Guidelines for keeping loved ones safe are still in place, and businesses are still operating in a reduced capacity, and as a new strain of COVID-19 has begun peeking around the corner, restrictions are tightening, and the world is still in a virtual and remote setting.
Now that it is officially 2021, continuing to engage with existing clients, and gain new ones, will remain a challenge in the virtual environment. Law firm business development teams cannot wait for things to return to normal, but the new year can still represent a time to reset and revisit strategies.
As we head into 2021, dive into five tactics for lawyers to continue making virtual — and valuable — client connections. We encourage lawyers to make this year about giving to clients. Give them time, insight and value.
1. Call them.
Client relationships are like any other personal relationship. Business relationships also need time, care, empathy and work.
Regardless of there being an open matter or not, reach out to clients and wish them well for 2021 — and say good riddance to 2020. Leverage the new year as an excuse to call every client in your network; lawyers can even work with their support staff to set up a call schedule.
The most effective way to connect with clients and general counsel is through phone — and regularly. In a time where Zoom, Webex and Skype are now our new normal, we are reminded that tailored messages are the most impactful and effective. The pandemic brought on an intense saturation of content in the legal industry, but the basics of interpersonal relationships have not changed.
Reach out and connect directly with the client. Do not be afraid to ask questions pertaining to what the client is working on, the client's business and professional plans for the new year, and their overall well-being.
If this is new territory, develop a phone script until it becomes natural and second nature. The more this business development action is done, the easier it will become to continue discussions and understand which questions to ask.
Set aside time each week, preferably the same day every week, to call every client, big and small. Staying top of the client's mind will lend itself to new and organic revenue growth and deepen relationships.
2. Gift them.
Barring any regulatory restrictions that the client's company might have, sending a unique gift at the beginning of a new year — and throughout — to celebrate is another tactic for relationship building. The gift can come in a variety of forms, ranging from shipping a bottle of wine or engraved stemware after a virtual wine event to a congratulatory present for closing a successful deal or achieving a professional milestone.
Another option is something more personal, such as a book the relationship attorney enjoyed reading or an item to commemorate something in the client's personal life. Sending surprise "lockdown" gifts for clients and their families is an additional idea that bridges the business and personal relationship together and provides talking points.
Lawyers should brainstorm with their business development team to help curate client-focused and appropriate gifts based on the relationship, the occasion and the appropriate price point. Beyond physical items, gifts can also take the form of valuable introductions, business referrals, discounted service offerings or free advice. The more creative and thoughtful the gift idea is, the better the attorney's connection with the client.
3. Invite them.
Reaching out to clients to invite them to tune into firm events, webinars and podcasts are great. Even better is asking them to participate as panelists or guest speakers at those firm events. It is an easy way to continue solidifying the client relationship and promote their company.
Make the client shine and look good by elevating their profile. Invite the client to hop on a call and walk through the firm's event schedule and discuss which events or webinars would interest them.
Beyond just forwarding the invitation via email, the attorney can talk about the event with the client, explaining why it aligns with the client's business and the experience of the panel the law firm assembled. Events, even virtual ones, are another excuse to reach out and pick up the phone, and personalized discussions like these will help the lawyer get to know the client even better, which is crucial in these new virtual times.
4. Give them insights.
Whether it be a unique industry angle or a practice specialty like aviation finance or hydrogen capabilities, offering bespoke client alerts tailored to the client's industry is now simply table stakes. Gone are the days that a mass email blast will resonate immediately with clients.
Continue sending those client alerts, interesting podcast episodes and articles, but start including a personalized note on why that piece of content is hitting the client's inbox and, more importantly, why they should read it. Personalizing each message matters and will go a long way toward building a trusting relationship and demonstrating the lawyer's value.
Capitalize on the beginning of the year as a time to provide both retrospective trends from 2020 and future insights into 2021. Create content that speaks directly to what the client cares about, including their most frequently asked questions and top concerns and considerations for the new year. If you don't know what they are, ask. You can also take it one step further and provide your insights over phone.
5. Offer them solutions.
In everyday discussions with the client, learn about their business objectives and challenges, particularly related to any problems 2020 may have left behind that need to be cleaned up in 2021. Determine if and where the gaps in service are and which legal offerings align.
Think through potential solutions to the client's obstacles, new ways to address old problems, and then take action alongside the client, creating a sense of partnership; with an abundance of virtual collaboration tools widely available, it should be easier than ever to team up.
If the client's challenge is out of the lawyer's scope of experience, it presents an excellent opportunity to collaborate with others internally at the firm.
Instead of focusing on presenting a new service or introducing a new partner, consider offering tailored solutions that will exceed expectations and are aligned to the client's needs, goals and vision for their company's growth. If the introduction is focused on how to solve the issues that the client is encountering, the possibility to deepen the relationship in 2021 and beyond are endless.
Megan Senese is a senior business development manager and Courtney Hudson is a business development manager at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
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