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  • Ruth Napier

Key account management best practice - why training and pruning matters


Gravel path, with flower borders to each side with pink, red and white blooms. A succession of curved arches over the path leading the eye into the distance.

This time of year, I am filled with the joys of spring and early summer but also know the time I have spent carefully pruning and training the various plants in my garden. In particular, I have a wisteria which, after following a strict pruning plan, rewards me with what can sometimes become three successions of blooms between May and September. One year, I neglected the pruning regimen and was presented with an underwhelming display: lesson firmly learned!


Law firm client relationships benefit from a similar programme of care. For key clients if you don’t have good key account management in place, then you may be putting these relationships at risk. Your key clients often account for a sizeable proportion of your revenues and profits: the 80:20 rule means that 80% of revenues are likely coming from just 20% of your clients - and sometimes below that. So it makes sense to look after them.


What does key account management best practice look like?

Key account management best practice focuses on delivering the best client experience, and typically includes :

  • a regular assessment of relationship and client needs, usually undertaken by the relationship partner at least once a year

  • personalised take-on and matter management understood and followed by anyone working for the client

  • transparent, regular, informative client reporting particularly during long and complex matters

  • rapid response to issues/problems

  • client listening and matter feedback mechanisms

  • access to value added services

  • BD budget and time dedicated towards personalised entertaining (where allowed by the type of client), team-team get togethers or joint initiatives.

Introducing key account management also provides greater clarity to a law firm's management team on the health of their key clients.


What are the keys to success when introducing a key account Management programme?

1. Firm ownership and responsibilities

When preparing to launch a key account programme you need to ensure that:

  • each key client has an experienced relationship partner able to dedicate the time needed to ensure that the relationship stays healthy and to keep a careful eye on any future growth opportunities or potential threats to the relationship.

  • the role and responsibilities of the relationship partner or relationship manager are clearly defined, communicated and understood internally in your firm.

  • time invested into key account management is valued equally as that into new business generation

  • for some clients, 2 relationship partners may be needed in which case the responsibilities of each need to be clear to the account team.

2. Scale

It is easier to start small and then grow over time. From past experience, it is easier to set up, get buy in and start running for a small number of key clients before rolling out more widely. Equally if you are using a key account management programme as a way of introducing client listening, starting small will also help.


3. Measuring progress and reviewing

A client or key account plan can be a very useful way for an internal team to gain a better understanding of the value of the client relationship and in monitoring its health. Compiling the initial plan can also uncover opportunities that might have otherwise been overlooked. Setting and documenting objectives also gives the team a tangible goal to work towards. During account team meetings, having this helps keeps the focus on the client and ensures that progress can be monitored and reported on. Once a year, the relationship partner should review and update the plan formally.


4. Involving the client

It seems obvious but letting a client know that they are part of a key account programme can elevate the relationship in their eyes: you are making them feel special and valued.

In the past I have worked with partners who have been confident enough to share their key account plans with their clients. This has enabled them to show the holistic relationship that they and their firm was providing, including layer upon layer of added value that otherwise would have been missed by the client,


What should a key account plan include?

A key account account plan would typically include:

  • relationship team names and roles

  • the relationship status (grow/maintain/defend*)

  • current matter and panel details (dates, value)

  • financials (e.g. fees billed, fees paid, practice, location breakdowns)

  • legal spend and % share of legal spend, other firms the client uses

  • key client touchpoints and relationship strength

  • current and likely future work

  • opportunities and those responsible for securing them

  • added value given to the client/to give to the client

  • client feedback/listening data or plans on how to secure client feedback

  • forward programme of planned BD activity**,

*The status indicates whether the relationship partner (and account team) expect in the next 12 months for the account to grow, to remain at the same level or to be under threat (which can include panel renewal).

**By allocating individual responsibilities a relationship partner can share the account management activity across the team, reducing the risk of a single point of failure. Junior team members also benefit from seeing how more experienced practitioners look after their clients.


If you haven't analysed your clientbase already, then before embarking on a key account management programme, I strongly recommend that you segment your clients first.

In my previous post (A gardener's guide to client relationships) I have used a simple segmentation of clients to highlight the different needs of and care for each type.


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