Best Practices for a New Era of Client Services: McDermott’s Award-Winning Client Engagement Academy

In professional services business development, and in corporate America more generally, we are hearing more and more about words like empathy and relationship when it comes to client attraction, engagement and service delivery. This “softening” of language and approach is yielding tremendous success and transforming the way we do business with each other, and the way we think about and implement our business development strategies.

Lean-Agile methodologies, the current wave of thinking around process improvement and project management in product development in technology, government and large corporations, also engages in a more empathetic, client-centered approach. The Agile Manifesto, penned in 2001, identifies individuals and interactions over processes and tools and customer collaboration over contract negotiation as two of the driving principles to successful product delivery and satisfied clients. The language may be different, but the core principles are the same – collaborative, supportive, non-hierarchical relationships that empower users and embrace change. These also mirror the principles of the feminine economy laid out by Jennifer Armbrust; the main components of a successful product development cycle are collaboration, ease, asking questions, cyclical growth, empathy and interdependence. Technology companies, government agencies and large corporations are succeeding by implementing these methodologies that have been proven over and over again in helping teams thrive.

Leaning into similar principles heralded in The Challenger Sale methodology, McDermott Will & Emery’s Client Engagement Academy (“the Academy”) is at the helm of translating these principles into an effective, actionable framework for superior legal service delivery for its clients. This emphasis on empathetic connection and relationship underscores the out-of-the-box thinking that characterizes the firm’s pioneering and sophisticated training program, which earned the 2019 Sales Excellent Award in the Innovation category from the Institute for Excellence in Sales. I sat down with the leader of the Academy, Teri Robshaw, to learn more about McDermott’s award winning client service delivery model.

A proven sales leader with over 15 years in B2B sales outside the legal industry, Teri serves as McDermott’s Associate Director of Commercial Excellence. During her tenure, she has been responsible for training over 200 partners and 90 professionals over the past twelve months since the development of the Academy. This sophisticated program focuses on best practices from inside and outside of law, taught by sales and legal industry experts. The Academy is driven by two main principles: understanding the successful lawyer and understanding the client. When asked what the core principles that informed the Academy were, Teri shared these four main components of not only the Academy, but also McDermott’s innovative client service delivery model.

1. The Successful Lawyer.

 “We utilized the research from “The Challenger Sale,” to get a sense of performance indicators of successful professionals as they engage with their clients. By utilizing that methodology, we looked inward and asked the question, “What are McDermott’s current rainmakers doing that is leading to their success and client loyalty?” What we found was that the rainmakers at McDermott were already mirroring the behaviors supported by the studies in The Challenger Sale model!” 

2. The Complex Client Environment.

We then focused on centering ourselves on our clients. Shifting the approach from leading with our expertise to centering the voice of our clients. Using data from years of client feedback and McDermott’s Client Listening Program, an approach was developed that was intensely client-centered, focusing on the complexity in their world to their position and influence within the buying journey. We wanted to know what their challenges were, what pressures they were under in their industry and where they most felt like they needed support.”

3. Best Practice Research.

We then leveraged experts from both within and outside of the legal profession, consulting Rory Channer, who brought a depth of knowledge of best practices in high stakes sales environments and Elizabeth Gooch, who spent her entire career leading business development efforts in law. By bringing together a mix of internal and external expertise, we created a mandate and a framework to shift how our attorneys think about sales. This is truly how the Academy was birthed nine months later.

4. Reinforcement.

Lastly, we have implemented follow-up coaching support, which is critical to cement the teachings within the Academy and protect the shift that we are trying to make here at McDermott. We want every aspect of the team to think about all levels of client engagement through the same lens. In this vein, I provide one-on-one coaching support for our attorneys, a series of deep dive sessions after the Academy to reinforce the learning, an upcoming podcast series to leverage the learning from the Academy in an easily accessible way, and hands-on training with the business development, marketing, pricing and project management teams, consultant and practice group directors.

Teri’s goal is for McDermott’s professional staff and attorneys to have a broad range of tools that they can leverage in the process of understanding the client and telling the right story tailored to their needs. When asked to identify the core value driving not only the Client Engagement Academy, but also McDermott’s innovative client delivery model, Teri focused on one word: empathy.

“At the heart of the four key components of the Academy is empathy. In the legal industry, we focus so much on our technical expertise, at all levels. The big miss when engaging with our clients is that we focus so much on expertise, we fail to be curious and ask questions … to step into the internal world of our client. If we were more empathetic and more curious, we would be so much more effective in how we engage. We have to show value based on our clients’ needs and environment. The only way we are ever going to know that is by asking smart, tailored, thoughtful questions to understand them. Take off your expert hat and deliberately put on your curiosity hat. You can put back on the expert hat after you leave the room to engage with the law to solve business problems. But, when you are engaging with the client, slow down, be curious, and care deeply with what they are dealing with. Care deeply. That’s the way you show value.”

By Tara Marshall-Recas, Contract Market Specialist, McDermott, Will & Emery

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