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I must be one of the very few people that loves this time of year at work, hugely looking forwards to the excitement and uncertainty of the challenges that the year will bring. Planning my work for Q1 this year with Richard, we were reflecting on how we could help law firms better anticipate their clients' procurement strategy in 2017:

Chess

· Will they go out to market?

· Are they going to consolidate their panel?

· How much are they going to spend?

· What will they want from their advisers?

· What does value mean to them?

· What would ‘wow’ look like this year?

In my previous life as a procurement professional I’d have a legal ‘category plan’ that answered all of these questions, with agreed objectives for the forthcoming 12 months– key projects, savings targets, supplier review and consolidation plans – all aligned to the organisational goals for the year.

I’d have a view of what great value looks like to my stakeholders, and it might not be the same thing as last year – changing priorities make for a different definition of value. And of course, this type of plan isn’t exclusive to companies who use procurement to help manage their legal spend – most clients will have a clearly articulated strategy that includes cost management.

And so, we get to my first blog of the year – how can law firms reflect a client’s category plan to meet their needs for the forthcoming year? As clients focus on 2017 strategies, what should you be doing to align your firms’ client management strategy and priorities, to give you the best chance of retaining profitable work and providing services that meet your clients' ever changing needs? How can you wow?

As part of your ongoing client management program, there are some key questions you can ask, the answers to which will help you proactively target a client’s needs and create your winning strategy for 2017:

· Is this a good client that I want to retain?

· Am I a key adviser to this client and is my investment in them commensurate with revenue/other attractiveness features? Reviewing the highlights of 2016, revenue trends, key projects, cost of management and results of any savings initiatives will all help answer this question.

· How profitable are they and how could you increase profitability/lower cost of service so as to help manage the client’s expenditure better?

· Are they easy to do business with, and if not, why? Can you suggest changes that would help?

· What client-led process changes can you suggest that could save them money?

As part of a key-client planning session, the answers to these questions should help you decide just where to focus your client development resources for 2017.

· What is bothering your client and keeping them awake at night?

· What financial and/or market challenges do they have for the next 1, 3 and 5 years?

· What specific sector challenges are they working to?

· What are the analysts saying about them?

· How is Brexit going to affect them?

· Are there any legislative changes due that are going to impact their business?

· What personal challenges do they have that you may be able to help with (by this we mean team/savings/growth targets, etc., not building a home extension…)

Through some diligent research and discussing these questions with your client, by referencing your experience and sector expertise, a proactive strategy session will demonstrate your commitment and understanding of their challenges, and might just position you as THE firm they can’t do without this year…

· What is the client/procurement legal ‘category plan’ for 2017/2018?

· What is their legal supplier strategy? If they are they planning to go to the market, do you know when, why and what they’re looking for?

· Are they consolidating their supply base generally? If so, how can you help them with legal supplier consolidation?

· What are their cost challenges & savings targets? Knowing how you’ve contributed to these things in previous years through good quality metrics will help demonstrate why you’re the firm to continue to help your client meet financial challenges.

· What is their current value add focus? Are you offering what they need and can you change your value add to suit?

Questions such as these will help you plan that unique, tailored client-centric strategy for 2017, to be shared and agreed at senior levels, and where willing, client procurement can be hugely valuable in helping validate ideas.

I saw with interest last week that the first big retail tender of 2017 appears to be imminent, with The Lawyer reporting on potential forthcoming activity by Sainsbury's.

Whether you’re looking to compete for a spot on this panel or have other clients that are competitively tendering in 2017, my challenge to you is this… can you answer all of the questions above? If so then I’d suggest you’re ready to embrace the new year and all of its opportunities… and if not, you know who to call for help…

Steph Hogg, Senior Procurement Consultant

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