Volume 20, Number 1
Jan/Feb 2003


CLOSING THE DEAL

By Silvia L. Coulter

For many lawyers, generating new business is not as simple as it was when joining the local Chamber of Commerce more or less guaranteed at least a few referrals. Women lawyers-especially solos-report feeling confident with today's more sophisticated approaches, but a surprising number admit they pull back at the crucial moment of closing the deal.

Closing the deal-the moment when you ask, So, shall we agree I will represent you, and the new client responds, Yes, I'd like for you to handle this matter-is often when the dreaded specter of The Pushy Female rears her unpopular head and the assertive professional wilts. Thorough preparation that includes planning for a long-term relationship with the prospect, even if the individual engages another lawyer, can help the closing become a smooth, certain final step.

Expansion for most businesses these days is accomplished by addressing customer/client needs: building relationships with referral sources, existing clients, and prospective clients. Relationship selling, as it's often called, is about the client, not about the lawyer. Sales is a process, and by thoroughly exploring the process of building a successful sales relationship, closing the deal can become a natural end result.

Groundwork
Some of the most essential work, of course, must be done well in advance of even meeting a prospect and falls under the general term "getting organized." Define your target market (even if just a few individuals), the referral markets, and the external organizations that can provide you with opportunities to be in front of these markets. For example, gather contact information about media outlets like local newspapers and newsletters or websites put out by the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Target networking activities you can attend or associations you might join; offer to write a general-
interest newspaper column or give free seminars on your subject area once a month. Consult with a designer who can assist with creating a custom logo, or with a friend's high schooler/nerd to create a website that allows individuals to check your background and specialties and learn more about your services.

Approach
Approach involves physically meeting the market. Try to network once a week at minimum with close contacts, potential clients, and/or referral sources who can help you build a pipeline of prospective opportunities. Remember the phrase "out of sight, out of mind"? It's truer than true when it comes to sales. Many rainmakers keep printed copies of their contact list in the office, at home, and in the car, and phone each person on the list at least once every four months, just to stay in touch.
When the opportunity to meet with someone face to face presents itself, develop a list of about 20 questions that cover the person's interests, business, and family. By staying in control of the questions, you stay in control of the sales process, directing the flow of conversation where appropriate. Begin with some of the questions you prepared ahead of time; here are a few examples to consider, or to start you thinking of your own:
Begin by introducing yourself, of course: "Hello. My name is ______, I'm a _____________ attorney. How are you this evening?" Follow this with another leading question: "What are you finding are your most challenging business situations lately?" Or "How active are your target markets these days?" For those in individual-consumer practices such as real estate, divorce, etc., other questions could start with inquiries about their children's sports activities or their own community involvements. You'll find you'll learn more than you could have imagined about your prospect's business and legal needs. This type of sales call, which opens the doors for good communication with the prospect, can develop into a strong and lasting relationship.

Strategize
Far too often, one pitch that doesn't result in a new client or assignment means that the lawyer abandons all cultivation of the relationship. This is a mistake-the wait for actual business can be as long as a year or two. Keep in mind that until a prospect becomes a client, the individual remains a prospect. Even when a good contact ends up hiring another firm, keep in touch and continue to build the relationship. Sometimes a relationship that doesn't produce immediate work can produce referrals. Other ways to remain in contact include invitations to ballgames, golf outings, association breakfasts, community events, theater or concert performances, etc. Civic charitable events offer excellent opportunities to invite contacts and prospects as guests; even if they don't attend, the contact and the invitation matter most-the thought alone is always appreciated.

Address Client Needs
Making sure you address at least one of the potential client's needs as often as possible during your interactions works whether you're in a formal meeting or a more casual situation. Any time you give information about your practice, in written or verbal format, consider it a "presentation"-as far as a prospect is concerned. As often as possible, make sure your responses, including brochures or handouts, are tied in with something the prospect said is important.
This technique works in any type of selling situation, whether the service is estate planning, medical malpractice, or real estate. People shopping around for a lawyer should not have to base their decision on rates alone. Especially if you've already established an ongoing relationship, actively listening for key selling points will enable you to differentiate your practice and service style from others. Avoid sounding like everyone else; present yourself so that someone will think, "I need to hire this lawyer." If the issue of money arises during a presentation, take it as a cue that more education is required on the buyer's side and more listening, perhaps, on the seller's.
An essential key to successful closing of the business is to "trial close" during the process: Ask for agreement along the way, with small and large issues. This helps you build a psychological commitment to saying yes and, ultimately, to engaging the firm. Think of it as a different type of negotiating process. Once the prospective client shows interest, engages in conversation, and appears open to making a decision, closing the deal is simply the next obvious step: Ask for the business.

The Close
Understandably, this can be an uncomfortable task, especially at first. Here are a few examples of how to move on to the close:
1. "I think we've addressed your key points… . Have I answered all your concerns?"
Note: Wait for the response. Give the person time to think. If the prospect brings up other questions, continue answering. Then return to the close: "I'd like to begin working with you. Why don't we review the terms of engagement and start to discuss the specifics of the matter?"
2. "I would enjoy having you as a client. Why don't I begin with handling one matter for you?"
3. "I have some ideas I believe would directly impact this matter. Are you ready to discuss specifics relative to the engagement document that will meet your/your company's requirements?"
4. "We could begin work on this immediately. Shall we go ahead?"

Practice so that you become comfortable with these types of closing questions-the more you use them, the more natural the assertive voice will become. Keep in mind the key psychological utility of the final question, which frames the agreement yet leaves the ball in the prospective client's court. If, during a formal meeting, it becomes evident that future discussions will be necessary, always leave with a leading question: "How should I stay in touch with you?" "What's a good time for me to follow up?" Open the door on future meetings and calls.
Practicing these tips many times with contacts, referral sources, and prospects makes the job of closing the business easier. The best analogy is that of the journey that begins with one critical step. After the first, many more are required. Map out the plan, stay focused, and maintain your enthusiasm. By carefully following the sales process and listening to the client, asking for the business becomes the realistic next step.



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