The biggest business development obstacle lawyers face is time -- more accurately, the lack of it. That severely limits the number of legitimate sales opportunities you can generate, and the amount of selling you can do. But, what if you had dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people selling for you?
You’ve heard the adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know." That reflected the relationship-centric nature of doing business in a Seller’s market. Now that you’ll face a Buyer’s market for the remainder of your career, it’s past time to upend that longstanding belief. Today it's, "It's not what you know. It's not who you know. It's what knowledge people associate you with."
Why do such a small percentage of lawyers participate in business development? Despite the constant drumbeat since 2008 about declining demand, price pressure, new forms of competition, and a clear pattern of income shifting from those who don’t to those who do, why do so many lawyers effectively remain on the sidelines?
Part of the answer lies in their preferred terminology: “business development,” which is the preferred euphemism for “marketing” and “sales.” Well, actually, they’re OK with “marketing” but “sales” still produces clammy skin and twitching eyelids. Two weeks ago, in The bright line between marketing and sales, I addressed the issue of euphemistic language as an avoidance mechanism.
Take a look at the activity spectrum below. The two comfort-zone triangles converge where Marketing shifts to Selling. Notice that neither Marketers nor lawyers are comfortable there. Lawyers are all in favor of the first three categories -- Planning, Awareness, and Lead-Gen -- because that’s somebody else’s job. They’re OK with Client Development because they think of that as relationship-building. Selling? Yikes! No thanks.
I suspect that much of lawyers’ Sales reticence is based on the outdated belief that selling means engaging in behaviors that they and many of us have experienced as consumers and consider repugnant, or at the very least beneath a lawyer. If sales success actually required you to be pushy, coercive, marginally honest, or any of the other sales stereotypes, lawyers’ reluctance would make perfect sense.
Another factor is the fear of closing. The risk that the big Moment of Truth will result in a “no,” and all their effort will be for naught, and they’ll feel rejected.
However, the good news is that none of those feared things is necessary.
The better news is that buyers prefer an approach that looks very similar to how you interact with your clients, where you’re trying to help them make good decisions that align well with their business needs and career interests:
- Ask astute questions to understand the business problem that’s causing them to need a lawyer
- Elicit from them the strategic-, operational-, and economic impacts of that problem
- Help them decide if any action at all is required (sometimes doing nothing is optimal)
- Develop a picture of the desired outcome
- Explain their solution options and the ramifications of each
- Begin exploring how best to implement the chosen solution
Helping someone figure out what to do. Doesn’t that sound a lot like how you’ve practiced law so successfully all these years? You’re already good at that. That’s your comfort zone. The only comfort zone you have to abandon is the one that has you clinging to outdated beliefs that produce such anxiety.
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Unless you’re helping a prospect inform and make a specific decision about a specific offer, you’re not selling, you’re still marketing. It’s only when you progress to the point where the entire focus is on deciding whether or not to buy that you’re selling. Everything else is marketing. If it’s about your products or services, it’s marketing. You may have some overlap, i.e., where you have to do some ongoing solution discussion during the sale, but the important point is recognizing that if you’re not talking about a decision, you’re not selling yet, which means you’re not getting closer to getting business.
There’s nothing more frustrating than learning that a prospect or client who knows you well has hired someone else for work that’s in your sweet spot. Or, you see a conference promotion where others are speaking about a topic about which you’re known to be an acknowledged expert. How does this happen?
Many lawyers are uncomfortable with the idea of selling because their perceptions of salespeople are colored by lifelong exposure to the undesirable behaviors and attitudes of amateurs they encounter as consumers of various products and services. Here are four key differences between the amateur salesperson and the professional.
For many lawyers, the thought of business development is the very bane of their existence. Even the most "gifted" rainmakers occasionally experience a sense of "Oh, my gosh, another year, another mountain to climb." As the legal business becomes more fiercely competitive, it can be daunting--and darn right discouraging--to face the challenge of meeting and exceeding 2017's business goals.
There's hope, provided you're realistic.
The past eight years have been tough on lots of lawyers and those who support them. The recession strained finances and kicked off a sea change in client expectations. New categories of competition emerge almost daily. Clients' BigData investments mean they often know much more about your performance than you do. It can feel like a struggle. If you’re feeling lost at sea, here are a few navigation aids that can help you find your course and get back to enjoying your career and your life.
"We have an office in [your town]," implying that this geographic fact has inherent value to a buyer or anyone else listening. What if your prospect were to ask you "So what?" How would you answer? In an age of instant, simultaneous communications, virtual locations and cheap air travel, what specific, compelling business value does physical proximity convey?
Lawyers struggle to negotiate pricing with prospects and clients. Part of this is the product of lawyers’ personalities,. Part is based on the fear that inartful price discussions could cause them to lose the business. However, a large part comes from having a singular focus on money. Besides a price reduction, what else can you offer that your client might accept in lieu of money?