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4 posts from June 2014

June 25, 2014

Business development best practices: Listen

This is one of a series of occasional posts summarizing the most important best practices from my book the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide which is now also available in a Kindle edition.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “If I were to summarize the single most important principle in the field of interpersonal relationships, listening is the key.”

In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman argues that listening skills are vital for leaders. An effective leader must be able to sense how employees feel, and then channel that energy into the most productive directions.

The skill of listening can even help people get a job. When business leaders were asked to rate the most important characteristics they look for in hiring people, 73% rated listening as an “extremely important” skill. But when the same group was asked how many high school graduates actually have good listening skills, the answer was 19%.

When Suzanne Lowe and Larry Bodine published a survey of 377 marketing professionals on Increasing Marketing Effectiveness at Professional Firms,” one of the best metrics for tracking success was whether rainmakers consistently listened to their clients.

In the book Advanced Selling Strategies, sales guru Brian Tracy explains four reasons why “Active sincere listening leads to easier sales:”

  1. Listening builds trust. In a survey of professional purchasers, the single biggest complaint was that salespeople talk too much. If you show that you are interested in understanding what people really need, they are more likely to believe that you will provide it.
  2. Listening lowers resistance. It helps to make customers feel relaxed and comfortable instead of tense and defensive.
  3. Listening builds self-esteem. Everyone wants his or her views to be heard. So when you listen to a client, it shows that you respect their opinions.
  4. Listening builds character and self-discipline. Hopefully, this fourth point won’t come up very often. But from time to time, you may sell to a client who is, shall we say, not overly dynamic. As they keep talking, it’s easy to start daydreaming about which type of salad you should order for lunch. But the more boring your client is, the more character you will build by listening. And the better you understand what the client wants, the more likely you are to get a new engagement.

Why is listening so hard for many lawyers? Well, first of all, you have to talk less.

Experts say that when you are building business relationships, you should spend 50% to 80% of your time listening. But when lawyers meet potential clients, many think that they need to talk quickly so they can list all the wonderful things their firm can do. This is a mistake.

The client is a lot more interested in her own problems than in your capabilities. If she did not think you were good, you wouldn’t be meeting. So you need to devote most of your time to focusing on what she wants, needs, and feels. As the old saying goes, that’s why you have two ears, and one mouth.

Great listeners also don’t argue. That’s another reason many lawyers find it difficult. To listen effectively, you must give up the need to be right.

If you want to become a better listener, there are dozens of books to read, and even a professional academic organization you can join (the International Listening Association, www.listen.org). Meanwhile, these five steps can get you started:

  1. Establish genuine interest by asking questions that you care about
  2. Take notes. Writing down what people say shows that what they say is important, and that you are paying attention. Just put the pen down if the talk turns confidential.
  3. Respond to the speaker’s nonverbal cues, and monitor your own, including eye contact, smiling, and frowning
  4. Keep people talking. Paraphrase, summarize, and restate what you hear. When you agree with people, they will think that you are smart. Especially if you don’t interrupt them or argue.
  5. Come prepared with good questions

Lawyers must start by “mastering the art of the easily answered question,” as explained in Kevin Daley’s Socratic Selling. The book describes several types of non-directive probes that will help a client think through a situation without trying to push her to a particular conclusion, and without distracting her.

For example, “draw probes” keep drawing out information until the client and the lawyer are satisfied that all the important points have been covered, such as:

  • Tell me more about ____
  • Give me an example of ____
  • What else should I know about ____?

“Access” probes allow you to obtain access to other topics without forcefully changing the subject. These non-threatening questions introduce a new topic, but still leave the client free to take the conversation wherever she wants. For example:

  • How does ____ fit the picture?
  • Talk to me about your experience with _____
  • How do you handle _____?

It sounds simple, but asking this type of question does not come naturally to me, nor to many lawyers I know, because we like to be in control. Well, clients do too. Professional salespeople have an old saying that “Whoever talks the most, will enjoy the meeting the most.” If you want to build a relationship, you want the client to be the one who enjoys the meeting.

June 18, 2014

Business development best practices: Start with current clients

This is one of a series of occasional posts summarizing the most important best practices from my book the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.

When lawyers first think about selling, many immediately start planning how to find new clients.  But selling begins at home, and they will have much greater success if they focus first on the clients they already have.

According to research conducted by Harry Mills:

  • The chances of selling to an existing client are better than one in two
  • The chances of selling to a lost client are one in three
  • The chances of successfully selling to a fresh prospect are one in eight

The exact numbers will be different for your firm, but experts agree that in every business, it’s much easier to sell to people who know you than to sell to strangers.

You might think that as large law firms hire larger business development staffs and increase budgets, they would quickly get to the point where their current clients were taken care of, and not a good source for additional revenue. Perhaps this will happen someday, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet.

One way to get started with your current clients is to offer a free meeting to learn more about their business needs. At a minimum, this will help build your relationship and protect you from competitors. With a little luck, it will also lead to new engagements.

For example, when one of my first legal clients prioritized marketing action items, he decided to call a current client and offer a free meeting to discuss a new program. The client loved the idea that the meeting was free, and provided the name of a new contact he wanted to include. When my client called to schedule the free meeting, the new person mentioned a litigation that was about to be assigned to a competitor. The lawyer immediately arranged a separate meeting about that work, and got that significant engagement. The new business came in before he even conducted the free meeting.

In today’s competitive environment, other law firms would like to take your best clients, so you will need to put in more and more effort to protect what you have.

For specific suggestions, see the section on “Defensive marketing and client satisfaction” in my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.  After you’ve done all those things, that’s when you should start spending time on new clients. 

To achieve long-term success, every firm needs a steady stream of new clients. Even among professionals who devote their lives to selling, failure rates in finding new clients are high. In Gallup’s data on 250,000 professionals, the bottom 25% in every sales force sells very little, and actually reduces the team’s productivity by distracting valuable management time.  That’s one reason why turnover is so high in sales positions.

When lawyers try to find new clients, some will succeed and some will fail. Can anyone predict which are which? I have seen claims that some tests can, but I’ve never seen convincing data. The lawyers who are most successful sometimes surprise me, and even surprise themselves. They are the ones who find the fit between their personal strengths and the firm’s business development needs.

So when a lawyer first works on increasing sales, much of the initial effort should be aimed at existing clients. What should you do when you have one hundred percent of a client’s legal business? Work even harder to ensure that they are raving fans who cannot be tempted to switch to a competitor.  


June 11, 2014

Book Review: Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit

Six months ago, if you had asked me what book to read for a complete analysis of legal pricing, I would have said “Nobody has written that book yet.”  (At that time, my book Legal Project Management, Pricing and Alternative Fee Arrangements was the only one that even provided a 20,000 foot overview.)

But now there are two.  Jonathan Groner and I reviewed the first, by Toby Brown and Vince Cordo, last February.  Today’s review focuses on a brand new book by Stuart J.T. Dodds, director of global pricing and legal project management at Baker & McKenzie,one of the largest law firms in the world. 

Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit is the only book on the market that goes step by step through everything lawyers need to know to survive and prosper in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.  It is divided into four main sections:  set the price, get the price, manage to the price, and review the price.  Until a few years ago, lawyers could make a great deal of money with only a basic understanding of these stages, so that’s what most did.  Since the dawn of the new normal of a few years ago, competition has gotten much tougher, and lawyers have learned that they must improve their business practices to remain profitable.  Several books have appeared that provide useful advice on the third stage of legal project management (LPM).  But Stuart’s book is the first to review all the practical steps a lawyer should take from the first moment she becomes aware of a new opportunity, through negotiating a deal and managing the work to the final post-matter review.   

I was particularly interested in the chapters on LPM, especially the ten steps which Stuart recommends at the start of every matter:

  1. Confirm what the client wants and expects
  2. Group the work into the main areas
  3. Agree how to address changes of scope upfront
  4. Develop and agree on the matter plan
  5. Agree on the fee and fee approach
  6. Agree on the engagement letter and share with the team
  7. Agree on the reporting format and schedule
  8. Establish your matter phases and tasks
  9. Approve new timekeepers
  10. Staff the core team and agree on client responsibilities

All this before you begin working on a matter!  While it is true that in some legal situations there is simply not enough time to accomplish all ten steps upfront, it is also true that in many matters there IS time, and a little initial planning can save a lot of  long-term expense.  At this moment in history, any lawyer that follows even a few of Stuart’s steps will be ahead of most competitors.  But as one managing partner said in my soon to be published research on Client Value and Law Firm Profitability:

Project management will probably have the biggest long-term positive impact [of all the things that are changing in law firms], but it’s been the biggest challenge because it’s something that hasn’t been easily absorbed by a lot of the lawyers.  When busy lawyers start scrambling around, the inefficiency creeps right up.

That’s why the key to success is changing behavior.  Stuart has been a panelist on several of my Ark workshops on “LPM:  Changing Behavior within the Firm”, and underlines a key lesson we’ve seen one law firm after another learn the hard way when he writes “Educating is easy (relatively), but changing behavior is much harder, and the change is especially difficult for lawyers.”  (p. 213)

In addition to all its business insights, there are also many small things to like about this book.  Stuart is based in Chicago but spent most of his career in London, including 14 years as a management consultant at Accenture.  (He often reminds people that he is actually from Scotland.)  Anglophiles will especially appreciate the references to UK research which has not been widely cited in the US, and the occasional British colloquialism.  For one example, read the story of a lawyer who put a procurement officer “on his back foot” (p 148) by threatening to walk out of a meeting about discounts, when the meeting should have focused on “protecting your company from losing a potential multi-million dollar claim.”

I’d love to keep writing about this book, but the best advice I can offer is that you stop reading this review and order a copy.  Read the book and act on it before your competitors do, and you will earn back the $169 price many times over.

Full disclosure:  I have worked closely with Stuart over the last several years, since he manages our LPM coaching program for Baker & McKenzie.  Whenever Stuart quoted me in this book, I smiled a little.  But to be honest, I also got a little jealous when I saw how well he presented some of the key concepts.  When I saw the title of Chapter 14, for example -- Thinking Big, Starting Small – I thought:  Why didn’t I think of that catchphrase?


June 04, 2014

Tip of the month: Keep a prioritized list of business development action items

Every business development plan should include lists of action items that are SMART:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed.  Given their very limited marketing time, lawyers must focus first on the items that are most likely to pay off, and limit themselves to those that can realistically be achieved in the time they have for marketing.


The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. For more information on improving results, see page 54 of my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide, which is now available in both paperback and Kindle editions.