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I wish I had a dollar for every time a lawyer took me aside and said, “I’m a good salesperson, but I could use some tips on closing.” Maybe they’ve read too many “Ten Tips…” articles in airline magazines, but they spend too much time and energy worrying about closing the sale.

They miss an important truth about selling: As in law practice, the secret to a successful outcome is in the preparation—the setup. Whether preparing for battle in the courtroom or the boardroom, lawyers know the importance of preparation, of understanding the substantive issues and the politics and personalities involved.

Poor setup guarantees failure

Yet, when preparing to sell, many seem to suffer from tactical amnesia. They abandon preparation and narrow their focus prematurely on closing. Pros know that, if the setup or preparation is done right, closing is a non-event. Rainmakers seem to sense this intuitively.

Conversely, just as in court, poor preparation and setup guarantee sales failure—no matter how good the closing argument. Rushing to judgment in the courtroom often means a negative verdict.  It is likewise in selling.

When lawyers call me at the 11th hour for help saving an endangered sale, I have them describe each discussion from Day One of the opportunity. Invariably, the “closing problem” turns out to be a breakdown in preparation: an important question wasn’t asked or answered, or a vague answer accepted. It’s always something they already knew how to do—but didn’t.

The scary Moment of Truth

OK, so how should it work instead?  

Contrary to popular fears, closing is neither coercing the unconvinced or the unwilling into doing what we want them to do, nor does it occur at a decision point.

Reluctance to close arises from the perception that it is the Moment of Truth when the prospect decides to accept or reject the sales proposition. This is risky: If the prospect says “No,” our effort was wasted.  No wonder untrained salespeople devise so many ways to avoid closing.

The “big decision” is unnecessary

Ironically, the feared Big Decision is rendered unnecessary by a series of small decisions, i.e., gaining agreement and confirmation as each aspect of the buyer’s self-interest is clarified, as a trial lawyer does when examining a witness.

A professional salesperson “closes” only in the sense that, having gotten the prospect to articulate his enlightened self-interest, the salesperson then “concludes” along with the prospect, what is now mutually obvious—the sensible course is to act. A lawyer makes a closing argument or statement only after facilitating witness statements that support his interpretation of the facts.

“Lawyering” skills = selling skills

Even in the simplified Primer on Professional Selling below, you can see that selling draws on the skills that made you a successful lawyer, and that closing is merely the wrap-up after agreeing on the validity of a course of action.

Watch successful rainmakers.  They simply ask the client if it makes sense to deliver the relevant documents so the firm can begin working on the new matter.  There is no need to make closing a separate event. It’s merely a confirmation of the agreement already reached.

Closing is an important part of the selling process, just as making the summation or final argument is in the law. But, as in the law, any argument will fail without careful and thoughtful preparation. In today’s highly competitive legal marketplace, what lawyer can afford to squander even one selling opportunity?

A Brief Primer on Professional Selling


  • Understand the conditions under which your service can be of help to the prospective client. Know what evidence you need to get the prospect to conclude that 1) he has a problem, and 2) he might need you or your firm in particular.

  • Confirm that the suspected conditions apply and that the need is one that you or your firm can fulfill.

  • Identify and develop relationships with each person in that organization who influences the purchase of legal services. Figure out the buying Sponsorship group—the critical mass of influencers who, collectively, have the authority to release funds for legal services, and the logical Champion within that group who, for his or her own reasons, wants to advance this sale to a decision.

  • Find out how important the underlying problem is to each of these influencers, the value of solving it, and the cost of doing nothing.

  • Determine what result the organization wants and how each influencer will personally benefit from solving this problem.

  • Differentiate yourself from competitors by showing a unique value obtainable only from your firm.

  • Confirm that each influencer favors your solution as the most sensible means of obtaining the necessary results, and that the value offered is sufficiently attractive relative to cost.

  • “Close” by merely confirming the details of implementation.