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Lawyers are hard-wired to be precise in their written and spoken expression, and while practicing law they honor that precision rigorously. However, when it comes to interacting with their market, let’s just say their language discipline loses a lot of its rigor.

Here are some common examples I encounter with too great a frequency in my coaching conversations, with suggested alternatives.

Value clichés

Of course you're "committed to excellence." Certainly you have "a tradition of quality service." You're "responsive," "proactive," and "cost-effective."

Really? You, too? Yawn.

As a buyer, when you hear that story, does it resonate? Do you trust the message?

You don't listen to sales clichés. Your prospects and clients won't, either. Avoid lazy, trite expressions that saddle you with lowest-common-denominator baggage.

Instead, speak in terms of the outcome that your clients achieve with your help. That’s all the person you’re speaking with or writing to cares about. So, let’s get specific and turn these cliches into something useful.

“We’re committed to excellence.” Excellence at what? Does that mean you look around the proverbial bend for clients, to make sure that you’ve anticipated potential risks, threats, issues?

What does “quality service” mean to your clients? If I chatted with one of your clients at an airport bar during a layover and asked about you, how would they answer? (If you don’t know, consider having someone interview them and ask them.)

And so on with these other trite expressions. Make them real. Think of an answer that a prospect or client can visualize. Can you visualize "responsiveness"? Or "proactivity" or "cost-effectiveness"? If they can’t visualize it, it’s not real, and has no motivating power.

Remove the word "hope" from your vocabulary

Hope is a nice enough word, but it shouldn't be used in sales. Telling a prospect any of these things is bad tactics:

  • You "hope" the materials you attached answer his questions
  • You "hope" to meet with him soon
  • You "hope" everything is to her satisfaction.

Instead, be confident, if not convicted. If you didn't believe that your materials would answer his questions, you wouldn't have sent them. Say, "The enclosed material will demonstrate how we keep you on the right side of the risk line, while still exploiting your opportunity" and "I’ll call you to arrange a mutually convenient meeting." If you're not certain about satisfaction, you'd better ask.

The only reason you have to hope is because you haven’t taken steps to remove the need for hope.

Get rid of the word "client," too

This one may seem picky, but it has a lot to do with your mindset, which influences your actions.

It's very easy to allow an entitlement mindset to encroach on your attitude, particularly with your best clients. Your client was your client -- for the just-concluded engagement. That’s it. At the end of the engagement, she’s no longer a client. For any future engagements, she’s a Suspect, i.e., not even a Prospect yet. Treat her as such.

If you view everyone as Suspects and Prospects, you'll never risk taking long-time “clients” for granted, you'll be more alert for additional needs (add-on selling, cross-selling) and you'll make it tougher for competitors to gain a foothold because you'll stay up-to-date on important developments within the client’s industry and company.

(If you’re not clear about the difference between Suspects and Prospects, this will help.)

“I’m so busy!”

Think about this common exchange when you run into someone you know. After you get past “Hello,” it sounds something like this:

Them: “So, how’s it going? What have you been up to lately?”

You: “I haven’t been doing much of anything but working non-stop. We’ve been swamped. It’s a good problem, but it’d be great to catch my breath a bit, too.”

Oh, you poor thing.

We do this without thinking, perhaps in an attempt to create rapport with the other busy professional, maybe something along the lines of a shared burden. Think for a moment, though. How likely is that person to hire you, or refer someone to you? Who would knowingly choose someone may not be able to give their problem much time or attention, or refer someone who needs help into that situation?

Instead, consider something that does a better job balancing “I’m busy enough for you to view me as successful” with “I’m legitimately available.”

Them: “So, how’s it going? What have you been up to lately?”

You: “Happily, we’ve been very busy working on a number of really challenging [cases, transactions], but I’ve got great people on my team, and we leverage technology, so we’re able make sure we’ve got time for the next great client.”

Treat your marketing and sales language with the same care you treat your practice language -- but friendlier.

Mike O'Horo