Converting contacts into clients is a fundamental requirement of lawyers today. However, although there are many to whom it comes naturally, there are many more who find it difficult and embarrassing because they feel as if they are being ‘a pushy salesman’. If lawyers remember that selling is listening, not talking, they will find it much easier.
Follow these five simple steps to increase the returns of the time and effort you put into making contacts.
Step 1 – generate
This is not as difficult as it sounds. Leads are everywhere. The skill is to listen hard and to recognise where your legal input may be needed. For example, conferences and seminars are a ripe source of leads. During a transaction, a current client might mention additional activities going on within their organisation, or another organisation with whom they have close links. Even sitting next to somebody on an aeroplane has been known to generate instructions. Ask questions and listen to the answers carefully. From the information you glean, find a way to offer to help.
Step 2 – telephone
Picking up the telephone is difficult. Fear of rejection is high. You can get over this by remembering that the person you are phoning has expressed a need for your help. Your call should be made with a good ‘tempter’ to illustrate why the potential client will benefit from a meeting. Before picking up the phone, smile, take three deep breaths and remember that they are looking forward to your call. Use this call to set up a meeting.
Step 3 – meet
Research the individuals you are meeting as well as the company and its culture, the sector and the environment in which it operates. Be prepared for anything, from the casual chat to an hour’s meeting being reduced to 10 minutes. Prepare open questions based on your research. Practise answers to difficult questions you might be asked, so that you feel confident and not defensive. Show interest in commercial priorities. Clarify legal issues and find out about the decision-making process and budgets.
Talk about fees with confidence. You should be proud of what you offer and value your knowledge, experience and skills. Remember that for many, fee negotiation is a game. Whatever a lawyer suggests, a potential client will automatically suck air through their teeth and say: “Whew, that’s expensive.” It may take several meetings before you get a decision, so in the meantime take the next step.
Step 4 – follow up the meeting
Create a plan to keep in contact with the potential client. Use a variety of ways to demonstrate your interest. For example, a personal one-page summary of the impact of recent legislation on the client’s business; themed lunches with others in the industry; invitations to appropriate social events. The plan should be detailed for six months and possibly for up to two years. It can involve all levels in your firm and in their organisation.
Step 5 – ask
If a person is interested in instructing you, the indicators are asking questions about dates, volume of work, who will do it, fees and what added value you offer. Take this as a signal to ask for the work. These indicators may be given at your first meeting or after several. Ignore them at your peril. Do not waste all your effort by not asking. If you do not ask, your competitors will.
Pippa Blakemore is managing partner at The PEP Partnership