Recently, a lawyer who "had been given the chance to meet with my dream client" asked for help preparing for that meeting. He allowed that "they're not adding any new panel counsel yet, but I was still given the opportunity to meet with the decision maker."
Many of you may have experienced this lawyer's elation at gaining an audience with a coveted prospect. You may also have experienced disappointment when nothing came of it. Before accepting and preparing for the meeting, consider closely the two important terms he used:
- Dream Client
What qualifies this company as your "dream client"?
- Are they in the center of your sweet spot? (Do you know what your sweet spot is?)
- Have you previously considered and defined the criteria for this superlative, and developed an objective profile that allows you actively to identify and pursue companies that match it?
- Does this meeting represent the breakthrough payoff of months or years of investing in positioning yourself within that industry/company/problem profile?
If so, congratulations. Structure your meeting as suggested below.
Or, does "dream" simply mean you have no clients of this brand-stature now? Many sellers (not just lawyers) allow themselves to be seduced by famous or respected brand names, imagining how nice that name would be to let drop in conversation or have appear on a client list. Before you pursue this, make sure that you have a real reason to want the client.
Assuming that your reasons pass muster, questions emerge:
- What would constitute sufficient reason for that company to add panel counsel?
- Why now?
- Specifically, why should they want you not merely to be on the panel, but actually to represent them?
Being great at what you do is not an answer. For mature legal-service categories, "superb" is rarely required; almost everyone is good enough. You have to bring something unique to the party to stimulate new buying behavior, e.g., adding you to the counsel panel, and then choosing you instead of incumbents when an appropriate matter arises. What is an "appropriate matter" for you? [Read The Case For Targeting and Profiling.]
What decision can this putative "decision-maker" make, alone?
- Can she unilaterally place you on the panel? If not, who else is involved? With so many having a stake in virtually all corporate decisions today, it's rare to find a single person making one.
- If she can place you on the panel on her own authority, can/will she also direct work to you? What’s the rest of the process for getting work from inclusion in that panel?
- Will you be satisfied if you're merely "one of the panel counsel?" It’s more productive to identify and associate yourself with a specific, high-impact business problem that drives demand for your primary service.
If you decide that the meeting is worthwhile for you, make sure it will be for the prospect, too.
If your meeting opportunity came via referral, call or email the referrer and ask
I know Ms. X is busy, so I have to make sure that the meeting will reliably be valuable to her, and make you look good. What outcome would cause her to say to herself, "Despite being really swamped, I'm really glad I took time to meet with that lawyer?"
Most people who refer us know enough about the person being referreds situation to, at minimum, speculate about the answer.
Next, call or email Ms. X, thanking her for the opportunity to meet. Establish the meeting standards:
Thank you for agreeing to see me. I know you're busy, so, in fairness I have to make sure that the meeting will reliably be valuable to you. What outcome would cause you to say to yourself, "Despite being swamped, I'm really glad I took time to meet with that lawyer?"
At the meeting, don't waste any time proving that you're a great lawyer. She already perceives you as sufficiently qualified or she wouldn't have agreed to meet with you. Focus on producing the optimal outcome she described to you.
Prepare yourself for success
Specify your goals for the meeting, in descending order of value. For example:
- Define a small set of specific business problems that have sufficient impact to obligate her to take action soon, if not today
- Learn the identities of, and earn contact with, other stakeholders in those business problems, and understand the nature of their stakes
- Learn how to convert mere panel authorization into preference and selection
Here's a brief framework for your investigation:
- Business problem(s)
- Negative strategic or operational business effects (pain) from each now
- Positive strategic or operational business effects (gain) if each is solved
- Economic impact of successful solution (sets up ROI)
- Positive personal impact on decision stakeholders if solved
Begin by confirming that her optimal meeting outcome hasn't changed since she declared it. Never assume anything. The world is dynamic. What was important yesterday may have been superceded by something else today.
When we scheduled this call, you said that if we accomplished [her optimal meeting outcome], you’d consider that a great use of your time and attention. Is that still the most valuable thing we could accomplish today?
Then, make that happen. When you’re done, confirm that she got what she hoped for, and don’t forget to ask about next steps. Unless there’s a second date, the first date was wasted.