I recently came across my copy of David Maister’s article “Doing It for the Money,” which takes law firms to task for using money as the primary motivation to drive additional sales and marketing behavior.
I agree that economic monomania is counterproductive — as with any form of monomania, it lacks perspective. I also agree that people need a reason to do anything — and that it has to be their reason, not yours or mine.
In the case of motivating its lawyers to develop business, the firm functions as an internal marketer of an idea — the idea being that limiting the business-generation engine to a handful of rainmakers is shortsighted and dangerous.
Marketers of anything who fail to learn prospective buyers’ motivation are doomed to fail. Assuming that you share my motivation, whether economic or psychic, is just an egocentric way for me to avoid doing the hard work of learning what you value.
What Is the Carrot? Inspiring Lawyers to Sell
Try this exercise: Describe a recent engagement you would walk through fire to replicate — that is, one that satisfied all three categories of need:
- Practical — the work itself was stimulating and rewarding.
- Economic — the fees were sizable, paid willingly and on time, perhaps with a bonus or premium.
- Emotional — the client “gave the love,” expressing appreciation and respect for the lawyer’s work product, judgment, commitment and contribution.
Then analyze the origin of those desirable engagements and assess which industry segments are most likely to exhibit demand (without the problem having matured to the point of price sensitivity).
We use this exercise during the individual planning component of my sales training program. Over the past 25 years of training and coaching lawyers, I’ve learned that unless the “carrot” — as defined by the lawyer — is sufficiently attractive, the likelihood of the lawyer expending effort in pursuit of it is absolutely zero.
Where We Diverge
Now, I’ll challenge one bit of language in Maister’s article that does not resonate.
When Maister (and others) refers to “selling,” there seems to be a pejorative tone. He is intimating that selling behaviors are somehow at odds with the relationship principles about which I’ve already agreed. However, when conducted professionally, selling is almost never a negative experience for buyers.
Use Your “Lawyering” Skills
On the contrary, I argue that the “lawyering” skills that partners already trust — the same skills that reliably produce positive interactions between lawyers and clients — are precisely the skills professional salespeople use when managing executive-level, business-to-business opportunities of consequence.
Ironically, perhaps, and certainly from a different perspective, I end up agreeing with Maister’s assertion that firms need to “find out, partner by partner, what kind of work turns each partner on and what kind of clients each partner could actually get interested in.” And, further, that firms “do not need to teach (their) people how to sell.”
Firms do, however, need to teach lawyers how to apply their trusted skills to business development. And to do that, you need a reliable process based on “lawyering” skills
My Definition of Professional Selling
I believe the reliable process is to apply “lawyering” skills to:
- Investigate what business problem drives demand for the optimal service relationship to which the lawyer aspires (the “door-opener“).
- Help the client assess that problem’s relative operational impact on a scale of irritant-to-imperative and thereby …
- Determine which problems obligate them to take action because the cost of not doing so is unacceptable.
- Offer solution options and explain the ramifications of applying each.
- Make solution recommendations based on understanding the business situation.
- Ask the client to decide which she favors.
- Help the initial stakeholder achieve alignment among all stakeholders to allow decision and action.
That is my definition of professional selling. To date, every lawyer exposed to it has agreed that it is identical to the ethical practice of law and that it is an interactive process with which they are already familiar and comfortable. They merely need to apply their lawyering skills before they get hired — at which point it’s called “selling.”
Practice Law = Practice Sales
Take a look at this table comparing how you practice law with how I advocate you should sell. The two columns are identical. Now, exhale and get on with it.
|Practice Law||Practice Sales|
|In the law practice model, you proceed logically, establishing a foundation and earning the right to advance. The client is actively engaged at each step and advances with you.||Sell exactly as you practice law: Proceed logically, establishing a foundation and earning the right to advance. The client is actively engaged at each step and advances with you.|
|1. No premature solution/advice.||1. No premature solution/advice.|
|2. Ask probing questions to understand the business situation and people involved.||2. Ask probing questions to understand the business situation and people involved.|
|3. Explore consequences and magnitude of problem (strategic/operational; economic; emotional).||3. Explore consequences and magnitude of problem (strategic/operational; economic; emotional).|
|4. Alert client re: additional issues or concerns based on your experience with such businesses or matters.||4. Alert client re: Additional issues or concerns based on your experience with such businesses or matters.|
|5. Confirm agreement on expanded understanding of problem/situation.||5. Confirm agreement on expanded understanding of problem/situation.|
|6. Describe solution options (categories) and likely strategic, operational, economic and personal ramifications of each.||6. Describe solution options (categories) and likely strategic, operational, economic and personal ramifications of each.|
|7. Based on shared description of what seems best suited to situation and buyers, advocate category option to pursue and why.||7. Based on shared description of what seems best suited to situation and buyers, advocate category option to pursue and why.|
|8. Ask client: Agree with analysis and advice?||8. Ask: Agree with analysis and advice?|
|9. Ask client what he or she sees as sensible next steps regarding solution/action.||9. Next steps: Coach prospect on logical decision.|
|10. Agree on timing and method of next steps. Client's self-interest drives the process.||10. Agree on timing and method of next steps. Prospect's self-interest drives the process.|