There are no natural marketers or salespeople, only disciplined, committed people who put forth concentrated effort – and sustain it. You may be thinking, “Sure, I can see how that’s true of medicine or law or rocket science…but selling? Please!” This attitude seems rooted in the 20-year legal service boom that The American Lawyer called "the law firm Golden Era."
Under those conditions, selling was a pretty simple matter requiring pretty simple skills, as is the case in any industry when demand is high and there's plenty of business for everyone.
However, as your selling environment changes, so must your skills and approach. In the fiercely competitive market now referred to as "the new normal," selling is a complex matter requiring sophisticated skills. It now legitimately requires the kind of “deliberate practice, coaching and time investment” that research defines as prerequisite for expert status and elite performance in any field. The simplest way to approach that is by directly correlating selling to “lawyering.”
According to the thousands of lawyers I've coached, “lawyering” means:
- No premature solution advice
- Ask probing questions to understand the problem to be solved, the situation, and the people involved
- Explore current consequences: a) Strategic/Operational; b) Economic; c) Emotional
- Alert your client to additional issues/concerns based on your experience with such businesses and problems
- Confirm that the client and you have achieved a shared understanding of the problem
- Describe the client's solution options and the ramifications of each
- Based on your shared understanding of what seems best suited to the situation and client, advocate a category of solution, and the reasons why it seems the best fit
- Ask your client if she agrees with your analysis and advice
- Ask your client what she sees as sensible next steps re: solution action
- Agree on the timing and method of those next steps
The good news: This is also our definition of professional selling. Just as “lawyering” is the skilled process of managing complex decisions, so is selling.
The better news: You don’t need new or additional skills. You merely need practice, coaching and time to apply your “lawyering” skills to getting new business.
One less recognizable effect of the Golden Era is that legal service demand was explicit, i.e., companies were actively seeking legal services, and expressing that demand in legal service language and terminology. Opportunity was obvious, and lawyers had the luxury of waiting until the conversation sounded like they sound. They were able to insert themselves into the conversation at the moment of purchase. Now, if lawyers wait until the moment of purchase, they're too late; they'll position themselves as mere vendors of a fungible task-based service.
Smart lawyers realize that demand now is less explicit, that the real selling conversation is about the business problem from which legal service demand emerges. That discussion occurs much earlier in the decision cycle, i.e., while the prospect is thinking through the problem, and it's continuously evolving. The language has shifted, too, not only because of the change in timing, but because the conversation now extends beyond the legal department and includes different classes of stakeholders who don't speak "legal matter."
The best news: The "better news" above still applies, i.e., the only skills you need are your "lawyering" skills. While you don't have to add new skills per se, you do have to
- learn how to apply those lawyering skills to the business conversation;
- develop a more sophisticated eye and ear for opportunity, i.e., be able to recognize it in its causal stage; and
- become knowledgeable about your clients' and prospects' businesses so you'll be welcome in the business conversation from which legal service demand arises.
The middle bullet above is where your fastest return will occur. Lawyers don't recognize how many seemingly inocuous situations they can actually influence. Next week, we'll tackle a few of those.
To refine your "opportunity eyes and ears," subscribe to Training Triggers, which alert you to situations and challenges you encounter commonly, yet may not have known you could influence at all, much less to the degree that's actually possible. Training Triggers also points you to proven, affordable, tactical training that will teach you how to exploit those opportunities or overcome the obstacles.