The department & practice group leader’s role in sales management

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practice group

The role of practice group leaders is changing. And new and seasoned department and practice group leaders will be wise to expand client relationships and increase firm revenues by leveraging the potential of the lawyers whom they lead.

More than ever, retention and growth of existing clients and new business development are vital to any firm’s stability and growth. As firms place more business development demands on partners and senior associates, it is crucial to provide the support they need to track and strategize about new pursuit opportunities and how to close new engagements. Creating a support structure demonstrates that the firm values and supports their lawyers’ business development efforts and helps to create a pathway to revenue growth success.

Some of the sales leadership skills that department and practice leaders may want to focus on or build into their professional development curricula include:

1. Managing and overseeing creation of simple, actionable business development and sales (rather than marketing) plans

Many law firms have their lawyers fill out business development plans; yet, few follow up on those plans to insure they are being implemented. These plans should tie into the department’s or group’s overall plan, which in turn should tie into the firm’s overall strategy.

Many partners report that they have a plan but no one has ever followed up with them. As a result, they simply write the required plan and forget about it until the following year. Group leaders will do well by reviewing these plans (in partnership with a business development professional) and following up on a regular basis to see how things are going.

Accountability is a key aspect of success in this area. “We encourage all of our attorneys to have individual business plans that are aligned with the goals of their practice group or industry team,” says Tonya Grindon, chair of Baker Donelson’s Corporate Department. “These coordinated business plans foster collaboration in the pursuit of client development opportunities. The attorneys must report to our business develop liaisons the progress on their plans on a routine basis, thus creating accountability for the action steps under the plans.”

2. Scheduling easy but critical quarterly progress reports on revenue-generating activities

As mentioned above, follow-up is critical. How are department and group members doing on their goals? Do they have the right mix of marketing and sales activities (20% marketing/80% sales) and if not, leaders should correct this trajectory whenever possible and help their members focus on the right mix of activities.

3. Developing key client retention and growth plans that focus on revenue and are aligned with client goals

Leaders will be well-advised to identify two or three clients that are the strategic accounts of the department or practice group. These are the clients on which to focus the group’s efforts and facilitate cross-firm collaboration. “We are also focused more intentionally on client targets where we have relationships, opportunity, and commitment from the lawyers involved,” Grindon says. “We push for incremental gains with these relationships and routinely report on client successes.”

4. Leveraging internal marketing and business development professionals’ skills

Skilled business development professionals are essential to a practice group’s sales success. Their skills often include sales, sales coaching, and strategic account (aka key client) management. These professionals have a bird’s eye view of the firm and may be helpful with facilitating cross-collaboration opportunities.

Ask them to keep practice group leaders informed about the RFPs the firm is receiving and how the practice group may play a role in proactively responding with new ideas for the client.

5. Utilizing the firm’s existing client and industry financial metrics

History tells the truth. Group leaders should look back five or more years and conduct an analysis to determine from where 80% to 90% of the practice group’s revenue originated. Creating a simple pie chart that shows the industry or client sectors that have contributed most significantly to the practice group’s revenue will inform future target opportunities for growth. Further, the data will provide credibility to how the group discusses its experience and abilities when speaking with clients.

6. Learning strong leadership skills that engender trust and accountability

We’ve all had leaders who needed to improve their ability to lead. Partners who chair departments and practice groups have not always had the professional development leadership training required to be an effective leader. They should, however, and adding sales training to the set of required skills is also a good idea.

One class or workshop does not a good leader make; rather, firms should find a series of programs that will help leaders focus on the necessary skills in order to become the best possible leaders for their groups.

7. Facilitating collaboration across practice groups

A collaborative approach to building a firm’s future is now necessary. With competition coming from an increased sales focus across the industry and new alternative legal service providers, it is more critical than ever for practice groups to collaborate in order to seize new opportunities and grow important clients.

8. Attending prospect and client meetings to help the practice group’s lawyers with closing new engagements

While attending client meetings may be a new concept in the world of practice and department leadership, this sales management role is well-known in the commercial world. Group leaders should review the pipeline for what is close to becoming a new engagement. It’s quite possible that having the group leader visit with the prospect or client will help push it over the finish line. While this takes a group leader’s precious time, it’s worth the investment if the end result is new business.

9. Holding well-attended, effective meetings that boost revenue growth opportunities

Practice group leaders can do this by:

  • staying abreast of key industries;
  • focusing participants on client strategic plans and growth goals;
  • building revenue-generating collaborative efforts; and
  • creating accountability through opportunity pipelines.

Growing a practice leader’s role to include sales leadership activities will help the firm uncover many additional growth opportunities, track active revenue pursuits, and focus the efforts of important sales and business development professionals.