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…it’s about setting the spec.” So says Seth Godin in a guest post on Tom Peters’ blog, in which Seth mused on the definition of excellence.

Excellence means that you’re indispensable. At least right now, in this moment, there’s no one else I would choose but you. You, the excellent one, are so surprising, so delightful, so over-the-top and, yes, so human that there really isn’t anyone else I’d rather dance with.

The “in the moment” nature of excellence makes it a moving target. JetBlue was excellent, for a while, but then others started catching up and new management started slowing down. Suddenly, it wasn’t a JetBlue flight any more, it was just a flight. Easy to switch to Virgin Atlantic or someone else.

Excellence isn’t about meeting the spec, it’s about setting the spec. It defines what the consumer sees as quality right this minute, and tomorrow, if you’re good, you’ll reset that expectation again.

However you characterize the many changes occurring in lawyers’ relationships with their clients, it’s fair to say that, for the price that for decades clients paid for “good,” they now demand “excellent.”

Some see this as a de facto price decrease. I’ll grant the simple math but argue that a premium price is still available to those who redefine excellence in a way that causes clients to say, “Wow! We had no idea it could be that much better. This is definitely worth extra.”

A gratifying number of law firms each year define my flavor of just-in-time, hands-on personalized sales coaching as excellence, and hired me. Over time, competitors recognized the value of such coaching and offered it, too.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, over time it also creates a very large, heavily-populated, undifferentiated super-category, in this case, “sales coaching.” When that happens, there is no leadership position available for anyone; to buyers, everyone is average, at least before they hire you and you work what you think is your unique magic.

Who wants to be average-by-association? How boring is that?

So, I took a break from personalized sales coaching in 2009 and investigated areas of dazzling innovation. It recharged me and, along the way, I recognized a potential new form of excellence: scalability and affordability.

Law firms can no longer limit availability of business development training to their most senior, or influential, partners. Such skills are now as mission-critical as legal skills, and must be cultivated throughout the firm. As pointed out in a post here last week, even if firms had somehow allocated the massive budget it would take to coach all their lawyers individually, there aren’t enough qualified coaches to do it.

Such budgets didn’t materialize then, and they sure can’t happen now. Like their clients, law firms are price-sensitive these days and likely will remain so for some time to come; perhaps forever.

Using human coaches to train all 600,000 private-practice U.S. lawyers is not only completely beyond the industry’s capability, but it's guaranteed to fail because instructor-led training is inferior to technology-based training in all 14 learning metrics recognized worldwide. That will take scalable, affordable technology that allows such an engaging user experience that lawyers will continue the training and practice long enough to develop virtual experience, and real skill.

So far, lawyers' comments in feedback interviews suggest that we’ve hit that high mark. They experience RainmakerVT, our interactive virtual training service, as excellent (and, ironically, sufficiently human). 

Mike O'Horo


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