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Six rules for selling without a sales pitch

Don’t destroy the firm’s marketing efforts by putting a hard sell on a potential client.

To some people, lawyers have a negative image to begin with. Add a sales pitch to that and the reaction is resistance.

The prospect sees the attorney as trying to take control and there’s confrontation before the selling even begins.

A hard sell may be effective in some businesses, but selling legal services takes a subtle hand. Here are six rules, all of them negative, for bringing in new clients without pushing a hard sell.

1. Cold calls freeze prospects

The first rule is don’t make cold calls. That is a dead giveaway there is a salesperson at the door. Inviting a prospect for lunch may seem like a good way to break the ice, but it puts the person on the defensive. The prospect thinks that because the attorney has no other reason to be proposing lunch, a sales pitch is soon to follow.

Instead of cold calling, set up situations that make it easy and desirable for the prospect to take the first action. Publish an article or an advertisement in a trade magazine or on your website and at the end say, “I invite your telephone calls.” Give an email option.

The point is to get the prospect to take the first step so there is no reaction of “What is this person trying to sell me?”

2. Cards but only by request

The second rule is don’t give out a business card unless someone asks for it. To force a card on someone is to take the initial action, and the attorney is back to looking like a sales person.

The crossover technique of shaking hands with the right hand and delivering a business card with the left is a sure sign of a hard sell.

Insurance and real estate sales people are taught to do that. But for an attorney, it is inappropriate. The message an unasked-for card delivers is that everything the attorney does or says is part of a sales pitch designed to get that person to do something he or she probably doesn’t want to do.

The only way for an attorney to give out a card is with style. Don’t shove it in someone’s face. Offer it; don’t give it. There’s a difference.

Say, “I have a card available if you would like one” or “I have a card if you would like to call me.” That leaves the decision to accept the card and to make the call in the prospect’s control.

3. Don’t lurk in trade show booths

The third rule is don’t sell services from a trade show booth. That too makes the attorney look like a salesperson.

  • Go to the trade show, but make contact with the participants some other way.
  • Place an ad in the show directory.
  • Volunteer to write an article for the association’s website.
  • Arrange to speak at the conference.
  • Offer to moderate a seminar or meeting.

That’s good advertising. It doesn’t arouse suspicion. And more, it puts the lawyer in a position of prestige over the other attorneys at the show who are selling their services from a booth.

4. Don’t be information stingy

Rule four is don’t be stingy with information. When a prospective client calls with a question, don’t insist on an in-person meeting before divulging anything. Answer it. The old “let’s get together so we can discuss your needs” tells the prospect a sales pitch is imminent.

While there is a limit to what the attorney can say lest the conversation be seen as establishing an attorney-client relationship, it is possible to give the caller useful information. Answer the question with information based on similar matters.

Then take advantage of that call. Use it to set the stage for a relationship with the caller and to pave the way for continuing it, perhaps, “I really need to look over those documents you have. Then I can give you a better answer.” Or tell the caller, “I’ll put together some information about that type of problem. I think it will provide a lot of the answers you want.”

Giving free and valuable information that requires no obligation is one of the best marketing tactics an attorney can take because it establishes a bond of trust between attorney and prospect. That bond pays off. The prospect will lean toward the attorney who gave something useful, not the one who gave the hard sell.

5. Don’t hide the fees

The next rule is don’t evade questions about the fees. Prospects ask what the fees are for two reasons. The first is obvious. They want to know what to expect. If a lawyer won’t tell what the fees are, the logical conclusion is that the services aren’t affordable.

The second reason is not as obvious. They want to find out if the attorney is up-front about costs as well as services. Evade the question and arouse suspicion.

The best response is to tell the prospect what a typical hourly rate is and give a ballpark number of hours the matter might involve. Then add a protective disclaimer of, “I can give you a better estimate once I know how involved the case is.”

If it’s not possible to give an hourly estimate, give a range, perhaps, “People in your situation typically pay this amount.”

That satisfies the prospect’s immediate need to hear the lawyer put a number in the blank.

Many firms do more. They give an hourly rate in marketing material because it ensures that the attorneys get calls from people who can afford their services. It saves the prospect and the attorney time and embarrassment.

The more an attorney can tell a client about the fees, the better the client feels. The client knows immediately whether the service is affordable and whether the price is one that person is willing to pay.

6. Don’t try to close the deal

The final rule is don’t press to close the deal. Don’t take the “how can I get you into this car today?” approach. For example, don’t say, “If I can provide the estate plan you want, are you ready to move forward with this?”

Don’t try to get a foot in the door by demanding to talk with the person who has the authority to hire an attorney. For example, don’t ask, “Are you qualified to hire an attorney or does this have to go to the board of directors?” Don’t ask, “Do you have the authority to pay or do we have to move to accounting?”

Questions like these may be considered good sales sense in other types of businesses, but with legal services, they only make a prospect feel pinned down to making a decision. And the attorney immediately jumps to the top of the top of the list of people the prospect doesn’t trust.

Far more effective is simply to give the prospect useful information and point out the risks of not taking action.

Then leave the decision in the prospect’s hands. The committed client is one who asks “when do we start?” without the attorney’s ever asking for the business.

Related reading:

Marketing your practice: How to attract more clients by positioning your attorneys as “thought leaders”

Personal touch helps win highly profitable corporate clients

How and why you need to carefully screen cold calls from potential new clients









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