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5 posts from December 2006

December 27, 2006

Sales training: Is it worth your while? Part 2 of 4

Making sales training work

Whether it’s called “business development training,” “account management training,” “relationship training,” or something else, legal sales training often aims to increase success by improving client relations and service.

Before he went to Ropes & Gray, Jim Durham was one of the leading consultants in this area, and he believes that, “The most important qualities of successful lawyers are about service and attitude… The communication, relational, and attitudinal skills that are essential to being a great lawyer are just as important as being able to name the most relevant Supreme Court decisions.” His book The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering explains how to do this and provides “a road map to success by articulating what a lawyer needs to do to have every client say: ‘My lawyer is the best lawyer with whom I have ever worked.’”

Training programs take a variety of different roads to this goal, and emphasize different skills. According to Dave Milberg, Director of Marketing and Communications at Schiff Hardin in Chicago, “The most critical skill in developing new business can be summed up in one word: listening.”

Jones at Akin Gump emphasizes teamwork: “Lawyers are taught from the beginning of their career to work and excel as individuals. It’s all very competitive and individualistic. Our sales training helps them to provide better service and become more inclusive by working on a team with partners, associates, and clients.”

At Fish & Richardson, Rene Kraus is managing a new program which increases buy-in by having each lawyer select a different focus. Each individual reviews a checklist to select the items that best fit their practice and personality. Then they work with a coach, to ensure efficient follow up. According to Kraus “Checklists and pointers are very effective because lawyers are so busy, and many are literal people who appreciate the specifics. Sometimes it’s just the obvious. It can be as simple as remembering to call the client once in a while, since one of the chief complaints of clients is that they never hear from their lawyers.”

Some law firms are combining these elements and others into comprehensive training programs. In May, Bingham McCutchen began rolling out a new training program for associates, which tailors its approach based on their experience (junior, mid-level and senior associates). Bingham will continue to offer breakfast and lunch meetings in each of its twelve offices over the next several months. Six one hour sessions cover such themes as “Transforming client contacts into client relationships” and “Leveraging organized events: Preplanning and follow-up.”

Sessions are led by attorney development managers and practice leaders who focus on concrete examples of what has worked in the past. According to Dan Jackson, Bingham’s Director of Attorney Development: “Everybody agrees that law school can teach you how to think like a lawyer. But the practice of law is learned by doing, not in the classroom. Business development is no exception.”

Barrett at Drinker Biddle agrees. When he started a new sales training program last March, he hand picked a group of 12 practice group leaders, rainmakers and senior managers to attend the first session. In class, each lawyer agreed to specific assignments, such as meeting with a particular client, arranging a social or educational event with client personnel, or working to enhance the relationship with a particular person. In the first two months after the class, these activities produced many major new engagements valued at six figures, including a class action defense in Alabama for a large cable telecommunications company, obtaining all the intellectual property work for one of the largest HMOs in America, and being selected to handle three huge healthcare joint ventures between two Fortune 50 companies.

Based on this success, the training participants became missionaries who spread the word throughout the firm. As Barrett explained: “You need management to take the first step and establish that business development must be the responsibility of every lawyer in the firm. After that, it’s all about what lawyers say to each other in the hallways.”

This four part series is an expanded version of an article that I wrote for the most recent issue of Law Firm Inc (Nov/Dec 2006, p. 30). To see the abridged version that appeared in print, go to the free resources section of our web page.

December 20, 2006

Sales training: Is it worth your while? Part 1 of 4

This four part series is an expanded version of an article that I wrote for the most recent issue of Law Firm Inc (Nov/Dec 2006, p. 30).

For most lawyers, sales is a dirty word. But if you think that relatively few law firms have tried sales training, think again. In a survey published by ALM Research and The Brand Research Company, a majority of the 157 firms who responded had implemented some type of sales training.

The larger the firm, the more likely it was to have tried sales training. 69% of the “Tier 1” firms in the survey (with an average of 489 lawyers) had trained some of their lawyers vs. 46% of the “Tier 2” firms (with an average of 118 lawyers).

When Sue Stock Allison of the Brand Research Company and Katherine Daisley, Marketing Manager for ALM Research, presented these findings in June at the Legal Sales and Service Organization’s RainDance Conference, the fact that captured the headlines was not the number trained, but perceptions of the results. When the marketing professionals in the survey were asked to rate eight factors that contributed to revenue growth, sales training came in dead last.

When strategic marketing consultant Larry Bodine, founder of the Law Marketing Portal, described the audience reaction to these findings in his blog, the title of his post read “Shock and Awe at LSSO: Sales Training Doesn't Work.”

Jim Durham, Chief Marketing Officer at Ropes & Gray, says that one reason that the results of sales training are controversial is that “The term ‘sales’ should always be in quotes because it means so many different things to people.” Some programs specialize in large account management training, others in how to win new business, or in how to get referrals, or in how to network. Success varies based both on the type of training, and on the audience.

To understand what works, it makes sense to start with the most basic question: Why are so many law firms trying sales training?

The competitive environment

“It’s ridiculously more competitive out there, and lawyers simply must start selling to survive,” says Steve Barrett, Chief Marketing Officer at Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle. “Major clients are reorganizing the way they buy legal services. A tectonic shift to buyer power is underway, similar to what happened in the 1980s when HMOs and third party payers started taking over the healthcare industry. ”

It all started with DuPont. The Dupont Legal Model “helps law firms and corporate law departments improve the quality, cost and efficiency of legal services.” One way it does this is by systematically cutting back on the number of law firms that large corporations use. Their web page describes how Dupont itself used the model to reduce an “unwieldy assortment… of more than 350 law firms and scores of service providers and consultants” to 42 primary law firms and a handful of others. Since then, many other firms have applied this “convergence process” to cut costs. In one notable example, Tyco reduced the number of law firms it uses in product liability cases from 167 down to one.

Some law firms are trying to survive this cut-throat process by reducing price. Others aim to succeed by improving service and strengthening relationships. As Rene Kraus, Director of Marketing and Business Development of the Patent Group at Fish & Richardson, put it: “When companies divide the work among fewer firms, relationships can be critical. It’s really easy to cut somebody from the list if you haven’t talked to them in a while.”

Many firms are also organizing lawyers into groups to improve quality through client service teams. Client Services Advisor Iris Jones manages this process for one of the leaders in the movement, Washington D.C. firm Akin Gump. She explains: “One thing that’s different these days is that clients demand to be much more involved in decision making. There was a time when clients expected lawyers to handle matters for them, and were not as involved in the details. The client’s role was simply to pay the bills. Now clients are looking for efficiency, cost savings, and value added. This is a cultural shift which requires lawyers to be more open and to collaborate in teams. Success is no longer just about talent, now it is about responsiveness, rapport, trust, and service.”

Sales training is one of the ways many firms are responding to these changes in the competitive environment, and in the very definition of a successful lawyer. Mind you, there is still a great deal of resistance. None of the people interviewed for this article claimed that lawyers are lining up in the halls asking for sales training. As Dan Jackson, Director of Attorney Development at Boston’s Bingham McCutchen noted “The concept of selling is foreign to many lawyers. The law is a proud profession. In the past, prior work was often enough to produce continuing business.” But lawyers are starting to recognize the need for change, and their firms are experimenting with a variety of approaches to sales training.

To see the abridged version of this article as it appeared in Law Firm Inc., go to the free resources section of our web page.

December 13, 2006

The hidden power of social networks

The Law Firm Chief Marketing Officer Forum in New York started off last week with a presentation called “Maximizing business development success through social networks.” Keynote speaker Rob Cross, discussed some of the central concepts in his book The Hidden Power of Social Networks (with Andrew Parker) and their implications for legal marketing.

Social network researchers analyze the way groups of people interact with each other, including who talks to whom, how often, and the implications. The term was introduced more than 50 years ago, and has proven so useful in the social sciences that it now has its own academic society. As wikipedia summed it up, research has shown that social networks “play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.”

Cross specializes in applying the concepts to the business world, and his book is subtitled “Understanding how work really gets done in organizations.” This understanding is not an academic exercise. It can help organizations improve collaboration and teamwork by building on the strengths of relationships that already exist, and improving on the ones that are causing problems.

In large law firms, these concepts may be especially helpful for client service teams. At the same conference, Iris Jones and Jeff Sherwood described how Akin Gump uses client teams to build stronger relationships. Cross’ presentation focused on the underlying research, including studies comparing two ways account teams in other industries communicate. In the first, there are many lines of communication between the client and the firm. In the second, communications between the client and the firm are limited by structured roles and communication protocols. With this second style, most team members go to each other for information, rather than directly to the client. Which style do you think will be more effective?

Some people are strong proponents of controlling the flow of information, to avoid the confusion that inevitably occurs when a variety of messages flow through a number of channels. I think this second model is especially valued by law firms in China and North Korea. Or maybe I made that up. In any case, research has proven that the first more open approach produces better results. When clients communicate freely with their suppliers, satisfaction goes up. And when client satisfaction goes up, revenue is sure to follow.

As Rob summed it up “Diverse, high-quality client connections across several team members allows for better customer service, cross-selling opportunities, and greater awareness of relevant expertise.” This is consistent with BTI surveys that have shown that clients are hungry for more and better communication with their lawyers.

Relationships within the client team may also contribute to success, and Cross described several different styles which can help or hinder the free flow of information. For example, “The bottleneck creates a heavy reliance on him- or herself. Bottlenecks use their own time – and that of others – inefficiently; they invisibly hold up work and innovation in the network.” Have you ever heard of a lawyer like that?

The results are not pretty. “Bottlenecks may experience personal burnout; the organization’s dependence on them means it fails to use expertise on the network’s periphery; the network is slower to respond to opportunities and threats, and innovation stalls.”

Social network analysis not only calls attention to this problem, it also outlines the solution: “Identify categories of information, decision rights and tasks that can be reallocated to alleviate overloaded points and draw others into the network.” Easier said than done, but the first step is always the hardest.

Social network studies of law firms are just beginning. I for one will be watching closely to see what they learn as the legal profession continues to deal with enormous forces of change.

Get more results from speeches

Is this your top priority?

Speeches can be a great way to build visibility and reputations, and may be especially useful for lawyers who are just starting to build a reputation. However, it is important to recognize that this is a long-term marketing tactic. So it’s likely to be your top priority only if you love to speak, are good at it, have a topic you are passionate about, are willing to follow up, and are focused on the long term.

Speak to the right audience

It’s often easiest to schedule speeches to groups of lawyers who specialize in the same areas that you do. If they might refer business to you, that’s a good strategy. But if they are your competitors, find a different audience. Ask clients and prospects what groups they belong to, and see if you can speak there. Each time you give a speech, ask yourself how many potential clients are in this audience.

The goal of every speech

If you want to develop new business, the goal of every speech is to meet new people and begin relationships by getting face-to-face meetings. This requires significant follow-up.


By themselves, most speeches have little chance of generating business. You must follow up with each potential client within two days of your speech. The longer you wait, the more awkward this will feel, and the less likely it is to work.

Plan excuses to follow up

On the day of the speech, each time you talk to someone, ask for a business card, and jot down a note on the back about your conversation. During the speech, offer additional information such as a copy of your slides, an article you’ve written, or an extra handout to anyone who gives you a business card. Use the additional handouts as an excuse to establish a personal connection.
Aim for face-to-face meetings to learn more about their business, and send personal notes. Assume that you will need multiple contacts over several months to turn this relationship into new business. Establish a system to insure that you follow up with each person you meet.

Invite clients and prospects

Use the speech as an excuse to keep in touch with other clients and prospects. Send each an email or a personal note inviting them to your speech. Even if none of them come, it will help establish your reputation as an expert, and most will be flattered to be invited.

Take the first step today

If you have a speech scheduled, plan how you will follow up with each potential client in the audience.

This material was adapted from my new book Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide

December 06, 2006

Unhappy customers and my problems with ACT

This is a copy of a letter I am sending to customer support for ACT, the contact management program I have used for many years.

Congratulations. Sage Software succeeded today in getting me to spend $184.90 to buy an ACT upgrade I did not want. It seemed this was the only way I could get the program working on my new laptop.

You could not have given me worse service if you tried. When I moved programs and data to my new laptop, everything worked very smoothely… except ACT. Since I use ACT to keep in touch with 796 of the people who are most important to my business, this was very bad news. This led to:

1) Several days of confusing error messages, none of which mentioned a need to purchase anything new. I began to suspect money was the issue when I explained the problem to someone who helped me make the move, and he said that “some companies create this sort of problem as a sleazy tactic to get users to upgrade.”

2) This led me to call the phone number you provided. But it was closed Saturday and Sunday.

3) On Monday, I spent over an hour on hold, and being bounced from one person to another, including being assigned a case number that would not be accepted by your system.

4) When I finally got technical help, my helper could barely speak English, and had to repeat most instructions several times. After 45 minutes of this, he said he would send me an email with a link to a technical article that would solve my problem immediately. I asked him to stay on the line to verify that the email arrived. He said his mail server was down and I’d get it in 10 minutes. 24 hours and several calls later, it still had not arrived.

5) That’s when I decided to give up and pay for your upgrade. My reluctance had a little to do with the money, and a lot to do with the last time I upgraded ACT, and spent many many hours getting it to work.

6) I then spent four more hours downloading the new program, and trying to get it to work. This included another hour on the phone with technical support in India. This person seemed much better, took control of my computer, and proceeded to delete many system files. The she said, don’t worry, everything is great, now you can install it on your own. I said it didn’t feel great and asked her to stay on the line. She refused about 10 times, but did stay long enough for me to check my email for a message from ACT. But now my email no longer worked, due to a new error in Outlook that I had never seen before about a missing file. Since she had just spent an hour deleting files, I said I thought she should help. She said it had nothing to do with ACT, and I should call Microsoft. As I write this, ACT is working, but I am re-installing several other programs to try to solve the new problems ACT caused.

You won the battle, and got my money. But if this is the way you treat customers, I guarantee you will lose the war.

When I emailed Joe Morrell about these adventures, he replied “ACT has a very good product with a lot of solid features, but they should be ashamed of their customer service. They are so useless that you really are pretty much on your own.” (Joe is known by some as a consultant at Navigant, and by others as my daughter's boyfriend.)

I own a company that helps law firms develop new business, and am often asked what I think about ACT. In the past, I’ve said that I have used it for several years, and was reasonably satisfied. In the future, I will tell this story, and explain that I will switch from ACT to Salesforce as soon as I can find time.

The moral of the story is that one dissatisfied client can lead to millions in lost revenue, as he or she tells important business contacts about the poor service that a particular firm provided. In a 1995 Harvard Business Review article, Thomas Jones and W. Earl Sasser described the threat from “customers who have had a bad experience and can’t wait to tell others… with each telling, their stories grow in intensity…”

I plan to tell this story when I give speeches about the importance of exceptional customer service in the internet age. It will help me to make the point that any firm that treats their customers badly should expect unhappy clients to email all their friends, and then post the details in their blogs.