Key-Client Programs: How Law Firms Apply Technologies to Create a Win-Win for the Firm and Key Clients 

Law firms have long relied on key-client programs to grow the top line, elevate their position in highly competitive markets, and understand and satisfy the needs of prestigious anchor clients. Although many firms have implemented key-client programs, very few actually provide a noticeably elevated level of service to anchor clients. Successful key-client programs must be mutually beneficial, creating value and success for both clients and firms.

Traditionally, firms have selected key clients based on billing history, relationship strength, and overall spend. However, this one-dimensional approach leaves opportunity on the table. Sophisticated firms create portfolios that balance traditional metrics with growth potential, which surfaces both new and dormant opportunities while complementing the firm’s geographic footprint and expertise. As savvy firms evolve to leverage data as a competitive advantage, firms that lack access to action-oriented data will experience significant barriers to growth and competitive advantage.

Leveraging Data to Drive Key-Client Selection

A solid data architecture provides an objective way to both identify and track high-growth clients and manage established relationships. In the context of key-client programs, it’s the combination of external data — which provides objective market analysis — and internal data — which pulls from proprietary sources — that provides the full context required to uncover and pursue worthwhile growth opportunities.

With the right technology in place, firms are poised to correlate not only proprietary and external sources, but also both leading and lagging indicators. Whereas lagging indicators include things like historical client revenue and news reports, leading indicators track elements such as competitor insights on matter completion, sector growth potential, and competitive analysis. Sophisticated firms apply this blended approach to balance traditional metrics with growth potential.

Organizing the Team and Securing Partner Buy-In

Successful key-client programs require a clearly designed vision as well as a robust and diverse team structure that draws from commercial partners, industry experts, and business development talent. A global client relationship partner (CRP) is responsible for implementing best practices across all offices and jurisdictions, serving as the point person for escalations, and building strong relationships with other key-client partners to foster the firmwide collaboration required to provide best-in-class key-client service.

Executive management is responsible for defining goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) from the onset of the program, and CRPs should be evaluated and rewarded based on performance against goals and KPIs. Fostering friendly competition — like tying rewards to key-client management activities and publicizing success stories — is a great way to recognize top performers.

Supporting Collaboration Internally and Externally

Internal collaboration entails teams and individuals working together across sectors, industries, geographies, and business groups to ensure alignment with the key client’s objectives. It’s impossible to achieve internal collaboration on a global scale without the right people, processes, and technologies in place. Without the right technology in place, firms have no way to analyze siloed data, provide firmwide access to a centralized data repository, or foster the collaboration required to improve service and outcomes for key clients.

Firms that succeed with external collaboration forge the strongest possible relationships by creating peer-to-peer matchups. Formalizing a communications cadence ensures that clients are continuously up to speed on new capabilities, lateral hires, and innovative products and services. What’s more, firms on the forefront now offer value-added consulting and advisory services, which constitute a deliberate mirroring of the Big Four accounting firms’ recent moves into the legal market.

Delivering Value to Key Clients

Key-client programs offer firms and their partners significant upside: increased revenue, higher profitability, and an enhanced reputation derived from working with prestigious clients. Positive outcomes for key clients are equally important, and should be the top priority during the account-planning stage. Investing the time to delve into a key client’s strategic objectives helps build a shared understanding of what success looks like, and incorporating these insights into the key-client account plan ensures that the firm can support and manage expectations.

Providing dedicated key-client support ensures unfettered communication between the client and the relationship manager, who is responsible for soliciting feedback, surfacing issues, providing industry insights, monitoring competitive activity, and outlining service enhancements. In addition to dedicated support, firms should offer key clients a variety of perks and value-adds — things like volume discounts, dedicated hotlines, and access to alternative fee arrangements — to build affinity and loyalty.

The most effective key-client programs focus on tightening the alignment not only internally within the firm, but also externally with key clients; it’s impossible to achieve these objectives without the right technologies in place to support key-client selection, internal collaboration, external relationship building, and systemized, proactive communication with key clients.

When designed to create mutually beneficial outcomes for both the firm and client, key-client programs deliver increased revenue, higher profitability, stronger competitive advantage, and — most importantly — a noticeably elevated level of key-client service.

To learn more about building a best-in-class key-client program, contact Intapp Strategic Consulting.

Written by:

Dan Tacone

President and Chief Client Officer

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