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4 posts from December 2007

December 26, 2007

Cross-selling (Part 2 of 5)

Part 1 of this series appeared a few months ago.  Today’s post describes another successful cross-selling effort that I wrote about for Law Firm Inc.  The version that appeared in my December column was a bit shorter, because it had been edited to fit on one page. 

Building relationships through industry roundtables

Lawfirminc_dec_2007_jpeg_crop Selling is all about building relationships, and one of the best ways for lawyers to build relationships is by providing valuable information, in an unthreatening environment, for free.  For many years, law firms have done this through seminars and events in their offices.

Winston & Strawn, an international law firm with 900 attorneys, has had great success with industry specific roundtables for high level executives.  For example, Jerry Bloom and three other partners recently moderated an “in-depth, collaborative discussion” on “Energy Investments for Today and Tomorrow: What You Need to Know.”  It was offered in the New York office one month and in the Los Angeles office the next, with about 25 participants at each session engaged in fast paced, open microphone discussions.

Each roundtable was also attended by several Winston & Strawn lawyers who specialize in different aspects of the law related to the energy industry, such as regulatory (federal and state), mergers and acquisitions, finance, tax, labor and litigation.

Bloom started each roundtable by briefly reviewing key questions that had been circulated in advance, including “How have alternative investors such as private equity and global infrastructure funds affected the landscape?” and “How do you distinguish between competing technologies?”  Then he invited participants to jump in, and handed over the microphone.  Because they were completely unscripted, the Los Angeles and New York sessions went in “amazingly different directions”.

Each time the discussion turned to a legal question, the lawyers in the room had a spontaneous opportunity to demonstrate the depth of their experience and knowledge.  And when clients liked what they heard from a lawyer they had not met before, it was a small step to approach them later for help with a particular legal matter.

For example, one participant in the LA session was Nat Kreamer, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Sun Run Generation, a company that helps California homeowners switch to clean energy by “purchasing power, not panels.”  (Customers sign a contract to pay Sun Run Generation a monthly fee for their solar electricity, and Sun Run Generation installs solar panels for free.)  One of the tax lawyers in the session made several comments that caught Kreamer’s attention, and he ended up hiring that lawyer to help him.

The roundtables are organized through the firm’s Energy Initiative, which includes over 60 lawyers who provide energy-related services in such areas as project development and finance, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory compliance, labor, tax, restructuring and litigation.  Their energy clients range from utilities to independent sponsors and developers of fossil fuel-fired, nuclear and renewable generation resources.  Like many of Winston & Strawn’s 29 practice groups, the energy group holds a monthly teleconference to coordinate efforts and to discuss industry developments, the legal matters they are working on, sponsorships, client pitches and directions for new business development.

This type of industry-specific practice group is especially useful in promoting cross-selling, which Director of Business Development Barbara Sessions calls one of “the most difficult challenges in legal marketing.”  Encouraging contact and building relationships across the boundaries of geography and legal specialization helps lawyers build trust in their colleagues, and spot opportunities where other Winston & Strawn lawyers can help their clients.

Marketing specialists in competitive intelligence, event planning, public relations and other specialties also participate in each monthly call.  When an action item arises, such as a need to research a particular client or organize a meeting, the appropriate specialist takes on the assignment and “does what they are best at.”

From Sessions’ perspective, these tactics are a great example of “making an old idea work” by bringing the right resources to bear on each problem.  The roundtables and other events create peer pressure which “forces lawyers to do what needs to be done.”  These activities help lawyers to overcome their reluctance about marketing and to find more time for it.  And once lawyers see the results, the rest is easy.

The remaining posts in this series will provide a big picture overview of what works in cross-selling, and what doesn’t.

December 19, 2007

The most important difference in legal selling: Time (Part 2 of 2)

To win at selling, you just need to be a little better than your competitors. For lawyers, many of those competitors had no selling skills at all, so even the most basic actions could have an enormous impact. No doubt, this is temporary. After sophisticated selling techniques are adopted throughout the profession, we will look back on this time with a bemused fondness, and tell each other stories about the good old days when a lawyer could get a significant litigation just by offering a free meeting. But for now, almost any sensible sales advice will work at least some of the time.

But as I continued to work with more and more lawyers, a funny thing happened. I noticed that no matter how much success they had, almost none of the lawyers I worked with followed up as consistently as they should. Which led me to my third and final answer: the most important difference in legal selling is time. Some lawyers are so busy that they don’t even want new business, and the rest are too busy to maximize results.

The financial sales people I had coached spent 60 to 80 hours per week living breathing and acting on sales. The lawyers I work with these days struggle to find two or three hours per week that they can devote to business development on a consistent and predictable basis.

This has many implications. The most important one is that to maximize success, lawyers must prioritize relentlessly. What is good advice for a sales person may be bad advice for a lawyer. If a lawyer only has two or three hours per week, she must focus strictly on the individual activities that are most likely to produce results for her practice, her personality, and her schedule.

For example, before a lawyer decides whether to attend a networking meeting, she should realistically assess how many hours it will require, including preparing, following up, and even driving to and from the meeting. Suppose a particular networking meeting requires an investment of five hours. She must then ask whether the meeting is the best possible way to spend that time. Would five hours be likely to produce greater results if she instead offered a free meeting to a current client to understand what they value most about current services, and what could be improved? What about sending personalized emails to twenty people she already knows, just to stay top of mind? Or re-establishing contact with a few friends from law school who now work for large corporations?

Or consider your firm’s last marketing event. What was its impact on new business? Could you have achieved greater results if all that time and money had been used differently? Suppose that you outlined a step by step sales program to build relationships with a short list of decision makers and/or industry gurus. Or suppose you had redirected those resources to support individual meetings with people the lawyers already knew, focused on broadening contacts in a particular industry segment. Would the results have been greater?

Of course, business developers in every profession ask questions like these every day. What’s different about working with lawyers is that we must ask them more frequently and more rigorously, because lawyers have so little time.

December 12, 2007

The most important difference in legal selling: Time (Part 1 of 2)

This piece originally appeared in the November/December 2007 issue of Strategies: The Journal of the Legal Marketing Association.

Strategies_nov_2007_jpeg Just about everyone agrees that selling legal services is different from selling used cars, and even from selling other professional services. But exactly what is different? And why does it matter?

When I first started working with lawyers, I thought that personality and temperament were the most important differences. In the twenty years I spent training and coaching professional salespeople in financial services and other industries, I don’t remember a single salesperson ever arguing with me. Notice I did not say that they always agreed with me, just that they never argued. When there was a difference of opinion, they ignored it, smiled, and moved on.

In contrast, when I started selling to lawyers, it was hard to get through the first ten minutes of a talk without someone interrupting to challenge my conclusions, or cross-question me about the underlying evidence. The experience gave me flashbacks to my days in academia, where arguing is a valued skill, and it is a matter of honor to challenge every assertion. To some professors, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as asking a pointed question that brings a colloquium speaker to his intellectual knees. That approach may be fine when you are debating the law, but every sales guru from Dale Carnegie to Larry Wilson will tell you that people who sell shouldn’t argue.

Then something happened that made me think there was another, more important difference. I offered a public workshop in which lawyers reviewed business development best practices, and picked the action items which they thought would have the greatest impact for their practice, their personality, and their schedule. I followed up over the next several weeks, to monitor their results.

One of the lawyers who attended my first workshop -- a senior partner at a 400 lawyer firm -- decided to offer a long-time client a free meeting, to learn more about their business. The client’s first reaction was skepticism; he asked whether he would be billed for meeting preparation, research, or followup. Once the client was convinced that the meeting would really be free, he became quite enthusiastic, and suggested a list of additional people who should be invited. When the lawyer from my workshop called these new contacts, he got chatting with one person who said “By the way, did you know that we are about to assign a significant litigation to one of your competitors?” “No, I didn’t,” the lawyer replied. “Why don’t I bring over one of our litigators this afternoon to see if we could help.” The end result was that his firm earned a significant litigation, before he even got to the free meeting.

I was stunned. In all the years I had trained and coached sales people in insurance, banking, and financial services, I never heard a single story of such an easy sale. Would you buy a large insurance policy because your agent agreed to meet with you for free? This event, and others like it, convinced me that the biggest difference in legal selling was not lawyers’ personalities after all, it was the competitive environment. More on that next week…

December 05, 2007

What’s different for women rainmakers?

What’s different for women rainmakers? I wrote about this question a few months ago in my post about a survey of female rainmakers conducted by the Legal Sales and Service Organization and BTI Consulting Group. This post adds more thoughts, based on a roundtable discussion I facilitated a few weeks ago for a group of women rainmakers at Latham & Watkins’ annual partner meeting.

I had been invited to the meeting to give two presentations. My morning speech on “Six ways to increase results from your limited marketing time” was open to every Latham partner, female and male. But the afternoon roundtable was limited to the members of the WEB group (women enriching business), a task force composed of women rainmakers to create “broader networks and productive business development relationships.”

The participants included about 20 of the most influential women partners at Latham & Watkins, a 2,100 lawyer international firm with 24 offices around the world. The roundtable focused on the most effective action items both for individuals and for the group. One part of the discussion concerned whether action items should be any different for females than they would be for males.

Selling starts by building relationships, and it is sometimes easier to find common interests with people of your own gender. One participant described a male partner she had worked with who built several clients relationships around extended discussions of the New York Knicks. She herself did not care about the Knicks. (Of course, these days who does?)

If male lawyers bond with male clients over sports, she said, female lawyers should take advantage of every opportunity to bond with potential clients at female friendly events. Which is exactly what the WEB group has done recently by organizing a successful flower arranging event in Chicago, and a “Flavors of Fall” cooking event in San Francisco, and more.

On another topic, one participant mentioned that male lawyers will often bond by asking a client out for a beer after work. But if a woman does the same thing, it can unintentionally send a very different message. This reminded me of a problem experienced by a female lawyer I coached recently. When I recommended that she reconnect with a number of former colleagues, most efforts were simple and successful. But one male got the wrong idea, and it led to an uncomfortable situation. It wasn’t a crisis, but it sure was awkward.

To me the most interesting discussion centered around one of the key findings from the LSSO/ BTI survey: that successful female rainmakers “Have the right attitude: ‘a certain optimism, an element of persistence, and an ability to be resilient.’” This phenomenon is well known among professional business developers. Would you hire an architect to build your new house if she seemed unsure of herself, or failed to follow up?

When I wrote the book AdverSelling for sales pros, I devoted an entire chapter to the importance of being optimistic and credible. I started with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

Some people tell me that this type of self-confidence – dare I say, braggadocio – may be fueled by testosterone. I try not to speculate about male/female differences, but I do think that the appearance of self-confidence is very important in everyone’s selling. I italicized the word appearance in that sentence, because if self-confidence is an issue, you don’t have to spend a lot of time working on complex underlying causes. Faking it works just as well.