Prospective clients know if you’ve done your research before you meet with them. They want their team to include people of color and women. And, possibly above all else, clients want you to be responsive.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, as well as the renewed focus on diversity and inclusion, businesses are changing how they make decisions around hiring professional service firms, according to a panel of C-suite executives who participated in a recent discussion.
The virtual webinar, organized by the Legal Marketing Association’s Silicon Valley Chapter, was focused on lawyers, but provided valuable insight into the goals and strategies companies have in choosing who to hire for all outside expert services.
Whether you provide financial, real estate or legal services, knowing what your clients and prospective clients want and need is critical to getting — and keeping — their business.
Research Pays Off
Each panelist unequivocally agreed that their first and largest expectation for an outside contractor, vendor or partner is that they should know their company’s business. And they have ways of knowing if you’ve done your homework.
Virgin Orbit Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Derrick Boston said he can tell immediately if the person pitching their services understands his business because he or she will ask for a ride to space. Virgin Orbit was spun from Virgin Galactic. Virgin Orbit’s business is putting satellites into space, not people, as Virgin Galactic does. The light-hearted comment is a red flag mistake every time, he said. “Dig in. Do some work,” Boston added.
Samsung NEXT Senior Director Jose Lopez said outside service firms must not only understand the basics of the company’s product and strategy, but they should tailor their pitch to fit those basics. Also, Lopez added, the most successful outside partners understand that Samsung’s name is on the bill, “but the end client is the people within Samsung who will be the recipients” of that service. Therefore, he said, you need to impress the people.
Viacom Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs Cynthia Kao said hiring outside firms often comes down to “chemistry and trust.” She wants to know the people she will be working with can learn her business and show “grit and hustle” in doing so.
The panelists agreed that “fancy credentials” aren’t as impressive as showing you understand and care about their goals and strategies. Also, they said, don’t bother with the long, pretty pitchbooks — they blend together. Keep it creative and simple.
Working with diverse teams is a large, and growing, priority for the in-house decision-makers.
“Putting your money where your mouth is helps move things forward,” said Genome Medical, Inc. General Counsel Minh Merchant. She said she will pass on an outside firm if they brought a “token” minority to the pitch meeting, or the firm’s overall diversity numbers are low. Merchant said she will tell an outside firm who she wants on her team, and will make a point to work directly with that person and include them — often bypassing the more senior person on the team to ensure a person of color or minority is doing the work.
Lopez said Samsung has key performance indicators around diversity that affect bonuses. “As of earlier this year, with the racial injustice issues, we’ve broadened (the KPIs) to vendor activity and engagement.”
“I’ll nag you once or twice after a request but, after that, you’re dead to me,” Merchant said about how she feels regarding vendors who don’t respond to her in a timely manner… or at all. What Merchant and the panelists want is an email from you acknowledging you received the request or questions — and if you can’t answer it right then, that’s ok. Just say so and tell them when you can respond, then do it.
In being responsive, be streamlined and efficient. Boston recalled a situation where he gave a document to an outside vendor to review. In return, instead of redlined edits, he received a long, formal memo explaining all the things that should be changed. Not only was that cumbersome and unhelpful, but his company was charged for all that extra work.
With so many changing laws for businesses and employers because of the pandemic and the economic climate, the panelists said input from their trusted experts in the form of client alerts and even informal “heads up” emails are more valuable than usual. “It’s educational in this sort of unsettling time to receive those,” Boston said.
Client service and business development are challenging under normal circumstances, but the hurdles are higher against the backdrop of our current health, economic and social justice crisis. Your firm can weather the storm by heeding this valuable advice from the inside executives: Be the best partner you can by listening to your client, meeting their needs and showing that you care.
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