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4 posts from June 2007

June 27, 2007

34 questions for clients and prospects

Kit Many lawyers are better at talking than at listening. But experts say that when you are developing new business, you should listen at least 50% of the time. You can improve listening by preparing customized questions before each meeting. Review this list, pick three, adapt them to your situation, and then sit back and listen.

Eleven business questions for clients and prospects

  1. What are the biggest challenges that you face?
  2. What business problems keep you up at night?
  3. Where do you see your industry going in the next few years?
  4. How do you keep track of developments in your industry? What do you read? What organizations do you belong to?
  5. What does your ideal customer look like?
  6. What works best in finding new customers?
  7. Who are your biggest customers?
  8. What is it like to work for your company?
  9. For your job, who are the key people in your company?
  10. Do you often socialize with people you meet through business? What do you like to do?
  11. What else should I ask about?

Seven legal questions for clients and prospects

  1. What did you like best about legal services in the past?
  2. What did you like least?
  3. How is your legal department organized?
  4. How do decisions about legal services get made?
  5. What are your biggest legal concerns?
  6. What do you look for in a law firm?
  7. Do you have an impression of our firm?

Sixteen questions to keep people talking

  1. Tell me more about ____.
  2. Would you elaborate on ____.
  3. Give me an example of ____.
  4. What else should I know about ____?
  5. How does ____ fit in the picture?
  6. Talk to me about your experience with ____.
  7. How do you handle ____?
  8. What makes this urgent?
  9. Why is this important right now?
  10. What bothers you most?
  11. How tough a position does this put you in?
  12. How does this affect you?
  13. Why is this important to you?
  14. How does that sound?
  15. Do I have it right?
  16. "If you were to go ahead with ____ when would you ____?"

Coming soon: 24 more questions aimed at current clients. This material was adapted from The LegalBizDev Success Kit.

June 20, 2007

Your best sales coach may be your client

Any lawyer who develops new business with Fortune 1000 firms knows that the process of getting a new engagement can be a long and winding road, with many false starts, dead ends, and rapid mood swings. That’s just the nature of dealing with large organizations: there are many people on the other side of the table, and they don’t always agree. In fact, they may be competing with each other for the power to make a particular decision. So whenever one of them tells you something, it must be weighed against what the others may think.

Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman are pioneers in the consultative selling movement, and they developed a system to help sales pros build consensus in this volatile environment. In their 1985 classic Strategic Selling, they identified four distinct buying influences in large and complex sales:

The Economic Buying Influence is the alpha dog who controls the money, and is the ultimate decision maker. This buyer may or may not want the lowest price, but is always looking for the best return on investment.

User Buying Influence is exerted by one or many people who will actually use the product or service. Sales beginners often deal only with users, and are surprised when they learn that these users don’t have the power to buy what they want.

The Technical Buying Influence concerned with measurable and quantifiable standards and specifications which the organization may have. This group has the negative veto power to prevent purchases that don’t conform to company standards, but rarely has the positive power to force a purchase.

The Coach is an insider who can help a sales person build consensus by providing information and interpreting events as the situation develops.

In legal business development, the importance of understanding these categories is going up, because large companies are changing the way they purchase legal services. (For example, see my blog about the increasing role of procurement professionals.)

Miller and Heiman list four main ways that a good Coach can help build consensus by helping you:
Figure out who are really the real key players in this buying decision (in a large organization, they may be different from the people who believe they are the real players)
Identify which of your strengths will have the biggest impact in this situation, and help you avoid red flags
Predict how different buyers may react to your proposal, based on their different perspectives
Understand the results that each buyer needs to see your proposal as a win-win

Why should the Coach help you get the work? According to Miller and Heiman, there is only one acceptable reason: “It’s in his or her own self-interest for the buying organization to accept your solution (page 85)” They argue that when it comes to Coaches, you should especially avoid the ‘friend’ who ‘likes you.’ Don’t confuse liking you with liking your proposal. (page 211)

So if you want to find a Coach to help get that next engagement, you must find someone whose interests are aligned with yours, and build the role. Nobody said this would be easy. For specifics, see The New Strategic Selling : The Unique Sales System Proven Successful by the World's Best Companies, Revised and Updated for the 21st Century.

Is it worth the trouble? Only you can answer that for a particular situation. But a Coach who believes the sale will benefit both her company and herself will be an enormous help in building consensus not just for this new engagement, but for the next one.

June 13, 2007

The top 16 ways to increase client satisfaction

In business, nothing is more important than satisfying your current clients. They pay your rent, your employees, and your salary, and they are the most likely source of new business.

In a recent LexisNexis study, the good news was that every law firm said they had a client retention program in place. The bad news was that most had no way of evaluating the success of their program or of measuring client retention (61%). The majority did not even keep a list of which clients were most at-risk to take their business elsewhere (55%).

When I gave the keynote speech at the quarterly meeting of a 300 lawyer firm in Chicago last week, my topic was “How to Increase New Business by Increasing Client Satisfaction.” As they say in cliché school, it’s not brain surgery. First, you find out what clients want. Then you give them more.

Note I did not say that you figure out what clients need. Legal needs are very important to you, your partners, and long term success. But in the short run your clients may look at things from a different perspective. So start by listening to clients to understand how they define value, then give them what they want, and more.

When my book Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide came out last fall, my favorite section was the “Checklist for Current Clients” (p. 11), listing “the top ways to start turning clients into ‘raving fans.’” Since then, I’ve continued to revise the list as the legal profession continues to evolve. Here is a preview of an updated list of the top ways to increase client satisfaction which appears in The LegalBizDev Success Kit:

Pick an item that fits your top client, and start today.

1. Schedule a free visit to a client’s office.
2. Schedule monthly telecons “off the clock.”
3. Conduct a formal client satisfaction interview.
4. Ask clients how you can increase the value they receive.
5. Measure the value you provide and discuss the results with your client.
6. Improve communication about the business implications of legal matters.
7. Promote efficiencies, and tell clients about them.
8. Tell clients how to control or reduce legal costs.
9. Consider alternative rate structures.
10. Increase transparency in budget estimates and billing.
11. Deepen and broaden contacts at your top clients.
12. Offer top clients special treatment.
13. Establish communication protocols for your next engagement.
14. Send weekly or monthly progress reports.
15. Create or improve client service teams.
16. Repeat what has worked in the past.

June 06, 2007

What lawyers need to know about SPIN Selling – Part 3 of 3

In the first two posts in this series, I talked about the first three types of questions in Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling system: Situation, Problem, and Implication.

Need payoff questions take the next logical step, by drawing the buyer into an explicit discussion of why a problem needs to be solved, and exactly how valuable a solution would be. Building on the patent examples I quoted last week, it could mean digging into the details of savings, such as “How much do you think you might save on litigation if your patents were written better in the first place?”

As Rackham put it “It’s often said that selling is not about convincing buyers but about creating the right conditions to allow buyers to convince themselves… [need-implication questions] get the buyer to tell you about the benefits your solution offers, rather than forcing you to explain the benefits to the buyer…. You can have greater impact, while sounding a lot less pushy…” (p 20)

Is there a formula for developing these questions, or an ideal sequence in which different types of questions should be asked? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. But the good news is that with instruction and practice, lawyers can use this approach to sell more effectively in a way that fits their role as a trusted advisor. When done properly, legal business development will be a consultative process that builds relationships and solves problems, not a painful undignified process of trying to convince people that your services are better than someone else’s.

If you want to learn more, you could read the book, SPIN Selling, “McGraw Hill’s best selling business book ever.” I recommend starting there if you want to understand not just the principles of this system, but also the data behind it. On the other hand, if you want to take my word for it that the data is compelling and just jump right in to try using the approach in your practice, I’d recommend starting with a different Rackham book: The SPIN Selling Fieldbook. The book was written for sales pros, and does not include a single example written for lawyers. But it does include all the advice, information and examples you’ll need to get started.

So what is Neil Rackham doing today? According to his web page, he’s living every entrepreneur’s dream: first you sell your company, then you do whatever you want. According to his web page, “Neil has a farm and winery in Northern Virginia and, when not working on improving sales performance, he writes poetry and science fiction, plays medieval musical instruments, and walks the Appalachian Trail.” And writes articles for the Harvard Business Review, such as last July’s piece entitled “Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing.”

Huthwaite, the firm that Rackham founded, has continued to research and expand the SPIN Selling system. Of course, most lawyers won’t find time to read Rackham’s books or take business development courses. For all of you, I recommend instead that you re-read my posts on advances and listening, and then remind yourself to focus on Rackham’s most critical suggestion: “If there was just one piece of advice we could give to people to improve their selling, it would be this: Plan your calls… Do you know exactly what outcome you hope to achieve?...Plan what to ask, not what to tell.” (The SPIN Selling Fieldbook, p. 171)