Lawyers pride themselves on their professional detachment, i.e., their ability to remain objective, outside the client's situation, assessing matters dispassionately. Yet, when it comes to business development, they completely abandon this valuable trait.

All the training and coaching I’ve done for 20-odd years (and everything in RainmakerVT) emphasizes the importance of getting a decision, without regard to whether the decision is “yes” or “no.” Another way to understand the what and the why of this is the concept of “Detachment.”

For any type of salesperson, detachment is difficult. We get attached to whether we get an appointment, or whether the prospect buys from us. (Studies of lawyers’ personalities suggest it’s even less natural for lawyers because of their low levels of resilience.)

When you’re attached, you derive self esteem from someone else’s response, so you’ll do whatever it takes to get the outcome that your ego says is right for you--even when your interests are better served by something else.

You need the mindset that “it’s OK if you don’t buy from me” or “it’s OK if you say no.” With that, you’re recognizing that “no” is a possible outcome, and possibly the correct one. Ironically, that gives you a greater degree of control, not only of the process, but of your own emotions. Stop caring whether they do business with you or not. Instead, look to understand their problem, help them solve it, and bring value to the relationship -- before you’re hired.

The key is to engage enough people in enough decision processes. Then, you’re not enslaved by the outcome of any single decision because you have enough people engaged in the activity to make your numbers. (It’s the same principle as diversifying your financial investments.)

Unfortunately, lawyers rarely devote enough time to marketing and sales to reach this threshold. For many, that’s because they really don’t want to, so they avoid it as much as possible. This raises the pressure to get to “yes” with a specific prospect. If you need to have ten prospects in process at any time to reach your goal, and you have only three, you’ll press because you can’t afford not to get at least two of them. By contrast, if you have 20 prospects, you’ll be tremendously detached and much more powerful in how you move those people along because your risk is spread across the larger prospect portfolio. It’s similar to how you view how secure your practice is. If you have 10 clients, losing one is unpleasant, but not the disaster it would be if you had only three clients and lost one.

With a robust pipeline of prospects, you can be much more focused on qualifying the prospect at every step to make sure they still fit your prospect profile. If they don’t, you’re able to detach them from the process.

Let’s say that you’re a corporate lawyer helping startup companies establish their entity and protect their IP. You know if you meet with the founder and her investor you close the business and are able to solve the problem in the best possible way. However, when the investor is absent, things rarely work out well. Let’s suppose you’re in a process where the founder has told you right up front that the investor will not be involved. You know that your odds just dropped by a huge percentage. You now have a choice to make. Do you continue through the process, knowing your odds of closing this will be a fraction of what they could be, or do you create an environment where you force the founder to make a decision and if she doesn’t want the investor involved, you’re not willing to go any further?

In this respect, the founder makes the decision for you. If she won’t include the investor, then you politely but assertively leave the process. Before you say that you wouldn’t do that because there’s still some chance of getting the client, remember that you’ve got an abundance of Suspects out there and you only have time to work with five prospects at once. It’s OK if this one person doesn’t want to do anything. You’re detached, not because you don’t care, but because you only want to help founders who are willing to play by your rules.

When you’re detached from the outcome, the prospect sees your conviction, senses you know what you’re doing, and might change her rules accordingly.

Selling is about consolidating power. You don’t want power over people – only over the process and yourself. If you feel out of control, you’ll be inclined to do things that aren’t in the prospect’s or your best interest. In traditional approaches the prospect knows the one thing you don’t want to hear is “no.” That gives them power because they know you’ll do everything you can to avoid hearing “no.” As a result, the prospect may ask you to do a lot of expertise-sharing and not really want to compensate you for it. They put you through the ringer, make you jump through hoops, etc. because they know that you’re avoiding the “no.” As long as you fear hearing “no,” they own you. Once you tell the prospect that you’re okay with a “no,” you’ve taken away their power over you.

You’re not trying to manage or control people, only the process. You can’t allow yourself to be held hostage to a prospect’s process if it’s in conflict with yours. Right about now, some of you are saying, “but these insurance companies…” or some other reference to a fixed purchasing process. That tells you that it’s time to rethink your market focus. If you’re a slave to a rigid process, this may not be the optimal market for you.

We’ve all gone after clients, who, at first glance, look great. But after getting that client you find that they don’t pay their bills on time, they’re not as bought-in to the solution as you thought, and life becomes a struggle to please the client.

Sales people assume that the best answer is a “yes,” but the best answer may be a “no” -- best for you or best for the prospect. “No” frees you to pursue other, better clients.

When you’re detached you can say the following things:

  • I’m not sure if I can help you.
  • Doesn’t sound like you really need me. Sounds like you have everything under control.
  • If we can’t get the investors involved, I’m not so sure there’s a point in continuing.
  • If you have such a good relationship with your current lawyer, why am I here? (This is a critical question in “beauty contests” where a client purports to be changing firms.)

Don’t become so addicted and enslaved to the desire for a “yes” that you don’t remain faithful to an objective decision process.

Detachment -- and the high-integrity sales investigation that results from it -- motivates prospects to cooperate and be candid. Once they realize you’re not trying to engineer a “yes,” but are truly trying to help them reach the decision that’s best for them, they recognize that you both want the same thing, and that they’re more likely to accomplish that by cooperating than by holding you at arm’s length.

Best of all, you’ll escape that sense of pressure that paralyzes and drains you.

Mike O’Horo

To understand the economic impact of detachment, i.e., focusing on getting a decision (without regard to outcome), download our free eBook, “The Blind Spot that Prevents Lawyers from Doubling Their Income.”