I’ve posted here before about CI as the new Client Intelligence and I still believe that. Clients more than ever – still – want to work with lawyers and law firms who understand their business, and that comes from, among other things, CI. But in giving a presentation recently to some new and interested parties at the firm it occurred to me that CI in law firms is turning out to be sale enablement or engagement. CI in law firms builds a pipeline, creates leads and informs winning RFP responses. At least the way I have being doing it…which made me think about all the conversations and discussions that have happened on this blog and elsewhere in the legal management world about sales people in law firms. Are they a necessity? Maybe. Can firms do well without them? Sure, though always better to have them. But what about CI people?
I have seen a marked increase in CI people at firms – at all levels – from analyst to specialist, manager to director over the course of my dozen plus years of doing CI in law firms. Not only has the number of roles increased, but so too have the depth of those roles, the publications, continuing education opportunities, technology platforms and consultants in the space. There has been a quiet building of the practice behind the scenes, not at the forefront as has been the case with pricing people or sales people. These roles are seen as truly disruptive and borrowed from other disciplines. But CI people have kind of just evolved out of BD, KM, Library and other roles to fill a growing need in law firms. That also means that CI people are often the bridges between these departments as well.
I have been trying to articulate why it might be that CI professionals in firms are an accepted and growing domain. All I can come reasonably come up with, is that culture eats strategy for breakfast or whatever Peter Drucker really said. If lawyers not administrators or law firm management types are talking to clients, then lawyers are de facto sales people and CI people, not actual sales people, become sales enablement folk – tasked with helping lawyers make one kind of sale or another. Most CI people in law firms started in Marketing, Business Development, the Library or research services and somewhere along the way learned about CI. Some people started doing CI and were then trained in the discipline, as was my path. Others, were thrust into the CI role and have been learning by doing along the way. Regardless, many of CI people in law firms that I know, have been at their firms for a while, or at the very least, the people who created and established the CI function have been at the firms for a while. Generally speaking, the longer someone or some role exists at a firm, the more deeply entrenched in the firm culture and the firm DNA a person or role becomes. It follows then, that an evolved CI person or a newly hired one by an evolved other kind of manager, understands a firm’s unique selling points or differentiators. Good CI people understand their firm’s culture and how to find new clients, fill a pipeline or help grow existing client accounts in a way that is culturally relevant to the sales –non-sales-people, aka the lawyers. Strategy such as that which would be brought to be bare by external consultants, or sales people may not jive as well with firm cultures. Strategic plans on paper may be the ultimate in best practices but only when executed with institutional knowledge, cultural sensitivity and know-how, are these plans destined for success. Law firms are cultural places, you only have to look at the AmLaw 100 or 200 to see that. What other industry boasts a top 200 of its kind? The accounting firms have managed to get it down to the Big 4, even the biggest sports franchises in the world with all of expansion teams don’t start the season with a top 200. The big differentiator for firms is often culture and culture can only be defined and sold on the grounds of intimate understanding. CI people, steeped in a firm’s culture can connect the internal and external dots to create a sales pipeline in a way that others may not be able to because of the inherit objectivity and collaborative nature of CI in law firms.
The experience of CI professionals gives them a unique perspective on the attorneys client base, including insights into their training and thought processes. This allows them to provide analysis that works to the strengths of the attorneys as problem solvers rather sales professionals. In turn, this allows the attorneys to sell their services in a targeted manner by addressing client needs and how they are best suited to solving them rather than with a general sales pitch. I think this approach allows firms to capitalize on what differentiates them from others in acquiring new business. And may also speak to the large number of successful firms. Law firms are not a fungible commodity and CI enables them to emphasize this.
It is only too bad sales doesn’t start with a C or I would have a new set of CI initials to expound. Is CI legal sales enablement?