In ALM’s “The Careerist,” last week, Vivia Chen wrote a compelling article about gender inequality at a particular NY law firm. In a nutshell:
- Firm hires consultant to see if there is bias in reviewing attorneys
- Consultant finds that male attorneys systematically reviewed higher, numerically
- Firm chooses to do nothing about the results
Let me be crystal clear here. I think reviewing an employee, based on anything other than performance (gender, race, religion, etc.), is despicable. Finding out that your firm is guilty of such transgressions, and doing nothing about it…well, that’s just inhuman.
The only issue with the article is that the consequences of reviews — good or bad — are losing their relevance. Chen states that the numerical scores count more for partnership, which, I agree, has been true for decades. What she is referring to, however, is “service partnership.” How do I know this? Because reviews don’t matter a lick if you are a lawyer bringing in a significant amount of business.
All signs in the industry show that “service partnership” is going away. Today’s “service partner” is tomorrow’s “career associate.” In a few years, almost every new Big Law partner will be a revenue-generator. If, eventually, money talks and everything else walks, the partnership playing field may actually become more even than it’s ever been.
If you are an attorney in a protected class, keep up the noble fight. Know, however, that your ultimate weapon is your book of business. If you can learn to be a successful rainmaker, which is easier to do than you think, no one can deny you partnership.
Because we’re a startup, I read blogs by successful startup founders. One of particular interest is Smart Bear, by Jason Cohen. Yesterday, he posted about The One Important Thing for Startups (to measure), including the expression that became my title today.
This is what I took from his post, and what lawyers need to focus on and make a hard decision about.
“A startup can focus on only one metric. So you have to decide what that is and ignore everything else.”
Right now, lawyers reading this are thinking, “What does this have to do with me? I’m not a startup.” Yes, you are a startup. Whether literally, in the case of lawyers who just hung out a shingle, or solos, who understand the acute resource constraints of startups, or even BigLaw denizens who see themselves as a small cog in a huge machine, you’re all virtual startups, because each of you must generate enough business to be successful, however you define that.
The law biz is inundated with vague admonitions such as “strengthen client relationships,” “be more client-centric,” etc. IMO, this is useless babble, because none of those expressions have any actionable, measurable meaning. And, even if you could somehow measure the “strength” or “client-centricity” of a relationship and improve it in some way, it would likely be an incremental change.
Will incremental improvement change your career and life in any significant way? Doubtful. It hasn’t so far.
Focus on the big thing where, if you moved the lever, it would significantly change your practice, say, by doubling revenue or breaking into a high-growth market, or getting the signature client that puts you on the map with other such clients.
For many lawyers, that “big thing” should be doing whatever you must to acquire the skills to:
- Establish a valuable, protectable position in a growing market
- Have prospective clients approach you to discuss high-impact challenges
- Help those clients make smart, well-informed, self-interested decisions about hiring a lawyer
- Keep yourself current about how their businesses are changing, so you’ll know ahead of time how yours should change with them
Little incremental things can come later, when you have the extra time. Today, it’s just big needle-moving things. As Noah Kagan put it so well, “At a little company there’s no time for small changes achieving small goals.” We’re all little companies.
Focus on the one thing that will change your practice in the biggest way.
To learn these skills affordably, the way you learned to be a lawyer — by doing — subscribe to RainmakerVT’s virtual training today.
If you’ve never experienced virtual training, test-drive our network event simulation, where you’ll manage an avatar through a series of “say/do” decisions as you progress from “Hello” to having a call scheduled with a legitimate prospect. With each decision you make, you get context-sensitive video coaching that explains why your choice isn’t — or is — the optimal one.
- The full story of “the one important thing” for startups (asmartbear.com)
- Noah Kagan and the Faceless Bitch slide (sherprog.com)
During the past 20 years, when lawyers could rely on a steady stream of work from in-house counsel, this answer was pretty easy. If you had a relationship with a GC, you were set, and you protected it. Now, though, the game has changed, and it’s time for lawyers to reconsider their loyalties.
I always read Joyce Smiley’s excellent newsletter, Verbatim: What Clients Say. Today’s edition, “In-House Counsel Say It’s About Relationships,” features quotes from GCs citing specific lawyers’ relationship-building behaviors.
IMO, one lawyer cited has taken GC-loyalty too far. The GC says that “it’s not uncommon for outside counsel to curry favor with management, but [lawyer] never breaks rank. ‘Law firms aren’t always that way with in-house counsel.’”
Personally, I’d describe communicating solely with the Law Dept. as myopic. Doing so subjects outside counsel to some very real risks and constraints, such as being:
- trapped in the past, largely ignorant of emerging issues,
- aligned with those who must follow the rules instead of those who make the rules,
- aligned with a cost center instead of a profit center,
- feeding solely from the legal budget instead of operating budgets, which are much, much larger, and
- vulnerable to a change of GC.
In-house counsel are employees of the company. The company pays your fees. You represent the company. Your job is to help the company achieve its
- strategic aims,
- operational goals, and
- financial objectives.
Once you’ve done all that to the degree that you’re able and permitted, you’ll naturally want to help employees succeed professionally. That’s where “watching someone’s back” comes in.
This cuts both ways. In-house counsel who prohibit or discourage outside counsel contact with operating executives are short-sighted, too.
One of the client teams we guided faced just this type of choke-hold, i.e., they were only allowed to speak with in-house counsel. They earned their way out of this constraint by initiating discussions about high-impact emerging industry issues too new for the Law Dept. to be knowledgeable about. In-house counsel, uncomfortable with their potential blind spot, recognized that their self-interest was best served by including relevant operating executives in the discussion. This produced three winners:
- Operating executives could engage their inside/outside lawyers on the most important topics, avoiding minefields
- In-house counsel’s status was raised with operating executives, who saw them as more relevant to the issues that counted most
- Outside counsel earned access to operating executives, reinforcing their intelligence-gathering-and-sharing capability
The Law Dept. is not the company. It is one functional unit, no more. Limiting your relationship-building to them is as narrow and short-sighted as would be focusing solely on any other single entity, e.g., Finance, or Engineering. Your job is to help the business succeed.
RainmakerVT subscribers: Four topics will help you succeed at this:
1. Getting Found: For What Do You Want to Be Known: “Door-Opener”: Associating Yourself with Issues That Drive Demand
2. Getting Chosen: Decision Process: Learning the Company-Specific Flavor of Your Door-Opener
3. Toolbox: Contacts and Referrals: Gaining Access to Decision-Makers
4. Finding a Point of Entry: Identifying Less Obvious Stakeholders in Your Door-Opener
We’ve all experienced the “follow-up” phenomenon that ensues whenever we accept an online offer of free content, or if we click on a “more information” box to investigate possibly buying a product or service.
According to the marketing blog Go-To-Market Strategies, “50% of marketing leads receive no follow-up from sales.” Given the poor quality of a lot of this follow-up, that may be a blessing. We’ve all gotten phone calls and email from people who seemed completely uninformed of the nature or content of our previous contact with the company.
I’m posting a marvelous exception. I’ll go so far as to say that this is the best email follow-up I’ve ever received. I’ve posted it below in it’s entirety. (The superscripts are mine, and correlate to my trailing comments.) See if you can tell why I think it’s so great.
It is my understanding that you were previously in contact with Vistage about our CEO/executive peer groups1. I wanted to reconnect to see if you are in a position to start exploring2 Vistage International, Inc. On behalf of Lauren Tighe, Regional Director for the Southwest, I would like to invite you to schedule a brief call3 with her by clicking here to view Lauren’s calendar availability, then schedule a convenient time to speak with her directly and she will call you on the date/time you select.4
Conversely, if you no longer wish to pursue membership information or your situation has changed5, simply respond back to my email with “No Thanks” and I will remove you from our contact list.6
Thanks, in advance, for informing us of your intent.
Membership Support Representative
Vistage International, Inc.
11452 El Camino Real, Suite 400, San Diego, CA 92130
What makes this so notable, and separates it so completely from the usual drivel?
OK, time’s up.
- Charlie demonstrates that he’s aware of the nature of my previous contact.
- By saying “see if you’re in a position to start exploring…” he acknowledges that an inquiry doesn’t mean I’m ready to take any additional steps right now. That let’s me relax and receive the rest of his message with an open mind, rather than defensively.
- He invites me to schedule a call with a specific person whose title suggests that she’s relevant to my likely purpose. I can accept this offer by taking an easy step, i.e., clicking the hyperlink to view her calendar. It’s flattering to be granted access to an executive’s calendar, isn’t it? Is suggests that my inquiry and I have some significance to this company.
- He makes it clear that, after confirming my appointment, I’ll no longer be dealing with intermediaries, but with a principal.
- He allows that things may have changed since my inquiry, that my situation or needs have changed, but he asks me to take a reasonable step to close the loop.
- By inviting me to take a step whose consequences may be beyond what I intend, i.e., removing me from further contact, he increases the likelihood that I’ll send a clarifying reply, e.g., “‘No, thanks,’ to exploring the purchase right now, but you don’t have to stop contacting me.” That tells them that my interest is probably more than casual, and that it’s probably worth continuing to cultivate me. If I’ve completely changed my mind, and have no interest in the offering, they’ve made it easy for me to say that, and in the process have probably left me with a positive impression of their professionalism and courtesy that I’ll share with others. They’ve reinforced their brand.
How many of these did you recognize?
Remember that your goal always is to get a decision, which means making it easy for someone to say “no.” Once you accept that, it’s easy to close the loop in a way that leaves a beneficial impression, and may even make a friend.
RainmakerVT subscribers: Review the Decision Process within Category 3 to help you pursue a decision, not solely a “yes.”
This question appeared on the Focus thread (which I usually find pretty interesting). A bunch of pretty smart sales folks quickly filled up a long list of objections we’d all recognize.
I’m betting my contribution wasn’t particularly well received by these pros:
I guess it depends on whom you’re asking. If you ask buyers, they might say, “I object to listening to product-oriented pitches from salespeople who aren’t even relevant to me because they don’t understand my industry, my company’s position in the industry, how our business works, how current market conditions affect my ability and willingness to embrace risk, the inherent risk to someone in my position in the company, that this isn’t my top priority…”
Too many salespeople fail to understand that much of their conversation and behavior screams, “I want you to decide to do something that’s definitely good for me, but there’s no way for you to know how good it may be for you — or not.” The idea of driving forward in relentless pursuit of a “yes” suggests a lack of intellectual integrity. What? You can’t even imagine that it might not be a good idea for me to buy from you? It is one of the two polar possibilities, i.e., great idea, or terrible idea.
Think how much more cooperative your buyer might be if you were genuinely trying to help them figure out how good an idea it is to do business with you, i.e., open to the possibility that it might not be. They’d certainly expend less energy keeping you at bay while they figured out how safe it is to let you get close enough to potentially be useful.
Your pipeline represents cost of sales. Therefore, your goal is to get them out of your pipeline via a decision — whether that’s “yes” or “no.” Sure, “yes” is preferable, but “no” is better than the infinitely expensive and frustrating, “maybe.”
Buyers don’t doubt your knowledge or wisdom; they fear the singularity of your intent, which says that you’re looking out for you, not them. That’s OK; it’s your right, but you can’t expect them to facilitate it.
The takeaway for lawyers?
To get hired, behave as if you’ve already been hired, i.e., focus all your energies on helping your prospect make a good decision, without regard to your self-interest.
RainmakerVT subscribers: Go to Category 3: “Getting Chosen” > Course 1: “Decision Process” > Chapter 4: “The Cost of Doing Nothing” for a simulation that will not only teach you this process, but give you virtual experience using it.
- 7 Reasons Sales Training Fails (hubspot.com)
- The Advantage that Focused Salespeople Have (customerthink.com)
Many in the legal industry believe that, in order to be a rainmaker, a lawyer must excel in every area of client development - including industry research, networking, lead generation, sales calls, getting a decision, and “beauty contests.” If a lawyer excels in only one or two of these areas, and cannot develop clients without the assistance of others, he or she is not considered a rainmaker.
By that standard, Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics would not be considered a basketball player. Though he’s one of the league’s best passers, Rondo is consistently maligned for his “inability to develop a reliable jump shot, improve his free throw shooting, or consistently attack the rim.” Here’s a player who is not very good at the core purpose of the game - scoring points. By that narrow definition, one would think Rondo is a fringe player at best…someone perhaps in danger of being dropped from the team.
In truth, Rondo has been named to the last two All-Star games (the top 24 players in the league). Luckily for Rondo, NBA teams view things through a wider lens than do most in the legal world. They know that a player can be a star if he has one or two critical skills that help the team produce collectively. What Rondo does so well is rack up “assists,” i.e., eight times per game, he directly enables someone else to score points.
Think about the parallel for lawyers.
To a rainmaker or relationship partner, what’s the value of a senior associate passing along eight quality sales leads each month? What if that partner had not one, but two or three, associates skilled in lead generation? With those 200 - 300 legitimate sales opportunities created by associates every year, wouldn’t it be almost impossible not to experience significant growth?
For too long, firms and lawyers have clung to the unsupportable idea of the singular, natural rainmaker. That’s an attractive vanity, especially if you’re that rainmaker, but it comes at a great price. As long as you hold that that these skills are somehow innate, rather than learned, you’ll fail to invest in preparing others to provide you with a multiplier that you couldn’t begin to match even if you billed zero hours and spent all 2000 hours plying your “natural” rainmaking skill each year.
The good news is that many contributory roles require only the intelligence and “lawyering” skills already proved on billable matters, and that learning how to apply them to getting hired is easily and inexpensively taught.
Here’s how simple it can be:
- Think of what business problem your most valuable legal skill/service solves. Isn’t that what you want people to associate you with?
- Think about how often your marketing and sales activity ends up with no decision at all, which keeps you “following up” until you’re weary and embarrassed. What if you used your lawyer-trained questioning skills to learn whether or not the prospect must make a decision, and opt out if, because the consequences of doing nothing are acceptable, they have the luxury of not making one?
Returning to our basketball analogy, what if you could “unbundle” Michael Jordan and have five far-lesser players, each with only one skill, yet who, collectively, perform with equal brilliance? You’d have
- one player who shot the ball well;
- another that drove to the basket well;
- another that rebounded well;
- another that played exceptional defense; and
- another who could will other players through adversity.
Wouldn’t it be much easier to identify five players, each with only one skill, than to find one superstar with all five skills? Wouldn’t it be easier and less costly to refine and polish those single skills, rather than try to develop multiple skills in each player?
If you allow it, it can be that simple. Oh, and lots of those single-skill players are already sitting on your bench, dying to contribute.
RainmakerVT subscribers can learn how to master each of these by going to:
Getting Found > 1. What Do You Want to Be Known For? > 1. “Door Opener”: Associating Yourself with Issues That Drive Demand
Getting Chosen > 1. The Decision Process > 4. The Cost of Doing Nothing
Non-subscribers can gain access to every RainmakerVT course, including these two, by taking advantage of our limited trial offer, featuring a 90-day, 100% money-back guarantee.
As I read the many thoughtful and appropriately admiring tributes to the late Mr. Jobs posted by my Facebook friends, I realized how connected so many of those posting felt to a man few, if any, had met. For most of us, our relationship with Steve Jobs was entirely virtual, i.e., we own and love the many innovations Steve introduced into our lives during his leadership of Apple.
For the moment, let’s set aside his brilliant vision, his evident joy in pursuing it, and his relentless commitment to creating — and constantly improving — products and experiences that elate us. People far better informed than I have written eloquently about that.
For a moment, consider the single, driving force behind all of these historic accomplishments: the user experience.
Jobs’ ability to look at everything through our eyes proved the reliable guidance that enabled him to create computers, media players (and all manner of derivatives of those) that excite us. Think about that. The man made us excited about computers. Before Apple, who would have thought that possible?
I’m no expert on industrial design, but what other company consistently keeps as its top priority the human interface for its products? Who else cared what a laptop felt like in your hand, or how a computer looked on your desk, or that you might want to navigate by touch instead of keys, or spread a picture or block of text to make it bigger, then intuitively pinch it back to original size? Who else said, “Who says you can’t have your entire music collection in your pocket all the time?”
So, apart from my respect for this unique man, why does a sales guy write about this in a sales blog?
Because we would all be better served — as would our prospects and clients — if we embraced Steve Jobs’ monofocus on seeing things through the buyers’ eyes.
Did you ever hear Steve pitch anyone about how wonderful Apple or he was? Did you ever hear him try to convince you of the worth or value of anything he made?
No. Instead, after visualizing a future beyond our recognition, he talked to us before he built those visionary products, to make sure he understood how we’d actually live with them, that they were sufficiently human, exciting and comfortable. Then he put them in our hands and let us experience them, and fall in love on our own.
There’s an ancient adage in the sales game: ”Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Every Apple product and store screams, “We care.”
Do our marketing and sales behaviors say the same about us? If we’re trying to help, not pitch, maybe so. Before you get hired, act as if you’ve been hired, i.e., make a difference.
RIP, Steve Jobs. Thanks from this Apple “fanboy” for making it possible to be an evangelizing fan of a computer company.
A Collaborative Approach to Pricing; Let the Client Raise (or lower) the Price and Discredit your Competitors
Yesterday’s PSF Journal contained a Colin Jasper and Libby Maynard article with a very interesting analysis of the pricing dilemma for lawyers and law firms. After reading their article, you’re likely to recognize one unfortunate reality — lawyers do not think in terms of understanding the cost of a unit of production. Without that understanding, reliance on the hybrid pricing models the authors suggest still creates situations where too much of the pricing risk inappropriately rests with the outside lawyer.
There is a solution, however. Lawyers can introduce a collaborative pricing process that eliminates almost all of the risk for both sides. In a nutshell, the lawyer works with the client to:
* Clearly identify the logical components of recurring projects (e.g. deposition, discovery, opponent’s financial position, etc.)
* Use these components to create a cost spectrum, with the smoothest, most seamless case or transaction at one end, and the worst nightmare case or transaction ever on the opposite end
* Decide where this case or transaction falls along that spectrum – today.
* Agree to adjust the cost incrementally, up or down, when components of the project slide from the current position on the spectrum towards either end (e.g. five days of depositions turns into ten days)
This approach is easy to learn, but it’s also very subtle. There’s a precise order to the questioning process that almost guarantees a successful collaboration. To get a sneak peek of this system, view:
A Collaborative Approach to Pricing; Let the Client Raise the Price and Discredit your Competitors
Our clients describe this process as a “career-lifesaver.” I hope it’s as successful for you as it is for them.
P.S. To learn the rest of this time-tested pricing model , RainmakerVT subscribers can go to this lesson:
Toolbox — 8. Pricing
Non-subscribers can gain access to every RainmakerVT course, including this one, by taking advantage of our limited trial offer, featuring a 90-day, 100% money-back guarantee.
…is the day before Thanksgiving. For business developers, it’s the virtual end of the year.
After the long Thanksgiving weekend, it’s three days until December, and your prospects and clients begin slipping into a combination of Year-End Mode and Holiday Mode.
For prospects and clients, Year-End Mode means finishing up projects and other work that can’t or shouldn’t carry over into 2012, preparing for year-end reporting and other management requirements, and preparing for the start of the new year. For lawyers, it means scrambling to finish work that clients need before the actual end of the calendar year, collecting bills, etc.
For both, Holiday Mode means diverting a portion of your attention and energy to holiday season obligations such as business and personal social events, shopping and other family tasks, maybe some travel.
So, the upshot, as far as initiating things like new business calls and the like, is that it gets much harder to reach people because both buyers and sellers have less time and attention to devote to, well, buying and selling. It’s easy to simply put it off until the new year. Think, “manana.”
That means that, unless you’re the rare lawyer who won’t need any business or revenue in January, as of today you have 11 weeks to fill your pipeline enough to have something squeeze out in December and January.
If you’re a solo, this is called cash flow, your life blood. If you’re in BigLaw, this is a big part of your year-end comp review.
With less time to get the job done, you need to apply maximum effectiveness and efficiency. RainmakerVT helps you sharpen your skills quickly to achieve both aims — conveniently, affordably, engagingly. Take a test drive.
On the legal blogs and LinkedIn groups, I’ve noticed a lot of discussion over which tactic is more important to lawyers: social media or SEO.
I say neither.
One can argue about the relative merits of each strategy, but neither makes any significant impact, however, if the given lawyer’s content is generic or repetitive.
The reason most lawyers end up writing virtually the same article or blog post as thousands of other lawyers across the country is that they focus on the legal issues of the day, not the business issues that are being discussed in the board room (ones that will become legal issues in a few years). That’s how a lawyer becomes a true “thought leader” in a particular space. I described this process four years ago in an article for the New York Law Journal entitled, “Differentiate Yourself!”:
http://www.mediafire.com/?dfmkxd7xg0uzbkk (download from MediaFire)
It’s as relevant today as it was then. While I was asked to position it for new lawyers, the process of carving a unique niche using business issues works for lawyers at every level.