Cultivating the Courage to Ask for Business – Part 2
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
This is Part 2 of a 3 part series in which Debra L. Bruce talks to attorneys about less painful and more effective ways to ask for business from potential clients.
First Downs vs. Touchdowns
If your prospect hasn’t jumped at the chance to retain your services, he may not have the necessary confidence that you can bring real value to him. Or perhaps he doesn’t have the authority to move forward. Instead of going for a touchdown by asking for the business, just try to keep scoring first downs. Consistent first downs will eventually turn into a touchdown, if you don’t fumble.
So how do you keep the ball moving? Perhaps you can ask, “Would you like to hear how some of my clients have solved that problem?” That’s a low risk question that doesn’t require much courage to ask. It offers to donate something of value to your prospective client, building trust. It also naturally opens a door to tell a success story.
Your success story is more persuasive than a direct ask, and often leads to more pointed inquiries about your services… initiated by the client. Maybe you won’t ever have to ask for the business, as the client takes the lead. If the client expresses interest in progressing to the next level with you, your follow up question might be “What’s the next step?”
If signals seem positive, but still non-committal, ask for a commitment short of a touchdown that keeps advancing the ball. Here are some possibilities:
- “Would you like to set a time for further conversation to explore whether we can help you?”
- “How about if I pull some data together on this to go over with you next week?”
- “Would you like me to take a look at your agreement and give you some preliminary thoughts?”
- “Are there some other folks with valuable input on this subject that you and I might like to talk to together?”
If you get a commitment for intermediate action by the client, you will know that you’re still in the game.
Even if this process doesn’t evolve into new business, by proceeding incrementally based on previously developed information, you can avoid fumbling the ball and scaring the client away. You will have gained useful data and built a little trust toward a future opportunity. The client won’t avoid your next call, especially if you shared valuable insights in this process.
Getting Into a Conversation
Of course, you have to get a conversation going in order to ask questions that uncover needs. The in-house counsel I surveyed don’t mind being contacted by prospective outside counsel, although one admonished that “cold calls…are almost never successful.” It’s better to have some kind of pre-existing connection or at least an introduction to “warm up” the call.
Don’t hoard your expertise. In-house lawyers appreciate outside lawyers who help keep them informed and up to date. As one said, “We depend on connections outside the office to gain the knowledge we need to be effective. So I don’t mind being contacted by legal specialists who really know my industry and who may have some valuable knowledge that I do not have.” Another said lawyers typically get on his radar screen by raising issues of importance to his company or providing insights or examples of their work product that are relevant to the company’s business.
Originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of the ABA’s Newsletter: The Woman Advocate