What to do when prospective clients say your fees are too high

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You don’t want to lose them and you don’t want to cut your fee. What do you say or do with prospects who say you’re too expensive? 

First, you realize that this might be true for them. In which case, you let them go. But before you do that, offer a lower-priced service if you have one, or a smaller portion of your full service. If not, offer to introduce them to a lawyer or firm with lower fees.

Help them and they’ll remember you if their financial situation or legal needs change. And by referring them to another lawyer, you might earn that lawyer’s referrals when they have a conflict or a client who needs more help than they can provide. 

For everyone else, consider that you might not have a fee problem, you have a marketing problem. 

You might be targeting prospective clients who are not a good fit for you in terms of their needs and your capabilities. If you are a sole practitioner, for example, and they want to work with a bigger firm, you either need to show them why you are more nimble and can provide them with more personal attention as a sole practitioner than a bigger firm, or otherwise convince them you can deliver what they’re looking for. 

Your timing might be the culprit. If you’re speaking to a prospect at a low point in their cash flow cycle, or in the middle of an inflationary cycle, introduce them to a bank or other source of funding, or adopt more flexible payment terms yourself. 

Your timing might also be a problem if (they think) you’re not responding to their inquiry quickly enough. 

Maybe they think you’re too aggressive in trying to get them to sign up. Or not aggressive enough if that’s something they are used to or expect. 

They might not like your style. Some clients need a bit of handholding, and you might not be solicitous enough for their taste. Others might equate being overly nice with being weak.

It could be ineffective marketing materials. Your website or presentation might talk too much about features and not enough about benefits. You might not have enough testimonials or reviews to see the deal. Maybe you haven’t shown them you provide enough value, especially if they’re comparing you to your competition who offers more or does a better job of articulating that value. 

Maybe the whole package they see is too lawyer-like (somber, boring, tight-lipped) for them, or not lawyer-like enough. 

If you want to sign up more clients and have fewer prospects tell you your fees are too high, you need to find out what people want and what they expect. It comes down to research, testing, and conversation.

Try different approaches and see what works best. Survey or talk to prospects, new clients, and especially, the ones who got away. 

You can learn a lot just by talking to people.

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A simple formula 

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According to Wikipedia, “Copywriting is the process of creating persuasive marketing and promotional materials that motivate people to take some form of action, such as making a purchase, clicking on a link, donating to a cause, or scheduling a consultation.” 

There are several copywriting formulas, starting with the most well known AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. 

You can’t convince anyone to do something unless you first have their attention. That’s your headline or lead. 

Once you have their attention, you present information that builds interest for your product or service or solution. 

You then build desire for your product or solution by showing them how they will be better off when they buy it. 

Finally, you prompt them to take action to get what you offer. 

It works for most products or services, including legal services, but I use a somewhat different formula: PASBA. 

PASBA stands for Problem, Agitation, Solution, Benefits, and (call to) Action. 

  1. Problem. What does your reader want and what’s stopping him from getting it? Sometimes, especially with an abstract like legal services, they don’t even realize they have a problem until you point it out. 
  2. Agitate. What can happen if they don’t fix the problem or get what they want? What can they lose? How bad can it get? What pain and secondary problems might occur? Show them examples, stories, statistics, or other factors to illustrate and build desire for a solution.  
  3. Solution. What you can do to solve, mitigate, or prevent the problem, or help them achieve their goal? Tell them about your services and options. 
  4. Benefits. What do they get when they hire you? Will they feel relief? Be safer, happier, or otherwise better off? 
  5. Call to action. Tell them what to do to get your solution and benefits. Tell them how to get started, encourage them to take the first step, and create urgency for doing that with a deadline or by reminding them about the risks of delay or inaction.   

You can use variations of this formula in sales copy, emails, web pages, from the stage, in person, or any time you want to convince people to do something you want them to do. 

Make sure they know the nature and extent of their problem, what you can do to help them, how they will be better off, and what to do to get started. 

If you do, you’ll get more clients and help more people. If you don’t. . . 

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Don’t take “no” for an answer

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What do you do when someone says they’re not ready to sign up, or they “need to think about it”?

In other words, “no”? No soup for you. 

You told them their risks and their options. You laid out a plan. Answered their questions. If they still said no. Should you let them go? 

No. Give it another shot. Because “no” often means “tell me more”. They may know they need to say yes, they may want to say yes, but they’re afraid and won’t commit. 

Follow these 3 steps to help them make the right decision:

  1. Isolate. Put on your litigator’s hat, repeat what they’ve told you (their objection or reason for wanting to wait). “So what you’re saying is. . .” (It’s a big decision, a lot of money, you’re not sure this is right for you, etc.) Get them to acknowledge that these are the reasons they want to think about it, etc., and there aren’t any other reasons. 
  2. Validate. “I understand how you feel; many of my clients told me the same thing when they first came to see me. . .”
  3. Differentiate. Show them why the benefits outweigh the risks or that this is the best time (and why). Tell them again why they need to do this. You might phrase it in terms of what your other clients (who initially hesitated) realized, e.g., “. . .and then they found out/realized. . .”

And “close” again. “So, shall we get this going?” 

If they still say no, you might say, “Before you make your final decision.. .” and tell them a new fact or statistic or client story. Yes, they’ve already made their final decision, but you don’t have to accept it. 

Reject their rejection. And close again. 

More: The Attorney Marketing Formula

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It’s not just what you say, but when you say it

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It’s called “staging” and it makes your written or spoken message more effective by putting your points in the most effective order. 

For example, you stage your material when you start an article or presentation with the problem, not the solution, and follow that by explaining the risks of ignoring the problem or choosing a poor solution. 

After you describe the risks, you build on that with examples of what might happen, the costs, delays, pain and suffering, and secondary problems that can occur. 

Now, you have your reader’s attention and the desire to hear the solution. When you then describe the solution, e.g., your services, they’re all ears and ready to know what to do to get this solution. 

You tell them what to do, e.g., call, fill out a form, etc., and to seal the deal, you tell them the benefits of taking that next step—clarity, relief, a proven plan of action, saving money, etc. 

That’s staging. That’s using a logical order to improve your audience’s understanding, build tension, and show them a way to release that tension precisely when your reader or listener is most likely to do it.

But staging isn’t just the order in which you present the elements of your message. It’s also about how you transition from one element to the next. 

Want an example? (There, “Want an example?” is an example of a transitional phrase that pulls the reader forward to the next element, in this case, an example).

Transitional phrases keep readers reading and listeners listening. They do that by asking questions and painting pictures in their mind with statements that get them to focus on an image or feeling, ready to hear more.

There are many ways to accomplish this. For example, you can ask, “What do you think might happen if. . ?” and letting their imagination do the rest. Or, “Imagine how you’ll feel when you no longer have. . .”. 

You can also use transitional phrases to transition to your call to action or close. 

A few examples:

“At this point, there are 3 questions you should be asking yourself. . .”

“When I show this to people, they usually tell me/ask me. . .”

“Here are your options. . . which one makes the most sense to you?” 

“If this describes your situation, here’s what I recommend. . .”

Think of this type of transitional phrase as a palate cleanser, making the reader ready for the next course. 

Anyway, this is just a brief introduction to staging and transitional phrases. You don’t need to be a marketing expert or copywriter to use them. But do pay attention to how others use them in their writing and presentations, and consider how you might use them in yours.

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How clients happen

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When a new clients signs up, a sale has taken place. There’s no other word for it. Information was delivered, questions were answered, and a decision was made. 

But while a sale occurred, it doesn’t mean the attorney “sold” them. 

In fact, it was the client who sold themselves. And that began before they ever spoke to the attorney.

Your website and marketing materials do most of your selling for you. They show prospective clients why they need legal help and why they should choose you. When you speak with them, you guide them from the general to the specifics of their case or situation, and the client then sells themself on getting started (or not).  

Sometimes, the client needs a little nudge. There are simple techniques to help you do that and they are worth learning. One example is the “alternative close,” where you ask the client if they’re considering one of your services or the other, or to get started this week or next. 

Two choices, either of which are good for them and good for you. 

Think of this as a focusing technique because it gets the prospect to focus on what they want to do.

But it is their decision. You’re just there to help them make it. 

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It’s an investment, not an expense

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Yesterday, I talked about following up with prospects and clients before, during, and after the case or engagement. Most lawyers get it. But many lawyers don’t do it because it takes a lot of time. 

I say it’s worth the time because it helps you get new business, keep clients from leaving, and generate positive reviews that can multiply that effect.  

But (surprise) lawyers are busy. Even if they want to do it, it’s too easy to let it slide. 

I mentioned having an assistant do it. Have them make the calls, send the emails, and otherwise manage follow up and other marketing activities for you. Yes, there is a cost, just as there is a cost to you if you handle this function yourself. If you take an employee away from their other work, that work might fall through cracks and cause problems. 

I say it’s worth the risk because the benefits outweigh that cost. Especially if you have a reasonable volume of cases or clients. 

Think about it. Do the math. If you hire someone part time and pay them $4000 per month, and they’re able to save one case or client per month or get one client to return, your costs would be covered, wouldn’t they? And if that assistant is able to stimulate clients to provide more reviews and more referrals, and this generates two additional cases (or saves) per month, you would double your investment. 

Over time, these numbers would compound.

You know I’m a big proponent of making referrals a primary marketing method for most attorneys. If you’ve read me for a while, you also know that you can stimulate referrals without explicitly talking to clients about the subject. But, let’s face it, talking to clients about referrals is a powerful way to get more of them. A lot more. 

If that’s not something you want to do, have your marketing assistant do it for you. 

I built my practice primarily with referral marketing. A key to making that happen was delegating as much as possible to assistants. 

It was an investment, not an expense. And it paid off in spades.

How to talk to clients about referrals

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Unforced errors

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We needed some work done on our house and got a couple of bids. Company number one made a compelling presentation and a reasonable bid (compared to what we expected based on our initial research). Company number two had an even better presentation, and we went with them even though they had a significantly higher bid. 

NB: It’s not just about price or fees; you can get more customers or clients by doing a better presentation. 

One thing that made the difference is the way the salesperson at company number two followed up with us after his presentation. He called and texted and emailed and showed us he was at the top of his game. 

They did the work, and we’re happy with it. The building inspector who came out afterwards told us (without prompting) that the company had done excellent work. 

So, we’re happy. But puzzled. We haven’t heard from the salesperson or anyone else at the company since we authorized the job. 

Leaves you feeling like a commodity instead of a client. Slam, bam, thank you sucker. 

Anyway, not following up with us was a mistake. And not just because there’s a cooling-off period and we could have canceled the job if we got cold feet. Following up after the sale gives the company the opportunity to keep the customer happy and take a step towards creating a “lifetime” customer or client instead of just another entry in the ledger. 

We didn’t hear from them after the work was done, either. No calls to see if we’re satisfied or had questions. 

And that’s another mistake. 

To this day, weeks later, they don’t know if we’re happy. Or have other work we want to talk to them about. Or have a neighbor who might like to talk to them. 

Nothing. Not even a note thanking us for our business.

Or a request to provide a review or referrals.

If they had asked for a review, we might have mentioned that the building inspector volunteered that they did a great job. Thorough and tidy. Very reassuring to a prospective customer who sees that review. 

But now, because the company didn’t ask, no review. 

If this is how they operate on every sale, they’re missing out on a lot of additional business. A cautionary tale for anyone in a service business or profession. 

It’s so simple. Call the client after the work is done (or have an assistant do it), see if they have additional questions or concerns, send them some brochures or a referral card they can pass out to people they know, and if they’re happy, ask them to leave a review. 

The only thing worse than not doing some simple after-sale follow-up is what company number one did after they emailed us their bid. 

They did nothing. 

They didn’t follow up to see if we want to go ahead with them, had any questions, or needed help with financing. They didn’t ask if we went with another company and, if so, why. 

And now, weeks later, they haven’t followed-up with us to ask if we’re still interested (and hadn’t hired anyone). Or if we went with another company, had problems, and needed to talk to them about fixing it. 

Follow-up during the presentation process, after the deal is signed, and after the work is done. Or after the prospect doesn’t sign up. 

Never stop following-up. Because tthe fortune is in the follow-up.

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How to get new clients to pay you more

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Actually, you can do this with existing clients, too. Anyone who is about to hire you or authorize you to do some work. Before you hand them the retainer or ask for the go ahead, ask them one more thing:

“Do you want fries with that?”

That simple question sells more fast food and it can sell more legal services. 

It’s called an upsell, and it’s an effective way to get clients to hire you to do more than they originally contemplated. 

It’s good for them, because they get something else they need but might have postponed. It’s good for you because you get paid more, but also because it’s one less thing to ask them about later. 

It works because the client is in “buying mode”. They’ve already decided to hire you for something and thus are more likely to hire you for something else. 

Instead of asking if they “also” want your additional service or add-on (your fries) you can ask if they want to upgrade their entire “purchase.” If you offer a basic service and a deluxe version, explain why they should consider the upgrade—the additional protection they get, the convenience of not coming back for more later, and, if (if you want), that they will save money by buying the package instead of getting all of your services separately. 

You could instead position the extra services or addons as a free bonus for electing your deluxe package.

Another option for you is to “cross-sell” instead of “upsell”. Bundle your other unrelated services, or the services of another lawyer in your firm, and give the client reasons to get everything at the same time.

Upsells and cross-sells are simple ways to get clients to pay you more (and be happy about it). 

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Always be closing? 

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Sales people are taught to continually look for opportunities to close the deal and that these can occur at any time. When a prospective customer or client says something about price or fees, for example, this is often one of those opportunities, because it usually means they have decided they (probably) do need or want the product or service and are thinking about how they can get it.

So, generally speaking, “Always be Closing” is good advice. But there is such a thing as trying to close too soon. 

When you talk to a prospective client for the first time, handing them a retainer agreement and a pen may be the right thing to do, or it might blow up in your face if they see it as being too presumptive or aggressive. 

Which is why sales experts tell you to not only look for opportunities to close but to see if you can create them.

You do that by using “trial closes” or questions designed to elicit responses that are consistent with someone who is ready to buy. “Are you leaning towards (Package A) or (Package B)?” is one example. 

When the prospect looks they are ready, go for the close. If they don’t, don’t push it. Don’t close before they’re ready. 

But we see marketers do this all the time. 

You see ads with a call to action that says, “Call today for an appointment”. That might be the right way to go, but what if the prospect is just starting to research their problem and isn’t ready to consider hiring an attorney? If the choice is between “Call for an appointment” or nothing, guess which one they’re going to choose? 

On the other hand, doing nothing might be best for you, too. If you’re doing lead generation advertising, you might only want leads of people who are ready to talk to or hire an attorney. 

But what about people who are ready to make an appointment? Shouldn’t you encourage them to do that? 

Maybe. Or maybe you should give them a choice: “Call for an appointment or to learn more. . .”

What should you do?

Should you close for the appointment? Tell them to sign up or your webinar? Tell them to call to ask questions or to download your report? Visit your website to learn more about the law or to learn about you and how you can help them? 

Lots of options.

I can’t tell you the right approach and neither can your marketing or advertising team. The only way to know for sure is to try several approaches and see works best. 

One offer may get lots of leads, but very few new clients. Another offer might bring in relatively few leads, but result in enough new clients to be very profitable. Another offer might lose money on your promotion but bring in a few clients who have lots of work for you after the initial case or engagement.

You “test” one offer against others. And let the numbers tell you what works best. And it works the same way with closing. When a prospective client looks like they’re ready to sign up, close them. If they aren’t ready, they will let you know.

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Sign here

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It’s the moment of truth. You’ve talked to the prospective client, told them what you can do to help them, answered their questions, and quoted a fee. Will they become your next new client? 

One way to find out: hand them your retainer agreement and a pen (or your tablet and a stylus) and tell them where to put their signature. 

And say nothing.

Actually, I like to give them authorizations and other documents to sign first, to get them in the habit of signing. Then the retainer.

But there’s something you can say to them before you hand them the paperwork to find out if they’re ready (or you have more work to do). 

Ask them, “Are you ready to get started?”

If they’re aren’t, if they need more information or have a reason they’re not ready, you want them to tell you. It’s called an objection, and when you get one, you know what you need to say or do to get them to move forward.

Another option, instead of asking if they’re ready, assume they are (and make them tell you they’re not). One way to do that is to ask, “Would you like me to get things started today or the first of next week?”

Either way, it means they want you to go ahead. But they still may ask more questions or offer more objections.

Answer these, keep asking about getting started, and eventually, you’ll get a yes or a no.

What if it’s a no?

Don’t push, negotiate, or try to scare them. That’s bad posture and isn’t going to help.

Instead, you simply say, “okay,” and ask, “Do you mind if I stay in touch?”

That’s good posture.  

Keep your name in their mailbox and when they’re ready, they’ll let you know. 

Email marketing for attorneys

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