Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Best Trait of Attorneys is Also Their Worst

The most successful attorneys help companies reduce risk, avoid problems and break down barriers. They find loop holes that others miss and help define strategic direction into executable steps. There is a single trait, common among just about every attorney I have ever met, that helps them do these wonderful things for their clients. It’s called skepticism. Skepticism is the lens through which lawyers view the world. Skepticism is a pervasive doubt as to the truth of something. And that doubt is bred into them in law school. I suspect, even, that those who are natural skeptics gravitate toward the practice of law more than anyone else. The law and precedent is a comfortable place for those that are skeptical and doubtful. Doubt results in caution, which is good. Caution is the most essential survival trait.

On the other hand, innovators are not cautious people. They don’t doubt that their ideas will work. They try new things with little regard for the consequences of what they create. To the innovator, their boundless curiosity leads them to try new things, analyze what results, make adjustments and then try it again. They repeat this process sometimes hundreds of times until they create the vision that inspired their drive. The only role doubt ever plays in the innovator’s process is to provide direction.

Inventors and innovators are not, by their nature, skeptics. Innovation requires a different mindset, one that seeks why something didn’t work and what will make it work. Skeptics approach challenges from a risk aversion point of view. They look for why something won’t work and avoid that risk. Skeptics look for the consequences of actions and inflate those consequences to reveal its risk. Innovators deflate the consequences to reveal an action’s opportunity.

The trait that makes for highly successful legal practitioners also limits these same people when it comes to business and client development. The skeptical nature of their world view can keep them from the experimentation and practice that hones the skills of business and client development. Skepticism can also limit an attorney’s ability to become a trusted advisor of companies. Business leaders value skeptical caution. But they also value the innovators curiosity and drive for breaking new ground. To win the confidence of a business leader, don’t tell them all the ways something could go wrong. Tell them what you think will work. Skeptics who consistently dampen the discussion of opportunity risk being shut out of the room.

In working recently with a young partner, I was reminded of the devastating impact of self-limiting beliefs and skepticism. He asked me how he could build his practice and what he could do on a daily basis to move toward a larger book of clients. I explained the process and gave him a list of five things he could do each day to build his practice. While his curiosity asked a brilliant question, his limiting beliefs and skepticism found a consequence that suggested his situation was different and that the tactics would not work for him.

So, how does one turn skepticism into opportunism. First, recognize the thought pattern as it happens. Ask yourself, have I squelched an idea because I’ve seen a potential negative consequence? Was this idea well thought out? If so, then rate that consequence in terms of the likelihood of it actually happening. If the potential consequence is highly likely to happen (most well thought out actions do no produce negative consequences), examine whether the unintended effect would help you understand better how to do the same thing the next time. In other words, unintended consequences provide direction. The unintended consequences of thoughtful actions should rarely derail those activities. And yet, skeptics often allow unlikely consequences to inhibit their action. Even knowing that taking action is the fundamental energy that drives business development success.

So, what consequences do you fear?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Learn How to Peel an Onion

Clients don’t buy services, they buy solutions. So finding the root cause of a problem is critical to determining a comprehensive solution. While many will say that the solution is winning a case or successfully completing a transaction, the value creating solution is often not nearly so obvious. Providing true value to clients means that you are looking out for their interests and trying to understand the circumstances and outlying factors that contributed to the situation or inhibited its resolution. Learn how to ask questions that uncover need and pain.

Learning how to probe and get to the root cause of an issue is an artful talent. It requires active listening, open ended questioning techniques and relentless probing. Use the 'five whys' questioning technique to probe deep into causes and circumstances as well as to reveal the value that solutions can have for the company and your client. Once you know the scope of the issues, provide solutions not just for the immediate problem but ways to avoid the problem in the future as well.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Put Your Back Against the Wall

Busy restaurants are bee hives. They are full of people coming and going, animated conversations and more distractions than the human mind can process. The attention span of most people is already limited so the more you can cut down on distractions the longer you can keep someone's attention. When dining with clients, always choose the seat that puts your back against the wall and give clients the seats facing the wall. This limits the amount of distraction and allows clients to focus on you and the conversation.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ask For Referrals Early in the Relationship

Most professionals never ask for a referral. When they do, it's often after the project has been completed. This may not be the most opportune time to ask for a referral or testimonial. Earlier in the relationship may be better. Early in the relationship avoids the Honeymoon Hangover effect, the point in time when the honeymoon is over and the reality of the relationship sets in. Requests for referrals after compelling value has been delivered early in the relationship may be the best time to ask for a referral to professional peers who may also have need for your services.

Watch For Client Easing

Clients rarely abruptly stop using the services of an attorney. Instead, they ease out of the relationship slowly. The same is true of how clients prefer to get into a relationship. Pitching too much too quickly demands too much trust too early in the relationship. It is better to offer a way to become familiar with the attorney’s work and grow the relationship from there into more practice areas as trust and comfort builds. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Never Bundle. Always Unbundle.

An opportunity to present capabilities to a client is not a request to learn about every practice in the firm. Nonetheless, many attorneys sneak additional practice areas into the materials or presentation ‘just in case they have needs’. But pitching to win a bundled set of services complicates the decision process unnecessarily. A focused proposal offering a viable solution to a specific problem is much more powerful than a broad statement of capabilities, no matter how strong those capabilities are. For one, multiple practice presentations require the buyer to make multiple decisions. In this case, it is much easier to decline all than agree to only one. And once one 'no' is verbalized, it becomes much easier to verbalize 'no' again and again. Conversely, a strong pitch focusing on one practice area makes the decision simpler and lowers the risk to the client should only one practice area not work out. 

Unseat the Competition

The majority of lawyers approach a pitch without regard to how well the work is currently being done for the client by the incumbent firm or professional. Even in situations in which they have knowledge of poor performance, most attorneys don't attempt to understand the dynamics of the poor performance. Instead, they pitch indiscriminately in hopes that serendipity and need conveniently converge to win the client's interest.

No one changes providers until they first question the value they get from their current provider. Shaking a client from the comfort of a long term relationship requires that the client see a much higher reward with at least as low a risk as their current provider. Barring that, clients are unlikely to entertain switching from the devil they know to the devil they don't know.

Clients are constantly questioning every aspect of their business. And they value those who help them through this process. If the incumbent provider is not doing this, it leaves a gaping opportunity for a competitive provider to offer this guidance. Develop a questioning technique that walks the prospective client through every aspect of perceived value in the relationship. Your effectiveness in guiding this process is the key to creating the opportunity to present alternative solutions.