An “Aha!” Moment In Law Firm Sales

Previously posted on the Marketing Brain Fodder Blog, courtesy of Eric Fletcher.

A correspondent recently asked me: “When did you have your first ‘Aha!’ moment about law firm sales?”

It’s a great memory, and it actually occurred long before Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice became a pioneer in the legal profession and asked me to serve as director of sales.

The Real Beginning — An Accidental Volunteer

The path that led me to professional service (and eventually, legal) sales goes further back than I care to admit. I was an Associate National Director of Marketing at Price Waterhouse LLP — long before the merger with Coopers & Lybrand.

The legendary Price Waterhouse Vice Chairman of Tax, Pete Hart, was – appropriately — asking revenue questions of International Tax partners, who had put together many elaborate marketing brochures, staged numerous wonderful educational sessions, and traveled abroad with international tax planning concepts. (Any of this sound familiar?) But, in spite of great investment and much activity, the group wasn’t “connecting the dots with the cash register” as well as Pete would have liked.

“Who,” Pete asked, “will follow up with the people who attended the seminars to meet with them face to face? Who will make phone calls to the people receiving the fancy brochures to see if they have any questions?”

In old World War II movies, there are scenes about the unwilling volunteer.  In these scenes, a commanding officer asks for volunteers to step forward.  Inevitably, a newbie stands still while the wizened hands all take steps backward.

Those scenes remind me of how I “volunteered” to make the move from professional services marketing to sales; I “volunteered” by not declining to do so.

Fortunately, I’d had some professional services sales experience prior to joining Price Waterhouse, and, in addition, at Price Waterhouse I was able to participate in Miller-Heiman’s “Strategic Selling” courses.  So, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready.

The focus of our fledgling sales effort was to “connect those dots”, and we began scheduling follow-up meetings with potential clients.  Thankfully, my training had equipped me in the art of connecting, and the science of keeping opportunities on track. And, over time (the sale of professional services rarely occurs overnight), we were able to achieve some of the conversions Pete Hart knew to be critical to success.

“Sales” began to develop some strong roots at Price Waterhouse as well as other accounting firms, as the accounting profession caught wind of the possibilities. Sales became a critical competency in the professional services arena — eventually (albeit, with reluctance at many turns) the idea has crept into legal.

By Any Name, It Is About Connecting The Dots

Each of us at some point in a career faces the very practical questions Pete Hart posed to the Price Waterhouse Tax Partners — who is going to take the steps necessary to connect with prospects?

Whether marketers, business developers, strategy architects, accountants or lawyers — few, if any of us can afford to wait for the market to come to us. If you’re reluctant to lean on the “S” word, think of it as simply connecting the dots between the needs of your prospects and the service and counsel you can deliver.

When it comes to efforts that hit the bottom-line, that’s the “Aha Moment”.



A Peek at the Horizon: Six Questions, Six Answers

Recently, I was honored when Kevin McMurdo of McMurdo Consulting approached me to do a video interview to discuss professional sales leadership in the legal services industry. I greatly appreciate Kevin giving me a platform. I put a great deal of thought into answering his questions, and only a few snippets will be used, so I thought I would share my full answers to all the questions here on the New Legal Normal blog.

1. Why a sales team?  How would you weigh the benefits versus the negatives of an in-house sales team?

In reality, sales teams are NOT really necessary. What IS necessary, if there are to be intentional sales, is the development and implementation of a sales process. Any imaginable sales process includes the following two activities at which lawyers, as a generality, are not skilled:  Initiating relationships with new buyers…and following up persistently until business opportunities emerge.

2.  What structure?  Who should report to whom?

I believe that only those who have undertaken sales truly can understand sales.  For that reason, I believe that the sales function should be led by a strong leader who can intersect with and collaborate with firm leadership and the leaders of other staff functions.  Unless a Chief Marketing Officer himself or herself has direct-sales experience, it won’t be a good fit.

3.  What are the key attributes to the position description?  How does/should this position relate to others in the firm – both attorneys and staff?

Despite stereotypes about salespeople, all different kinds of people can be effective at sales.  To be sure, some successful sales people rely on outgoing personalities. But it is also true that other successful salespeople are analytical or empathetic or highly efficient resource coordinators.

What is most required to be successful at professional services sales, no matter the personality type and background of the sales professional, is a commitment to help clients.  To put their interests first.  To be their ombudsman at the law firm.  To “have their backs.”

It goes without saying that sales professionals at law firms have at least two sales targets – the external clients and prospective clients…and the internal clients otherwise known as the lawyers.

As to the internal clients, one must have the gravitas and credibility to earn their trust and cooperation in efforts to land new business or to expand work at existing clients. The best orientation is one where there is great teamwork between a sales professional and a lawyer.  Each brings a different set of skills to the sales effort.  While, ultimately, the buyer is purchasing the knowledge, skill, experience and personality of the lawyer, the types of contributions that a sales professional can make include understanding the business, setting appointments, preparing for appointments, ensuring that penetrating questions are asked at client meetings, ensuring that sales visits comprise much more listening than speaking, following up, organizing, integrating resources, and so forth.

As to how this position relates to other staff professionals at the firm, that’s easy.  Every person at a law firm – whether at the receptionist desk, beside a server, in the word-processing center, or at the chairman’s desk – must be attuned to outstanding client service.  Every person must be attuned to growing the business.  I see all staff professionals as part of the effort – which often is led by lawyers in tandem with sales professionals – to ensure tremendous client experience and to grow the business.  We’re all in this together.

4.  Whom should we hire?  What attributes or characteristics are important for success?

Individuals who have gravitas and credibility, both for internal and external clients. Smart people. People who can write clearly and express themselves eloquently.  Individuals who love to help.  Individuals who can conceive of new ways to solve client-acquisition and client-service challenges.  Individuals who are resilient and who have a healthy relationship to the word “No.”  Individuals with a generally positive attitude, and especially a thick skin.

Maybe it’s difficult to find individuals like this, which is why there are not so many sales professionals at law firms. At least yet.

5.  Evaluation and compensation?  What matters?  How do we avoid fee-splitting issues?

Sales compensation at professional services firm is part science and a whole lot of art. Since I’ve been in professional services sales – more than 20 years – I’ve seen firms and consultants labor to solve the compensation issue, and it has not yet been solved perfectly yet as far as I know.  Sales professionals who deliver great results – new clients and delighted existing clients – expect to be compensated.  Law firms who want sales professionals’ assistance in acquiring new clients and delighting existing clients need to pay close attention to how each sales professional is feeling about the financial reward.  It’s a wild card, at best.

Fee-splitting is not permitted, at least in the jurisdictions in which we operate.  So, we do not offer commissions to our sales professionals.  Rather, we attempt to identify an incentive opportunity based on sales success in three arenas

  1. New client acquisitions that would not exist absent his or her personal efforts;
  2. New client acquisitions to which the sales professionals contributed materially but did not initiate; and
  3. Expansion of work at existing clients.

6.  What are the long-term prospects for sales teams?  Are they inevitable, really?  What are your predictions?

Everyone in law has his or her prophet, I suppose.  Mine is Richard Susskind, and in particular, I am referring to his most-recent book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers.  If one believes what he says, the shape of law practice in the future will be much more bifurcated between service that is rendered in the form of trusted advice, and service that is automated, computerized, and delivered by individuals with exactly the right skill at the right level.

Though law firms are fighting this evolution, it is here already, in the form of non-law-firm providers, computerized legal solutions, outsourcing, offshoring, near-sourcing, you name it.  All of these evolutions transform a good deal of the practice of law into, in essence, products that repetitively can be packaged, described, priced and delivered.  Sounds a whole lot like what IBM, Computer Sciences Corporation and PriceWaterhouseCoopers have been doing for decades via the efforts of true professional sales forces.  So, yes, professional sales forces are inevitable at law firms, and they will rise up in response to how the day-to-day practice of law already is headed.

In addition, many of the greatest sales professionals in the services world have the title of account manager.  At the global CPA firms, senior non-accountant sales professionals already lead major accounts, where attributes such as industry knowledge and connections, organizational ability and leadership, high-level relationships and so forth are at a premium. These attributes require neither a CPA certification, nor a law license.  Major-account leadership by individuals without law licenses will be a major development of the next decade.


Rules of the Road

Check here for a recent post of mine on Eric Fletcher’s Marketing Brain Fodder blog.  This posting speaks to behaviors that spell success in the professional services marketing environment.

Day in the Life of a Law Firm Salesman

law firm sales Steve Bell

Who are these nutjobs (and I use that term affectionately!) who agree to sell legal services? There is no “typical” law firm salesperson, no “one-size-fits-all” description. Likewise, there is no “typical day” in legal sales. But recently, at a Lex Mundi North American Marketing and Business Development Roundtable, I attempted to describe what a sales day is like for those who are not yet familiar with what law firm salespeople do.

For openers, I am convinced that most professional services salespeople would prefer to have an orderly, predictable schedule, dealing with, as Stephen Covey would put it, “important, but not urgent, projects.”

But the reality is that reality is that salespeople must cope with the unexpected and unplanned on virtually a daily basis. In practice, interruptions are as—or even more—important than the scheduled activities because each interruption provides an opportunity to initiate, advance and monetize a relationship. But each interruption typically requires research and preparation. Simply put, it takes a lot of time to do this job right.

So what does a typical day look like for a legal salesperson? Let’s examine an actual day from my recent calendar. This was, admittedly, an extraordinary day, but it shows what is possible, and what sometimes happens.

  • 4 a.m.—Wake up in a panic. Think about upcoming proposals, sales meetings and target lists.
  • 7 a.m.—Turn on computer to check e-mail. Look at calendar for upcoming day. Address emergencies that have cropped up overnight. Shower.
  • 8 a.m.—Morning networking event with FCEDA.
  • 10 a.m.—Arrive at office and begin creating FCEDA follow-ups, responding to e-mails from clients, vendors, peers, contacts and co-workers.
  • 10:01 a.m.—Interruption! A firm partner calls with question about new internet-commerce client.  Make calls and do online research to find an answer.
  • 10:31 a.m.—Resume routine work, including first conflicts checks of the day, plus MBWA, Merger Market and Manzama, perusing WMACCA e-newsletter for possible connections, and reviewing attendee list for NVTC event tonight.
  • 11:30 a.m.—Depart for lunch with referral source AH&T Insurance.
  • 1:30 p.m.—Phone call with in-house team to discuss RFP response to major North American bank. Fire off follow-up e-mail to lunch colleague while on the phone.
  • 2:01 p.m.—Interruption! Phone call from attorney asking for advice for $200 million tech company pursuit.
  • 2:30 p.m.—Cold calls – yes, cold calls, a welcome relief from the frenzy of the day – and client service e-mail.
  • 2:45 p.m.—Gym. Stationary bike ride, but reading something work-related or using iPhone while exercising.
  • 3:20 p.m.—Second conflicts check review of day.
  • 3:46 p.m.—Starving. Scrounge for leftovers from lunch meeting in conference room. Talk to attorney who also is grazing in the kitchen about service issue at existing part-commercial/part not-for-profit client while building a snack plate.
  • 3:55 p.m.—Interruption! Attorney in Atlanta asks which Womble Carlyle Charleston litigator he should refer to grocery retailer for South Carolina case.
  • 4:10 p.m.—Work on target lists, sales strategy, department budgets, etc.
  • 5 p.m.—Plow through e-mails that have accumulated throughout day.
  • 6 p.m.—Attend NVTC reception.
  • 7 p.m.—Leave for home. Use hands-free cell to return phone calls.
  • 8 p.m.—In recliner watching TV, but monitoring “the action” via iPhone. NVTC Reception follow-up e-mails.
  • 11 p.m.—Final check of e-mail before bed.
  • 4 a.m.—Wake up in a panic….

There is a huge trade-off between the frenzy of days like this, and the potential to calmly reflect and strategize.  Both approaches have their merits.  But for those with sales in their DNA, this is a great, though tiring, way to invest a career.

Helping Inside Counsel Demonstrate Their C-Suite Value

 “We are in the business of helping our clients succeed—individually and organizationally. When our clients succeed, we succeed.”  So says Art Foley, Womble Carlyle’s Director of Client Initiatives.  These words were ringing in my ears as I studied the slides from an InsideCounsel webinar featuring as speakers Stephen Kaplan, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Connextions, Inc., and Karl Kilb, Director of Market Relations for Bloomberg Law. 

In their presentation, titled “Strategic Partners:  How the Role of General Counsel is Evolving and Adding More Value,” the speakers pointed to a number of factors that have transformed the General Counsel from a role as manager of the legal department to a trusted strategic advisor to the C-suite and the Board. 

Among the factors fomenting this transformation are the emergence of inside lawyers as strategic thinkers, Sarbanes-Oxley and the financial meltdown that began in 2008.  In essence, what Kaplan and Kilb were explaining how they can be viewed as critical members of the senior executive team.  Among the gems they suggested to fellow inside counsel:

  • Read books written for your CEO and other business executives
  • Take mini-MBA courses, of, if one can afford the time, a full executive MBA
  • Become an industry subject matter expert
  • Delve deeply into the business by becoming a student of the business, understanding the reasons behind its biggest wins….and losses.  Be part historian, part therapist and part fortune-teller. 
  • Hone in on and attend the “crucial meetings”
  • Use technology to stay on top of industry trends, regulatory developments and industry outlooks.

This blog is concerned primarily with encouraging private practice lawyers and staff professionals to prepare for the new legal normal, so you may be wondering about the connection between this blog and a webinar of inside counsel discussing how to be a valued member of the C-Suite team.  The answer lies in the first sentence above; to the extent that we in law firms can help inside counsel with Kaplan’s and Kilb’s suggestions, the more valued WE will become as lawyers and advisors.  To put it bluntly, here is what I would do if I were a lawyer thinking about the list above:

  • Send great business and executive books to inside counsel for them to read
  • Offer mini-MBA courses, or at the very least offer business courses to inside counsel
  • Invite inside counsel to meetings of one’s industry groups, both to learn and to share
  • To the extent that we have long-term experience and a track record with a company, invest as much time as possible early in a new inside counsel’s tenure bringing him or her up to speed on what we know about the business.  And always share ideas you have for how not just the law department, but the entire business, might advance. 
  • Make sure to keep inside counsel posted on any crucial meetings you hear about that they may not have heard about
  • Share the firm’s technology, often acquired and operated within law firm Marketing Departments, to keep inside counsel up to speed on trends, developments and outlooks.

Sales divisions, not lateral hiring – are the best avenue to BigLaw growth

Sales divisions, not lateral hiring – are the best avenue to BigLaw growth.  John Grimley has hit the nail on the head.  I love the skills list.  He speaks the truth, so much so that this blog post is just a reposting of what HE said.  Everything about his blog post is 100% on target.

Old Sales Dog, New Targeting Tricks

Old Sales Dog, New Targeting Trick

At a recent gathering of marketing professionals from Lex Mundi member firms, David Sanders, from the Scotland member firm Maclay Murray & Spens, and I gave a presentation on components of the sales process that marketing professionals can and should “own.” One of these components is selecting target lists, which we are convinced should be the province of marketing professionals not only because they have the aptitude and tools to handle target selection, but also because it is a way for marketing professionals materially to contribute to the implementation of strategy. (In a sense, a firm’s strategy can be defined by the clients it wishes to have at some point in the future).

I’ve been guiding and/or participating in law firm targeting for years, but I am continually learning new tricks of the trade. In this instance, I was very impressed with David’s approach to prioritizing targets (including existing-client targets). He uses a simple, but powerful, scorecard comprised of two questionnaires posed to lawyers.

The first questionnaire, illustrated in the chart below, asks lawyers to rank clients or prospective clients potential clients based on the existence of current work and relationships. Targets wherein there is both work and relationships are assigned the highest score, 1. Those with no work and no relationships receive the lowest score, 4.


Next, as illustrated in the chart below, David asks lawyers to estimate the amount of time that will be required to consummate the next engagement. Opportunities that will close within the next 6 months are assigned a higher ranking, 1, than are opportunities that will close in the 12- to 18-month range, which are assigned a 3, or opportunities where it is not possible to estimate the closure date, which are assigned a 4.


The final step in this process is adding together the numbers from the two questionnaires in the chart below. Clients or prospective clients that represent the best combination of current relationships/work and least amount of time to reach closure receive an overall total of 2, and they are the ones that lawyers should prioritize for immediate client-development effort. Lawyers should focus on these clients or prospective clients at the expense of other targets, particularly those that receive scores of 5 or more.


Those of us who help lawyers with targeting certainly intuitively understand the necessity of prioritizing targets. It’s great that David Sanders has created such an easy-to-understand-and-implement tool to help lawyers, as well, grasp the importance of target-prioritization.