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4 posts from September 2005

September 28, 2005

The zen of selling by not selling

Do you hate the idea of glad-handed, cold-calling selling?

That’s OK. It wouldn’t work for lawyers anyway.

In the year 2005, the traditional approach to selling doesn’t even work for insurance and stocks. In his studies of financial advisors, Robert Krumroy has found that it’s been getting harder and harder for financial advisors to attract the attention of new prospects, or to keep the loyalty of existing customers. In a world with too many voices screaming for attention, the old approach to selling simply does not work.

Bob’s new book “Please… Make ME a little bit FAMOUS!” describes what does work: a more patient, less aggressive strategy based on defining a target group, becoming well known within that group, and gradually generating sales from those relationships. The book won’t come out until January, but when I had a chance to read a pre-publication version, I was struck by how well these ideas could work for lawyers.

Every day, the average person sees over 3,000 sales and marketing messages. Given this information overload, Krumroy has found that financial advisors now need 12 to 18 contacts per year to achieve that “top of mind” status that can lead to a sale. Now if you contact someone 18 times per year directly trying to sell, you will be a pest. So the most successful financial advisors have learned to walk the line between social and business relationships, and to find low key ways to keep in touch. If you build enough relationships with the right people, Krumroy says, the sales will come. Selling by not selling.

The idea of slow, steady, repeated contacts has been around in marketing for a long time. As Drew McLellan put it in a marketing speech I saw last year: “You want to be a drip, not a downpour.” But applying this much patience to sales is a new concept. Sales gurus often talk about needing 6 contacts with a prospect before you should expect a significant step forward. In this approach, even 12 to 18 may not be enough.

The hard part of executing this strategy is to come up with new reasons for frequent contacts that will be perceived as positive, memorable, and helpful, rather than pushy. Frequent emails are one key part of this strategy. For example, Krumroy says, you can take digital pictures of your prospects at a golf tournament or charity event, create an online album at a service like Shutterfly or the Kodak Gallery, and then send a link to the online album to the people on your list. Even if they never open the email, this will keep your name in front of people

Successful rainmakers are naturals at selling by not selling. If they get more systematic about it, their results will multiply. But the concept also has some risks for lawyers who hate to sell: they could use this approach to justify just scheduling more golf dates, then considering the sales job done.

On my Amazon list of recommended sales books for lawyers, the top book is Mark Maraia’s Rainmaking Made Simple. He talks about this issue in chapter 17 “Avoid Random Acts of Lunch.” Like other social encounters, lunch can be a great way to advance relationships and sales. But it only works well if you prepare in advance, and follow-up later.

What’s more, lawyers need to be selective about who they invite to a business lunch. For financial advisors, every neighbor is a potential customer for stocks, mutual funds and insurance. But not everyone needs advice on antitrust litigation or government contracts, so most lawyers will have a much narrower target market.

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In future blog postings, I’ll have a lot more to say more about how to adapt Krumroy’s ideas to law firm rainmaking. But today’s main point is summarized in the title of this posting: sometimes, what works best is the zen of selling by not selling.

September 21, 2005

Stop marketing, start selling - Part 3

I preach the importance of direct selling with the zeal of a convert.

When I started my own company 20 years ago, I used to brag that our only sales activity was to answer the phone. But then a funny thing happened: the phone stopped ringing, and I nearly went out of business. The second time this happened, I decided to learn about selling.

I wish I could say that things turned around as soon as I started spending time and money on sales, and that every dollar was well spent. But it wasn’t. Selling is like a Lewis and Clark expedition through uncharted territories – it’s hard to tell when you’re getting close to gold, and when you are going in circles.

And if that’s not discouraging enough, marketing and sales are not a natural fit for most lawyers. As consultant Peter Darling put it in his white paper Law Firm Business Development: “A good lawyer values logic, definition, precision and thoroughness… Marketing is the exact opposite. If a lawyer is a sharp knife, a marketer seems like a paint roller. Marketing is all about the irrational, fuzzy, highly emotional way most people make decisions and reach conclusions, particularly about how they spend their money.”

Marketing is hard for most lawyers, and sales is even harder. Marketing includes generating leads through client surveys, Web sites, brochures, collateral, databases, newsletters, direct mail, seminars, special events, advertising, public relations, speeches, and interviews. With all those items on a marketer’s to do list, who’s got time to follow up on the leads and actually sell anything?

At least when you are marketing, you can move at your own pace, and you can stay in control. You can always guarantee that you’ll finish a brochure (marketing), but you can never guarantee when a new client will sign up (sales).

I don’t want to overstate my case (much). Without the proper marketing foundation, sales efforts can fly off in unproductive directions. And the bigger the firm, the more important it is to have a marketing foundation. But in my opinion, many firms are spending too much on improving the foundation (marketing) when they should be building the first and second floor (sales). Better is the enemy of good enough.

Sales is the jungle, where you eat what you kill. It’s sloppy and unpredictable and an emotional roller coaster. You have to call on lots of people, and some of them will not want to hear from you. It’s a numbers game where some rejection and loss is inevitable. “No matter how good you become,” wrote Michael Bosworth in Solution Selling (page 83), “not everyone will buy from you.”

But sales is also exciting and energizing. There’s a good reason why so many people ride roller coasters. Nothing is quite as much fun as snapping a victory from the jaws of defeat.

And in the next few years, attorneys who succeed at sales will not only make a lot of money, they will save jobs. Including their own.

September 14, 2005

Take it from the top

“Legal marketing is all about pain management,” said Edward Schechter, Chief Marketing Officer at Duane Morris, at a meeting of the Legal Marketing Association of New England on September 7. “The DuPont model is changing the profession. Clients are under the gun to reduce the number of law firms they use, and they are working with fewer lawyers. More and more law firms are expanding marketing and sales tactics to respond… In the future, I expect the marketing and business development groups will play a more central role and take over full responsibility for monitoring and improving client satisfaction.”

Mr. Schechter’s comments came during an information-packed panel called “A view from the top” in which Chief Marketing Officers from five of Boston’s largest law firms described the lessons of the past, and their predictions for the future.

This fast paced panel discussion was built around a series of questions collected from legal marketers in advance, such as “How do you justify the value in investing in brand/marketing to attorneys who may see it as unmeasurable?” Anne Malloy Tucker from Goodwin Procter answered that one: “You don’t try to justify it. Just move on and do it. Anybody who understands business knows that legal marketing is a long-term relationship-driven process. If you get in the position of constantly trying to justify everything, you are wasting everyone’s time… On the other hand, when you do achieve a success that can be measured, make sure you over publicize it.”

Another question to the panel: “Given that most customers regard law firms as ‘all the same,’ how do you distinguish one firm from another?” Stephanie Goldstein of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr explained that the answer must come not from internal reflection or self-analysis, but rather from listening. “Listen to clients, to judges, to law school deans and to law students. Ask them how they see your firm, and you’ll learn a lot about how you are perceived in the marketplace.”

The importance of listening came up in several contexts. In explaining how to write lawyer bios, Jim Durham of Ropes & Gray said: “You need to listen to clients to find out what they care about. You’ll find that different people want different things. One third may care about cases relevant to their industry, another third may want to make sure lawyers understand their business needs, and the final third is looking for the kind of details that will give them a warm and fuzzy feeling about the possible personal chemistry with each lawyer.” He later explained that on line bios also need to be organized in such a way that each client/prospect can quickly find the information that they care about.

Given my background, I paid the most attention when these industry leaders talked about sales training and coaching.

“There are some terrific training consultants out there,” according to Roberta Montafia of Day Berry & Howard. “But you need to establish the proper infrastructure before training can work. Otherwise trainers come in, everyone gets excited, the trainers go home, and things go back to the way they were before... A pilot test can be very helpful.”

Ed Schechter also emphasized the importance of drawing on sales knowledge from other fields: “I hate to reinvent the wheel. Some great sales techniques have been developed in accounting and other industries, and these lessons must be applied in legal sales.”

When the panelists were asked to summarize their most critical lessons in 20 second sound bites, the advice came fast and furious: “Think big… Take risks... Be bold… Understand how fiercely competitive this business has become… Retain and grow your current clients first, then worry about developing new ones… Pilot everything… Never take no for an answer... And follow the money.”

My favorite goal of the night came from Jim Durham. He wants to change the way lawyers treat clients, to the point that lawyer jokes disappear by the year 2008. Now THAT is thinking big.

September 07, 2005

If you can't be optimistic, pretend

When I talk to lawyers about how advertising principles can help them increase sales, people often ask: which principle is the most important one? The correct answer is: It depends on the person and the situation. But on the days when I want a simpler answer, I say it’s AdverSelling principle #7: Be optimistic and credible.

If you’re a lawyer, credibility is probably second nature. But optimism may go against every fiber of your being. When you’ve spent an entire career preparing for things to go wrong, and cleaning up after things that actually have gone wrong, it’s hard to be optimistic. But researchers have consistently found that optimism is linked to sales success.

For example, in the 1980s, Metropolitan Life Insurance hired Psychologist Martin Seligman to study the five thousand new agents they hired every year. Since eighty percent of all new agents leave the profession within a few years, they wanted to save money by improving their retention rate and/or hiring practices

Now it’s very hard to sell life insurance. For both successful and unsuccessful agents, most sales calls fail. That’s why it’s called a numbers game – you have to be willing to approach a very large number of people for your low success rate to produce a good living.

These researchers expected that the agents who succeeded would begin doing better soon after they were hired. But to their surprise, the percentage of success in the first year was quite similar for agents who lasted in the profession, and for those who later quit. What was different was the way they interpreted their many failures. The most successful sales agents were consistently optimistic. When they lost a sale, they never said it was because “selling life insurance is hard” or “I’m no good at it.” Instead, every unsuccessful sale was an exception: “that guy was too busy” or “they just happened to be eating when I called.” The sales people that lasted were always convinced that success was just around the corner. And so it was.

Can a pessimist succeed at sales? Of course it’s possible. But it will take some work.

In the book Learned Optimism, Seligman provides detailed instructions for actively changing the way you react to adversity and setbacks. I have a summary of his suggestions in big letters on my bulletin board. And when they don’t work, I pretend.