I was about a decade into my professional career in sales – first in professional sports and then in the tech world – before I went to law school. I had always been intrigued by the law; I found the entrepreneurial aspects of it attractive and loved how it played such an integral role in both history and the future. Plus, I am not ashamed to admit that I love courtroom dramas on TV and movies, and fancied myself the next Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.
Most of all, though, I was excited to leave the world of sales and business development behind. I had had enough of sales quotas, and the “only being as good as your last sale” mentality. I was eager and excited to move into a professional place where sales and marketing didn’t matter.
If you are a lawyer with any kind of experience, you know that that sentiment – where I could enter law and leave sales and marketing and business development behind – is quite simply not the case. I discovered quickly that lawyers actually need strong sales and business development skills to perform their jobs effectively – and that nearly all of the really successful lawyers that I know possess these skills in spades. Think about it, whether you are at a big firm trying to land big clients, a solo practitioner trying to get your own business to boom – or everything and anything in between – some level of sales proficiency will undoubtedly contribute to your success.
The problem is – and I have heard it a million times from other lawyers – lawyers typically make the worst sales professionals. While I do not necessarily agree, I can appreciate that the relationship between sales and law is not one that is easy to foster for many lawyers. For me, given my background, that relationship of sales and law feel as natural as can be. And now years after leaving sales for law, I often find myself engaged in both simultaneously. My day job involves running several management-side employment law practice groups. Yes, I practice law, but I also market services, focus on client delivery, am responsible for revenue numbers, and create new and exciting legal offerings. In essence, I am at the nexus (I also loved that word in law school) of sales and law. And I love it.
So how can you learn to also embrace selling and lawyering? Here are four important tips that I think will help broaden those skills.
No. 1: Embrace the fact that you are actually a salesperson.
For those of you out there – and I know that there are a lot – that claim, “I am a lawyer, not a salesperson,” I have new for you: It is possible to be both at the same time. Lawyering is advocacy and representation. It is constructing an argument and crafting a persuasive message. It is making a claim, and then building support. That is selling. The sooner that you are able to embrace that you are indeed a salesperson, the more comfortable they will become with terms like business development and relationship-based selling. That level of comfort will increase your confidence and make you a better lawyer.
No. 2: Think of it as service instead of sales.
If embracing your inner salesperson still seems a bridge too far, focus instead on making sure that you provide your clients with stellar service. I have been a long believer that effective communication and high-quality delivery of your legal expertise to your clients will lead to repeat business and a strong reputation. That kind of credibility will lead to clients reaching out to work with you. Business development is a term of art that can be tricky to define, but it all starts with providing stellar service. Focus on that, and the revenue will follow, I promise – I have seen it over and over again.
No. 3: Always think “value add.”
Often, your best prospects for new clients are the clients that you are already working with. Don’t let opportunities pass you by merely because you fail to mention other legal services that you may be able to offer your current clients. I am certainly not suggesting that you constantly try to push additional services on clients, but if you are holding back too much, consider that you may be doing them a disservice. Your clients come to you for your advice and perspective. If you see an area where they might be able to further benefit from your skills, why not bring it up? This also relates back to #2, in that the more likely you are providing your clients with stellar service, the more likely they are to listen to additional opportunities that you may share.
No. 4: Be willing to play the long game.
Not every sales opportunity will come to fruition overnight. In fact, most of them do not. If a potential opportunity does not go your way right away, do not cut of your connection with the potential client. Instead, stay in touch. Offer referrals. Check back in to see how they are doing. Allow the perspective client to learn about you through your communication and commitment to getting to know them. That way, when another opportunity arises from the same perspective client – and it will – you are well positioned to compete for that business once again.
Obviously, we are only scratching the surface of sales and law, but with these 4 tips, you should at least be able to get into the mindset of how being a sales minded lawyer can work for you instead of against you.