Know Your Buyer, Know Client’s Internal Clients

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By Mike White | May 29, 2016

At the risk of expressing pablum, KNOW YOUR BUYERS! More importantly, KNOW THE INTERNAL CLIENTS OF YOUR BUYERS! I was reminded of these insipid (yet important!) refrains during work with a client. My law firm client had three seemingly unrelated practices that all served the needs of the same particular buyer of legal services inside of a corporate environment, yet they shared none of the same clients. How could this badge of cross-selling failure happen, you ask? It actually makes sense if you understand something about lawyers, the businesses they serve, and their knowledge (or lack thereof!) of the roles certain people play inside companies. Net, net, however, it was a big failure and lost opportunity for my client firm.

Now the particulars. The three practices at the intersection of all this were my law firm client’s L&E practice, tax practice, and corporate practice. You’re probably asking yourself, “What obvious connection could exist among these three practices? What could the client stakeholders in an employment discrimination dispute have in common with the managers who count beans with tax lawyers, let alone the business managers who structure deals, alliances, and ventures?” While the matter types associated with these practices are very different, the thematic similarity lies in the nature of the internal clients these practice groups at times can share. Peeling back the onion a bit further, think about the tax practice that in part deals with ERISA and other benefits related tax issues, or think about the corporate practice that structures multi-year outsourcing arrangements involving the HR function of a client business. The intersection becomes clearer now as you see that there are occasions when each of these three disparate practice areas serve the same functional area of a business, namely the corporate HR function; now the opportunities for real cross-selling opportunities start to emerge!

For law firms that work primarily with in-house law departments, you should think about the internal clients of your own law department clients. Just as the HR department can keep law departments (and their law firms!) busy with benefits planning tax work, highly structured outsourcing arrangements, or employment discrimination cases, product development departments can keep law departments busy with IP work as well as with products liability litigation. As a law firm partner serving these clients, make sure you understand as much as you can about the activities of each functional department of your law department client’s business, and how those business activities can translate into legal work. Don’t be surprised if your immediate clients – the law departments themselves – don’t have full knowledge of what their internal clients do outside of the work they see or pass out to you. For law departments that are looking for broader ways to support their employer, you can position yourself as a consigliere of sorts by helping them take an inventory of the other operational activities of their internal clients and, in so doing, helping them take additional turf.

So get your client’s organizational chart and sit down with your law department clients so you both can begin to know your buyer even more!