Hitachi Solutions has been involved in successfully helping numerous legal firms to improve the results of their business development. By introducing a CRM system and using process transformation, fee earners are seeing higher bid success rates. We spoke to John Brearton, senior consultant to the legal sector at Hitachi Solutions Europe, about the steps other law firms can take to improve their sales.
1. Why does the legal sector specifically need help with business development?
Hitachi Solutions is a Microsoft Dynamics 365 cloud applications and services expert. The legal sector, and professional services in general, is an area where our clients have become very successful – through applying vertical-specific solutions.
Legal organisations work with an operating model where their partners are both fee earners and the people responsible for business development. It’s a way of working you’ll also find in the creative industries or accountancy firms too, for example. Few law firms have salespeople, and while these fee earners are highly-skilled in specific areas of the law, their case loads are high. The priority is to service the clients currently on their books. Moreover, so much of their business is through referrals that generating new business from scratch isn’t instinctive.
Market dynamics can change instantly however, and when they do we’ve seen companies that don’t have effective business development processes suffer. We even saw the result of the Brexit vote catch out a good few legal firms last year. The decision to leave the EU had the dramatic effect of stopping M&A activity almost immediately. This was a wake-up call for firms without a business forecasting ability, who suddenly had to backfill this revenue gap.
What’s different about the legal sector is that partners tend to have a specialty in a certain business discipline and their partner/client relationship sits in these specialist silos across a firm. Culturally, partners tend to be quite possessive of their clients and won’t share contacts even with close colleagues, so it’s rare that firms are able to look at their clients’ businesses holistically.
We help by introducing new processes and supporting IT systems that allow legal firms to better structure and manage business development. This gives them a forecasting ability, the facility to share contacts and have a forward-looking view of their pipeline
2. How do you help your fee earners invest in the right clients for the firm, whilst ensuring effective use of their time?
Legal partners are business units in themselves. They are incentivised by billable hours. At the end of the day, they are qualified lawyers not salespeople. But every business has revenue targets and market crises like the Brexit vote amplify the importance of finding new commercial opportunities.
The first thing we look at is putting in place an easy-to-use dashboard, so partners can see basic but important details like revenue and opportunity areas. This also kick-starts information-sharing about clients. We then start building this database using hassle-free ways to add client and contact information. Partners won’t do this unprompted so we tag and pull quality assured information from Microsoft Outlook into the CRM system. This information is truly valuable – when it has an assurance of quality. We know how to do this from a wealth of projects in professional services.
The value of CRM to the business grows as we harvest other information to attach it to a client or prospect record. As partners have meetings, phone calls or even mention a client in an email, the system updates automatically according to selection rules and the single client view develops. The business sees the value when customer interaction is better informed. When, for example, a tax partner is meeting a client where support for a competitive dispute is mentioned, that partner can capture the opportunity and the business can extend its portfolio that way.
We’re also helping several top 50 medium-sized corporate law firms with other parts of the sales funnel. One firm had never had a forward-looking business pipeline, so we built a process giving it a view of the lifecycle stage of every opportunity. This was made possible by consolidating data that already existed across the firm, to better inform its business review meetings. Using dashboards and visualisations built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 it is now able to show fee-earning and new opportunities as a business, by practice area and by partner. Many similar firms are still nowhere near this level.
We work with another top 50 litigation law firm that receives nearly all of its new business via referrals. It can’t accept conflicting business, so the process we’ve built specifically helps it to understand which firms refer which business. This helps them to understand the success rate of referrals, and to make smarter decisions about managing the source of successful referrals.
3. How do you help fee earners make decisions about where to focus business development?
Busy fee earners rarely come together to share information about opportunities within their current client portfolio and new prospects. So, we create an easy-to-use view of this information, which anyone in business development can populate and understand. It’s so important that the CRM process is designed so that partners can benefit from the information without the need to become data entry clerks.
We pull together a single customer view, involving insights about the team, case history, billing history, how reliable they are at paying their bills, which sectors or disciplines they work in, and whether they work with competitive law firms. At a fundamental customer care level, this means partners and business development have the intelligence they need to deliver higher-value communications, warmer introductions and more effective industry events – all of which will increase the likelihood of winning organic business. For financial forecasting, it means the business understands the likelihood of winning a bid.
Where separate fee earners keep isolated records containing only part of this detail, it’s much harder to make decisions around focusing business development efforts. Separate partners might be in touch with a client, but if you can’t see the frequency, the content of their communications, or whether they have met over the phone or face to face, you can’t judge who has the best relationship and who is best-placed to nurture an opportunity. Microsoft provides integrated relationship intelligence within the CRM system which provides exactly what is needed to understand relationship strength, diversity of contacts and engagement levels with client firms. We help our clients make this look simple and make it very effective.
4. What new developments can legal firms benefit from?
Because we’re a Microsoft Dynamics specialist, we make more of the data already contained in Microsoft business applications, and in external online apps like LinkedIn, which Microsoft bought last year. The systems we create are transformative for legal firms and their client relationships. We make them easy to use, so businesses can get out more than they put in.
Building systems to mine these pan-organisation insights is a growing area called ‘relationship intelligence.’ We make it possible for every partner to find and use contacts in a managed and discreet way, so that the whole organisation benefits.
Hitachi Solutions provides streamlined, customised systems that make a significant difference to service levels, profits and the day-to-day running of professional services-led businesses. Find out more.