You know the sort of thing –Car Salesman stuff – like when Larry David needed to fulfil an old ambition and try his hand as one, in one of the more cringeworthy episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm (If you have seen this you will know what I mean and if you haven’t then beware!!). In a nutshell Larry did all the talking, none of the listening, and answered questions put to him, shall I say politely, “incorrectly”.
In my legal practising days, I know I had a generally negative attitude to salesmanship and salespeople. It was only after getting into a selling role for a legal publisher that I realised I needed to challenge my perceptions.
Looking back at my own experiences as a lawyer, I realise that a mistake I often made was to pre-empt the discussion. So what does this mean in the context of having “selling skills”. By “selling” in this context, I mean the soft and technical skills that can be applied within ethical standards and rules of conduct.
Really this is about putting the client or prospect at their ease – or “establishing rapport” – and then using great questioning techniques to uncover what the real concerns or motivations the person may have. With great open questions (those that cannot be answered yes or no), it’s much more likely that the outcome will be in the other person’s interests and may mean a quite different process than either lawyer or client/prospect may have first envisaged.
The personal touch
It’s important to make sure there isn’t a huge imbalance of power between lawyer and client. As soon as that occurs, the communication flow may falter between both sides.
While digital communication is common practice for most professions, adding personal touches, when possible, can improve business/client relationships.
It sounds pretty basic, but in today’s world people are generally blown away if you call them or send a letter or personal note, because it says that you actually view them more than just a client. And don’t get me started on the use and abuse of email.
If the client is a group or company, develop multi-layered relationships. Apart from opening up opportunities to cross-sell other services you can offer, it becomes very hard for the group or company to switch legal providers because of the number and depth of relationships between people in both organisations.
I am often asked about how to talk price with prospects or clients. Many lawyers are nervous about this, and this is often because they haven’t appreciated how selling skills include the ability to establish rapport and value first.
To try to encapsulate why all of this is important I think it’s about the broader picture where the client is at ease, the communication flows better and therefore it is more likely lawyer and client will have a better expectation about the value and the outcome.