In this article, we explore why law firms shy away from selling and discover the key ingredients to shifting perceptions.
Sales is a word not often used in law firms. We advise. We assist. We are needed. We don’t sell. However, our marketing and business development activities are all intended to drive growth. We recognise that we need to convert conversations to relationships and then to profit. We exchange time for money. So, is there really no such thing as sales in legal?
Let’s think about what image the word sales conjures up. Why has it become a dirty word?
We can start with a story that is well known amongst lawyers; that the pocket at the back of a barrister’s gown was for clients to discreetly place money in so that they didn’t have to lower themselves to ask for fees. This story has been widely debunked as a myth, but the fact that it is believed demonstrates the difficulty that professionals have when talking about money. They didn’t join the profession to sell and many feel uncomfortable negotiating fees.
Another example? In the US, firms were only able to advertise as recently as 1977, in other countries this prohibition has survived much longer. Many lawyers still find advertising embarrassing. Advertising is about promotion rather than selling of course, but it does underline the fact that lawyers don’t follow the standard rules when it comes to winning work.
How do lawyers win work if they don’t sell?
It is rare to find a sales director in legal firms. Marketing Directors, yes; Business Development Directors, yes; Client Development Directors, yes; but Sales Directors are noted by their absence most of the time.
Legal services have for a long time been a necessary evil. If a company (or individual) got into a dispute, it needed a lawyer. If a company wants to buy or sell, it needed a lawyer. The list goes on. The buying psychology is different when you are in a situation where you need to have something, moreso if it is a distress purchase.
Law firms have grown without needing to be too creative about what they offer as a service. Reputation, word of mouth, and networks led to clients. Firms grew and grew.
However, for many years the market has been changing. A raft of Alternative Legal Services Providers have popped up. They promise to deliver differently and to take advantage of technology. It isn’t just about a simple exchange of time for money. It also isn’t just about need. It is about understanding clients and providing them holistic support and advice.
Times are a changing
Whilst sales was a dirty word, there is a change afoot. Many firms are starting to embrace the S word and the discipline. This is causing firms to rethink what selling is and to evaluate how they win work. As with most things, this is driven in large part because of clients. Why? The truth is that clients want to be sold to.
Clients want to be sold to? Yes, really.
Though not through cold-calling or sponsored messages on LinkedIn, but rather through conversations and understanding. Often when speaking to clients as part of Client Listening activities we hear that clients want to do more with the firms they instruct. They want to see what other parts of the firm have to offer them. They want firms to come up with opportunities and to be creative. This requires a shift in mindset. It is this shift in mindset that ALSPs have embraced.
What are the top three things firms can do to embrace selling?
1. Listen to clients. Ask questions. Find out what they need.
2. Recognise the need for sharing information internally. One of the things that clients want is for firms to be more joined up. They expect conversations to lead to thinking which in turn will help them. How do you share information internally and give yourselves time as a team to explore ways that you can help your clients?
3. Identify your experts. Internally you will have people who know how to sell. Make sure they are recognised and empowered.