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Well Said!

Self-Destructive Language

By Mike O'Horo

Lawyers are hard-wired to be precise when writing and speaking. When practicing law they honor that precision rigorously. However, when it comes to interacting with their market, let’s just say their language discipline loses a lot of its rigor.

Four Ways Language Can Sabotage Your Marketing

Here are some common examples I encounter with too great a frequency in my coaching conversations, with suggested alternatives.

1. Don’t rely on “value” clichés. Of course, you’re “committed to excellence.” Certainly you have “a tradition of quality service.” You’re definitely “responsive,” and you’re always “proactive” and “cost-effective.” Really? You, too? Yawn.

As a buyer, when you hear that story, do you listen? Do you trust the message? I don’t listen to sales clichés, your clients won’t either. Avoid lazy, trite expressions that saddle you with lowest-common-denominator baggage.

Instead, speak in terms of the outcomes that your clients achieve with your help. That’s all the person you’re speaking with or writing to cares about. So, let’s get specific and turn these clichés into something useful.

“We’re committed to excellence.” Excellence at what? Does that mean you look around the proverbial bend for your client, to make sure that you’ve anticipated all potential risks, threats, and issues?

What does “quality service” mean to your clients? If I chatted with one of your clients at an airport bar during a layover and asked about the lawyers they use, how would they answer? (If you don’t know, consider having someone interview them and ask them.)

And so on with these other trite expressions. Make them real. Think of an answer that a prospect or client can visualize. If they can’t, it’s not real and has no motivating power.

2. Excise the word “hope” from your vocabulary. Hope is a nice enough word, but it shouldn’t be used in sales. Telling a prospect any of these things is bad form:

  • You “hope” the materials you attached answer his questions.
  • You “hope” to meet with him soon.
  • You “hope” everything is to her satisfaction.

Be confident, if not convicted. Say instead, “The enclosed material will demonstrate our record of success,” and “I will call you to arrange a mutually convenient meeting.”

The only reason you “hope” is because you haven’t taken steps to remove the need for hope.

3. Delete the word “client” from your conversations. This one may seem picky, but it has a lot to do with your mindset, which influences your actions.

It’s very easy to allow an entitlement mindset to encroach on your attitude, particularly with your best clients. Your client was your client for the past engagement. That’s it. At the end of the engagement, he or she is no longer a client. For any future engagements, that past client is a suspect, i.e., not even a prospect yet. Treat him or her as such.

If you view everyone as suspects and prospects, you’ll never risk taking long-time “clients” for granted, you’ll be more alert for additional needs (add-on selling, cross-selling) and you’ll make it tougher for competitors to gain a foothold because you’ll stay up-to-date on important developments within the client’s industry and company.

(If you’re not clear about the difference between suspects and prospects, this will help.)

4. “I’m so busy!” Think about this common exchange when you run into someone you know. After you get past “Hello,” it sounds something like this:

Them: “So, how’s it going? What have you been up to lately?”

You: “I haven’t been doing much of anything but working non-stop. We’ve been swamped. It’s a good problem, but it’d be great to catch my breath a bit, too.”

We do this without thinking, perhaps in an attempt to create rapport with the other busy professional. Think for a moment, though. How likely is that person to refer someone to you? Who would knowingly direct a person who needs help into a situation where their new lawyer may not be able to give their problem much time or attention?

Instead, consider something that does a better job balancing “I’m busy enough for you to view me as successful,” with “I’m still available.”

Them: “So, how’s it going? What have you been up to lately?”

You: “Happily, we’ve been very busy working on a number of really challenging [cases, transactions], but I make sure I’ve got time for the next great client.”

Illustration ©

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Skills
Originally published December 3, 2015
Last updated April 27, 2018
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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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