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It’s not for the old-school reasons most lawyers (and others) assume, but for much simpler human reasons that are easier to fix.

In a post many years ago on the Corporate Lawyer Group within LinkedIn, a coach challenged lawyers to dump the excuse-making when business slows, and look to themselves.

Good advice, and she cited seven no-hire reasons from Sara Holtz:

  1. You don't know your market

  2. Your market doesn't know you

  3. Your market doesn't know what you do

  4. Prospects don't like you enough

  5. You haven't established enough trust

  6. Prospects don't know you want their business

  7. Prospects don't have any business to give you

Ms. Holtz’s points are a good wake-up call for lawyers. While I agree with numbers 1-4, and the idea behind #5, there is also much here that I find very old-school (Ms. Holtz’s content appears indented in italics):

3. Your market doesn’t know what you do.

Educate your market about the full spectrum of your services.

Develop a good speech highlighting results you’ve achieved for your clients. Write an article on an area of expertise and circulate it.

The problem description is true but irrelevant. Your market doesn't know what you do because it has no reason to care what you do. Their interest in what you do is limited to what “what you do” does for them.

Those in your market care about their problems, challenges and opportunities. To the degree that what they learn about you causes them to conclude that you’re relevant to their self-interest, they may choose to pay attention to you and permit you continued contact with them.

5. You haven’t established enough trust.

Trust has to be earned, so ask to be referred by someone with whom the prospect has established a trusting relationship.

Build your credibility by letting your referral sources know the types of matters you have handled in the past, the expertise you have acquired, and the successes you have achieved.

This logic makes no sense. How does asking someone to refer you earn trust? You’re borrowing the trust earned by the referrer, but you’re not earning any of your own. Unfortunately, even when we try to be artful about it, most requests for referral take the form of, “Hey, can you introduce me to Trish Wilson? I’d really like to get some business from her.” Most referral sources are reluctant to subject their contacts to somebody’s pitch for business.

The real problem is that this advice makes it all about you. Simply, it can never be about you. You can’t build credibility by talking about yourself. It’s about potential buyers’ self-interest. Trust is not based on your credentials, but on your perceived relevance, usefulness, and commitment.

A more disciplined method is to use an investigative approach:

  • Learn about a meaningful problem or challenge that reliably affects people in the same class or group as the person you’d like to meet, e.g., an industry;

  • Describe to the potential referrer how people like their friend or colleague tend to be negatively affected by it;

  • Explain that you’re trying to understand it better; and

  • Ask if they think their friend would be willing to speak with you by phone for 20 minutes to share their informed views about it.

Most referrers will recognize:

  • the legitimacy of your topic,

  • that most experts are willing to share their knowledge, and

  • that 20 minutes on the phone is a modest investment to request.  

More importantly, if they perceive that their friend may have a problem, they want to help. If what you describe sounds like it's likely a meaningful problem, they'll anticipate that their friend will be receptive to the call, and may even thank them for connecting them with someone knowledgeable about it but is also respectful of the greater knowledge of those who live with it daily.

As entrepreneurs who approach investors have learned: If you ask for money, you'll get advice. If you ask for advice, you'll get money. In this case, asking for business is asking for money; you’ll get advice. If you ask for advice, you’ll gain an audience that begins a relationship that may just be a path to earn money.

The old-school “ask for referrals” approach creates debts

You owe the person who introduced you and you owe the person who agreed to take your call because someone they respect requested it. They’re meeting with you only because of the trusted request. They don’t really expect to get anything out of it. On the contrary, they may expect to endure a sales pitch.

With the investigative approach, your credible topic makes the referrer look good, and your knowledgeable discussion with the referred yields greater insight for both of you. Three winners. Your referrer may even feel that he owes you a little for making him look good.

6. Prospects don’t know you want their business.

Too often, busy lawyers share their “busy-ness” with their clients or prospects by telling them how overwhelmed they are. Potential clients interpret this as not wanting more business.

Solution: stop talking about how busy you are and ask for business!

While I agree that lawyers have to stop mentioning how busy they are, asking for business is begging; it diminishes you. Marketing 101 says, “Find a problem and solve it.” Start with the buyer’s problem, explore its impact with them and, if it proves significant enough that they conclude that they must take action, help them take that action. You’ll never have to ask for business again.

7. Prospects don’t have any business to give you.

Lawyers often interpret not being hired by a prospect as rejection. More likely, it is because they don’t have appropriate work to send your way.

Stay on their radar screens. When they do have business, you’ll likely be top of mind.

I don’t know what this purports to be based on. Just because you don’t get hired means they have no business to give you? That seems both facile and spurious. There is no such thing as business to give you or anyone else. Clients are not in the giving-lawyers-work business. They’re in the accomplishing-their-goals business. A company with no unresolved problems, challenges or unrealized opportunities hasn’t been founded yet.

More likely, you haven’t been hired because

  • you’re trying to get a share of existing work already allocated to satisfactory lawyers, for which there is little reason for the client to switch or add another law firm to manage; or

  • you’re selling against a problem whose impact is perceived by the client as marginal or unknown, which means it’s not possible to get a decision, even “no.” People only make the decisions they have to make.

Earn your way up the Impact Ladder: Relevance – Usefulness – Value – Indispensability.

Mike O’Horo

Law firm leaders: Did you know that your peers estimate that, no matter how you choose your participants, 80% of the money you invest in business development training and coaching is wasted on lawyers who aren't serious about learning BD skills? After 25 years of trying, I've finally figured out how to identify the 20% who are you best bets. 

Equally important: The cost is trivial, and it adds no management burden to your plate. 

Watch this 30-second video that explains how we produce this magic. Scroll through the site, then use my calendar, below, to schedule a call with me to discuss your situation.

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