In the 10 years that I’ve been coaching attorneys to grow their books of business, this barrier to successful client development has come up countless times, whether in conversation or on their website bio pages: namely, the tendency to talk too quickly about themselves – their practice areas, their credentials, and their “approach” – almost to the exclusion of talking about (and really understanding) their clients, their clients’ experiences, and their clients’ concrete business and/or personal objectives.
Yes, you have to think like a lawyer once you’ve been retained. But you have to think like a buyer to get hired. And that means you have to think like [cue: music from Jaws]. . . a sales professional. I know, I know. Such an admonition is anathema to many lawyers.
But think about it: What does a good sales professional ultimately do? They get people to feel comfortable enough to pay someone else to get something they want. That’s it. It’s morally neutral. So get over it if the word (much less the concept) of “selling” holds you back. Indeed, if you can truly help a prospective client achieve his or her desired outcome, why shouldn’t it be you who is paid to do so, as opposed to another lawyer who happens to be better at “closing the deal”?
So how can you learn to approach prospective clients in a way that takes the focus off you and gets them talking about what matters most to them? It’s quite simple tactically, but you’ll have to practice it to make it a habit: you ask high-value questions that yield important information and then you listen carefully for when the answers you get present openings for you to speak; and when you do speak, it’s to provide very brief answers or comments and to ask more follow up questions.
Here are 30 powerful, high-value questions from a master of professional services marketing, Alan Weiss. They come from a list of 101 questions to which I’ve provided a link at the end of this SuccessTip, but ponder these for now. (Note: the essence – and purpose – of these questions apply whether you’re talking with an individual consumer about estate planning or with a General Counsel about handling their global compliance needs.)
- What is the ideal outcome you’d like to experience?
- What results are you trying to accomplish?
- What better [business] condition are you seeking?
- Why are you seeking to do this (work/project/engagement)?
- How would the operation be different as a result of this work?
- What would be the return on investment (sales, assets, equity, etc.)?
- How would image/repute/credibility be improved?
- What harm (e.g., stress, dysfunction, turf wars, etc.) would be alleviated?
- How much would you gain on the competition as a result?
- How would your value proposition be improved?
By pushing the buyer on the end results you are helping to articulate and formalize the prospect’s perceived benefits, thereby increasing your own value in the process.
- How will you know we’ve accomplished your intent?
- How, specifically, will the operation be different when we’re done?
- How will you measure this?
- What indicators will you use to assess our progress?
- Who or what will report on our results (against the objectives)?
- Do you already have measures in place you intend to apply?
- What is the rate of return (on sales, investment, etc.) that you seek?
- How will we know the public, employees, and/or customers perceive it?
- Each time we talk, what standard will tell us we’re progressing?
- How would you know it if you tripped over it?
The more completely you understand your buyer’s thinking about how they will measure success, the easier it will be to establish realistic service expectations.
- What will these results mean for your organization?
- How would you assess the actual return (ROI, ROA, ROS, ROE, etc.)?
- What would be the extent of the improvement (or correction)?
- How will these results impact the bottom line?
- What are the annualized savings (first year might be deceptive)?
- What is the intangible impact (e.g., on repute, safety, comfort, etc.)?
- How would you, personally, be better off or better supported?
- What is the scope of the impact (on customers, employees, vendors)?
- How important is this compared to your overall responsibilities?
- What if this fails?
The more concretely you understand the value the prospect places on the achieving his or her objective, the fewer obstacles you’ll encounter with respect to fees and payment.
Objectives. Measures. Value. OMV. At the very least, memorize the acronym (if not several of the questions from each category). The mere act of asking OMV-based questions allows you to demonstrate your value as a savvy counselor and excellent listener far more effectively than your telling the prospective client how qualified you are and why they should hire you.
To recap the drill: Ask your prospects high-value questions. Listen carefully. Resist the temptation to provide an answer or solution unless asked a very specific question. Instead, ask more probing questions that help the prospect clarify their thinking about OMV. It’s the key to effective lawyer marketing.
Here’s the link to all 101 questions, which are grouped by categories such as “Finding the Economic Buyer” (which saves you from wasting time with people who don’t have the authority to actually hire you) to “Preventing Unforeseen Obstacles” (which helps you anticipate typical problems that arise in the last stages of getting hired).