How Do You Ask For Business?

How do you ask for business?  We all know intuitively (or through training) that those who don’t ask typically don’t get business.  However, many lawyers are leery to come out and ask for business explicitly, and rightly so.  Asking can disrupt a relationship if the answer is “no,” and, under some circumstances, asking can even be an ethical violation.  Even when those concerns are not in play, some lawyers may feel pushy if they ask for business.  And yet, the inner voice cautions, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
 
When working with clients, I offer many approaches to the “challenge of the ask.”  A few examples are:

  • Listen to your gut.  Very often, if you’re sensing that an explicit request for the business may be too pointed, you’re correct.  A more gentle approach (“I’d love to help you with that,” for example) may blunt the approach and yet get the message across.

  • Notice how often your gut tells you not to ask.  The flip side of the previous suggestion is that it can offer carte blanche to those who are disinclined to ask for business.  If you always feel that asking would be too pushy, it’s time to do some work on your comfort level.  What conditions would have to exist for you to feel comfortable in asking for business?

  • Look for the win/win.  Lawyers often use somewhat violent language for business development:  “eat what you kill” compensation systems, “killer instinct” in pursuing new work, and “bagging a client,” for instance.  Using that language casts the lawyer as the hunter and the potential client as the victim or the target.  Fortunately, few lawyers actually regard their potential clients in that way.  The fear of being perceived as a ruthless hunter, however, may prompt a lawyer to hold back in conversation.  Sometimes, it even prompts lawyers to ask for business in a way that implies that potential clients would be doing the lawyer a great favor when the truth is that a good representation offers benefits for both parties.  Look for that benefit and focus on it, and then weave it into your request.

  • Listen to the concerns and offer some feedback, leading naturally into an offer of further help.  If you take this approach, be sure that you don’t stray into giving legal advice without sufficient knowledge of the facts.  You can suggest potential avenues or approaches for consideration, though, and offer to help if your contact would like to explore them.

As these approaches suggest, asking for business requires both the right mindset and the right words or technique.  Think about your current “low hanging fruit,” or the potential clients most likely to retain you right now.  What approach would be most helpful for them, and what approach will open the possibility of working with you most effectively, without running a danger of damaging your relationship?

If you’re uncomfortable asking for business, you’re not alone. The upcoming Third Edition of The Reluctant Rainmaker:  A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling includes a full chapter on whether, how, and when to ask for business, plus how to handle objections you may receive, with an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to developing the skills that will support your business development efforts. (Keep your eyes on this newsletter for an announcement of the new edition’s publication date.) If you’d like to move even faster with your rainmaking activity, please
 contact me to arrange a consultation.

What’s The Real Problem?

We all face challenges in the business of a law practice. We were taught in law school that we have to ask the right questions in practice to get the necessary answers for our clients. (Litigators, you especially know what I mean!) But somehow, we forget what that means for our own practices.

I recently spoke with a lawyer who was looking for help in landing new business, who told me that she needed to improve the way she asked for business. That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked about her sales conversations. When we dug into it, I discovered that a very high percentage of prospective clients she met actually hired her. The diagnosis of her sales problem? None. She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones.

Another client once told me that he just didn’t have time to get everything done. After checking into his daily activities, I realized that lots of little tasks were eating up his time and he wasn’t effectively using the resources at his disposal. His problem wasn’t a lack of time. His problem was a lack of focus on his top priorities and a need to delegate tasks that didn’t need his direct effort.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple as shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?” Or it can be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else – or perhaps even that you would prefer to practice a different kind of law or to do something else altogether.

What challenges are you facing right now? What have you told yourself about those problems? What are you missing? What do you not really want to see about the challenge, or what solution do you not even want to consider? And, more specifically, who can help you see the truth of your challenges?

And if you’ve been trying to solve a problem, remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Just like it’s difficult to scratch your own back, it’s difficult to step outside a situation in which you’re intimately involved. It’s critical to have a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a coach (ideally, a full “board of directors”) who can help you to examine your challenges so you know you’re working to answer the right questions.

Need another head to look at the obstacles ahead of you? I offer a limited number of complimentary consultations each month and would be happy to discuss whether I can help. Email my team to arrange an appointment.  Email to: support@flemingstrategic.com

How Do You Focus Your Biz Dev Tactics?

One of the best things about business development is also one of the worst: you have multiple strategies and tactics at your disposal to grow your practice. Sure, you can boil down all business development to just a few actions: get known for work in your area of practice, meet people who need your help or who know others who do, and communicate and, when and where and how appropriate, ask for business. But how do you get known? How do you determine who needs your help and who is in a position to refer others who do? And how do you get into the kind of conversation that might actually lead to business?

If you answer each of these how questions, you will likely find that you have numerous potential routes to follow. For example, if you do family law, you might market directly to the clients who might hire you by speaking at community gatherings, writing a column in a local blog or newspaper, having a recurring segment on the radio or a podcast, etc. Or you might market to family therapists by sponsoring and speaking at their conferences, by attending events that they attend and building relationships through networking, or by offering useful information that therapists might pass on to their clients. And the list goes on and on and on. You will almost always be able to identify several groups of people who could hire you or refer business to you plus plentiful avenues to reach those groups.

How do you choose what to pursue and what to put on the “maybe later” list? If you have data about what has worked well for you in the past, that’s likely the best guidance. (If you own The Reluctant Rainmaker, check Chapter 5 for a method of collecting that data.) But if you don’t have that data, it’s a tougher decision.

Many lawyers, natural overachievers that we tend to be, try to pursue all or most of those options, all at once, and end up diluting efforts with equally diluted results. And that tends to feed into the “I’m just not cut out to be a rainmaker” fear or the “I am too busy to do this stuff” resistance, both of which tend to lead to a drop-off in effort and a corresponding drop-off in results.

Instead of running into that wall, look critically at your options and ask these questions:

  • Where are your most natural opportunities? If you’re deciding whether to pursue clients in the aerospace or medical device industries, which most naturally matches your background? Which industry is easier to get into as an outsider? Where do you already have more contacts?
  • What offers the greatest continuity? As a general principle, if you’ve been successful in one area, you’d be wise to expand into related or similar areas rather than to do something completely different.
  • What sounds the most appealing to you? If you’d rather poke out your eyeballs than talk with accountants or if you know you don’t have the time or interest in following up with people you meet in connection with a speaking opportunity, those activities likely will not be productive for you, however good they may look on paper. Choose something that interests you, that you’re willing to pursue. You don’t have to love it, but you have to be open.
  • Where is your competition? Years ago, I looked into joining a biotech-related industry group that offered an associate membership for those outside the industry. As I read through the list of representative members, it was like a directory of firms that competed directly with mine. That isn’t an absolute “no,” but it prompted me to check out other opportunities and to find one with less direct competition.
  • What offers the greatest likelihood of moving into a network that might lead to other opportunities? At the bottom, people are your greatest resource for new business. Look for routes that will allow you to develop a network of people who might hire you or refer business to you, who might introduce you to other opportunities and other groups, and who might function as your champion in some way. The easier that development, the more likely you’ll succeed in the process.

While you’ll want to consider other questions, these five will help you to narrow down the available opportunities. Once you’ve sorted through them in this way, choose one or two and focus on those for a period of six months, then evaluate your results. Sticking to a limited focus for a period gives you the best opportunity to concentrate your efforts and give it your best shot. If you see signs that you’re going down a path that will not be profitable, you can always drawback, but don’t get pulled into wondering if the other strategy you thought of would be even better until you’ve given the one you’re focusing on a fair trial. After six months (or less if you see signs of disaster), evaluate your results and decide how to shift your approach.

How To Handle Objections

Nobody wants to hear “no” in response to a request for business. Of course, you won’t get every piece of business you seek, and knowing that negative feedback is part of the process may help you to prepare. However, you may find that rather than being told directly that you’re not getting the business, you’ll get a deferral, an objection, or dead silence.

Deferral or silence may feel preferable to an objection since an objection constitutes negative feedback and may feel like the end of the road. But here’s the truth: an objection means that you still have a chance of getting the work.

Why? Simple: an objection is another step in conversation. Sometimes it’s the final step in closing the door on a business opportunity, but sometimes it’s possible to meet and negate the objection. An objection means that the prospective client is sufficiently engaged to let you know what the block is between you and the work.  Silence and deferral, if more than transitory, generally indicate that the work is going elsewhere and the prospective client doesn’t see the value in having an uncomfortable discussion about why.

An objection might be something like “your projected fees are much higher than we were expecting” or “I just don’t think you have the experience we need for this.” When you receive an objective, your goal isn’t necessarily to overcome it but to understand it fully and to respond as well as you can. In essence, an objection (or a surface-level objection that you probe and clarify until you’ve reached the crux of the objection) is a window into your prospective client’s thinking process.

To gain insight into how to respond when you receive an objection, read 4 Steps to Overcoming Sales Objections, a quick tutorial in the stages of conversation that should follow an objection.  It’s a short, high-level description of the steps to follow, with the opportunity to download a white paper that goes further into How to Handle Sales Objections.

You’ll also find more on handling objections in the upcoming Third Edition of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling. Can’t wait? I have two Consulting Condensed spots available for July. We’ll meet for two hours to discuss up to three aspects of your business development strategy, and you’ll walk away with targeted input and action items you can implement right away. Send an email to support@flemingstrategic.com to set up a short conversation to see if Consulting Condensed is right for you.

When you’re confident that you know how to address objections you receive, you’ll be much more prepared for the fundamental tasks of discussing a prospective representation and asking for the business. If you aren’t confident in that, you have some work to do.

 

Client Service Ideas That Really Work

Three keywords in building a strong practice: satisfaction, service, and value. Get these right, and chances are pretty decent that you’ll see repeat business (where feasible) and referrals. Get them wrong, and you may not like what you see.

A long-time favorite blog post 7 Good Customer Service Ideas That Work offers insight into how to get things right when it comes to the service you provide clients and ensuring that they’re satisfied with that service. My favorite points are:

  1. Provide an effortless experience: consider at every step how you can simplify every aspect of working with you so that it’s effortless (or as close to so as possible) for your clients. Examples might include providing checklists and clear directions to help your client gather necessary information or documents relevant to the matter you’re handling or including directions to your office and a link to Google Maps on your website. The less your client has to work with you, the better.
  2. Be kind! Inject small, meaningful gestures as you interact with your clients. Imagine the impression you’d make if the CEO of a snack company came to visit your office and found a refreshment station with water, coffee, fruit, and the snacks manufactured by the company. The same station would be nice for other clients as well, especially if you offered a cold bottle of water as they were leaving on a hot day. Grand gestures are not required; thoughtful ones are.
  3. Remember, “you don’t close a sale, you open a relationship.” In other words, “[o]nce your [client[ has come on board, make sure you really look after them.” This is, perhaps, nowhere more important than when you have introduced your client to a colleague who will be handling a new matter outside your area of practice. And if there’s one thing that the pandemic and its effects have shown us, it’s that connection matters. You don’t have to become best friends with your clients, of course, but the relationship is at the heart of all productive engagements.

The post has four other points that are worth checking out. Even more importantly, ask yourself: what can you do to improve your client service in a way that increases your clients’ satisfaction and the value they receive?

How To Use Social Media Effectively

If you’re using social media for business development purposes, you know that it can be a strong opportunity – or a black hole that will steal hours and energy and return absolutely nothing in the way of business results. As with so many other tools, your results have nothing to do with social media itself but rather with how effectively you use it as a tool.

If you’d like a primer on how to use social media well, read 17 Tips for Getting Your Small Business Started With Social Media Marketing. Some of it won’t be 100% on point because it’s primarily intended for entrepreneurs who are selling a product or service via social media, which is not the case for most lawyers even though the end-game goal is the same. Despite being 17 Tips, it’s a quick read that makes key points about how to use social media strategically and time effectively.

Can you grow your practice without using any social media? Absolutely. Can your efforts be magnified with appropriate use of social media? Almost certainly. Especially if you’re creating or curating content that your potential clients and referral sources will find helpful, social media can help you increase your reach without blowing a lot of extra time. 17 Tips will get you started or help you correct the course. Go read it… Now.

 

 

How Can You Maintain Your Clients’ Trust?

I was recently talking with a friend who is an extremely savvy business owner. She set up an LLC a number of years ago and, now that she’s expanding that business in a new direction with a partner, she consulted with an accountant to determine what sort of entity, if any, she and her new partner should establish. The accountant made the almost offhand comment that she always recommends that a business with $X in net profit should be an S-corporation to take advantage of certain tax savings. My friend was horrified that her previous accountant had clearly dropped the ball because her business had exceeded the $X net profit for many years now.

Look beyond the specifics and even the realities here: my friend had confidence in her first accountant until the new accountant offered a different approach that was purported to be much more favorable. Though she’s business-savvy, she doesn’t know which accountant is correct. Both positions seem plausible… How should she judge?

How often are your clients put into a similar position, in which they’re unable to evaluate your advice with independent knowledge and understanding?

 Some clients are legally savvy in your area of practice, which has its own pluses and minuses, but here’s the real question for today: how can you avoid losing your client’s confidence if she can’t make her own judgment about your advice? 

  1. Explain your advice, and make sure that at a minimum your client understands the basis for your advice. If additional information comes from another source, your client will have something to hold onto with the explanation you provided rather than being left to question your advice simply by virtue of shiny, new advice.
  2. Where appropriate, follow up with your clients and offer an updated review of their situation. Depending on your area of practice, you might even have a simple self-test to help your clients determine whether changed circumstances might require a fresh legal look. Note that changes might be based on changes to a client’s circumstances (as in my friend’s example) or they might be based on changes in the law that may affect a larger number of clients. Should you charge for the review? It depends on the amount of time your review will require and the volume of clients, among other issues.
  3. Consider whether you might send periodic mailings with some guidelines to scan for legally relevant change, such as, “If your net profit grows to more than $X, we should re-evaluate whether a different structure might be appropriate.” This is the least effective of these three approaches since it leaves the ball entirely in your client’s court, so consider a scheduled personal outreach to check the guidelines you provided.

Each of these approaches may garner more business for you as your clients’ circumstances change, and that’s valuable for you. More importantly, however, they offer protection for your clients going forward and decrease the chance that a change will unintentionally trigger your clients’ distrust. Once a seed of doubt is planted, you’ll find it difficult to recapture your clients’ confidence even if your advice is still applicable and on the mark.

Although these three tactics may be helpful to put into place, there’s one habit that will take the cake, regardless of which tactics you do or don’t use: connecting with your clients on a regular basis. Early in the pandemic, I advised my clients to touch base with their clients, just to see how they’re doing. To care about their clients.

Obviously, the ability to do that depends significantly on the volume of your practice. If you have a high-volume practice (patent prosecution for small companies, perhaps), you may find It impossible to check it with all of your clients. However, no matter the size, volume, or complexity of your practice, you can certainly identify key clients or key referral sources and check in with them. When you connect with your clients, they’re less likely to be distracted or poached by fresh advice—at least, without talking with you first.

Oh, and those tactics… You do realize they too are all about connection, right?

What do you need to put into place to protect your clients and yourself?

Client Experience Matters

When I speak with a lawyer who’s interested in becoming a private client, one of the things I probe around is what distinguishes him or her from other lawyers in the same kind of practice. The answers usually revolve around past experiences of some kind, enhanced skill, strategic and business acumen, or lower fees due to increased efficiency or a better fee structure. No doubt those factors are important. But because just about every lawyer highlights some version of the same distinguishing factors, they may not be particularly unique or appealing.

The key question is always this: what makes you different from other lawyers in a way that really matters to clients? Let’s look outside the law for a moment to see how this question plays out.

Take Amazon. Yes, Amazon gets a bad rap that’s often deserved, but Amazon’s customer experience was for quite some time completely different from that created by other retailers. Customers have come to rely on having that experience in a variety of ways, as proven by the copycat retailers who’ve adopted some or all of Amazon’s playbook. Let’s look at three phases of the Amazon customer experience:

  1. Finding the product I can place an order in multiple ways. I can type a product name or description, I can scan a product’s UPC, I can take a photo of the desired product using my smartphone and search for it, I can dictate the name of the product I want to buy, or (at least in some cases) I can hit a pre-programmed button to reorder common goods. Finding what I want and placing an order is easy.
  2. Receiving the product Because I’m a member of Amazon Prime, I can have almost anything I want delivered in one or two business days. I can track the delivery, and in those rare instances in which a package doesn’t arrive as promised, Amazon will send a replacement at no additional charge. It’s easy to get what I want from Amazon, I know what to expect, and I can be sure that reality is lining up with my expectations.
  3. Returning the product If I don’t like the product I receive or if I’ve simply changed my mind, returning it is typically as simple as making a few clicks and printing a return shipping label. I usually have the option of returning the item (unpackaged) to a UPS Store, a designated retailer like Kohl’s, or to an Amazon facility. Or, in many instances, UPS will pick up the package from my home or office. I’m even willing to buy large items like a mattress because Amazon has streamlined that process as well, often granting a refund without requiring me to return the item. So easy!

It’s easy to do business with Amazon, so I do a lot of business with Amazon. Sometimes I don’t feel great about it, and I make a special effort to support my local businesses, but the ease of doing business with Amazon has made me a loyal customer.

That experience is about more than the ultimate product I receive. Of course, the product matters, but the reliability of getting the product I want is what often matters most to me as a customer.

Back to law: of course the ultimate outcome of a matter you handle for a client is absolutely critical. Your work product must be right, and it must come as close as possible to attaining the client’s goals. But that’s just one part of what creates client satisfaction or loyalty. The experience of getting to that end result is often what creates the bigger impression. You want clients to say that you accomplished what they needed and, equally importantly, that the process of reaching that end result was easy, predictable, and as pleasant as possible.

What would your clients say about their experience in doing business with you? Do you let them know what to expect in your work together, both substantively and procedurally? Do you meet your promises to them? Do you keep them up-to-date on their matter, on a regular basis, in a way that’s helpful for them? Is it easy for them to reach you? If you’re unavailable, is it easy for them to reach someone else on your team, or do they know who to contact? Is it easy for them to receive, understand, and pay your invoices? And beyond easy: is it pleasant to work with you?

The less friction and more predictability in your client’s experience working with you, the better your client is likely to feel about working with you, and the more likely they’ll hire you again and refer you when the opportunity arises.

How can you improve your clients’ experience?

Your BD Plan Must Be A Living Document

Do you know what is the biggest stumbling block for lawyers who want to grow their practices? You might think it’s being too busy, dislike of networking, or fear of asking for business. And those are all good guesses, but incorrect.

Lawyers who want to grow their practices most often stumble over their marketing plan. Several problems are common:

  • Failure to make a plan
  • Failure to make a realistic plan
  • Focusing the plan too broadly or too narrowly
  • Relying too heavily on a single marketing effort

But by far the biggest problem I see is in how the plan is (or is not) implemented. A strategic marketing plan must be a living document that’s regularly consulted and revised in accord with changing circumstances. Making a plan is the first step, using the plan is important, and knowing the heart of the plan well enough to adapt your strategy is, as Charles de Gaulle indicated in the quote below, critical.

The advent of the pandemic and its lockdowns proved this point beyond any question. If your business development plan called for speaking at or attending conferences or frequent face-to-face networking, the viability of your plan changed almost literally overnight.

A secondary change is beginning to occur now, as cities are reopening. Perhaps you adjusted your networking and conference plans so that instead of meeting in person, you met via Zoom. And maybe it’s time to shift that again: face-to-face meetings may be possible but some of your contacts (or perhaps you) won’t be comfortable meeting face-to-face or without masks just yet. Since creating connections is the goal at the heart of all networking, you may want to find ways to issue invitations that offer a variety of ways to meet so that you can connect while respecting everyone’s level of comfort.

And, of course, the availability of networking is only one example of a change in circumstance that will necessitate a change in your plan. The law may change. Business or economic realities may affect your practice. You may experience personal challenges that prompt you to re-examine your plans. In other words, life happens and it’s up to you to make sure to adapt your business development plan accordingly. 

How well do you adapt your plan as circumstances change?

The Attention Economy

As we’re beginning to re-emerge from isolation due to Covid, it’s time to take a fresh look at how we focus our attention.

Many of my clients told me that even though working from home was challenging because of family responsibilities, once they got into a groove they found that they were actually more productive since they could focus entirely on being with family for a while, then go to a home office and focus entirely on work. Ah, the benefit of undivided attention.

(And if that doesn’t describe your experience, ask yourself why. Sometimes there are circumstances outside our control—a single parent with small children who will interrupt whenever they think they want or need to, with no one to offer back-up—and often we put up our own roadblocks. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

The Attention Economy refers to how we spend our time and how we focus our attention. How we do that is worthy of an important-sounding title because a key part of effective prioritizing requires choosing what merits our attention and then actually giving our attention to the things we’ve decided need it.

But…

How often do you find yourself doing one activity and thinking about another?  Perhaps you check email while you’re talking with someone. Or you might catch yourself in a networking conversation (virtual or face-to-face), nodding along as someone speaks and you’re mentally composing what to say when it’s your time to talk.

There are two reasons we do this “here but not here” behavior: either we think we’re making good use of the time by multitasking (as in checking email during a conversation) or we’re uncomfortable and trying to get more comfortable (as in preparing our comments while someone else talks). Most of us have also had the experience of getting “busted”: the person who’s talking realizes we aren’t listening, or we make an error because we’re juggling two (or more) tasks simultaneously.

Why not try being fully present with what you’re doing? If you’re in a conversation, close your email and put your phone on “do not disturb” so you can direct all of your attention to the discussion. Let go of the need to compose your side of a conversation while someone else is talking: listen with your full attention and then respond. If you notice your attention wandering, take a deep breath to bring yourself back.

Conversations tend to be more effective when you’re fully present. (Imagine that!) You’ll also find that you catch not only what’s said, but also nuances that should perhaps be explored—including that great conversational tidbit that will turn a ho-hum networking conversation into a relationship that leads to business or other professional opportunities.

You will also develop stronger relationships when you’re fully present. Especially at a time when we’re all so accustomed to playing second fiddle to a smartphone, finding someone who is genuinely engaged in conversation is enormously appealing and memorable. (People who have that special interpersonal it factor are always said to make those around them feel like the only other person in the room. That’s the power of being fully present.) And strong relationships bring all kinds of dividends, from growing your social circle to becoming a trusted advisor.

As Malcolm Forbes said, “Presence is more than just being there.”  Being fully present focuses all of your senses on the task or person at hand.  It’s a learned skill.

Try an experiment: resolve to be fully present for a couple of hours a day and see what you notice.