3 steps to your next client

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Any time you engage with a prospective new client, or an existing or former client about a new matter, there are 3 steps to follow.

First, you need to find out the PROBLEM—what happened and what they need or want. They tell you their situation and you ask questions to find out the details and the solution(s) they’re after.

Second, you explain the solutions you offer—your services, how they work, and how the client will be better off by hiring you (BENEFITS). At some point, you talk about fees, costs, the timetable, and other details they need to know. You also tell them (or remind them) about their risks if they delay or do nothing.  

Third, you tell them what to do to get the solutions and benefits you provide (the “call to ACTION”), e.g., fill out a form, make an appointment, talk to someone, or sign the agreement and pay you, and you ask them to do that (or what they want to do).

All 3 steps can occur during your first meeting or conversation or over a period of time. 

You may also need to provide additional information, answer more questions, respond to objections, talk to another stakeholder, do some research, and follow up multiple times, but ultimately, the path from prospect to client always includes these 3 steps. 

Some steps will be easy, almost effortless. Some will take lots of work and time. But you can’t skip any step, so make yourself a checklist and use it. You’ll be glad you did. 

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Why didn’t they hire me?

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When a client doesn’t sign up, you need to find out why. Because it might not be too late to get them to change their mind, and because you need to know if there’s something you need to fix for the next client. 

Was it something you said or did? Something you didn’t say or do? Did a competitor offer something better? 

Clients say “no” for a variety of reasons: 

  • They didn’t believe or trust you
  • Your presentation or initial meeting was lacking or a competitor’s was better
  • They think you charge too much (and didn’t think it was worth it)
  • They think you charge too little (and it made them question your experience or ability)
  • You don’t have (enough) good testimonials or reviews to suit them
  • The competition has a bigger staff or a better website; the client thought they were more successful or experienced and a safer choice 
  • It might be the services you offer (or don’t) and how they you describe them.

And while it might be something external, e.g., they hired a lawyer they already knew or were referred to, you should assume there’s something you can improve.  

How do you know? 

  1. Ask them. They may not be able to (or want to) tell you precisely why they didn’t sign up with you, but they might give you some clues.
  2. Ask someone who knows them what they want or need and what might turn them off.
  3. Ask someone who knows you for feedback about you and your practice.
  4. Ask someone to sit in on your next client meeting and tell you what they see that could be improved.

 There are always things you can improve: 

  • Your presentation or “pitch”. Is it persuasive? Believable? Does it touch on the right points and make the client feel like they are in good hands? Could you improve the opening or closing? Is it too short or too long, too much about you and not enough about the client?
  • Your website and marketing documents. Are they consistent with the image and professionalism the client wants and expects? Are they thorough? Persuasive? Do they inspire confidence?
  • How are clients greeted by you and your staff? How long are they are kept waiting? Are you and your staff friendly and genuine? Do you smile, make eye contact, shake hands, offer them a beverage? 
  • How do you describe your services? Do you explain the benefits or just the features? Do you explain enough or assume they already know? 
  • Do you have enough testimonials? Positive reviews? Bona Fides?
  • What do you send to prospective clients before the first meeting? How is your follow-up after the appointment? 
  • And much more

    Anything, large or small, could be the reason a client doesn’t hire you. Keep your eyes and ears open. And when you find something that could be improved, improve it.   

    You might be just one or two adjustments away from a significant increase in sign ups. 

    Because clients are people and people are weird. 

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    When a prospective client still won’t commit… 

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    Usually, prospective clients let you know they’re ready to hire you or tell you why they aren’t. But sometimes, they can’t decide what to do. You can help them by getting them to focus on what’s at stake.

    The simplest way to do that is to (a) summarize what they told you they need or want, (b) what you told them about your solutions and benefits, and (c) the risks of waiting or doing nothing. Follow this with something like, “This (your services) seems to be your best option right now. What do you think?”

    When they aren’t ready to say yes, you want them to tell you what they’re thinking (questions, objections, fears) so you can respond and try again.

    If you have done that but they are still dragging their feet, ask, “Are you just in the information gathering stage right now, or are you serious about (fixing this problem, starting a business, getting this taken care of, etc.?”)

    If they’re “just looking” let them tell you that. Hearing themself say this might help them realize they might not get what they want and tell you to get started.  

    If they’re serious about solving their problem but still won’t commit, get them to focus on what’s at stake by pointing out what you’re hearing. “It seems like you’re not sure what you want to do” or “It seems like you’re not ready to do this right now” and ask a question that reminds them what is a take:

    • “Are you okay with not taking care of this until next year?”
    • “Are you willing to accept the risk of X getting bigger/worse?”
    • “If you wait, it may cost you a lot more (because). Is that okay with you?”

    If they want the benefits you offer, understand the risks of saying no or waiting, but still aren’t willing to commit, let them go. Tomorrow, they may think about what you’ve told them and the fact that you didn’t push them, their fear of loss may kick in and they’ll call you back. 

    And if they don’t, you can spend your time talking to prospective clients who are ready to go.  

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    Closing the sale

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    You’re sitting with a prospective client talking about their case or the services you can provide. You’ve made the case for why they need your help, explained what you will do, talked about fees, answered their questions, and you think they’re ready to sign up.

    But you’re not sure. 

    What should you do?

    One thing you can do is “assume the sale”. Hand them the paperwork and a pen (or stylus) and tell them where to put their name. You might start with an authorization instead of a fee agreement or another document to fill out. 

    If they fill it out, they’re saying yes to the dress.

    If they have more questions or objections, they’ll let you know.

    If you’re still not sure, ask them. “Are you ready to get started?”

    It can be as simple as that. 

    Actually, it should be. If they need you, can afford you, and don’t need to get anyone’s approval, it should be a done deal. 

    So ask. 

    “Are you ready to get started?” Or, “Would you like me to get started?” Or, “When would you like to get started?” Or, “Would you like to get started this week or is next week better for you?”

    It’s all good.

    You’re not asking for the sale. You’re asking what they want to do. If they’re ready, great. If they want to wait, that’s fine (although there are things you can say to get them to reverse course), but the best thing for you to do is to let them do what they want to do. 

    Remember, they need you. 

    Also remember, nobody likes to be pushed. And pushing makes you look desperate. And you don’t have to push.

    Ask if they’re ready. If they’re not, their reasons or objections will tell you what you need to say to help them get ready. 

    And there’s nothing better than a client who’s ready to put you to work. 

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    Compelling reasons to hire you

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    They need you. They want you. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to hire you. A lot of things can get in the way between “interested” and “take my money”. It’s up to you to convince them to take the next step. Or more accurately, to provide them with sufficient facts and emotional appeals to enable them to convince themself. 

    For starters, that requires understanding their problem and how it affects them. Where is their pain? What do they fear? What is their objective and, if they don’t achieve it, what it will cost them and how will they feel? 

    If they don’t know this, you need to tell them. And provide examples of what happened to other people in their situation. 

    If they do know what can happen, tell them anyway, and invoke their emotions.

    Remind them of the consequences and how bad things can get. And remind them that all is not lost, there are things you can do.

    This may take a while. You should be prepared to tell them these things not once but repeatedly until they’re ready to act. 

    Vary your approach. One time, give them good news. Rainbows and furry animals. Next time, remind them that war is hell and paint a picture of the bloodshed that may ensure. 

    Use different examples and arguments. Bullet points and essays. The Yin and the Yang. If before you dispassionately told them “just the facts,” now you might get in their face with urgency and alarm. 

    And don’t stop. You can’t just send them a memo and expect that this will do the trick. You need to stay in touch with prospects (and clients), alternatively poking them and hugging them, and all the while, letting them know you’re ready to talk to them.

    The words you use, your copywriting strategy, your tone, are all important. But nothing is as important as continually being “in their minds and mailboxes”. 

    This is where you hold an edge over your competitors. They may have a better track record or other reasons why someone should hire them, but most don’t stay in touch. 

    They don’t understand that marketing legal services is a process, not an event. 

    But you do. And that’s how you win.

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    Why should I believe you? 

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    You’re in the convincing business. People either believe you (and hire you, rule for you, agree with you, etc.) or they don’t. Your success depends on getting more people to believe you and your clients. 

    You can always use logic and reasoning, and you should. But “telling” people and reasoning with them may not be enough. 

    That’s why you should also share:

    1. PROOF: Copies of checks or documents, show them your awards, show them the statutes, let them hear eyewitness testimony, show them diagrams and photos of the scene, practice with them for depo or trial, show them your content, and offer free consultations so they can see for themself what you do and how good you are.
    2. STORIES: Sare the words and experiences of people (like them), by showing them testimonials and reviews and thank-you notes from clients, telling them success stories about cases you’ve handled, and stories about people who didn’t hire an attorney (or waited too long).

    Logic and reasoning work. Proof and stories (usually) work better. 

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    Not so fast

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    Your clients generally like when you get the job done quickly. It shows them you have the experience and confidence to do a good job and give them the solution or prize without delay, often at lower cost.

    But if you move too quickly, they may wonder why.  

    Did you overlook anything? Take too many risks? Make mistakes that will come back to haunt them? 

    Did you push them to settle too soon, for less than they could have gotten?

    At the other extreme, if you move too slowly, they may think you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re dragging your feet to bill more hours.

    Too fast, or too slow, and you make clients nervous. 

    It’s the same with prospective clients. 

    After a meeting or presentation, if you follow up too quickly or too often, they may wonder if you need the work. If you take too much time to follow-up, however, they might think you don’t care about their business and won’t give them enough attention. 

    Each case or client is different, of course. Set the pace accordingly. 

    Consider the size and complexity of the case, the emotional aspects of the issues, the number of decision makers, deadliness, and the best practices in their industry or market.

    Talk to the client and find out what’s most important to them. Some will tell you they want the best results, no matter how long it takes or what it costs. Some will want you to prioritize cost. And some will tell you they don’t know and ask what you recommend.

    In that case, think about what you would want if you were the client—and do that. 

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    Stop making it harder to hire you

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    More than a few lawyers talk themself out of the sale by simply talking too much. 

    Not all prospective clients want all the details. Which is why you should give prospective clients the opportunity to sign up immediately, without seeing your entire stable of dogs and ponies. 

    You need to give them enough information so they can make an informed decision (and you can CYA), but if you insist on telling everyone everything they “might” want to know, you’ll scare off a lot of clients. 

    You know, the ones who tell you they have to think about it. They really don’t want to think about it. They’re just scared.

    Which is why you should give everyone the option to get started without hearing all the details. 

    Tell them what you can do to help them, assume the sale, and hand them the paperwork. If they have (more) questions or want to see more information, they’ll tell you. 

    If you’re not sure, ask them. “Do you want me to get started?” If they hesitate, then you can offer more information. 

    Yes, this is easier in person where you can read their body language. It’s easier with contingency cases that don’t require payment up front. But a surprising percentage of prospective clients will not only sign up without hearing all the details, they actually prefer it. 

    They want to say yes, so they can get on with their life and let you do what you do. They don’t want to think about their problem any more than they have to, they don’t want to wait for a solution, and they don’t want to talk to more lawyers. 

    They want you. Now.

    At least that’s what you should assume. 

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    When do prospective clients decide to hire you?

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    By the time most prospective clients meet you or speak to you, they’ve already decided to hire you. Or not.

    They usually know something about you—from your website, your ad or mailing, a review, or a friend who referred them. When they speak to you, their gut tells them yes or no.  

    You can give them more information about yourself, about their case and what you can do to help them. But they’ve usually already decided. They use the information you give them to confirm their decision or to see if there’s a reason to override it.

    Which means you don’t have to give them a lot of information or go hard trying to persuade them.

    If, based on first impressions, they’ve decided they want to hire you, you only need to tell them enough so they can justify their decision. If you give them more, you risk overwhelming or confusing them, giving them more things to think about or question, and talking yourself out of the sale. 

    On the other hand, if they initially decided to not hire you, loading them up with information is unlikely to get them to change their mind. 

    People don’t like changing their minds.

    Give them basic information and not too much of it. If they want more, they’ll ask for more. 

    Hey, this is good news. Since the sale is made before you speak to the prospective client, you just have to say enough to not screw it up.

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    Talk less

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    All of the marketing and advertising you do is merely a prequel to having a conversation with a prospective client. 

    During that conversation, they want to know what you think about their situation or question; they want to know if you can help them; and they want to know what it will take for you to do that. 

    So, you ask questions. And listen. 

    You listen so you can diagnose their problem or need and tell them how you can help them and what it will cost. If they like what you say, they begin to trust you and move closer to taking the next step. 

    But they might not be ready. They might have more questions. 

    Questions are good. It means they’re interested. 

    But the key to reaching agreement isn’t for you to do all the talking. They key is to get them to do most of the talking. 

    Which means asking them more questions. 

    You want them to tell you more about their situation, what they want and what they fear. As you validate what they say, through your words and body language (and additional questions), they see that not only are you knowledgeable about their situation and capable of helping them, you want to.

    But don’t let them wander. You must control the conversation by narrowing the scope of their questions and keeping them focused on the solutions they need and want. Answer their question and ask your own:

    Does that make sense? Is that what you want? Would (this) be better for you or would (that)?

    When you see that they might be ready to take that next step, ask a “closing” question. If you’ve answered their questions and told them what you can do to help them, your closing question might be as simple as, “Are you ready to get started?” 

    Talk less. Listen more. They’ll tell you what they want—and what you need to say to get them to say “yes”.

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