Fact: Lawyers who proactively reach out to prospective clients to engage them in sales discussions, get new engagements only about eight per cent of the time. Put another way, ninety-two attempts out of 100, on average, fail to generate an engagement.
Why don’t lawyers sell their services better than that?
Here’s my take. Bear with me. It takes a bit of explanation. But I think it will change how you think about legal sales.
The legal industry has adopted a single, general-purpose sales process that evolved outside of the legal services industry but is, nonetheless, used extensively in legal sales training programs. Most lawyers have had at least some exposure to this sales process, which remains a relatively straightforward six-step process. It can be described as: 1. identify prospects; 2. build relationships with them; 3. Engage them in sales discussions to identify their legal needs; 4. offer legal solutions; 5. overcome any objections, and 6. close the engagement.
One problem is that this sales process, what I’ll call the ‘conventional sales process,’ has not evolved to account for the game-changing improvements in market and competitive intelligence capabilities that buyers have achieved. Lawyer-Sellers are at a substantial disadvantage compared to their professional buying counterparts who have reams of data and exceptional advice from legal buying associations. Nor does it account for their embrace of more efficient procurement processes – processes which continue to be veiled in mystery for many lawyers. Much of that mystery comes from a lack of understanding about how buyers buy legal services – a topic rarely addressed in the legal media.
While these impact lawyers’ ability to sell effectively, the bigger problem is that the legal sales process (and the training that goes along with it) provide little guidance to lawyers for the types of selling situations they most often face. It assumes persuasion and competitive positioning can be used at every stage in the buying cycle when in fact persuasion and assertive selling can cause sales pressure when applied at the wrong point in the buying cycle.
The conventional sales process also doesn’t provide an adequate framework through which to interpret changes in the tone of or participants in a sales discussion, in a buyer’s shifting priorities, or in unexpected outcomes. Lastly, it requires lawyers to adopt a ‘sellers’ mindset that conflicts with their self-image and their normal client servicing behaviours and commitments.
I’ve got dozens of theories as to why this sales process and the conventional sales training that goes along with it don’t work well in the corporate legal services industry. But several points stand out as important considerations. These points have convinced me, and will hopefully convince you, that a more collaborative and less antagonistic legal sales process is overdue.
- Most sales methodologies evolved from within the technology sector - sales processes that were originally designed to sell hardware, software, cloud storage, and similar products. Regardless, they have been adopted by the legal industry without much question as to whether the sales process works as effectively to sell intangible, complex legal services. The facts argue that it doesn’t work very well.
- It is assumed that a general-purpose sales process will work equally well for every legal practice area and every selling situation – despite wide recognition that selling litigation services is wholly different than selling transactional legal services. Or that the drivers of decisions such as the relative importance of the legal issue, the availability of alternatives, and the degree of change required of a company can vary widely depending on the selling situation. It’s a lot to ask one sales process to perform equally well under so many varied conditions.
- The purpose of a sales process is to guide sellers through each stage of the selling process. It does not guide sellers through the buyer’s buying process, even though many sales gurus would have you believe that the buying and selling processes are mirrors of one another. The conventional sales process does not recognize the importance of understanding the buyer and their unique buying process, their priorities, organizational structure, how decisions are made internally, and a host of other dynamics that influence which projects are pursued, which are put off, and which are ignored by the company. Simply, it’s difficult to know how to sell if you don’t understand how buyers buy and prioritize their limited resources.
- The current legal sales process fails to address several selling opportunities such as when there is an incumbent provider, when the organization is researching a legal issue but not yet ready to buy, or when the company has decided not to solve certain legal issues. Conventional legal sales training presumes that once a buyer recognizes a legal issue, they are inclined to solve the issue - despite overwhelming evidence that many legal solutions go ignored and unresolved, companies find workarounds to avoid the problem, or the company finds ways to minimize the risk in lieu of a permanent solution. The conventional sales process doesn’t provide any guidance on how to mitigate this sales opportunity leakage.
- Sales trainers pick a sales methodology to use in their training program. They may choose Insights Selling™, Consultative Selling, Strategic Selling, The Challenger Sale™, SPIN Selling™, or Solutions Selling, among others as the predominant methodology in their training programs. However, each of these sales methodologies (whether intentionally or not) address different points in the buying cycle. Our conventional understanding of the legal sales process does not acknowledge that some sales techniques are more effective in certain stages of the buying cycle and less effective (even counterproductive) in others. Nor does it explain where in the buying cycle different sales methodologies should be used.
- A good sales process should provide a framework that lawyers can use to understand what companies are doing behind the scenes in each stage of the buying cycle. With that insight, sellers can not only adapt their sales approaches, but seize sales opportunities more effectively in each phase whether that phase is building awareness of an issue, helping to facilitate the internal buying decision process, positioning the lawyer to stand out against competitors and alternatives, or wresting opportunities away from incumbent providers. Each stage requires a different approach, a different mindset, and different questioning tools.
- Sales trainers focus on managing the sale – moving buyers through their pre-determined sales process using persuasion and compelling evidence of their capabilities. But in fact, organizations that adopt new ways of doing things, change their operations or seize new opportunities are influenced more by change management strategies than they are by sales management strategies. For many areas of the law, companies need help affecting change and making good decisions. They need help navigating the political, cultural, operational, and strategic challenges that they face for the first time but that lawyers have observed in other clients. This change management approach is absent from the conventional sales process and training.
- Lastly, and maybe most obviously, conventional sales training relies too heavily on persuasion and manipulation tactics to generate engagements – and lawyers often view these as uncomfortable and antagonistic techniques that can be hard to reconcile with their preferred ‘trusted advisor’ approach.
Buyer-Aligned Selling for Legal Services™
Buyer-Aligned Selling for Legal Services introduces a flexible, legal services-designed sales methodology that complements the behaviours and attitudes of corporate lawyers and the selling situations they most often find themselves in. It addresses many of the inadequacies of the conventional sales process outlined above and puts lawyers in a more collaborative position to serve client needs and add substantive value. Once you understand how it works, you’ll agree that Buyer-Aligned Selling enables lawyers to sell more by selling less.
Buyer-Aligned Selling for Legal Services does three important things:
- It focuses on the buying cycle and where the buyer is in that process giving lawyers tools to clarify the buying stage and the makeup of the decision group. This helps lawyers align their approach to use strategies that address the buyer’s needs in each stage of the buying cycle – critically important to delivering value during the sales process.
- It creates a framework through which a customized sales approach can be developed for each practice area and selling situation making sales initiatives more effective and more productive. And,
- It explains which of the popular sales methodologies work best at each stage of the buying cycle – giving lawyers more tools to secure engagements throughout the buying cycle.
Until now, the unique needs and challenges that lawyers face in selling their services and the evolution that legal services buyers have undergone has not been fully explored. Honestly, I hear very little discussion, if any at all, about whether the sales methodologies lawyers use are appropriate. In the absence of a more effective sales approach, most training emphasizes relationships, networking, and thought leadership. While these are important for generating inquiries, they do little to guide lawyers in how to convert those inquiries into new engagements. A buyer-aligned sales process addresses the buying-selling process in a way that gives lawyers substantive guidance and compliments how lawyers think and, more importantly, how clients prefer to be engaged. If your firm is not getting the organic sales results that it believes it should, you should learn more about Buyer-Aligned Selling for Legal Services.
About the Author
The former chief marketing officer of several large law firms, Eric Dewey is a business development coach for lawyers who has been helping lawyers and other professional service providers win new business for more than 25 years. His approach is practical, client-centric and practice-specific, using tools and techniques developed over years of coaching lawyers from every imaginable practice area through a host of challenging situations.
The above has been excerpted from my book, Power Grids. How Successful Lawyers Build Powerful Networks of Connections That Drive Reputations, Relationships, Referrals, and Revenues. It is available on Amazon.
Eric can be reached by email at Eric@eLegalTraining.com.