing relationship, they are more likely to take a meeting with you and to be open to listening to your ‘pitch,’ assuming you deliver one that they can connect with. 

After you have exhausted these, you can move to new prospects. But you need to be aware that you are a lot more likely to strike out with them. In fact, studies show that it can take up to seven times more time and effort to develop business with people you don’t have relationships with. Plus it will often involve a ‘cold call,’ which, for most people is a particularly ‘foul’ task.

The good news is that the more you practice, the better you will become – and the easier it will be. So swing for the fences. Who knows, you may even find that you like business development… especially when you are hitting homeruns.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Diving Into CRM Part 5: The Lifesaver

You thought you were ready, so you took the plunge and dove right into the CRM pool. You had a plan, prepared adequately, worked hard, committed resources, staffed up and seemed to be paddling along smoothly. You headed directly for the deep end because you thought that was where you would best be able to provide real value to your firm. But at some point along the way, you started to get a CRM cramp and suddenly you realized you could be in real trouble. You got a little scared and weren't sure what to do.

First, relax. Whatever you do, don’t start struggling or flailing as that will only make things worse and wear you out. Plenty of marketing and CRM professionals before you have done this and ended up drowning in the CRM pool. Maybe that's one reason why their average tenure can sometimes be less than 18 months.

You can also take a deep breath and try to float for a while, assuming that if you don't stir the CRM waters, you won't cause any more ripples – and maybe the whirlpool will finally calm. While I know it can be tempting to take the easy way out when you run into CRM issues and just let the current carry you back into the basics, you will likely lose control of where you end up. Ultimately, if you float too long you are likely to end up just treading water or worse, circling the drain.

So don't give up. Instead, you may find that if you just signal for help, someone will often throw you a lifesaver. Call up your peers, colleagues or your CRM provider for support and ideas. Reach out to industry associations like the Legal Marketing Association where there are articles, white papers and presentations on CRM success. Join a LinkedIn user group for law firm CRM systems. Several top CRM providers including ContactEase, CRM4Legal, Hubbard One and InterAction have these types of groups where you can post questions and learn from other members. Subscribe to blogs like that focus on CRM best practices. Finally, don’t forget that you can always contact a CRM consultant. We're always happy to throw you some helpful information, ideas or other 'flotation devices.'

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Client Service Stories Part 2: Apple

As you may have read in our post last week, every once in a while we will take time out from our regular discussions about building business through relationship development and Client Relationship Management (CRM) to talk about Client service, which is a core element of both. After last week's post, I am more convinced than ever about the business development power of Client service, as I have never received so many emails and comments as I did after that post. It just proves how important it is to take care of your customers...  as I recently learned that Apple does.

So after a 3 month wait, I finally got my little computer from HP, only to realize that, unlike the iPad, its on-screen keyboard was basically useless. The buttons were too tiny to press and there was no way to use the keyboard without resting your hand on the screen and inadvertently typing all kinds of crazy stuff. Additionally, trying to manipulate the cursor with the little pen or your finger was awkward. So off I went on a quest for a keyboard and mouse.

Like many technology consumers, I have always been intrigued by the stylish look of some of Apple's peripherals (ok, yes, I know this makes me a bit of a geek) so I decided to investigate further. The Apple keyboard was wireless, light and stylish. The mouse was magic, literally. (It's actually called the Magic Mouse) Again, great design – functional, but with no buttons. To click, you just press on the left or right side. To scroll down the page, you slide your finger from the mouse's head to tail – very cool.

But would the Apple toys play nicely with a Windows computer? The helpful salesperson said he thought they would. If they didn’t work with Windows, I figured I could always use them with my iPad. Besides, I was informed that  Apple has a 14-day no hassle return policy. How could I say no? (Business development lesson #1: make it easy and painless to buy from you).

When I got them home, I needed to connect the new devices to my Windows computer wirelessly via Bluetooth. I was ready for a fight, but was pleasantly surprised. I put in the batteries and fired them up. First the keyboard. Windows recognized it, prompted me to type in a code on it and it worked. Just like that. I was shocked. Hooking up the mouse was... well, like magic. It just worked. Technology is great when it does that. 

Then a few weeks (and a few road trips) later, it happened: the keyboard got a mind of its own. One minute it was working... then it wasn't. Windows found it... then it disappeared. It was connected... then it wasn't. And, of course, this happened at the worst possible time - when I was on the road in a hotel room preparing for a big training session with a Client. Ugggggh. Then I remembered: I had seen the neon glow of an Apple store just a few blocks away. Maybe they could help. I figured it was worth a try.

What I learned is that customer service is not dead (although some would argue that it seems to have taken one heck of a beating judging from the treatment you get from most companies.) But not Apple. As I walked towards the entrance of the store, I was greeted by some really friendly associates who opened the door for me asked me if I had a service appointment. I didn't even know I needed one. Great, now I knew I was doomed to wait for hours, or worse, they might not even be able to help me at all today. 

But I was wrong. Instead, the associate walked me over to a Mac, where he typed my info into their system to put me in the online cue for the Genius Bar upstairs. He said the wait would be about 20 minutes. Well, since I had to wait, I might as well make the most of the situation and check out some of the shiny new Macs. Of course, I knew I couldn't get one because all of my business applications ran on Windows. I mentioned this to the associate, who then asked me if I knew that I could actually run Windows on a Mac. (Business development tip #2: to really develop business, ask questions to determine the Client's needs before you try to make a sale)

Really…Windows on a Mac? But I was sure that running two operating systems would affect the performance and slow things down. He assured me it wouldn’t and asked me if I was aware that the fastest Windows computer for the last few years was actually a Mac? (Business development tip #3: provide information targeted to Client needs, as determined by the questions you asked) Uh... no, I didn't know that... tell me more.

He told me all kinds of things I didn’t know (Business development tip #4 - describe only the benefits or features of your service or product that the Client needs). I learned that I could do everything that I was doing now on a Mac. I also learned that Apple is about to come out with a new operating system that will let the Mac work more like an iPad, which I love. Plus, no more endless virus and spam issues or blue screens of death (if you've ever used a Windows computer, you are painfully aware that this is slang for a software crash that takes the whole computer to its knees and leaves you curled up in a little ball praying that when it comes back – if it comes back - you haven't lost several hours of work just because you had forgotten to hit 'save').

I also learned that Apple calls their tech support folks Geniuses for a reason. Let's be clear - going into that store, I had zero expectation of getting my problem fixed. I was asking Apple to troubleshoot a problem that I thought was almost certainly caused by a Windows driver. Plus, the keyboard really wasn't even meant to be used with Windows computers… and I had purchased it a while ago… and not at an Apple store.

The Genius didn't care. He said he would try to help - and he did. He got it to sync up right away, but it wouldn't stay connected. He said he thought this probably meant it was a Windows issue, but since I was there, let's at least try a new keyboard first. Did I have a receipt that he could look up? No, since I was on the road - and since I didn't even buy the keyboard at an Apple store (please don’t tell the Genius).

Anyway, the Genius opened up a bright, shiny new keyboard and tried it. It worked perfectly and stayed connected. Then he offered to have an Apple business consultant talk me through how  Apple computers could work for my business. What did I owe him, I asked? No worries, he said - and no charge. Then he even gave me a new set of keyboard batteries. 

Guess what? That day that I became an Apple customer. And I don't even care that their computers cost more. I'll pay top dollar for that kind of service.  

Can you say that you are providing this Apple-like service to your Clients? If you aren't, it's ok... someone else will. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Client Service Stories Part 1: HP

At ClientsFirst, we are passionate about Client service. You could probably have figured that out since the company is called ClientsFirst and since we capitalize the word Client in most of our messages. Anyway, because we put such a strong focus on Client service, every once in a while we will take time out from our regular discussions about building business through relationship development and Client Relationship Management (CRM) to talk about Client service, which is a core element of both. These posts will usually involve a particularly good or bad Client service experience that we encountered that we think may be instructive for developing business and relationships. This 2-part post involves both.

For years, I have had computers from HP. I have enjoyed working with them, have had good experiences with their salespeople and have found their products to perform well and be relatively problem free. On the rare occasion when there are problems, they have been good about fixing them. As a result, in the past I have made recommendations of their products and influenced several sales.

Recently however, the keyboard failed on my HP Tablet. The machine has a service contract, so I decided to get it repaired. But it’s also three years old, so I thought it made sense to get a new one too. Being a technology consultant, I was intrigued by the new HP Slate, one of the only tablet computers that runs Windows. I like to use a small computer when I travel, and while I also have an iPad, which I find to be a great device for e-Mail and e-Books and other types of ‘e-Ntertainment,’ I just haven't been able to make it work for business since I am a real power user of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The prospect of having my business applications on a tablet was appealing, so I went online and purchased the Slate – in early November.  

I then called HP for service on my current machine. After spending hours on the phone with someone from another country going through diagnostics they told me what I already knew: the keyboard was fried. I would need to ship them the laptop in the next 30 days so they could repair it. Oh, and I had to give them permission to wipe my hard drive and erase all my data if they decided that was the problem – or they would not even look at it. Not pleased at that prospect, I thought it prudent to wait for my new machine so I could transfer my data in case the inevitable happened.

30 days passed – and no Slate. Apparently HP underestimated the popularity of the little device and they were on backorder. I continued to wait and called HP repair to tell them I would need to delay sending my old machine for repairs until the new one arrived. They assured me they had the ticket number and I could just call back to let them know when I was ready to send it. 

60 days passed - still no Slate. But a message did arrive from HP telling me that to make up for the delay they were providing a coupon for $100 of my next purchase. Since I thought that I might need another computer for the office since the hard drive on the Slate was pretty small, I went online and found one I liked for $799 and called to place the order. The sales rep was very helpful. I ordered the machine and he upsold me to the new Office two-pack that could be installed on both machines. But when I got to checkout, the eCoupon didn’t work. He said it was only for a purchase from the Business division of HP, not the Home Office division. When he transferred me, the HP Business rep said that he would happy to honor the coupon, but the only comparable machine they had was $1600. When I asked what justified double the price for a similar machine, he said it was ‘a business machine.’ I passed.

But I still needed the software. His answer: sorry, the coupon wasn’t good for that. When I asked for a manager, the rep said he would transfer me, but he said the manager ‘would only waste another 10 minutes of my time’ because a lot of people had problems with the coupons and they hadn’t been able to help any of them. Now I really wanted to talk to the manager.

Surprisingly, the manager did some damage control. While I vented, he listened patiently (Business development tip number one: when a Client is frustrated, be quiet, let them talk and listen. Often all they want is to be heard). He then he apologized for the problems (Business development tip number two: often, all a frustrated customer needs is an apology. Give one. Apologizing for a problem or bad situation is not the same as admitting responsibility for it.) The manager then told me the one thing that the coupon was good for: an external DVD drive that could be helpful for loading the software onto the Slate, since it didn’t come with one. It was $99 and he said he would pay for the overnight shipping because of all the issues. Done.  

I finally received the Slate computer at the end of January, almost 3 months after placing the order. The DVD player never arrived. Then HP sent me a survey to tell them about my experience. Boy did I. I was shocked when someone from the company actually called to follow up. He didn’t acknowledge or apologize for anything, but he said he had looked into the reason I hadn’t received the DVD drive. Somehow the order was canceled. He said he would reinstate the order and overnight it to me. That was almost a month ago. I’m still waiting.

I then called to send my old computer off for repairs. I went through the automated system to get to a technician who was very pleasant, but had some challenges with English. I politely gave him my ticket number and explained the situation. He said we would need to go through all the diagnostics again since the old ticket was canceled – even though he was able to access it and to see the issues on it.

When I asked why I would need to spend hours doing the diagnostics again, even though nothing had changed since the original call, he said that was how they do things. (Business development tip number 3: ‘Because that is how we have always done things’ is a very bad way to try to do business and keep customers in today’s competitive marketplace and challenging economy) For a better way to do business – and keep customers – check out next week’s post: Customer Service Stories Part 2: Apple…