I was talking to a partner audience about client management last week, and the conversation came around to procurement’s involvement in relationship management and review meetings.
I was asked rather sceptically whether they add any value whatsoever. As you might expect I said they had an important role to play.
In grudgingly accepting that procurement participation isn’t going away any time soon, the same partner asked me how as a former buy-side procurement professional I used to evaluate law firm performance in those first few months of a new panel relationship.
‘Those first 90 days can ultimately set the tone for just how far you can go in terms of your opportunities to influence and to progress’
In my experience, never is that truer than in trying to establish a client relationship. Those first few months set the tone for the whole panel term, and in the increasingly commoditised legal services marketplace, it’s really important to use that time to build a relationship with procurement and the client’s legal relationship manager, as they can help you ensure your firm stands out for all the right reasons.
So how should you approach it? Fill in the (lengthy) management information template (preferably on-time and accurately), turn up to the relationship review meeting and listen to what the client has to say, circulate minutes (eventually), and breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve made it through the first review without any major issues, right?!
Are you cringing yet? I am…
From a procurement perspective, whilst the above approach might lead me to say that the relationship is progressing ok, on an emotional level you’ve left me cold and wondering whether I’ve made the wrong choice of firm. I’m not wowed. I don’t feel like you’re managing my account with strong commercial acumen. Great service is a given for me – I expect quality advice, value for money and adherence to any service levels as standard, the differentiation from my perspective is being able to demonstrate cost management, and an embedded commitment to ongoing cost savings that comes from a clearly articulated strategic vision for my account.
Hmmm… not easy, right? How do you manage that in an hour?
Obviously you don’t. The only way to achieve the wow factor is to understand what the client is looking for at the outset and how they evidence it, and that takes significant effort outside of the formal relationship meetings:
- Pick up the phone to your client’s procurement function voluntarily to check how things are going from procurement’s perspective. They will have a view about you that is being represented to the GC/client’s relationship manager, it’s worth knowing what that is…
- Check-in a couple of weeks prior to a review meeting and ask what’s on people’s minds or whether there are any niggles or problems. What’s going to be raised at the relationship meeting? Forewarned is forearmed and all that…
- Know what the legal expenditure savings target is and what contribution you’re making. If your contribution is minimal, best be able to articulate why…
- Articulate what you’ve done FOC this quarter and give an indicative value to the client. The value add could be classed as savings that will count in your favour...
- Ask what procurement thinks of you commercially and whether there’s anything else you can provide to help demonstrate effective cost management. Being proactive reaps benefits; wouldn’t you like to be THE firm that’s really easy to deal with commercially?
- Share your internal cost management initiatives and explain how they’re controlling client expenditure. Articulating an embedded culture of managing client money as if it was your own is talking procurement’s language…
It’s not just procurement who is interested in the commercial management. The above pointers apply equally to direct relationships with client’s legal functions where procurement isn’t involved. Being able to articulate the commercial highlights to the client’s GC, FD and other senior stakeholders will stand you apart from the competition, because in my experience, only a handful of firms do it well.
Instead of spending your client review meeting pouring over MI and dancing around a discussion on revenue, use the time to review the matter highlights of that quarter, and lead a structured commercial discussion including the items detailed above. Ongoing dialogue and close client management outside of the formal meeting frees up that valuable (and costly) face to face time to discuss joint cost management initiatives and to explore how you can jointly grow future opportunities.
Tackle any niggles or problems head-on. Impress them with your embedded commerciality and build confidence that you’re actively managing both the service and their external costs. Get it right and you’ll be perceived as straight talking, innovative, truly understanding their financial pressures and easy to do business with.
Be the firm that wows in the first 90 days, and keep it up!
Steph Hogg, Senior Procurement Consultant
M: 0044 (0)7772 761 154