Selling is a learned skill, which means anyone can become good at it if they commit to it. Like any other skill, some will have less difficulty than others learning it, but anyone can learn. Cultivating the following traits and mindsets will accelerate your learning curve and raise the ceiling on how good you can become.
Here is what a Harvard Business School study identified as the common traits of top salespeople:
- Don't take "no" personally. This is more difficult for lawyers, who tend to score in the 30th percentile for "resilience," i.e., the ability to recover from setbacks or bounce back from disappointment. If you sell the right way, a negative decision will never be about you; it will be about the truth revealed by the high-integrity investigation you conducted. That should make it easier not to take it personally.
- High levels of self-confidence prevent disappointment from becoming devastation. This relates to the resilience factor, but shouldn't be necessary. If you're honestly trying to help the buyer make the best-informed decision for her, you don't need confidence because, recognizing that you're focused solely on what's good for her, she'll be cooperating with you.
- 100% acceptance of responsibility for results. They don't blame the economy, the competition or their firm for dips in sales. The worse things were, the harder they work to make negatives work to their advantage.
- Above average ambition and desire to succeed. This affects priorities and how they spend their time on and off the job, with whom they associate, etc. This is where lawyers can make the greatest improvement even before they acquire reliable skills. Too often, business development is the last item on a list that too few lawyers ever get to the end of, so BD loses out.
- High levels of empathy, which is the ability to put themselves in the client's shoes, imagine needs and concerns and respond appropriately. Those of you who pride yourself on your skill at developing personal relationships should take steps to make yourself more aware of whatever enables you to do this, so you can do it in a conscious, focused effort.
- Intensely goal-oriented. Always knowing what they're going after and how much progress they're making keeps distractions from sidetracking them. If you struggle with BD, forget about grand outcome goals and declare what you'll accomplish this week. Not what you'll do, but what you'll accomplish. Be outcome-oriented rather than activity-oriented. When you define the outcome, the activities become obvious. Arbitrary goals are counter-productive. They're not real, so they have no credibility with you, and can easily set you up for discouragement. Define what achieving your goals will do for you, professionally, financially, and how it will affect the areas of your life that are most important to you.
- Above-average will power, determination, self-discipline. No matter how tempted they were to give up, they persist toward goals. This also relates to lawyers' low resilience, and is therefore the second most opportune area. If your BD efforts are sporadic, episodic and easily distracted, your goal. If you've defined real goals that matter to you for concrete reasons, this will be easier.
- Impeccably honest with themselves and clients. No matter what the temptation to fudge, these winners resisted and gained ongoing client trust. Of all the traits listed, this is where lawyers are best prepared and most naturally suited. Call me Pollyanna, but in the 25 years I've been doing this, I don't recall working with a single lawyer who seemed likely to cut corners or shortchange their clients.
- Ability to approach strangers even when it's uncomfortable. I accept Harvard's data, but I think it's very easy to eliminate the discomfort in approaching strangers, which would make this trait unnecessary. The reason we're uncomfortable approaching strangers is because we fear we won't be received well. That's a byproduct of predicating doing business together on first having a personal relationship. Instinctively, we know that only a small percentage of people are likely to become our friends. A much easier approach is to focus on relevance. If you know a lot about capitalizing or financing startups companies, and you're interested in the views of someone who has done that, or is now trying to, there shouldn't be any discomfort in asking someone to express their opinion on a topic. People love being asked their opinion;
Selling takes concentration and focus. And clarity of purpose. How do you rate yourself? What should you be doing to help yourself?
The critical, and enabling, question is "How important is it, really, for you to bring in $_______ more business?" Until you have a satisfactory "why," you'll just be going through the motions occasionally, hoping for the best.