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What keeps good salespeople from achieving better results has little to do with techniques or the service you sell. You must spot the "sales killers," i.e., actions and attitudes that result in dead deals, wasted time, discouragement and making excuses for unacceptable performance. 

Knowing What the Prospect Will Buy (or Won’t): This is a particular problem for senior lawyers, who tend to "know" what a prospect will or will not buy, and from whom.  They may also focus on only the most visible and obvious of corporate needs.  

Many also attribute near-totality to the breadth and depth of competitors' relationships with desirable prospects, saying, "Everyone knows that the firm Dominant, Bulletproof & Invulnerable does all MegaCorp's work." Yet studies of large firms' Top 100 clients show that, on average

  • DB&I sells as few as 3-4 of their 20-odd services to their BEST clients;
  • MegaCorp uses as many as 60 law firms and is approached by another 120 each year; and
  • DB&I's percentage of the budget for services they do sell to MegaCorp is far below "dominant."

Don't forfeit the battle before it is begun. When you meet corporate officers, tee up emerging industry issues as a mechanism to probe for unmet or under-served needs that derive from that issue. If nothing else, you'll force your competitors to expend some of their limited time and budget defending their turf rather than attacking yours. (By the way, these same studies suggest that you similarly overrate the strength of your position with your best clients, too.)

Not Knowing the Buyer’s Business: Another "sales killer" is the failure to learn the buyer's business. Prospects' ears are tuned to pick up a salesperson's grasp of their businesses. No grasp, no sale. Research cited in the ABA Journal Report shows that corporate legal service purchasers consider industry- or business knowledge the most important thing you bring to the table.

Relationships are important, but a personal relationship without a personal understanding of the client's business equals no relevance and, therefore, no sale. If you doubt that, think about how many lawyers in your firm seem to have personal relationships with a lot of executives, but bring in little business. Or, think of your own circle, and how many times you've wondered why your executive neighbor or golf partner doesn't use your firm or you.

Maybe you're not perceived as someone who understands the business for which you seek to be an advisor. Before you can be valuable, you must first be relevant and useful. If you don't understand the business, you're neither.

Narrow Selection: A problem that affects many is selecting prospects for the wrong reasons. We seek out, and are drawn to, prospects that are like us. This is where we spend our time, calling it "relationship building." Don't be deluded into believing that the best prospects are those who are like you or whom you happen to like. The prospect as a person is important, but the prospect as a client is far more crucial to successful selling. Ask yourself: Is it the potential business or feeling comfortable that drives my investment in this prospect?

Failure to Define “Next Steps”: One of the most widespread and costly mistakes lawyers make is not knowing where they stand after asking their questions and taking their leave. This comes about because they don't directly ask the prospect where they stand.

Why don't they ask?

Many would rather hear no news and live on false hopes than face a "No, thank you." They would rather support an illusory pipeline (full of "not knowing") than face reality.

The problem is that false hopes and wishes take a lot of time to prop up, leaving little for productive activity. That is a heavy price to pay for not knowing where you stand. But perhaps the greatest penalty of not asking is not finding out what problems or issues prevent this prospect from moving forward.

Remember: While your preference is to get a "yes," your goal is to get a decision. Knowing where you stand lets you decide what kind of continuing investment, if any, this opportunity deserves.

Mike O'Horo

To understand why getting a decision is so important, download our free eBook, No Decision: The Blind Spot That Prevents Lawyers from Doubling Their Income.

Here are some online courses that provide you the "how" to go with the "what" and the "why" we've just shared: