October 23, 2012

Submissive Beggar or Objective Expert? Determining Real Needs

Law Practice Magazine

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July/August 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 5| Page 11


Submissive Beggar or Objective Expert? Determining Real Needs

Your prospects may know what they want, but they don’t always know what they need. Part of your job description is to identify those needs—and the more profound a need you identify, the more valuable you are and the more you can charge because your prospects’ return on their investment is so dramatically higher. So what’s the key to reaching the goal? Ask very different questions.

Here’s a minor example. If you’re an employment lawyer and your prospect says, “We want better employment contracts,” don’t rush to show some PowerPoint that demonstrates your system for developing contracts. Instead, ask, “Why do you think you need better contracts?” The prospect may very well reply that it has to respond to competitors stealing its most talented people. What you have now is a much larger and more efficacious project, aimed not at the “want” of some contract, but rather at the “need” to enhance morale, reduce attrition and improve competitiveness.

Caveat: This requires being confident that you have value to offer and the diagnostic skills to determine what the actual needs are. Too often we act as order takers, or submissive beggars hat in hand, hoping we’ll be selected. Instead, you must position yourself as the objective expert, someone who can provoke ideas and novel perspectives. If you’re not adept at helping prospects determine the real needs behind their wants, you’ll never be successful in securing larger matters, higher fees and enduring relationships. Satisfying a want is non-differentiating; satisfying a need is a rainmaking triumph!

About the Author

Patrick J. McKenna , is a principal with Edge International, consults with law firms on competitive strategy, and can be reached at (780) 428-1052.