Changing the word impossible to possible.

In this article, I consider the knotty problem of how to open up the internal marketplace in your firm to build your own client portfolio. This is especially important if you are in a Big 4 or large law firm.

Why is this important?

The really successful professionals in a Big 4, Magic Circle or large firm win a large proportion of their work from the internal marketplace. Last week I was puzzling over why a multi-disciplinary engineering firm like WS Atkins needed the services of a clinical psychologist? It was when the clinical psychologist explained that WS Atkins had a small strategy practice that it all became clear. I.e. if you have a large base of clients who trust you, why not sell them general consultancies services along side your more specialist services.

This strategy practice has the same challenges that many people in a large firm face. How to open up the firm’s large client base for their strategy services. When I read any business case for a professional in a large firm, there will always be a large proportion of their work which comes from the internal firm marketplace. But, its not always easy to open up their internal marketplace, and I will explain why now.

Why is it difficult to open up the internal firm marketplace?

The problem is that you are not the only person aiming to get a relationship lead for a key account to introduce you to them. You are just one of many. Therein lies the problem. Particularly if you are a senior manager and the others who are looking for the introduction have more positional power and authority than you. What you are having to overcome is referral friction. Over the rest of this article I will explore the 5 elements of referral friction that you will need to overcome if you want to open up the internal firm marketplace.

Political friction

Anyone who has spent any time in a professional practice will know that it is heaving with politics. From convoluted power bases to partners who will throw their toys out of the pram if not consulted on the smallest thing. Politics may also get in the way of a successful referral to an existing client. From the acceptable, “it’s not the right time for the client”, e.g. we have a big pitch on and don’t want to confuse the client by talking about any other potential needs, through to

the unacceptable, “I don’t want to introduce anyone else to the client in case I lose it to them”. (Or lose the origination credits to them).

Relationship friction

Most successful internal firm introductions which lead onto work being done rely on the introducer liking the person they are going to introduce and wanting to help them. Therefore, the challenge is to firstly get some face time (or phone time if not co-located) to build up a relationship sufficiently to be able to pitch your proposition to the relationship lead.

Credibility friction

No-one likes to damage their own reputation by making an introduction or referral which then goes wrong. It doesn’t matter that you are both meant to be “on the same side”. The reality is that if your credibility is not strong and your reputation not good, then it is going to be really hard to win work from the internal marketplace.

Time friction

Time is not on anyone’s side in a professional partnership. Certainly not if you are a relationship lead for an important client for the firm. Somehow, you need to find a pressing enough need to get time in the relationship leads diary to talk about what you want them to take to their client. If your status in the firm is low, say for example compared to a partner, it is always going to be hard to get the opportunity to talk about your opportunity for their client.

Education friction

The best place to influence a relationship lead is when you can bring them a low risk, high return opportunity for their client. This is often where there is a regulation change which the client will need to respond to. This is often why tax professionals find it relatively easy to get work out of existing clients of the firm. If you want to make it easy for the relationship lead to introduce to your client is to educate them on why its in their clients interests to make the introduction. This means you need to think about what’s in it for the relationship lead AS WELL as their client. I.e. what’s the risk of not making the introduction? How quickly will the relationship lead benefit from the introduction? If you are asking the relationship lead to do a lot of work to bring off a successful sale then forget it.

Our subscriber-only Progress to Partner membership site has a great Game Plan called “…if you need to raise your profile” to help you get noticed for partner-track.

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