Lawyers – Don’t Focus on Selling – Help Buyers Buy!

[Drug salesman]

Snake Oil Anyone?

I think it’s a shame that most law firms feel uncomfortable using the word ‘selling’. But I can understand their reasons. After all, there’s lots of empirical evidence that suggests that it’s more effective to focus on helping the buyer buy rather than pushing your products and services.

Let’s look at selling through the buyer’s perspective. Those with responsibility for legal procurement (General Counsel, senior management etc) are typically busy people who are juggling lots of balls. They have several pulls on their time and most want an easier life with less hassle. They also want to add value by helping the organisation meet its business goals. They want to be seen to be doing a good job and be rewarded with a bonus.

If we examine this is further detail, we can recognise that there are three critical stages to appointing new lawyers, as follows:

  1. Buyer becoming clearer about their needs to do something different (eg raise finance, address a compliance issue, set up a new tax structure, address a dispute, appoint a new panel firm etc)
  2. Buyer weighing up their options (eg do it themselves or appoint external counsel)
  3. Buyer making their selection and negotiating with a provider of legal  services

I look at each of these stages and comment on the ideal role of the lawyer in private practice in each stage.

1.       Buyer becoming clearer about their needs to do something different

What most GC’s would appreciate is receiving some assistance with assessing where they should focus their attention to maximise the value they provide their business. This is where an external counsel may be helpful because, by being outside the day-to-day detail, they should be better at seeing the wood from the trees. Partners can potentially provide insights into:

  • Areas of risk to the business
  • What is truly important to focus on rather than just nice to have
  • The levels of urgency that should be applied

The skills needed by the lawyer during this stage are:

  • To ask good insightful questions to ascertain what’s really important to the client and who is going to be involved in making purchasing decisions
  • To listen really well particularly to any concerns they have
  • To probe so that points made by the client are fully understood
  • To offer suggestions as to how the client could best proceed.

2.       Buyer weighing up their options

Once the buyer has decided to act, they then decide what actions to take and with what resource. Will they do it all themselves? Do they need to appoint the best lawyers in the land because they judge the issue is so serious? Do they just need a team of paralegals to churn out some relatively straightforward documents? If they outsource the work to a firm, what other good things could they do with their time?

To make these decisions they will weigh up the risks and benefits of each option. There are risks to the business to consider. Perhaps more importantly there are personal risks. This sometimes happens in a rigorous and explicit manner, but it’s usually done using more informal judgement.

The role of the lawyer in private practice during this stage is to assist the client make the right decision. If other firms are in the frame, it is helpful to know what the strengths and weaknesses are of the rival firms. It is then appropriate to point out the advantages of using your firm. You might have more experience, better geographical coverage, specialists available to add further value to the advice given. Wherever possible it is particularly powerful to offer evidence of your ability to deliver.

The skills needed by the lawyer during this stage are:

  • To have knowledge about your firm’s offering and how this adds value compared to the rivals
  • To be able to match your offering to the client needs
  • To provide evidence that you will deliver

3.       Buyer making their selection and negotiating

This is a relatively straightforward stage. It is simply nailing down all the details so the buyer is clear what they are getting for their money.

The role of the lawyer is to negotiate and achieve what’s called a ‘win-win’. If you drive too hard a bargain for the law firm, you risk not being reappointed. Being too much of a pussycat and you let your firm down

The skills needed by the lawyer during this stage are:

  • An ability to really understand what the client needs are
  • An ability to deal with pressure on fees (eg when a client says “ Another firm has offered us a price that is 20% lower” etc)
  • To ask for something back if you’re asked to give anything (eg resources to assist on due diligence work, information, access to key people, speedy payment etc)

Firms which work in this more buyer-centric way are noticing a difference, as follows:

  • They create a sales pipeline of potential leads
  • Such firms sell higher value jobs
  • They get a higher conversion rate

But perhaps most importantly, the lawyer clearly gets positioned as a trusted advisor – not a salesman!

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This entry was posted in Business Development and Selling, Fee Negotiating, Networking, Strategy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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