Selling By Lawyers 101: The Most Common Sales Mistake

If I gave you all the time in the world to decide whether to purchase a non-essential service, would you tend to buy it quickly? This question has a self-evident answer that leads to a bedrock principal that underlies a lot of sales training programs: If you want to improve sales, establish some sense of urgency for the potential client.

Too many lawyers assume that selling involves some sort of improper manipulation. That’s an ironic position for a profession that is deeply intertwined with the ability to be persuasive. And some attorneys go further and take perverse pride in avoiding anything that smacks of being salesy. But as my friend and best-selling author David Newman of Do It Marketing is fond of saying, “Better to be salesy than brokey.”

The easiest way to establish urgency is to avoid ambiguity as to the timing of the next step in the process. For example, the potential client who needs a tax lawyer to file or prepare an amended corporate return promises to track down key documents. If the potential client doesn’t provide those documents promptly, how long should the lawyer wait before following up? A week, 10 days, or a month?

The best strategy is to avoid having to deal with the underlying problem. Rather than guessing as to how long a wait is appropriate, obtain the potential client’s consent to be contacted if they don’t contact you by a particular date. So if they promise to get back to you by next Wednesday, you simply ask, “if for some reason that doesn’t happen, is it ok if I call or email you by the following Monday?”

In my experience advising lawyers and law firms, potential clients almost always agree to be contacted or provide concrete information about when they will be available (e.g., “I’ll be out of town on Wednesday and Thursday, so Friday would be better.”). Business clients in particular aren’t going to be offended by the lawyer’s question or feel that it’s pushy. To the contrary, lawyers who set specific deadlines during phases of the sales process are doing what many business persons already do.

Moreover, lawyers who allow the sales process to drift tend to create the impression that their time isn’t valuable or that they aren’t busy. Many business clients aren’t in a position to evaluate fully a lawyer’s skills or overall effectiveness. But they do form sophisticated judgments about whether attorneys run their practices in a business-like manner. Thus, if you want to increase your perceived value in the eyes of potential clients, set and maintain a reasonable amount of urgency during the sales process. It’s what thriving lawyers, law firms, and all manner of successful businesses do.