April 1, 2018
Are You Sabotaging Your Efforts to Obtain More Clients?
Liza Vasquez ICF and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
When we begin coaching individual lawyers in the Art of Obtaining New and Better Clients, we always ask many pointed questions to assess the strength, effectiveness and the weaknesses of their current activities. Of course, we begin by asking what they want to accomplish. The answer is usually that they want to grow their list of clients. Going to the next step, we ask what has worked for them in the past and what they tried but which had not worked out as they had hoped.
Yes, we are professionals in helping lawyers obtain clients, but we are nonetheless amazed at how often we hear how lawyers are “shooting themselves in the foot,” meaning that they are hurting themselves more than they are helping themselves, with the ways they are trying to obtain clients.
Lawyers are often their own worst enemies when interacting with prospects in informal conversations with potential clients or referral sources or when making formal presentations to prospective clients.
We want you to avoid the simple traps that most lawyers fall into when they go hunting for clients. There are many “do’s” and “don’t’ s” you should be aware when some golden opportunities are staring you in the face. Avoiding some obvious mistakes will greatly improve your success rate.
Let’s look at some of the more common mistakes we see inexperienced lawyers make when they take their first steps at becoming rainmakers.
Talking Too Much: Whether you are in a pitch session with a potential client or a casual conversation with someone at a cocktail party, lawyers often think they must impress the person in front to them. And so, they talk far more than they listen. The first problem with this approach is that all lawyers and law firms have competition. You cannot sell your services by boasting of your technical abilities – your competitors will tell this potential client the same things you are saying. There is no competitive advantage there. The second problem with talking too much is that when you speak of all the strengths of your law firm, you are shooting arrows into the air without knowing where the target is. The prospective client will always tell you how to sell to her or him if you get them talking.
Our rule is 80/20. That is, you should be speaking only 20% of the time and the other 80% of the time, you should be listening. And in your 20% of the conversation, you should be asking questions. By doing this, eventually this perspective client will mention something that will be your real opening. “You know, that is one of our firm’s areas of expertise. I think we can help you with that.” If you ask good questions, you give the potential client room to tell you his/her needs and if you have the solution to their needs, the sale of your services is easy. Stop talking and start listening!
Third, talking about yourself and your firm too much is boring, and you almost certainly will lose the attention of the prospect. Talk about their favorite subject – themselves – and they will not get bored and they will think you are a brilliant conversationalist.
Lack of Follow-Up: Research shows that on average, it takes six moments of contact with a perspective client to convert them into a real client. What this means to you is that after you meet someone, or after a pitch session, you need to stay in contact to be Top of Mind for when they do need your services. This means you must do constant follow-up work. Therefore, another reason for letting the other person talk 80% of the time is for you to gather information – both business and personal information – so that you have excuses to stay in contact. To illustrate, we use these monthly articles as a way of providing useful information to our current clients and potential clients to keep our name in front of them every thirty days. For you, there is no such thing as small talk (which many lawyers tell us they hate) because for you it is not small talk at all. You are gathering facts to be the excuses for future contacts with this person. “You said you were taking your kids skiing during Christmas, how did that work out?” Or “You told me that your company is planning to expand into Central America, how are those plans coming along?”
What we are saying is that you need to find reasons, ways and excuses, to continue the conversation. The Human Connection is critically important in developing a genuine connection with the perspective client, do not rely on your firm’s newsletter or other communications sfrom your firm’s marketing department. These follow-up communications must come from you. We hear continuously from clients “We hire lawyers, not law firms.” Build the relationship because it is you they will want to hire.
Lack of Preparation. Clients like law firms that know about their company and their industry. If you are going to a meeting with a potential client, you must be as well prepared as humanly possible with knowledge of their industry and specifically of their company. Too many lawyers have their own presentations polished to a fine edge, but they fail to dazzle the potential client with their knowledge of the issues facing their industry and that they know as much as is possible for an outsider to know about their company.
Thinking about the perspective client on the drive over to their office is not sufficient. To have an effective meeting means being well-prepared in every way. This includes researching the company, the person, the opportunity and the competition, among many other things.
This also applies to when your law firm holds a breakfast or luncheon seminar for potential clients. You must know who will be sitting at your table and all about their companies. We go back to our 80/20 rule. Nothing will impress a potential client more than if you ask intelligent questions which demonstrate your laser-like knowledge of their company and its competitive environment. Do your homework!
Lack of Messaging: A brand consists of all the intangibles someone gets when they buy a product or hire a law firm. Czn you clearly articulate your law firm’s brand? One of the goals of your preparation is to anticipate concerns or inquiries that might come up in the meeting. What objections might prospects have to hiring you? What questions might they ask about the firm or your experience? For example, a prospective client might ask you how your firm differs from the competition. Can you answer this question: “Why is your law firm my best choice?” If you do not think you are their best option, how can you convince them of this fact?
Taking Too Much Sales Materials: A few years ago, the San Francisco Bar Association asked Jeffrey to cover a conference in Silicon Valley as a reporter. The topic was “What do you look for in your outside counsel.” There was a panel of six in-house lawyers from the top hi-tech companies in Silicon Valley and there were 50 or 60 marketers from Bay Area law firms. One marketer asked the panel, “How much weight do you place on the written material that a lawyer leaves behind after a pitch session?” They all answered, “We don’t read that stuff, we throw it out immediately.” Inasmuch as the raison d’être of those legal marketers is to write that sales material, they were horrified at this answer.
If you do a good job in the business development meeting, you will learn a lot more about the person and the opportunity facing you; as a result, subsequent sales materials can be more targeted, more focused and far more effective than a thick folder of generic material.
Discussing Fees and Discounts Too Early. Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State in the 1960’s and 70’s was a world-champion negotiator because his philosophy was to not bring up anything that did not have to be discussed at that moment. Leave various points to be negotiated in the future. In your case, let the other person first wrap his or her mind around the idea that they will hire you. Then, in a future meeting, they are likely to accept your proposed fee, even if it is higher than they originally contemplated,
If the prospect doesn’t specifically ask about your fees, don’t bring it up. In any negotiation, the first one to mention a number usually does not do as well in the final deal as the other more patient party.
Similarly, do not be the first one to mention any discounts. We know it’s a competitive market out there, but lawyers are often too quick to offer pricing concessions. Ultimately, you should be trying to increase the perceived value of your services, experience and the value you bring to the client. By conceding to quickly to a discounting, you are in effect saying that not even you think you are worth your fee. This will even cause the client to re-think hiring you because if you don’t seem to have enough confidence in your own value proposition, why should they?
Conclusion: The rate at which you bring new clients into the firm will increase in direct proportion to the extent you incorporate these concepts into your individual marketing activities.