I did not go to law school to be a salesperson. ”The last place most lawyers thought they would be after law school is in the position of selling their services. But the key to building a prosperous practice is attracting new clients and retaining the ones you have. These transactions require that lawyers master some basic sales skills, and closing the sale is a non-negotiable part of the process. For ages now those of us in legal services have debated whether lawyers should be expected to sell to grow their client base. For many the very word “sales” is an untenable reference. That is why in many law firms today we use the term “business development.” Call it what you will, there’s no getting around the fact that in order to grow a legal practice lawyers must be retained by new clients. Given the reality that for the most part law schools do not adequately prepare lawyers to engage in the business of law (including sales), it is no wonder why the fear of directly asking for new business is a perceived obstacle for many lawyers. Below are some of the most common concerns lawyer-clients have shared in the business development and sales training workshops I have conducted over the years as to why they do not directly ask for business.
Unease with Asking
Given the lack of professional training (much less any practice) in how actually to ask for new business, most lawyers are very uncomfortable having those conversations. While you never want to appeal to be scripted, my clients have fared well after developing a practiced approach of “getting to ‘yes.’ ” One of the keys is to have at-the-ready statements, open-ended questions and responses to obstacles. And just as important to becoming more comfortable with asking for business is practicing in front of a mirror, observing your intonations, facial gestures and other nonverbal cues. In the ultracompetitive legal-services environment it is essential to be prepared and proactive in seeking new business. Lawyers can scarcely afford to allow sales opportunities to get past them due to their unease.
Fear of Rejection
Being rejected is by far the top concern and fear of my lawyer-clients in asking directly for new business. While understanding that no one enjoys hearing “no,” I advise my law firm clients to separate a “no” from a personal rejection. Often when a prospect says “no” they actually mean “not now” or they do not understand how your services will help them solve and/or prevent a problem. It is the lawyer’s task to understand the prospect’s needs proactively and to describe clearly the value of his or her services to help the prospect discern whether those services are a good fit for the prospect. That noted, there are many aspects of a sales conversation that require the lawyer to be attentive to nonverbal behavior and other implied messages in order to help read a prospect’s intentions.
Fear of Negative Perceptions
How many times have we heard colleagues say “I don’t want to seem pushy”? The fact is that a lawyer’s fears of negative perceptions will be reduced proportionately by how much he or she practices and prepares for asking directly for new business. It’s not something a lawyer can easily wing and still present a professional approach. Sure, lawyers may have pals or family members who have small matters they can handle, but for the sought-after business a disciplined approach has to be taken to understanding the issues fully as well as to having a comprehensive understanding of your firm’s range of services.
Being Unclear About How to Ask
Being uncertain about how to ask is a different fear than being uncomfortable with asking for new business in that many lawyers literally don’t know what to say to prospects to lead to a close. One of the most important techniques I teach my sales-training clients is the art of the sales conversation. The sales process becomes much easier and more comfortable when you can dissect and clearly understand what needs to happen to lead the prospect to “yes.” When lawyers understand this process and how to have the sales conversation, their fears usually dissipate. Closing is an important part of the selling process just as presenting the final argument is in the courtroom. Any successful litigator knows that any argument will fail without careful and thoughtful preparation, and the same applies to closing a sale. What lawyer can afford to miss even one selling opportunity in this highly competitive legal services environment?
It is the mark of a professional salesperson to clarify upfront the time required for a sales conversation as well as to understand a prospect’s decision-making process and be aware of the key influencers who will be involved in authorizing the release of funds. You do not want to spring the final let’s do-business question on the prospect. Rather, the most productive sales conversations will include a series of open-ended questions (those that cannot be answered “yes” or “no”) that establish an understanding of the prospect’s specific needs, the cost of doing nothing and whether your services are the best fit. The big close is effectively avoided by asking for a number of little decisions, i.e., gaining confirmation as each point is established, a process similar to that of a litigator questioning a witness. When preparing for a sales conversation, many lawyers suffer a tactical lapse, abandoning preparation and focusing instead on closing. Professional salespeople know that if the preparation is done properly, the closing is almost a nonevent. Successful rainmakers know that they can’t rush the sale. Equally, poor preparation guarantees failure in sales results just as in the courtroom, regardless of how good the closing technique or argument. Rushing the “ask” often results in a negative response. Take your time, actively listen to your prospect to learn his or her needs, challenges, concerns, etc., so that you are in a stronger position to offer help with a more assured understanding of needs and expectations.
Fear of Overcoming Obstacles
When lawyers are prepared and have learned what prospects are willing to give up in time and money to get, it becomes easier to respond to objections. Objections are typically signs that while a prospect may be interested in buying your services, you have yet to describe adequately how you can add enough value or help prevent or solve a problem. Again, asking incremental questions to gain an assurance of what the prospect is seeking to resolve and the precise demand triggers places you in a stronger position to differentiate yourself as offering a unique value-add, obtainable only from you and your firm. I often advise my clients to incorporate questions in the sales conversation such as, “Is there anything I haven’t addressed that is of concern to you or your organization?” You’re presenting concrete examples of relevant situations and successful outcomes for clients most like this buyer makes his or her buying decision much easier and makes selling easier for you. At the end of the day we are all buying and selling something. Sales success is found in the nuances of actively listening, asking appropriate open-ended questions to help you fully understand the underlying problem, establishing the value of solving the problem and the cost of doing nothing, and guiding your prospect to the point of recognition that you are uniquely qualified and situated to address the issue. Practice, practice, practice your delivery to communicate convincingly that your services are the best fit for your prospect’s needs. The great Vince Lombardi said it so eloquently: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”
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