Why a Client Team Program is the Key to Cross-Selling and How to Make It Happen

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Clients are demanding focused collaborations within an efficient structure. Client teams, as a form of account management, provide this framework. While Big Four accounting firms have perfected collaborative approaches to serving clients, numerous issues have prevented law firms from adopting many of these client-centric methods, particularly regarding deliberate multi-disciplinary account management and the development of a client care infrastructure.

Interestingly, law firm partners and marketers continue to remark that cross-selling is difficult and fraught with internal politics. Are we finally approaching a time in which law firms will turn to a client team program for better cross-selling and superior client services delivery? Law firms should elevate usual go-to-market practices and seriously consider adopting a client team approach.



What is a Client Team?

A client team is a diverse group of service providers, and other firm professionals, focused on a select client, the client’s operational goals, service needs, and expectations. A client team is a kind of research and development arm within a firm or practice group that drives discussions about trends and industry concerns that holistically impact the selected client. The group should meet at least monthly to evaluate the status of the client in terms of how it is currently being served and what issues should be addressed with the client to mitigate risk or save dollars. The more diverse the group of service providers on the team, the more likely new areas of need will be uncovered and can be brought to the client’s attention.

The most beautiful benefit of client teams is getting a group of lawyers together from numerous practice areas and geographies to discuss the status quo of a client and what may lie ahead for them. Think of it as a diagnostic clinic. Not only will the client benefit from this collection of experts, the law firm itself benefits by putting diverse attorneys together in a room where they can discover the value each brings to the table. This approach will provide a fresh perspective in how the firm cross-sells to other clients not selected for the client team program.

What Steps are Needed to Create a Client Team Program?

In order to get firm-wide buy-in, start with a careful review of the firm’s client list. Leadership should reach out to all partners and practice groups and ask the important questions. Which clients have been profitable? Which can be properly served holistically by the firm’s resources? What investments in personnel and technology will boost efficiency in serving these select clients? How does the firm mirror the cultural demands these particular clients are seeking? What are the client’s operational and long-term goals? Ensure anchor relationships are evenly distributed among practice groups serving the selected clients. Your client team program should be driven from a client-centric point-of-view but all choices should match the firm’s resources and strengths.

Depending on the size of the law firm, the client team list may consist of two teams or, for global behemoths, hundreds of teams. To properly create and manage the teams, a firm should hire administrative professionals with a background in client care and sales. They should have knowledge of the client team process, deliverables needed, preparing for kick-off meetings, sustaining momentum, and a good grasp of roles and responsibilities.

Client team programs are not a project to be spearheaded by marketers. This initiative is not a marketing project. It is, instead, the beginning of a firm’s journey toward a viable sales process. Don’t confuse these two functions.

In addition to hiring the right administrative employees to help drive the process, be aware that partners must actively participate in all aspects of a client team program. The creative and legal insights of experienced partners will drive productivity and uncover opportunities others may not see.

What are the Biggest Obstacles in Developing Client Teams?

Fear of change seems to loom large for many law firm leaders worried that they must completely revamp to reap the benefits of leveraging Big Four collaboration techniques. Sales-curious law firms can thoughtfully explore new go-to-market methodologies and service delivery processes without taking on the risk of disrupting or reconfiguring compensation arrangements or completely overhauling the marketing department. When a firm decides to implement a client team program, it will need a few select people in the right roles such as researchers and client care executives who can work alongside marketing to build the program. A few challenges that must be considered include:


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  1. Partners and firm leadership must be willing to devote time to the client team process. This is not an undertaking for those who think execution can be thrown to less-skilled administrative employees.
  2. Most law firms do not currently have the right professionals on board to initiate and drive a profitable client team program. Again, partners will need to get involved with recruiting and hiring actual professional services sales and client care executives. Often recruiters in and outside the firm are not be able to distinguish marketers or enablers from client-facing, consultative account managers.
  3. Compensation models may need to be reviewed if origination credit cannot be divided to include multiple rainmakers across practice areas. A client team win is a win for the entire team and not just the anchor partner or the partner who closes a deal related to a specific function.

Client teams will push service providers to re-think the initial prospect phase with clients and open the firm up to a willingness to show clients how technology will be leveraged and how each team member will contribute value to the engagement at a predicted fixed rate, still being mindful of mitigating risks and setting forth realistic expectations. Specialty boutiques and industry-specific firms can also benefit from a client team approach when cross-selling may not be the ultimate goal as client retention and superior service delivery can also be a terrific byproduct.

A well-planned and thoughtful client team program will demonstrate to clients that your firm truly has their best interests in mind. Successful client teams not only drive revenue, they also improve the culture of firms since they offer the perfect format for building trust and respect among all participants.

Brenda Pontiff

Brenda Pontiff is the managing principal of Partner Track Academy where she offers consulting services to law firms wishing to adopt Big Four accounting firm business development methods. She is a former account executive for two of the Big Four and has held several sales leadership roles in both law and accounting firms. Brenda often speaks at conferences and retreats regarding client care, associate development, and change-management.

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