Tag Archives: general counsel

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.