Unnatural salesmen

In general, lawyers do not make natural salesmen, but some are better than others at using similar skills to grab clients’ attention.  Paul Denvir and Gary Williams show how to identify the ‘can dos’ from the ‘won’ts’.

Having worked with many law firms over the last fifteen years, we have come across several different approaches and viewpoints when it comes to lawyers selling their services to new and existing clients. Throughout this time we have found that professionals tend to fit into one of four categories:  
– There are those who sell well – a group whose numbers are increasing  
– Those who sell badly – and unfortunately the number of those is also growing
– Those who can not sell  – or think they can’t, and
– Those who really don’t want to sell

In helping lawyers to sell well (and without creating an adverse effect on their fee-earning time) law firms first need to understand each type.  In this article we focus on each group and consider how best to help and support them.

Those who sell well
In order to understand who truly does sell well, a law firm’s analysis should not be focused purely on results. Whilst outputs are important, the way in which business is brought in and the activities that lead to the results are equally so. Some lawyers’ successes lie more in their being in the right place at the right time.  Alternatively they might have won several pieces of work but then not formed long-lasting, fruitful relationships.

Whilst everybody is different, there are certain ways of winning work that can be defined and held up as best practice. Role models in this context are those that seek to build trust with their clients and demonstrate the ability to truly understand their clients’ businesses.  It is this approach, which law firms can use to measure their other fee-earners against.

One of the main challenges for lawyers who sell well is finding time to actually deliver the work they win! This is where law firms can help – mainly by finding ways in which to bring in other fee-earners to help deliver the work, support and build the client relationship.

In promoting these individuals as excellent practitioners, time can also be allocated in order for them to pass their skills on to others.  This may require developing these individuals’ coaching skills as, whilst they sell brilliantly, they may need help to be equally successful coaches.

Those who sell badly
Some would say it’s the fee income generated that indicates how good or bad lawyers are at selling? We would suggest that, what on the surface look like good results could be masking the real reasons behind them. Being in the right place at the right time or winning a single piece of work from clients does not necessarily suggest these people should be held up as role models.

Some of the individuals in the ‘those that sell badly’ group will feel they are successful and will be resistant to change. Others may be less successful and come across as defensive.  This group often proves the greatest challenge, as it is often more difficult to ‘unlearn’ behaviour than it is to learn new skills from scratch.

There is likely to be some resistance from those that see their clients as their own and/or feel that  “my way has always worked in the past, why shouldn’t it work now?”  Any training, coaching or development of these people needs to focus on the firm’s long-term goals and take into account the sensitivities of the individuals concerned.

Those that cannot sell/do not think they can
It is said that there are those born with the ability to sell and those that are not. This may well be true, as there are probably some lawyers who you would not want in front of clients. Their ‘talents’ would be best used back at the office.

Some lawyers are, however, condemned as inadequate when it comes to selling because they do not fit the stereotype of what a good seller is like.  People sometimes believe that there is a correlation between extroversion and selling.  We believe there is no such correlation.

Limiting our selling resource to the people who do it ‘naturally’ misses out on those who could be very effective with the right development. When we hear lawyers saying “I simply can’t go into a room full of people I have never met and engage them in witty banter” they are probably right. However, this does not mean that they can’t develop their own, highly professional way of entering into dialogue with prospective clients. Many of those who say they cannot sell are really saying ‘I cannot do it like my extrovert colleagues’.

Once they understand who has the potential, law firms can provide the necessary support that will give every person the chance to use their own personality to best effect when developing business opportunities.

Those who don’t want to sell
We have yet to work with a lawyer who joined their firm to become a great sales and marketing practitioner. Some see selling as something they would rather not do.  Images of used-car or other salesmen form in their minds.  Selling strikes a fear of being unprofessional.

Those who are good at selling professional services know that any kind of pressure selling or ‘trickery’ is likely to be counterproductive and not work.  Lawyers in this category therefore need to be convinced of two things:
1. Selling their services well is a very professional and ethical thing to do
2. They do have the capability to sell well

Getting these people to build their capabilities in this field relies on firms adopting the approach we described for those who cannot sell/don’t think they can. To overcome the first issue, fee-earners need to be introduced to a rigorous and effective methods of winning business. This should be based on building:
– a strong reputation and excellent relationships
– added value and trust
– an understanding of the client 
– credibility  and the ability to demonstrate genuine interest in the client
– the client’s motivation to buy – at the right time and in the right way.

From our work with lawyers we have found that, when faced with selling, fee-earners tend to fall into four groups.  Some individuals straddle more than one, however very few do not fit in any of them.  The key to getting lawyers to sell (and to sell well) is to establish who sits in which category.  It is then a matter of clearly defining best practice in building relationships and selling professional services; and providing the appropriate input to develop each individual’s capabilities.

Then and only then can new business performance measurement systems achieve success.  Any system that forces an individual to do things they do not like or do not feel good at will either be setting them up to fail or test their creativity in ‘working’ the system.

Individuals in law firms will always be very busy.  If firms are going to get their lawyers to sell well, they need to make selling something people make time for.  This means making it important, something people are good at and something they enjoy doing.


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