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4 posts from September 2007

September 26, 2007

Are you listening?

If you’ve read my book, or seen past posts in this blog, you know I believe that in sales meetings, you should be listening 50% - 80% of the time. Some experts think the percentage should be even higher. In the book Endless Referrals , Bob Burg says that when you go to a networking meeting, you should listen 99% of the time!

Does that mean that most professional sales people are experts at listening? Not according to sales guru Linda Richardson. In her book Stop telling, start selling: How to use customer-focused dialogue to close sales, she says that in a typical sales seminar of about 15 participants, only one or two participants describe themselves as good listeners (page 185). “Sometimes no one does,” she adds. “Then we ask the few who do to come forth to tell us how they became good listeners. They say they work at it.”

Listening is one of the six key components of dialogue described in Richardson’s book, along with Relating, Presence, Questioning, Positioning and Checking. Chapter 10 provides many tips for how to get better at it, including good eye contact, meaningful body language, checking, and silence.

Eye contact would seem pretty obvious, but when you take notes during a meeting, as lawyers often do, it’s easy to bury your head. You need to remember to keep looking up to check whether the client is engaged.

Body language, like verbal language, is important not just when you are listening, but also when you are speaking. You can send a signal of support by smiling and nodding when a client talks, and you can pick up a client’s reaction to what you’re saying by the look on their face, the way they cover their mouth or move their hands. Richardson goes so far as to say that when a client’s fingertips are “touching in a steeplelike fashion” (p. 187), it’s a sign that the client is an authority on the subject under discussion so it’s vital to avoid contradicting her. My academic colleagues who study non-verbal behavior would squirm at such a broad generalization, but I think they would agree that when you monitor body language, your gut instincts will be right most of the time.

Silence is an interesting tool, and using it strategically is vital. Check on how your client is receiving your information to increase the value of the dialogue, either by noting the client’s body language, or asking directly if the client has any questions. A careful listener will pick up key words during a dialogue, words that Richardson says “light up in [clients’] eyes and voices.” If the client talks about his company’s systems, it’s important that his lawyer use that same word – systems – rather than substituting another word like products.

When it comes to interrupting, Richardson’s advice is simple: Don’t do it. Waiting for a signal that the client is done before you talk isn’t easy, especially if you feel them drifting away from the point, but the client “has the right of way” in the dialogue.

Like most of the lawyers I meet, I find listening difficult. Richardson put her finger on my core problem, when she noted that it, “It’s hard to let your [client] talk 50 percent of the time if you believe you have to be 100 percent right” (page 189). I know that applies to me. How about you?

September 19, 2007

Advancing client relationships, one step at a time

Lawfirminc_sept2007_croppedThis week’s post reproduces my column “On Business Development” from the September 2007 issue of Law Firm, Inc.

When lawyers first try to bring in new business, many expect too much too soon. It takes time to develop trust and build a relationship, especially when it comes to “bet the company” legal work such as litigation. As Kelly Kiernan Largey, National Marketing Executive at Fish & Richardson , a 400-lawyer firm that specializes in intellectual property, litigation, and corporate law, puts it: “Nobody hires a litigator because they saw an ad in an airport.”

So Largey’s firm [a client of mine] encourages its lawyers to measure business development success one small step at a time. The approach is based on Neil Rackham’s concept of advances, explained in his book SPIN Selling . As Rackham defines it, an “advance” is a concrete action that moves a relationship closer to a sale, such as scheduling another meeting, getting introduced to a new contact with the client, or providing a list of references. Because the concept is based on Rackham’s twelve year study of 35,000 sales calls, lawyers find it persuasive.

LargeyLargey says the concept is especially valuable in encouraging lawyers to advance relationships they already have by means of informal networking. She cites one Fish & Richardson lawyer who overcame her reluctance with self-deprecating humor. After reading about one formula for developing new business, she poked fun at it in a long email to a business acquaintance with examples like this: “[Start by being conversational] Nice to see you last Saturday [then transition to something work related] and to hear a little about some of the problems you are dealing with. [Show that you can help] I realized later that we never talked about my firm’s work in this area. [Close with an action item]. Should we have lunch next week so I can fill you in on the details?”

The business contact got such a kick out of the email, she picked up the phone to arrange the lunch, and ultimately awarded the lawyer new business.

Only a few law firms teach attorneys to focus on advances, because the idea comes straight from the world of professional sales, and sales is still a dirty word in most firms. Traditionally, lawyers have used the word marketing broadly to refer to any activities involved in generating new business. “Some law firms waste enormous amounts of money doing the wrong things,” says Largey, who was president of the Legal Marketing Association in 1993, and has been around long enough to see fads come and go.

In law firms today, Largey says, there are too many people who wear both the marketing and the business development hats. They typically come from a marketing background, and end up spending time on the activities that lawyers are most comfortable with, such as speakers’ conferences, press releases and in-house events. But to bring in new business, she says, firms must focus on getting lawyers to leave the office, meet with prospects, and advance their relationships.

September 12, 2007

How much time should lawyers spend on business development?

One fundamental law of marketing is that if you spend no time, you will get no results. The best plan in the world will produce nothing unless you follow up, week after week after week.

But how do you strike a balance between bringing in new work and paying the bills by doing the work you already have? Not to mention finding the time to go home before your kids graduate from high school. There are no easy answers, and every person who provides services for a living—including lawyers—must constantly struggle with this question.

Before you set your weekly goal, it would be nice to start by considering how many hours your competitors devote to marketing. But most law firms don’t even know, because they don’t track business development time meticulously enough.

When I visit law firms, I often ask how much time their average partner is expected to devote to marketing. I’ve heard everything from almost no time (“they can do it in the morning instead of reading the Wall Street Journal”) to an average of 8 hours per week and more for each partner.

According to a recent survey from ALM Research and the Brand Research Company, in large firms “Business development is expected of most partners to achieve equity status.” However, “Few firms have a set expectation of the number of hours a lawyer should devote to business development.”

There are a few firms that have publicized their approach. One data point comes from Graydon, Head & Ritchey a Cincinnati firm. When they put a new business development strategy in place a few years ago, they required that each partner spend at least 200 hours per year, or about 4 hours per week, in direct selling. Direct selling included meetings with clients and prospects, but excluded such tasks as writing articles and conducting seminars. The target for associates was at least 50 hours per year, or about 1 hour per week.

Another data point comes from Paul Clifford, former managing partner at Gadsby Hannah, and now a principal at Law Practice Consultants . In a 2006 speech to the New England chapter of the Legal Marketing Association , Clifford said that “to be competitive today, partners must work 2500 hours per year,” an average of 50 hours per week for 50 weeks. (He also noted that 2500 hours is on the high side, and 2200 hours is not unusual.) Generally, 1800 of those hours will be billable. The other 700 are “investment hours” divided into three groups: 300 hours for practice management (where that applies), 200 hours for client relationship management, and 200 hours for marketing/business development.

In my book, Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide , I recommend an absolute minimum of at least one hour per week if you are focusing on current clients, and three hours per week if you are looking for new clients. Remember, this is not my recommendation for a goal, it is my recommendation for an absolute minimum.

In most situations, I am a big believer that less is more. But with marketing time, more is more.

Desk_reference_cover_with_border_3 This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Desk Reference.  For more information, Download legalbizdevsuccess_kit_summaryl.pdf.

September 05, 2007

How to define your ideal client

When I coach lawyers, I’ve been surprised by how few can easily answer the classic marketing question: who is your ideal client? Most are too busy to think about what they want. But if you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get it. So after you’ve defined your niche (see last week’s post), it will be helpful to get even more specific and define the characteristics of your ideal clients. You may even want to define an ideal portfolio, with several different types of clients.

The description of your ideal client should be specific enough that it is easy to tell who qualifies, and who does not. Consider these examples:

• The principal of a Las Vegas real estate development company with a track record of successful projects.
• A small business government contractor headquartered near Washington DC with annual revenues between $5 million and $50 million.
• The General Counsel of a Fortune 1000 insurance company.
• The manager of the R&D division of an established technology firm, with a strong belief in the value of intellectual property, and a record of filing at least 10 patents in the last two years. A Silicon Valley location is ideal, and the company should either be profitable, or have completed several rounds of financing.
• A diverse portfolio of small business owners, including several industries and several geographical areas.

To define your ideal client, answer questions such as:
• What industry or industries should you focus on?
• What job categories?
• What geographic location?
• What annual revenue?
• What other characteristics?
• Should you look for several different types of clients to form a perfect portfolio?

Of course, it is also important to be realistic. Since the dawn of time humans have been forced to compromise. Single people should not expect to find the perfect mate, and lawyers should not expect to develop a perfect practice with 100% of your clients meeting your definition in every way, including paying their bills on time and being a pleasure to work with. But if you know what you are looking for, you are much more likely to come close.

As in the case of defining your niche, it is also important to avoid over-analysis, and return to the fundamental question: What should I do today to increase new business?

Desk_reference_cover_with_border_2 This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Desk Reference.  For more information, Download legalbizdevsuccess_kit_summaryl.pdf.