All posts by Samira Mery Lineberger, Esq.

Principal, Lineberger Consulting Group

No Really, It’s Not About You!

“It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you use that makes a difference.”            Zig Ziglar         

In my last post I talked about how sales can be discouraging because we tend to take rejection of our services personally, thereby discouraging further sales activity.  Looking back on the title “It’s Not About Me” I realized how that very title could lend itself to a myriad of additional tips on sales and marketing.  Here is my tip#2 on why it’s not about you.   

So many times when faced with a sale or marketing opportunity, lawyers pitch themselves and their credentials.  “I am a successful and experienced trial attorney.”  “I have a terrific track record.”  “I can do more for less.”   Then you hand over the high-priced brochure with more about you, your results and your services and hope you have made your point.  All that is nice, but when it gets down to it, while the credentials are necessary to make the cut, to close a sale the conversation should not be about you.  

If you want to make the sale, then sell your knowledge, experience and skills by demonstrating them.  If you focus the conversation on a discussion of your prospective client’s needs and problems and how you propose to solve them, you are more likely to convince them you really have the credentials it takes to do the job much more effectively then a sales pitch about you.  Try “What problems are you facing.” “Here are some ideas on how to solve them.”  

Most clients understand that slick marketing materials are designed to show you in the best light and expect that there is some spin involved.  Doing the job by listening to your client, figuring out what needs to be done and offering solutions on the spot demonstrates real skill and credentials without the spin.  Show you can do the job by doing it, and your credentials become a mere checklist of information for the file on your way to a new client.   

It’s Not About Me

“You can’t discover new oceans, unless you have the courage to leave the shore.”          Anonymous

Although I do not have the statistics to back it up, I would not be surprised if the number one reason people fail in sales is because of their fear of rejection.  When you put yourself out there and people tell you “no” it feels like a personal rejection.  So many people will avoid making sales calls, not so much because they are lazy or do not know what to say (which can certainly be a factor), but more so because there is a fear of how the other person will respond, or more pointedly, whether they will be rejected.  But let’s face it, when you do not make the call, you almost certainly will not make the sale.  While we all dream about that perfect social meeting, where you just happen to meet someone who just happens to find you interesting, asks for your business card and later refers you or calls you for business, in the real world that rarely, if ever, happens.  The bottom line is if you want to develop a consistent flow of business, risking rejection during the sales process is a must.  So what can be done to overcome the fear and feelings of rejection? 

For starters, develop a message you are confident in.  I have a friend who is the consummate salesman.  He is so natural at it, sales seems almost effortless for him.  It is not that he gets rejected less; it is just that he does not see it as rejection, so he is not hesitant to make sales call often, and by his shear number of calls, makes more sales.  Watching him, I have come to realize that it is possible to imitate what he instinctively does, and do it deliberately for better results.  We may never be as natural or comfortable as he is, but we can make it more comfortable and natural for ourselves.  Before making a call, my friend thinks about all the reasons his prospect would benefit from the services he is offering.  He thinks about the value of what he is selling and why it is distinctive from other competing services.  He does not just do this to know what to say, he does this to build his own confidence and to insulate himself from that feeling of rejection.  While many of us leave an unsuccessful sales call feeling like we have been personally rejected, he leaves it feeling like the other person either does not need his services or that they just did not get it.  In short, his confidence in what he is selling insulates him from taking it personal. 

In the same way, the less nimble salesman can deliberately copy what he does, i.e. pro-actively think about the value, benefits and distinction of what he is offering before making the sales call to boost his confidence in what he is selling and to minimize the debilitating effects from his fear of rejection.  The prospect may not buy the services, but if he is confident about what he is selling, it will not feel as personal, so we will be less likely to avoid the sales call in the first place.   And bonus, the boost of confidence will almost certainly improve the level of enthusiasm and energy in the sales presentation, thereby improving the presentation and chances of making the sale.  So next time you find yourself in a position of having to make a sales call, do not just think of what you need to say about the services, think about why the other person will benefit from hearing what you have to say.  You will give a better sales presentation and feel better about doing it.

 

Back Off! Taking the Boor Out of Selling

“The secret of man’s success resides in his insight into the moods of people, and his tact in dealing with them.”
J. G. Holland    

I recently attended a conference on business development that included a panel of general counsel offering suggestions to attorneys seeking their business.  The moderator asked whether they preferred “hard sale” or “soft sale” techniques.   Not surprisingly, they all preferred a “soft sale.”  Who likes being subjected to a “hard sale?”  Certainly no attorneys I know.  

But understanding the difference is a little more complicated and in reality more subjective than objective.  It reminds me of that famous quote by former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when attempting to define what constitutes obscenity:  “I shall not today further attempt to define [what constitutes obscene material]…  But I’ll know it when I see it.”  Defining boorish behavior can be just as difficult, but there may be a more objective way of ensuring your techniques don’t turn off your prospects.  Here are some ideas for creating boorish-free communications: 

  • Always offer new information in each and every call or correspondence.  Your prospects are not likely to be annoyed by your call if you have something new and valuable to tell them.  Likewise consistently offering new and valuable information will increase your prospect’s interest in communicating with you.
  • Be prepared.  Know what you are going to say and anticipate the questions so that you have a better chance of providing all the information the prospect may be interested in.  Not being prepared with easily anticipated information not only calls into question your competence and qualification; it can signal a lack of respect for your prospect’s time.
  • Get to the point.  Say only what is necessary to communicate what you want to say.  As you prepare, think about what you want to say and find the shortest way possible to effectively communicate it.  When writing correspondence, read your draft and make sure that each sentence has an important purpose.  If it does not add value, get rid of it.  Getting to the point in a succinct manner demonstrates that you respect your prospect’s time and schedule.      
  • Say it with style.  Your communication should include an appropriate tone and personal touch to build on the relationship.  In fact, tone and personal touch can be as important as the point you are trying to make.  However, it doesn’t need to dominate the communication.  Again, find the most efficient way possible to effectively color the communication with a warm personal touch without wasting your prospects time. 
  • Don’t assume that your prospect is enjoying your social chatter.  I once had a boss who famously engaged in lengthy personal conversations with clients and prospects.  They would politely answer his probing social questions and would even appear to enjoy the conversation.  I later learned that most of these clients and prospects were not really interested or motivated by the conversation, but were simply being polite.  Relationship building is critical to a long term association, but it requires understanding when you are wasting someone’s time.  Lesson to be learned?  Just because they are laughing at your jokes doesn’t mean that deep down they don’t just want to get off the phone.    
  • Maintain a list of sales techniques and tactics that you have found to be offensive.  When you prepare for a phone call or draft correspondence, check it against your list to make sure some of the undesirables have not snuck into your communication.  Even though we all say we don’t like boorish sales behavior, we can all be guilty of it.  It takes more effort to deliver sales information with just the right finesse than it does to just throw it out there.  My list of undesirables includes things like repeated phone calls with no new information; obviously false deadlines as closing techniques; questions that come off more like cross-examination designed to lead you to a purchasing posture, among others. 

Offensive sales behavior can be avoided through diligent preparation and practice, but there is always an on-going risk of it slipping in.  Only persistent efforts to minimize the instances will ensure an overall sales program that is both affable and effective. 

 

What Do General Counsel Want?

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.
It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”          Peter Drucker

At the recent annual meeting of the Association of Corporate Counsel, general counsel from companies of all sizes discussed how they are selecting, evaluating and managing outside counsel.  A recent article discussing the highlights was posted last week in The National Law Journal.  The article focused on a few key areas, with the first being “flex time.”  Once major retailer is looking for law firms that offer firm employees flex time.  Now why would a retailer care if the law firms they retain offer flex time?  What do they get out of that?  I doubt it’s really because they want to make the world a better place for working moms.  More likely they are looking to retain firms that make them look good for promoting women’s causes. 

So what is my take-away from the article given that the lead in piece has nothing to do with legal services?  It’s not just about the money.  Once you get beyond the qualification check list, the distinguishing factor comes down to customer service and a desire to make in-house counsel’s job easier (hence, the possibly politically motivated  flex time requirement to take some heat off women discrimination issues).  So basically, the standard firm brochures setting out the firm’s qualifications and successful legal results is really missing the point.  I’m not saying that qualifications and results don’t matter.  I’m saying that is just what gets you to the door.  To win and keep the business it is about your firm’s willingness go crazy over customer service.  Better communication on service activities so they remain well informed.  Better reporting to make their reporting easier.  Better administrative processes to make case management and evaluation easier.  More predictable case results as a result of better communication.  More predictable costs so in-house counsel isn’t caught by surprise and left having to explain budget overruns.  And to address that pesky cost cutting issue, a willingness on the part of the law firm to find creative ways to deliver services that cut legal costs while enabling the law firm to operate comfortably. 

Despite the cost crunch, there is still a lot of legal business out there to be serviced.  Those law firms willing to break the mold and move into fanatical customer service mode are the firms that will get and keep the business.  Law firms that hold on to the old traditional law firm structure will be left in the dust.  Hammer or broom…  Choose your weapon.      

 

Website Designer’s Oath: “First Do No Harm”

 “It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us.”        Arthur Schopenhauer 

Not long ago just having a website was enough for a lawyer to demonstrate being current with the times.  At least it seems not long ago to me.  Then again, nearly half of my career was before there was wide spread Internet use.  Exactly when the “Internet” was created depends on how you define it.  Some historians trace it back to the Soviet Union and the United States military in the 1950’s.  But the Internet as we know it today was not a common household term until the mid-to-late 1990’s.  Remember the “information highway” commercials?  I remember watching them and wondering what the heck they were talking about.  How things change. 

Today most lawyers have some web presence.  But is “presence” enough?  Expectations have changed in the past ten years.  Unless you are representing clients that are not Internet users (a group that is shrinking dramatically by the day), you need to take a serious look at what your website (or lack thereof) says about you.  Like it or not, your website is an extension of your firm and sets the tone for your “brand” of service.  If it looks like you created it ten years ago and is little more than a firm resume, you may need to consider a facelift, or more likely an overhaul.  

For many clients, the Internet is the ultimate reference tool.  Whether they find you on the Internet, or check out your website after meeting you or receiving a referral, by and large prospective clients will look at your site for decision making information.  What do they want to see?  To some degree it is a matter of taste, but for the most part, people want to see a site that demonstrates whether a lawyer is current with the times, expert in their area of practice and successful in achieving good results in cases and conditions similar to theirs.  Does your website do that?  If not, your website could be doing more harm than good.    

For example: 

  • Does your site depict you as current with the times? 
    • Is it visually appealing by creating a mood that is consistent with your message?  There is a big move away from the very traditional heavy tone and style of legal marketing materials in years past.  Websites are like housing developments.  Many times you can tell when they were created just by observing the style and colors.  Top sites today have a more upbeat, uplifting feel to them.  If you’re unsure what to do, take a look at the sites of your most successful competitors.  You may not be able to afford the kind of money the top competitors spent, but it will give you an idea of what their likely high priced marketing experts recommended for the markets they are targeting.    
    • Does it include interactive tools or references?  Options to schedule appointments directly through the site, emailing directly from the site, subscriptions to the site and more are becoming the standard.  Most of these tools are included in many free website templates offered on the Internet and are becoming a minimum standard.      
    • Does it include news and articles of interest?  Posting references on current issues through relevant articles not only provides your clients with valuable information, it is necessary to make you appear relevant.  Articles of interest are also becoming so common that if you don’t have them, you appear out of touch.
    • Does it include regular updates?  It’s difficult to appear cutting edge when your site is no more active than the glossy brochure printed for your firm three or four years ago.  Make sure all the information is current and that you are adding new content regularly.  As with the articles of interest, frequently updated and interactive sites are becoming so common, not having one can make you appear very outdated.  The more new content on the site, the more you demonstrate active participation in your field.  Besides, updates help with search engine optimization (another very important subject, but too extensive to address in this posting).
  •    Does your site demonstrate your expertise?
    • Most sites will include a resume or summary bio of each lawyer to demonstrate expertise, but is it enough to help you stand out? Consider writing your bio in a more results oriented fashion.  Areas of practice, awards and associations are great, but how does that translate to the services you will be providing for your clients?  Certainly those things should be advertised, but the compelling bio is one that answers the question most important to the prospect, i.e. “What will you do for me?”
    • Nothing demonstrates expertise on a website better than thought provoking, leading edge articles written by you.  Consider including a formal articles section, a blog or both on your site to provide your prospective customers with valuable information they can use to solve their problems and simultaneously to confirm your expertise.  As discussed above, an article section is almost a minimum standard.  Including a blog that is updated regularly may be the added edge needed to set you apart. 
  • Does your site demonstrate your ability to achieve desirable results? 
    • What prospective clients really want to know is whether you can deliver the results they want, at a price they want and with the service they want.  In addition to a results oriented bio, consider including a news section that includes descriptions of your recent successes.  The success stories don’t have to be earth shattering.  They simply need to demonstrate that you can deliver the results the prospective client wants for the type of case or legal work they are seeking.
    • Most firms focus their attention on selling expertise and experience in their marketing materials, but there is usually much less attention paid to customer service.  In reality most legal work does not require an exceptionally high level of skill beyond that of the average competent lawyer.  Clients expect lawyers to have the expertise and experience, but what usually ends up turning them off is poor customer service.  Consider including references from former clients focusing on your excellent service (which naturally requires you to actually provide it – not a bad marketing idea as well) and to include a section on your website describing your philosophy of customer service.  

In this day and age, not only is a website imperative for a successful law practice, if it doesn’t meet the minimum expectations of its prospective clients, like an old shabby suit that doesn’t fit properly, it could do more harm than good.  Take a minute to give yours a fresh look.  It may take some time but the good news is it may cost you less than your original site.  There are so many free tools out there, the cost of a much more impressive website may be almost nothing but the time you put into it. It may take learning a little technology, but the payoff can be a very competitive site that creates a brand and reputation that closes deals and keeps your clients coming back for more.  Put it off for another day and you could be leaving business at the door.