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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.

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