Old School Marketing – Sales Is Not A Dirty Word

Originally Posted on Small Firm Innovation

Back in the old days, lawyers really had to hustle to get work.  Okay, that’s just like today.  But lawyers had to “sell” themselves to get clients to use them.  So what’s so different about that today?  Well, many law firms now use technology and social media to get their marketing done.  But it still requires a human touch to get the “sale” done.

Marketing is the set-up, and sales is where the real money is made.  When you’re trying to win legal work from high powered corporations with their own sales teams, you need to match them in sales skills.  The clients will push every law firm to distinguish themselves with their sales abilities to earn their work.

So once you’ve identified and qualified the buyers, you approach them for the sale and “ask for the order.”  What’s that you say?  Yes, this is “old school” marketing.  It’s been done by salespeople in every industry for decades. Don’t want to have a sleazy “car salesman” image?  You don’t have to.  Some of the greatest salespeople are actually very highly skilled lawyers who use their own special sales techniques all the time while networking with blue chip contacts.  Their clients are also great salespeople, and smart lawyers connect them with other great salespeople they know and generate great referrals.

Your clients respect the art of sales as that’s how they conduct business all the time.  Lawyers who master sales techniques are respected by their clients, make no mistake.  It’s all in the delivery.  If you have a great product, you are proud to sell it and its benefits.  Don’t focus on features, focus on benefits, and distinguish yourself from the competition.  Find out the customer’s needs, then provide them with the customized product and service they require.  Listen a lot, and cater to their desires.  Really care about your clients, and provide added value over and above what they are expecting.  These are all tried-and-true sales techniques, of course.

It’s time that lawyers really understood the language of sales and applied the concepts.  In today’s competitive legal environment, you can’t afford to be “outsold” by your competition.

Some large law firms now even have sales departments.  They’ve got the message, and they train their lawyers in sales techniques using standard sales training courses.  Solos and small firms have the same opportunity.  You can get the necessary sales training from many sources out there.

Immerse yourself in the sales culture and start regularly “asking for the order.”  Some of the most successful lawyers I know are experts at it.  Some may call them rainmakers, but the smart ones know that deep down they are really just good salespeople.   After all, the highest paid person on a car lot is the sales manager.  Now that’s a goal to aspire for!

How To Get Lawyers To Sell

To get lawyers thinking about sales, the first step is to set up a system that rewards them for sales.  Not a revolutionary idea, but one that many firms don’t implement or implement poorly.

You need to entrench sales and marketing in the culture of the firm.  Sales is not a dirty word, it’s what lawyers must do to become partners, build a great practice and make the firm financially viable for the long term.

By simply setting up a tracking system for sales, you get lawyers’ attention.  And when you use the system to start impacting partners’ compensation, they quickly change their behavior and get down to business.  In some firms, there are partners who simply do sales and very little legal work.  They can be the most highly paid partners in the firm.  They show the way for entrepreneurial young partners, who quickly see the benefits and build their own practices and become great partners.

Some will say that tracking and origination credits systems can be divisive and encourage internal competition.  There are certainly management issues in making a sales tracking system work properly, but these can usually be easily handled.  The pros dramatically outweigh the cons in most cases.  Most firms with sales tracking systems already in place would never go back.

Track origination credits by clients and matters.  In this way, you will encourage new client development and generate business from current clients.  Studies show that 80% of your business is generated from current clients.  And encourage sharing of origination credits between lawyers and within practice groups to promote team sales efforts.  This will help institutionalize clients, resulting in longer-term retention of clients’ business and greater stability for your firm.

I’ve seen sales tracking systems in action that produce stellar results, which have helped make their firms extremely profitable.  For many firms, this is the key to really unlocking your partners’ business generation potential.

Should We Set Up A Sales Team In Our Law Firm?

I have seen it done at one of the major accounting firms. They had a sales team of 3 people that followed up on target clients and made sales presentations directly to clients. That was over 10 years ago now. From everything I heard, it was quite successful and well-received by clients. I’ve also heard that some of the larger US law firms have sales teams in place.

Ideally, your attorneys should be doing the sales.  However, most attorneys aren’t trained in sales and don’t do a good job of it.  I have also seen law firm partners in action who spend virtually all their time on sales and networking activities and are the most highly paid partners in their firms if they get results. If you build the culture to allow this to happen, your young attorneys will recognize this and will be inspired to build their practices rapidly through standard sales techniques.

I know of one large US law firm that bought the rights to a generic sales training course, made only minor edits for law firm use, and now presents it as standard fare to all their attorneys. More firms are starting to recognize the need to develop their young attorneys’ business development and sales skills early on, given the increasing competition for clients in today’s rapidly changing legal environment.