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August 08, 2007

What sales pros say about followup

When lawyers want an overview of how consultative selling works, I recommend Linda Richardson’s book Stop telling, start selling: How to use customer-focused dialogue to close sales. The author has written nine books, founded one of the largest sales training companies www.richardsonco.com, teaches at the Wharton School, and is one of the leading figures in the consultative selling movement.

Richardson’s book is aimed at sales people, not lawyers. But she offers soup to nuts advice on how to develop new business, and much of it can easily be applied to the legal profession.

Selling is based on dialogue, Richardson says, and her book describes six elements of the “Dialogue Framework”: Opening, Customer needs, Product positioning, Objections, Close/action step, and Follow-up. These are all important to lawyers, and sooner or later I may talk about them all in this blog. But I want to start with the element that I think is most critical for the average lawyer, and most lacking: followup.

Developing legal business is based on building relationships with busy people, and understanding their needs. This can take a very long time, and the amount of followup that occurs before the sale can be the difference between success and failure. Given how busy lawyers are, finding the time to followup can be a significant challenge. But that does not change one simple fact: if you want to succeed in developing business, you must followup.

Being there for the client all during their decision-making process can put you way ahead of competing firms. Sometimes, the reason to followup is obvious. But what should you do when there is nothing to followup on? Invent a reason. Promise something small, even inconsequential, and then deliver it.

Find out when the decision will be made and don’t take literally the client’s statement that they don’t need to talk to you in the interim. You could call the client back to thank them for considering you, or ask if they have any questions about what you’ve proposed, or send an interesting and appropriate article about their business or yours.

If you don’t have a good reason to followup, look for an excuse to stay in touch. When a client asks a question and you don’t know the answer, follow up consistently, even if only to say you’re researching it. Don’t hesitate to call one of the client’s team members who is not involved in the decision making, just to find out how things might be going. Find out what the client thought of a competitor’s presentation. Find out what impressed the client—it can help you in future presentations.

And get the home team lined up—make sure that the client has someone to call when you’re not around, and that the rest of your team understands how important followup is while you wait for the decision.

Richardson actually uses the word “relentless” about finding ways to keep in touch. If you aren’t relentless, she assures you, one of your competitors probably will be. Still, success is always about balance, so you will have to find your way with each client. You don’t want to cross the line and become so relentless that you are perceived as a pest.

After a decision has been made, you must continue to followup, even if you lost. Just because you did not get this engagement does not mean you can’t get the next one. And if you did win, followup is the best way to make sure you get the next round of work from this client.

You need to know what’s going well every step of the way, and what’s not going well so you can adjust it quickly before things get out of hand. The way to partner with a client—and to get referrals – is to constantly exceed client expectations. As Ken Blanchard put it in the book Raving Fans: Discover what clients want, then do more.


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spot on -- great article for aspiring sales people.. i do agree Sales come from relationship whether that relationship made on brand, personal rapport, at socialising event or client entertainment or out of sheer need each other services.

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