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Lawyers Need to Drop the Hard Sell


"Sales" is a dirty word at some law firms — one that brings to mind "Glengarry Glenn Ross" or a fast-talking used car dealer. But in an increasingly competitive marketplace, where firms fight one another to land work, business development is necessary to survival. How can lawyers sell online and offline without losing their dignity? Here are five simple techniques:

• Skip the small talk. It's fine to be friendly, but buyers are busy and will choose you only if they are confident you can solve their problem. Whether in person or on Twitter, nobody wants to talk about the weather.

• Stop talking about yourself. Nobody cares where you went to law school, how many lawyers are in your firm or if you made Chambers this year. The best salesmen ask great questions to learn to understand the problems confronting the potential client. A few months ago a law firm marketing department responding to a request for proposals asked the lawyers to pose a few questions to help match the client's needs. The lawyers refused — they preferred to assume they already knew what the customer needed than stoop to asking questions.

• Be a consultant. I've heard many lawyers claim that they stand out because they understand the client's business and not just the law. How do they prove that to the client? Remember the old adage: Don't tell me, show me, by the quality of the questions you ask. A while back, I spoke to a few lawyers about a small legal problem at my software company. Each offered expensive legal solutions but none asked me any questions involving the business consequences of my decisions. (I didn't hire any of them.) Good consultants ask great questions. Preparing a list of essential questions is a great way to prepare for any interaction with a potential client.

• Stop trying to close the deal. "Always be closing," Alec Baldwin's character says in "Glengarry." That might work for someone selling shoes or a necktie, but won't when the purchasing decision is very large. In "Spin Selling," Neil Rackham examines research on thousands of sales presentations and concludes that overly aggressive salespeople were better at irritating potential customers than selling.

• Always be setting appointments. That doesn't mean another sales call; it means to keep working on better understanding the needs of the potential client. Some sales take months and others take years, so every appointment that ends in another appointment is a small victory. The lawyers most effective at using LinkedIn and Twitter aren't incredibly tech savvy — they just use these tools to help set up more appointments.

It's time for lawyers to embrace their responsibility to cultivate potential clients while ­leaving the tired sales tactics behind. Stop "selling" and bring in the business.

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