By Erin Corbin Meszaros, chief business development and client service officer, Eversheds Sutherland
When senior management assessed the potential global combination between Eversheds and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan at the start of 2017, the business development (BD) team (at then Sutherland Asbill & Brennan) didn’t stand on the sidelines. Senior management, beginning with managing partner Mark Wasserman, understood there were many ways we could positively make a strong contribution and drive the combination forward.
Among these contributions was assembling confidential intel and research on how the combination would affect our clients positively. Our research took four months and considerable overtime, and the report we delivered to Wasserman was a key piece of what determined whether to proceed with combination discussions. The combination was driven in large part by intel gathered from robust client interviews that were led by the BD group.
During the interviews, it was too early to reveal to clients that we were in discussions with Eversheds, but we asked how we could best continue to serve them. Specifically, we asked clients about their five-year plans, what was keeping them up at night, how their industries were changing, their regulatory concerns and their institutional needs. While these inquiries were made in the course of serving clients, we viewed the answers through the lens of knowing the additional capabilities we would need in the combined firm.
"While this work could have been assigned to outside consultants, our team had the advantage of understanding our clients’ businesses, following years of working with them and their lawyers at the firm.”
One theme that emerged from these interviews was clients wishing we had more office locations and a global footprint. For example, a client might tell us they had plans to locate a plant in Asia and would be forced to rely on another firm because at the time we did not have an office or network in the region. As we collected this kind of insight, we began to get a sense — defined by hard metrics — of how the combination would serve existing clients and increase our business.
While this work could have been assigned to outside consultants, our team had the advantage of understanding our clients’ businesses, following years of working with them and their lawyers at the firm. Institutional memory and troves of data — as well as internal, confidential knowledge about lateral recruitment and practice changes that were in progress — provided great insight into how the combination and other changes at the firm would create expanded resources for clients.
This is a definitive example of how a modern, data-driven department can provide value to firm leadership making strategic decisions.
As many know, big firm combinations can have mixed results. Our team can say objectively that the combination has been successful, and revenue has tracked closely with what we projected. In the first year, we were able to attribute $7.2 million of new revenue to the combination — most of it, as our research predicted, from our corporate practices. We continue to post gains in revenue, new matters and new clients. Today, we have matched that value within the first six months of our second year together and will exceed our revenue projection in year two.
People tend to overlook the role BD professionals can play in evaluating strategic opportunities, but our team uses data to inform our leaders and provide information that helps them make better business decisions. The accuracy of the projections senior management made regarding the growth of the client opportunities, based largely on the information we collected as a BD group, is a solid example of the value a data-driven department can bring.
A key piece that many often forget is the trust needed between the chief marketing officer and the managing partner. Our group was given the opportunity to have a substantial voice at the table through longstanding and evolving relationships of trust, earned by establishing a track record of client-focused BD results. We are also fortunate to have a humble, respectful and appreciative managing partner. He is grateful for what we do, asks for our input and engages in candid conversations.
We are also grateful to have a collaborative and trusting relationship with our counterparts in the United Kingdom. Our U.S.-based BD group worked closely with Jean Michel Beeching, marketing and business development director; Judith Green, communications director; and Laura Ottley, deputy marketing director in our U.K. offices. Our international footprint has given us a new appreciation for the benefits of teamwork.
Whether you’re looking to help lead a major combination, or simply get buy-in for new ideas, look for opportunities to build relationships with your managing partner, executive committee members and other senior partners, even if it takes time and crosses international borders. But, in order to be invited to the discussion, you must first show them the value you can bring to strategic planning.
With more than 25 years of hands-on, professional service experience, Erin Corbin Meszaros helps Eversheds Sutherland (US) attorneys turn business strategies into business successes. Through various firm initiatives, she develops innovative solutions designed to enhance client satisfaction and increase brand awareness.
Erin’s career includes numerous successful business initiatives, such as implementing and executing a firm’s five-year strategic plan, implementing and executing a forward-thinking client feedback program, initiating and completing a re-branding campaign, conducting an in-depth client relations coaching program and creating a unique customer relationship management (CRM) database course, which effectively increased firm-wide usage.