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The ABCs of Client Classification

How can you save time and money marketing your law firm? Drop a few clients.

Yes, drop. Some lawyers are better than others at saying no to taking on certain clients. Some groups can more easily spell out the criteria for their ideal client than others. And some firms are better than others about enforcing client intake policies. But very few lawyers, practice groups, or firms have committed to regularly culling their client lists for The Clients Who Aren’t Worth the Trouble.

But how do you know who those clients are? That’s where client classification comes in. Classifying your clients as A, B, or C allows you to target your marketing activities more precisely, with less likelihood of wasting time and money.

A Clients

These are the clients or referral sources you definitely don’t want to lose, the 20% that bring in 80% of your revenue. They might be legacy clients on whose business the firm was built, or newer clients whose businesses are in a high growth phase. They might be clients for whom you provide all of their legal services. An A client usually has entrusted your firm with its work for a reason and isn’t likely to nickel and dime on legal fees.

B Clients

These are clients where there is possibility for growth in the amount or the type of work you receive from them. They may be new businesses with bright futures, or those where your firm has just a small piece of their legal spend at present. They may be organizations in expansion mode, or those where your firm can offer more (and possibly more lucrative) services than you currently provide. B clients have prospects and could possibly become A clients. Right now, they are likely to be more price-sensitive than A clients, or possibly more costly to service.

C Clients

These are solid, dependable clients from whom there’s no possibility of getting more or better work. They’re very price-conscious, but they pay their bills on time, they’re relatively recession-proof, and they’re not likely to change law firms.

Now for an important note. This isn’t high school, where everyone wants to get an A. There’s nothing wrong with B and C clients. In fact, many high-volume firms are perfectly happy with all C clients: they don’t cost a lot to service, they pay their bills on time, and they’re easy to deal with. Governments, associations, regulatory bodies, and large, very price-conscious insurance companies might all fall into the category of C clients, depending on what kind of work you do for them. They might equally all be on your A client list, depending on how much work you do for them.

So what about D clients, I hear you ask. D is for drop! These clients cost you money because they use up your time and resources without generating much revenue. They may be expensive to service, slow to pay their bills, or difficult to deal with. In isolation, you could manage any one of those issues, but in combination in a relatively low-revenue client, they’re not worth it. Can you change them into C clients? Probably not, so refer them to the competition!

Now for the ‘So What?’ test. What do you do with this information?

Classifying your clients enables you to plan your marketing activities appropriately. You need to decide how many times you will contact a client or referral source over a year and what you will say when you reach them. We call these contacts touchpoints. A touchpoint is any connection with a client, prospective client or referral source that is intended to further the relationship for business development and is unrelated to a matter in hand. Business development experts agree that an average of six touchpoints a year is needed to take relationships to the next level or maintain existing good relationships.

That, in a nutshell, is your marketing plan for the year.

So what is a touchpoint? It can be anything that furthers the relationship, from an invitation to a gala event to a greeting card. Clients on your A list should receive a predominance of high touch attention—face time, individualized contact, high value information, or introductions. Clients on your B list (prospect for growth) can receive a mixture of high, medium, and low touch attention, depending on where you are in the relationship cycle. C clients can receive a predominance of low touch attention—regular, arm’s length communication.

Let’s finish off with some examples of high, medium and low touchpoints.

HIGH TOUCH

  • Business referrals
  • Business introductions (not cross-selling)
  • Visits to clients’ places of business—off the clock
  • Nomination for awards
  • Invitations to outside events with you
  • Closing dinners
  • Speaking invitations
  • Published congratulations on achievements
  • Sponsorship of clients’ initiatives
  • Tickets to events of high value

MEDIUM TOUCH

  • Introductions to partners (cross-selling)
  • Invitations to firm seminars or parties
  • Telephoned congratulations on achievements
  • “How’s it going?” phone calls
  • Individualized e-mails with specific information
  • Tickets to events
  • Follow-up phone calls after events
  • Copies of articles of interest (especially your own)
  • Personalized gifts
  • Personal referrals

LOW TOUCH

  • E-mailed congratulations on achievements
  • News about the firm (new partners, practice areas, recent wins)
  • News about their industry
  • Client surveys
  • Group e-mails
  • Newsletters and bulletins
  • Gift subscriptions to industry publications
  • E-mailed links to web sites of interest
  • Gifts of firmware
  • Greeting cards

Comments

  1. News for clients about their industry area as it relates in general on regulatory compliance and firm’s summary awareness of non-compliance vs. compliance on clients’ business impact/bottom line, is always useful for them.

    The service /marketing model for lower priority clients because of lower-revenue combined with difficult clients re payment, other reasons, wouldn’t necessarily work for all types of legal practice areas or evolving areas of litigation where law is being shaped/not defined well yet because of new technological applications, etc.

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