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How many times have you ended a call with someone you’re trying to cultivate as a prospect with them asking you to send materials describing your firm’s capabilities in a broad practice area, e.g., IP litigation?

How many times has an email exchange ended with this same next step?

How many times has sending the requested information resulted in, well, nothing at all? Silence? No reply to your email?

Unless you’re an outlier with an incredible run of good luck, your answer is probably, “Almost always.”

Information about your firm, practice capabilities, and lawyers won’t advance any sale. (I’m not referring to narrow requests for specific information that relate to an engagement for which you’re being considered.)

Why do they request this info?

Theoretically, there’s a spectrum of motivations, from “I really, really want to know about your capabilities” at the positive pole, to “This is a polite way of ending the call or email exchange and getting rid of you” at the negative pole.

I say “theoretically” because I’ll guess that, for most of us, our experience would have us bet money on the negative. After all, if someone wants to view your firm’s or your general credentials, they don’t have to wait for you to send it. Every law firm and lawyer posts that information publicly on their website and LinkedIn page.

Asking for information is a time-honored way for buyers to end a sales conversation without making any commitments, and without being harsh. It gives the seller a task that allows him to maintain the illusion that he’s making progress in the sale.

Then what?

So, you dutifully compile and share a bunch of information that makes the case that your firm and you have the experience and expertise under discussion. However, because you have no idea what the buyer intends to do with it, you don’t know exactly what to send. So, you send anything and everything that supports your contention in any way at all. The resulting volume of words makes the email so long that the odds of anyone reading it go way down.

Even if, somehow, this Suspect is a reader, and actually consumes all the information you supply, you’re still at a dead end. Having digested all that, why would they perceive a need to speak with you? They have good reason to believe that you’ve told them everything. You’re on the outside looking in, waiting for them to recontact you. Or, you’re wracking your brain for some clever way to ask where things stand without, well, asking where things stand.

What to do instead

Your self-interest requires you to learn whether or not this is a legitimate opportunity or a gentle brush-off. If the former, you need to tighten it up and define useful next steps. If the latter, you need to disinvest and spend your time and attention finding a real opportunity. Try this.

“Thanks for your interest. As you know, this is a sweet spot for us, so there’s potentially more information than anyone would want to slog through, or would have time to. Please help me understand how you’ll use the information so I can send you only what’s most relevant to your purpose.”

If the answer is vague, e.g., “Oh, don’t worry about that. Just give us a general idea of your experience in this area,” doesn’t that sound like a brushoff? After all, of what practical use is general information about anything?

If the answer is more like, “We’re particularly interested in your experience solving Problem X, for companies in our industry, in the post-GDPR world,” you’re more likely looking at legitimate consideration. Still, you want to follow that up with a) assurance that what you send will confirm your bona fides with that specific issue, and b) asking how their becoming convinced that it’s your sweet spot will factor into their selection of counsel. After all, you know your firm isn’t the only one for whom this is a legitimate strength.

Next steps: What and When

No matter what happens, your final two questions in any meeting or call are always:

  1. What do you see as sensible next steps?

  2. When does it make sense for us to reconnect?

If you have a “what” and a “when,” you can put that in your calendar, take it out of your head, and move on. If they won’t give you a “when,” even a rough estimate like “a month or so,” this probably isn’t anything you want to list in your sales pipeline. It’s just not ripe. It might become pipeline-worthy later, but it’s not now.

Mike O’Horo

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