Partners are right to feel uncomfortable as conventional sales people. Compared to typical selling contexts (retail, consumer, big one-off purchases such as insurance etc) there should be a different mindset in professional service firms, particularly for those wanting to develop long-term relationships with clients.
Much of what has been written about selling is not appropriate in a law firm environment. The table below compares traditional selling as we all experience it and what I would call professional selling.
I offer the following recommendations for partners:
- Learn to listen more and speak less. As an expert in your field with so much to say, you may find this difficult, but those who can learn this simple skill will be liked more by their clients.
- Bear in mind that your potential buyers are different and you may need to reflect a different aspect of your personality to impress each one. But don’t try to be someone other than yourself. Be authentic! Everyone can spot a fraud.
- Consider whether there is more than one person who has an influence on which professional firm gets the business. If there are other influencers, work out a strategy for meeting them and persuading them. Meet the business people as well as the in-house lawyers.
- Try to put yourself in your potential buyer’s position. Try to see selling more in terms of helping people buy.
- Distinguish between people who say they have needs (but never intend to do anything about them) and those with real problems that they are not happy with. You’ll waste less time if you can do this.
- Consider what type of relationship your prospective client wants. If you don’t know, ask.
- Be confident about your ability to provide a service that will be of value to your clients. Too many partners have inner doubts about this (they might think they are expensive, for example) and their propositions come across unconvincingly. If you have doubts, your prospects will.
Table: Comparing Traditional Selling and Professional Selling
|Traditional Selling||Professional Selling|
|Style:||Manipulative, Exploitative, Adversarial||Facilitative,Co-operative|
|Time frame:||Short term||Long term|
|Aim:||Get business||Develop trusting relationship|
|Division between sales and delivery roles:||Usually different person||Usually same person|
|Attitude towards confidentiality:||Bragging is common!||Discretion, few client names mentioned|
|Methods of prospecting:||Advertising, cold mailshots, neon flashing lights!||Personalised letters and low key approach|
But the biggest tip I can offer concerns your whole attitude to bringing in business. If you go into your meetings with the objective of selling, you have probably lost before you have even started.