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Well Said

How to Speak to Your Dream Client

By Mike O'Horo

Recently, a lawyer who said he’d “been given the chance to meet with my dream client” asked for help preparing for that meeting. He allowed that, “they’re not adding any new panel counsel yet, but I was still given the opportunity to meet with the decision-maker!”

Many of you may have experienced this kind of elation at gaining an audience with a coveted prospect. You may also have experienced disappointment when nothing came of it. Before accepting and preparing for the meeting, consider closely the two important terms he used: “dream client” and “decision-maker.”

What Qualifies This Company as Your “Dream Client”?

Before you pursue the meeting, make sure that you have a real reason to want the client.

  • Are they in the center of your sweet spot? (Do you know what your sweet spot is?)
  • Have you previously considered and defined the criteria for this superlative, and developed an objective profile that allows you to actively identify and pursue companies that match it?
  • Does this meeting represent the breakthrough payoff of months or years of investing in positioning yourself within that industry/company/problem profile?
  • Or, does “dream” simply mean you have no clients of this brand-stature? Many sellers (not just lawyers) allow themselves to be seduced by famous or respected brand names, imagining how nice that name would be to let drop in conversation or place on a client list.

Worth Your Time? Questions to Address

Assuming that your reasons pass muster, a few more questions emerge. In the case of the panel counsel, for instance:

  • What would constitute sufficient reason for that company to add panel counsel?
  • Why now?
  • Specifically, why should they want you not merely to be on the panel, but actually to represent them?

Being great at what you do is not an answer. For mature legal service categories, “superb” is rarely required; almost everyone is good enough. You have to bring something unique to the party to stimulate new buying behavior, and then have them choose you instead of incumbents when an appropriate matter arises.

(What is an “appropriate matter” for you? Read “The Case for Targeting and Profiling.”)

Next, you need to ask, “What decision can this putative ‘decision-maker’ make alone?”

  • Can she unilaterally place you on the panel?
  • If not, who else is involved? With so many having a stake in corporate decisions today, it’s rare to find a single person making one.
  • If she can place you on the panel on her own authority, can or will she also direct work to you?
  • What’s the rest of the process for getting work from inclusion in that panel?
  • Will you be satisfied if you’re merely “one of the panel counsel”? It’s more productive to identify and associate yourself with a specific, high-impact business problem that drives demand for your primary service.

Make Everyone Glad They “Took the Time”

If taking the meeting is worthwhile for you, make sure it will be for the prospect, too.

If your meeting opportunity came via referral, call or email the referrer and ask:

“I know Ms. X is busy, so I have to make sure that the meeting will reliably be valuable to her, and make you look good. What outcome would cause her to say to herself, ‘Despite being really swamped, I’m really glad I took the time to meet with that lawyer?'”

Most people who refer us know enough to at least speculate about the answer.

Next, call or email Ms. X and thank her for the opportunity to meet. This is where you establish the meeting standards:

“I know you’re busy, so I have to make sure that the meeting will be valuable to you. What outcome would cause you to say to yourself, ‘Despite being swamped, I’m really glad I took the time to meet with that lawyer?'”

At the meeting, don’t waste any time proving that you’re a great lawyer. Instead, focus on producing the optimal outcome she described to you.

Set Meeting Goals to Set Up for Success

Specify your goals for the meeting, in descending order of value. For example:

  1. Define a small set of specific business problems with sufficient impact to obligate the prospect to take action soon, if not today.
  2. Learn the identities of, and gain contact with, other stakeholders in those business problems, and understand the nature of their stakes.
  3. Learn the process for converting mere panel authorization into preference and selection.

Here’s a brief framework for your investigation.

  1. Business problems.
  2. Current negative strategic or operational business effects (pain) from each problem.
  3. Positive strategic or operational business effects (gain) if each is solved.
  4. Economic impact of a successful solution (which sets up return on investment).
  5. Positive personal impact on decision stakeholders if the problem’s solved.

Of course, you want to confirm the optimal meeting outcome hasn’t changed since she declared it. Never assume anything. The world is dynamic. What was important yesterday may have been superseded by something else today. So cover this for your meeting:

“When we scheduled this call, you said that if we accomplished [her optimal meeting outcome], you’d consider that a great use of your time and attention. Is that still the most valuable thing we could accomplish today?”

Then make that happen.

When you’re done with the meeting, confirm that she got what she hoped for — and don’t forget to ask about next steps.

Illustration ©

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Mike O’Horo Mike O'Horo

Known as “The Coach” throughout his long career, Mike O’Horo was a giant among his peers in legal marketing and business development. He trained more than 7,000 lawyers, simplifying powerful sales processes by which they generated $1.5 billion in new business. A serial innovator, earlier he developed RainmakerVT, a virtual BD training tool, and the sales training program ResultsPath. He wrote his column, “Well Said!,” on sales and business development truths for lawyers. Mike passed away in February 2022.

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