Birth Of A Salesman: Why Building Good Client Relationships Will Boost Your Law Firm’s Bottom Line

Try telling a lawyer that—at the core of their work—they’re simply a salesman. Like the shoe shop down the corner or the bookstore around the bed, law firms are in the services industry whether its professionals like it or not.

So when it comes to working with clients, attorneys should take the lead from some of the world’s best salesmen.

Take, for example, John H. Patterson, originator of modern sales training and Founder-CEO of the National Cash Register Company. He fathered the four-step sales process involving (1) initial approach; (2) the proposition; (3) the product demonstration; and (4) closing the deal. Today, lawyers could take a page from his training manual.

Then there is David Ogilvy, advertising executive and sales guru. He once said:

“The worst fault a salesman can commit is to be a bore. Foster any attempt to talk about other things; the longer you stay the better you get to know the prospect, and the more you will be trusted.”

This is why he is responsible for some of the most successful and iconic ad campaigns for major businesses, like Dove, Schweppes, and Ross-Royce. Attorneys should realize bedside manner and trust are as important as building a case when it comes to attracting and retaining clients.

America’s quintessential car salesman, Joe Girard, has one or two things to prove about hard work and persistence in the post-war era. Detroit native and dedicated dealership salesman, Girard once sold 18 cars in a single workday and sold over 13,000 Chevrolets in a 15-year period since 1963.

Finally, look at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The latest data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index reveals Amazon.com remains the reigning and undisputed champion of both Internet retailing and across the entire department in overall customer satisfaction, reports Kevin Baldacci in “7 Customer Service Lessons from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos” for the Salesforce Blog.

“Focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient,” according to Bezos.

To bolster this philosophy at Amazon, Bezos used to bring an empty chair into meetings and tell his top executives that the chair represented the customer, “the most important person in the room.”

Even in law, it’s the client who matters most, which is an easy thing to forget in our digital world replete with e-discovery e-filings.

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

Bezos’ success in sales has a lot to do with a very generic business principle that recognizes bad dealings in a virtual marketplace has real-world consequences. In the same vein, at a law office, every e-mail, phone call, or correspondence with a client can have disastrous costs if not handled appropriately.

Like Amazon’s customers, law firm clients can be needy, unrealistic, emotional, verbally abusive, and just as confrontational as the standard call center complainer.

So, before you send out a rash response or react negatively, remember that empty chair in the room. In the end, the client matters most. As upsetting as it may be to hear “I want it tomorrow!” “your bill is too high!” or “what do you mean, I can’t do that?” your client creates and destroys your business.

Take care of them and they’ll take care of you, as evinced by the stories in Inc.’s list of the 10 Greatest Salespeople of All Time (here).

So, listen to The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s audio course, “Dealing with Difficult Clients: Proven Strategies to Limit Problems, Avert Disagreements, and Ethically Handle Problem Clients” on Thursday, December 18, 2014, from 2:00 PM to 3:15 PM Eastern time, and learn how to handle these situations.

When Bezos caught wind that Amazon customers were stealing digital copies of the books 1984 and Animal Farm, he rashly removed the copies remotely. The backlash from this “Big Brother” act by users was enormous.

Although legally and ethically in the right, Bezos confessed to being in the wrong. He published the statement: “We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.”

Because sometimes apologizing, when sincere, is better for building relationships and business empires than stubbornly defending your practice, legal or otherwise.

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