Gene Miller

Face to Face with Your Important Clients & Customers

June 06, 2005

Case categories include: Leadership   Sales   

By Robert Sher
Think of your top three suppliers.  Do they really care about you or your business?  Do they really understand your challenges and how their product or services affect your business?  Beyond the typical romancing – golf outings, lunches and ball game tickets, do they really engage you deeply about your business?  Maybe they do.  Maybe they don’t. 

But more importantly, how do your customers/clients perceive you?  Do they think you care and understand them?  How do you find out?  Just ask.

Gene Miller, Chairman and CEO of powerhouse real estate law firm Miller, Starr & Regalia, has, and it pays.  Yes, you read it correctly.  A lawyer who goes out and asks his firm’s clients for feedback!  He knows that the business of law is, in the end, a business, and clients stay only if they are happy and satisfied.  In a service business such as the practice of law, clients tend to let you know of their displeasure by going to someone else.  By then it is too late to affect the outcome.

Time spent wisely
Miller, Starr & Regalia’s largest clients have ongoing real estate transactions, and work with the firm on an ongoing basis.  On a rotating basis, he schedules non-billable time with each of the firm’s top 20 or so clients.  If they are local, it may take a half day.  If travel is involved, it will use a day or more.  He approaches the meeting with open ended questions, starting with chit chat, often moving on to industry talk.  His goals are simple:

• Demonstrate to the client that they are important to the firm.
• Maintain and build his personal rapport with the client.
• Show that he and his firm are knowledgeable not just about the law, but about the industry.
• Find out how his client feels about working with his firm and the people with whom they interact at the firm.
• Remind the client of all the services his firm offers, beyond what the clients is partaking in already.
• Deepen his understanding of his client’s business, so that he can better see opportunities where his firm could provide a broader depth of service.

A stronger relationship
Most visits have no obvious or dramatic outcome, but strengthen the underlying relationship.  One visit, to a client that appeared content, revealed that the rapport with the key liaison was not all it could be.  The client was looking to transition the relationship, but had done nothing to articulate his concerns.  As a result of the meeting, Gene was able to add an additional person to the team that bolstered the interpersonal skill base and insured that the client stayed loyal.  Eventually, significant additional work resulted from the client’s relationship with the new team member.

The CEO can “sell” like no-one else in the firm.  Any CEO who is not regularly involved with clients and customers is wasting that power and influence.  I use the word sell intentionally, because that is what we are always doing when in front of our customers.  But selling isn’t just what most of us hate – trying to hock goods and services.  As the leader, your role is first and foremost to understand the customer, understand what they want and how they want it.  And to create a relationship with them that is broader and more lasting than their last order.  That is what builds a framework upon which your sales team operates, putting them in an ideal position to ask for the order.

CEO Superpowers
Your personal appearance means:
• You (the CEO) know about and care about that customer.  This is big.
• You will learn more than anyone else. They will share the bigger picture with you, since you don’t always talk to them, and since you are the “big picture” person.
• You will see more opportunities for working together, since your vision as leader is broader than anyone else’s.  In other words, you will sell more.
• You will learn things about your customers in general that will likely change the direction of your business.  There is nothing like clients all telling you the same thing to motivate change!
• You will discover internal shortcomings that had been hidden from you, and in addition to saving accounts, you will improve your organization.

It’s simple.  Start with a list of your top accounts.  Pick up the phone and start calling.  Chat, set up meetings, and go on the road to visit them.  Don’t try and do it all at once.  But take a steady approach, and do it every week.  Trust me, it works for me, and it works for Gene Miller.

• The CEO must spend time with key customers.
• Use that time to deeply understand the customer’s business and their issues.
• Relationships, and hence revenues will improve, and some strategic opportunities will be discovered too.

Robert Sher is principal of CEO to CEO, specializing in assisting CEOs and business leaders as they navigate critical passages.  He is the author of The Feel of the Deal; How I Built a Business through Acquisitions.  He may be reached at

Company and Case Facts:

Company: Miller, Starr and Regalia
Person: Gene Miller, Chairman and CEO
Alliance Member since: 1996
Business Founded: 1964
Growth Rate: Averaging 10% annually
Head Count: 120 (50 lawyers)
Product: Legal services for the real estate industry
Typical Customer: Developers, homebuilders, corporate real estate clients, retail owners and tenants, government agencies, business formation and separations.
Written: June, 2005
Address: Miller, Starr and Regalia, 1331 N. California Boulevard, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Phone: 925-935-9400