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Deal or no deal?

By September 24, 2010August 2nd, 2018Articles

The path from prospect to client will never be a smooth one, but with a little sales training you can ensure a better chance of closing that deal.

Obtaining new fee income has become an integral part of legal life for every partner and manager. Not only must one be an expert in a chosen filed of law, it is also necessary to develop additional sales skills to guarantee a steady stream of new instructions in an increasingly competitive legal environment.

Many law firms have built up experienced teams of marketing and business development experts to plan specific campaigns, secure valuable public relations, host seminars and prepare stunning, eye-catching literature. These are often time-consuming exercises where stringent follow up and management is crucial to progress to prospect to the next stage in the buying process. However, once the prospective client has been wooed, the next phase of courtship will take the form of a presentation or a one-to-one business meeting. This will ascertain whether one particular person can work together with another in a professional capacity. This requires a fusion of technical capabilities, industry knowledge and personable social skills. As in many facets of life, the required skills can be coached and adopted through relevant sales training.

Why lawyers need sales training

All lawyers wish to maximise the opportunities presented from marketing activities. Failure to secure new clients is costly. The cross-over from marketing activity to new client is often protracted and comes from the skills of the lawyer. In some firms it is easy to identify the ‘business champion’ who thrives in the sales process, but all too often lawyers are reluctant to stray from their comfort conversations regarding their own expertise.

There are simple and complex techniques which help you, the lawyer, feel confident in new business meetings and also getting people to open up. Here we want to explore straightforward practical tactics that lawyers can adopt to win more clients more often.

Talking to prospective clients is something that many lawyers do not enjoy. Presentations to prospects can be stiff, conversations stilted, client needs unexplored, meaningful questions left unasked and any follow-up left to chance. It is often frustrating for marketing departments to organise meetings and then watch the business opportunity collapse like a soufflé in a north wind.

Subsequent conversations often reveal a high proportion of unprepared lawyers who can give no compelling reasons why the prospects’ business should be entrusted to them. Lawyers need sales training to prepare them for success, whatever the event, seminar or business meeting presents to them.

The eight stages to a successful sales meeting

The eight stages to successful selling centre around that crucial first meeting. You have been presented with an opportunity to impress and establish a meaningful relationship with a new prospective client. What are the stages to consider?

1. Preparation

  • Research the prospects firm thoroughly. What do they do?
  • Research their industry.
  • Who is their current supplier?
  • Why do they want to see you?
  • What can you offer them?

2. Take control with an agenda

Listing key points for discussion forces you to think about the company, rather than just turning up and hoping for the best. Meandering and pointless discussions are annoying and tiem-wasting.

3. Ask dialogue-provoking questions

Thr purpose of these is to get people to think when answering your questions, rather then giving an off-the-cuff response. This enable you to delve deeper and people will pick up the signals that you are an experienced business advisor (and lawyer). It may reveal requirements that may otherwise remain uncovered. For example, “Tell me about your future plans for the company”.

4. Uncover needs by probing deeper

  • What happened next?
  • What did that action lead to?
  • Who took responsibility?

5. Need for change

When the needs are clearly established and the prospect has identified the necessary actions, it is important to ensure these become priorities to which you can legitimately offer a solution. Good ‘need for change’ questions include: “Why is it important to solve this problem now? Is fixing this a priority? Can the business survive in its current state? How would you feel if this problem no longer existed?“

6. Strategy for handling objections

The last minute ‘objections’ by your prospect are often seen by many lawyers as a personal affront to their professional capabilities and the integrity of the firm. “I think you are too expensive…I do not seen any advantages in changing…Your office is too far away…” You need to anticipate such questions. Mumbling and blushing are not considered effective counters to an objection. Agreement, alignment and uncovering real concerns can be prepared for and practiced.

7. Taking control of the next stage

There needs to be a positive outcome to a meeting. You need a plan of action before leaving the meeting. Can you arrange another meeting? A quotation? Sending further information? Often, the reality in getting someone to change professional advisor can take months.

8. Follow-up

Your prospects are busy people. Ensure the quote is prepared, the information is sent and their response obtained. Then agree what will happen next, be it to sign a contract or make another quote, arrange a further meeting or even merely agree to make contact again at some specified date in the future.

Desirable sales skills

Does the above sentence fill you with trepidation or anticipation? Do you have the skills to do this? Is this how you conduct a meeting anyway? There are undoubtedly lawyers who enjoy the thrill of the new chase and others who are more effective at nurturing existing relationships. Although the word ‘sales’ continues to conjure up a forceful, assertive, loud image, it is not those qualities that will win new clients. The virtues of the best sales people are the ability to listen and question appropriately; to take control of the meeting; to uncover needs and priorities and to be able to clearly present a solution to the prospect.

Whatever terminology is used, sales skills are crucial where lawyers have an intimate relationship with their marketing and business development colleagues. Recognising what sort of business animal the various fee earners are is crucial to the business development team and their ultimate success. Be ruthless in putting forward your best or most suitable lawyers. Professional sales personnel are a talented breed who will secure new fees based on their blend of skills- not just their technical expertise.

Effective sales training is best achieved through small group roleplay and discussion. Practicing the techniques will inspire confidence to tackle the most difficult meetings. As in most firms where time is the most valuable commodity, sales training and technical training can be achieved through remote tutoring. It is possible to have sales training delivered one-to-one interactively at your desktop. Whatever method works best for your firm, sales training that qualifies for continuing professional development is an investment well worth undertaking.