Who are your clients?

Posted by Douglas Sorocco at September 23, 2005 01:21 PM

Interview season is upon us in the legal realm and in the spirit of helping those eager to enter the profession - I would like to offer two questions for the bright young eager legal minds to ask of the senior partners sitting across from them:
Who are your clients?  Who are your best clients?
The answers might be more informative than you might think.
Michael Cage's Small Business Marketing Systems blog has an interesting article last month entitled "Niche Marketing - Growing your business with small numbers" that I think fits in quite nicely with the client/sales meme floating around Rethink(IP) the last couple of weeks as well as the question outlined above.
I love posts that start with anecdotes or stories (hence my new-found love of the book The Tipping Point - lots of great stories) and Michael's post doesn't disappoint - Best Buy's "Jills" are described as is one of his client's who focused on catering to 10% of their customers.
The point Michael makes - is that in order to grow your business, why not shrink or focus your core marketing/service efforts or message? (Which perhaps flies in the face of Tom Peters' adage "You can't shrink yourself to greatness.")
When I work with new clients, I often encounter the following request: “I want more clients.” My response is a question: “What kind of clients do you want?” The (wrong) answer I most often get: “It doesn’t matter as long as they have money, we get a little bit of everyone in here.”
The right answer takes a little more thought.
When you really get to know your clients, you will find a small percentage account for most of your profits. In fact, it is common for less than 20% of your clients to account for nearly all of your profits. The big problem? Most businesses have no idea who those “perfect clients” are!
Who are your perfect clients? 
Ask any lawyer that question and you will invariably get the response "those who pay" -- but is that the only determinant for a "perfect client"? 
Unlike Best Buy, lawyers provide professional services -- we work with clients to find solutions or craft responses.  While it is great to have clients that pay, shouldn't things like cost, aggravation, market niche, quality and enjoyment come into the equation as well?
I recently had a great example of this from one of my partners at DCR
We were sitting around in our conference room discussing opportunities with a potential new member of the firm.  The 'newbie' asked the question "who are your clients" and my partner, instead of rattling off a list of our current clients, responded with a description of who he believed our firm was best able to serve. 
It was a fairly narrow definition and focused in on what we all believe the core strengths of the firm to be -- it didn't mean that we would turn away business that fell outside that definition, but it did serve as a reminder that we don't spend a lot of time and effort chasing it. 
We know our niche and we believe we are able to provide superior service and legal insight to that niche.  It also happens to be the niche of clients that we have the most fun servicing and truly enjoy working with.
Coming out of the LexThink discussions last April, one of the attendees (a non-attorney) was a little flustered that some of the attorneys were spending too much time discussing "the perfect client" instead of discussing how best to provide "perfect service".  While I certainly believe that as a profession we have a long way to go on the "perfect service" front - it is equally as important to sit down and determine what your perfect client looks like.
In the end, tailoring your perfect services to your perfect client may just result in everything being - well - perfect.
I would love to hear of any law students who ask this question during interviews - drop us an email or leave a note in the comments.
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