Practice development – moving your merchandise – techniques and tips

May 1st, 2014

By Louis Rood

Lawyers sell legal services. However, while lawyers pay due attention to their legal services, they do not think much about the sales process. Legal services do not sell themselves. If you want to improve or increase your sales, you should enhance your understanding not only of what you are offering for sale, but how best to sell it. In fact, the sale is an integral part of the service.

Here are some elements to consider.

Every sale is a purchase

When dealing with the market, shift the emphasis from what you sell to why the client should buy from you. Your competitors offer the same legal services that you offer, so why should the client buy from you? They should because of the quality of your service, your reputation for excellence, your professionalism, your reliability, all those things that the client really wants.

Know your customer

There are essentially three different kinds of buyers:

  • ‘How much?’ – the best price buyer: This client buys matter by matter, and can switch to another supplier any time. Your profit margin is low and the relationship can feel adversarial.
  • ‘Can you solve my problem?’ – the solution-seeking buyer: This is a more complex relationship. The buyer and seller spend time identifying the problem and defining objectives, then work together to find and implement solutions.
  • ‘Can you be our lawyers?’ – the alliance partner: This is the most complex relationship to develop, but will deliver the most cost-effective and sustainable benefits for both the buyer and the seller.

The challenge is to coax all your clients to become ­regular ‘shoppers’ at your ‘store’.

De-personalised sales

There is an increasing demand for e-commerce, internet banking and ­transactions where goods and services are supplied and paid for without any personal ­human connection. Lawyers have had to respond. The following options have been identified as the way legal services can be delivered:

  • This is individually tailored to the specific requirements of the client. It is the most expensive option.
  • This service follows a regular accepted format customised only to accommodate the individual identity and details of the client and transaction. Well-established precedents make this more affordable.
  • The whole process rolls out at the tap of a button, generated from a system, loaded and compliant with the legal and regulatory requirements. Quick, efficient and inexpensive, but deviations from the norm will cost extra.
  • The entire all-­inclusive service is delivered as is. You get what you pay for.
  • This is the self-catering option, bought off the shelf to take home and do-it-yourself. Impersonal, but a bargain. No comebacks or complaints if it does not work out.

This may all sound very mercenary and commercial, probably because it is. It is a consequence, not only of a connected and competitive world, but also a kickback against those two traditional spectres of the legal profession – expense and delay, or put another way, time and money.

Price appeal

Some retailers seek to boost sales on price – two for the price of one, for example, this week’s special, pensioner’s discount. These promotions are not really available to attorneys. They have to be aggressively marketed and thus probably amount to unprofessional conduct. Although haggling for a bazaar bargain may not be appropriate, negotiating rates and exploring alternative fee arrangements certainly are. Engaging and reaching agreements with your client on the cost of legal services is part of the process of evaluating and assessing the nature, scope and complexity of the services to be rendered.

Repeat Customers

Another common sales practice is the use of loyalty programmes to attract and retain customers where schemes build up credits or points that can be redeemed at participating merchants in various ways. This is also not realistically an option available to attorneys. The problem with rewards programmes is that they do not really engender loyalty – they rather encourage demands from fickle customers for more innovative rewards, under threat of switching to a competitor’s rival scheme.

Building a loyal client base is a crucial long-term strategic goal for any attorney. Most clients of professional service providers, such as doctors, dentists or attorneys, prefer not to ‘shop around’ but to search for a relationship of trust. Therefore, the best way to engender loyalty in your client base is to cut out all those things that your client does not really need or want and with care and professionalism deliver cost-effective, value-added services that are relevant. That is something your clients will buy.

Louis Rood BA LLB (UCT) is chairman of Fairbridges in Cape Town.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2014 (May) DR 24.