How many times have we heard “I went to law school to learn to be a lawyer, not to work in sales?”
Overwhelmingly, most lawyers do not understand that when they are in private practice (i.e. working in a law firm), they are a business owner who must attract new clients to build a profitable business. Law schools and most law firms never mention, much less provide, business development training, to teach basic relational sales skills. Understanding and even mastering the art of closing a sale is a non-negotiable part of the process.
Considering that most law schools do not adequately indoctrinate lawyers to engage in the business of law (including sales), it is not surprising why the fear of asking for business is a perceived stumbling block for many lawyers.
Below are some of the most common concerns clients have shared in the business development and sales training programs we have conducted over the years as to why they do not directly ask for business.
Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.
1. Lawyers are unsure how to go about asking for business.
Given the lack of professional training of how to actually ask for new business, most lawyers are very uncomfortable having those conversations. When they understand that asking the actual question is based upon a prospect’s perceived need, lawyers do much better when they have a practical approach of “getting to ‘yes’”. One of the keys is to have statements, open-ended questions, and responses to obstacles at the ready.
2. Fear of Rejection.
No one wants to be turned down, though, which is why I advise clients to separate a “no” from a personal rejection. Often, when a prospect says no, they actually mean “not now” or they do not understand how your services will help them solve and/or prevent a problem. Lawyers’ must understand deeply the prospects’ needs and be prepared to clearly describe the value of his/her services to discern whether he/she is a good fit.
3. Fear of Prospects’ Negative Perceptions.
How many times have we heard “I don’t want to seem pushy”, “I don’t want to seem like an ambulance driver”, from colleagues when speaking of sales situations? The fact is lawyers’ fears of negative perceptions will be reduced proportionately to how much he/she learns and prepares to ask for new business. Asking for business is just not something a lawyer can easily “wing” and still present a professional approach.
Certainly, lawyers may have friends and family who have small matters they can handle, but systemically, there needs to be a learned approach to understanding prospects’ issues and having a full understanding of your firm’s range of services.
4. “How do I do this again?”
This is a different fear than the discomfort of asking for business. Lawyers genuinely do not know the words to use to lead to a “close”. One of the most effective techniques we use in our training programs is the art of the sales conversation. The sales process becomes decidedly easier and more comfortable when lawyers dissect and clearly understand what needs to happen to lead the prospect to “yes”. When lawyers understand the buyers’ journey and how to actually have a sales conversation, the fear usually dissipates.
Closing is an important part of the selling process just as presenting a closing argument is in the courtroom. Any successful litigator knows that any argument will fail without careful and thoughtful preparation and the same applies in closing a sale.
5. Timing Concerns.
It is a sign of a professional to clarify upfront the time required for a sales conversation as well as to understand the prospects’ purchasing process and the key decision makers.
While you do not want to “spring” the final “let’s do business” question on any prospect, the most productive sales conversations will include a series of open-ended questions (those which cannot be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’) to understand the prospects’ specific needs, the cost of doing nothing, and whether your services are the best fit. The “big close” is effectively avoided by asking for a series of smaller decisions, i.e., gaining confirmation as each point is established.
When preparing for a sales conversation, many lawyers suffer a strategic and tactical lapse, abandoning preparation and focusing instead on closing. Professional salespeople know that if the preparation is done properly, the closing is a non-event. Successful rainmakers know that they cannot rush the process.
Equally, poor preparation guarantees failure in sales results just as in the courtroom regardless of how good the closing argument. Rushing “the ask” often results in a negative response. Take your time to actively listen to your prospect, her needs, challenges, concerns, etc. so that you are in a stronger position to offer help with a more assured understanding of needs and expectations.
6. Fear of Overcoming Obstacles.
When lawyers are prepared, it becomes easier to respond to pushback. Objections are typically a sign that while a prospect may be interested in “purchasing” your services; you have yet to adequately describe how you will add enough value and/or help prevent or solve a problem.
I often advise our clients to incorporate questions such as “is there anything I haven’t addressed that is of concern to you or your organization?” Or “help me understanding what I am not seeing”. By presenting only concrete examples of relevant situations will make a purchasing decision much easier for the prospect, and selling will be easier for the lawyer.
We all buy and sell every day. Often, it is our intellectual capital. Yet, it is a combination of the nuances of actively listening, asking appropriate open-ended questions to fully understand the underlying issues, the value of solving problems, the cost of doing nothing and guiding your prospect to the point of recognition that you are uniquely qualified and situated to best address the issue. Then, practice, practice, practice your delivery to convincingly communicate that you are the best fit for your prospects’ needs.
The great Vince Lombardi said it very eloquently, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”