Great salespeople are in the customer success business, and a sale is just the pleasant byproduct of helping your clients succeed. This is great news for attorneys who bristle at the thought of ‘selling.’ It’s also one of the core concepts in Julie Thomas’ book, “ValueSelling: Driving Up Sales One Conversation At A Time.”
Clients today aren’t looking for smart lawyers or even superior legal services – they are looking for value. As the business climate has changed, clients have access to more information and alternatives than ever before. They can do business with your competitors, bring work in-house – or even do nothing at all. To really excel in Business Development, you have to help your clients envision that working together with you provides more value than the alternatives. So the question becomes, what is value and how do we provide it? Ultimately, value is defined by the customer, and since no two customers are alike, the only way to understand a client’s perception of value is to ask.
STOP PITCHING, START LISTENING
We demonstrate more value through the questions we ask than by attempting to dazzle clients with our knowledge or skills. Asking insightful questions is the best way to determine what a client finds valuable. Once we ask a question, we then have to be willing to listen – really listen. During a successful client development meeting, we should spend 80% of our time listening and only 20% talking. While this may seem challenging, if you succeed you will offer clients something they will find incredibly valuable, the feeling that they have been heard. So to be successful at Business Development, stop pitching and start listening.
By asking the right questions and listening intently you also immediately build trust, which enables you to connect with the client. As Thomas says, “The key to successful sales, whether you are selling a product, service or any solution, is in the salesperson’s ability to connect to the buyer.” We connect with and trust people who have demonstrated their sincere desire to understand our challenges and help us overcome them. Some additional ways Thomas suggests to foster trust include:
- Respect the prospect’s time and deadlines
- Listen empathetically and confirm understanding
- Demonstrate knowledge of their business
- Deliver on promises
- Be accountable
- Respond in a timely fashion
And as you gain a deeper understanding of your client, you will begin to uncover challenges and issues. Clients are motivated by both business and personal issues, and exceptional Business Developers are attuned to both. These issues could include competitive challenges, risk avoidance, regulatory problems or cost management. They could also include the desire for recognition, rewards, or promotions.
You will also have the opportunity to help clients expand their perspectives, getting them to think about issues they may not even have considered. By exploring these issues, you will come to understand the client’s latent legal needs – needs they are not yet even aware of. Latent legal needs are by far the most important because, by definition, they are not currently being addressed. By helping clients to realize these needs and challenges, you position yourself as the expert to help solve them.
PARTNERING IN THE PROPOSAL PROCESS
Once you fully comprehend a client’s needs and challenges, then and only then, do you have the credibility to propose a solution. In proposing your solution, the knowledge you have already gained will allow you to truly differentiate your offering. Points of differentiation can include things such as capabilities, terms and conditions, convenience, risk mitigation and price. Fortunately, because you took the time to understand the client, you will be able to differentiate in terms of value, rather than focusing on price.
When putting together the final proposal, the most effective approach, according to Thomas, is to work together with your client. During a joint planning process you both should come to agreement on the elements of the solution – things like services, staffing, price, timeline and other critical details. While the final proposal may involve meetings with additional stakeholders, e-mail exchanges, formal document preparation or even a PowerPoint presentation, there is one thing it should never involve: a surprise. Done correctly, the proposal process should be just the final step in formalizing the mutual agreement you have been developing to solve the client’s challenges.
Ultimately there is another powerful additional advantage to ValueSelling: you will evolve from being perceived as just another lawyer to being viewed as a business consultant and trusted advisor to your clients.