Attorneys Need Forward Progress When Building a Book of Business

Imagine that you’ve just had a productive call with a new prospective client and she says, “Terrific, let me think about this and I’ll reach back to you in a few weeks.” You may not have been too ecstatic with that response. Or how about your last 90-minute coffee meeting that ended with, “Great, let’s keep our eyes open for one another.” Have you ever asked yourself, whether such a networking meeting was really worth the sunk time and lost billable dollars?

One of the greatest challenges I see attorneys face daily is their inability to move business development opportunities forward to achieve a positive outcome. When I was coming up in my sales career, I always thought the worst possible thing I could hear was the word “no.” In fact, most of my sales training back in the old days was centered around how to overcome the word “no” and turn it into a “yes!”

The reality in today’s risk-adverse marketplace is that “no” may be the second-best answer you can receive. While this might sound strange to you, it’s true! So, what do you think the worst responses are then?  How about, “I’ll think about it” or “I’ll get back to you” or “let’s keep our eyes open for one another.” Aren’t these the things you say when you don’t want to say “yes” or be bothered moving forward? This is what buyers, like you and me, do to avoid being sold, coerced or convinced. Interesting, right?

That all being said, I’m sharing with you three tips that will help you to drive your business development initiatives forward to a positive conclusion.

Tip #1. Establish an agenda of truthfulness from the very beginning.

Anytime I meet with someone who is interested in networking with me or obtaining my services, I set the ground rules and get buy-in very early on in the process.  This comes in the form of setting an agenda that creates a win-win outcome for both parties. While I am not going to get into the specifics of agenda setting today, here is one line that I routinely use to ensure success when meeting with someone new.  Near the beginning of every meeting I just say:

“So ____, if we both feel that there’s a fit for us to work together, let’s establish a next step at the end of our meeting. Or, if we find it’s not a good match, we should both feel comfortable letting the other know. Are you open to that?”

The purpose of this approach is to set the table early that it’s a “yes” or “no” relating to moving forward or not. In some instances, this approach actually takes the “think about it” routine off the table and allows the buyer to be more honest with you about next steps. Additionally, it actually relaxes the buyer, in that you are giving her permission to say “no” if it’s not a fit. As you may recall, “no” may be the second-best response you can hear. Getting to “no” saves you time, money and emotional energy because it’s still moving things to a conclusion. Otherwise, the “think about its” can drag out engagements indefinitely, which is incredibly frustrating!

Tip #2. Set up the next step at the conclusion of the meeting.

If you’ve followed tip #1 above, you should now be positioned to establish a specific next step with the person you are meeting; this may be a second meeting, a return the subsequent week with a proposal or a follow-up call to provide referrals for one another. If a need has been established, and both parties are interested in continuing the process forward, you would simply respond:

“Based on our discussions so far, I believe there’s a fit for us to work together. Let’s schedule Wednesday at 9 am to meet again to discuss solutions to these issues. How does that sound?”

While this is not a complicated approach, it’s amazing how rarely attorneys set up a specific next step. Gaining commitment from someone to schedule more time is critical to understanding their interest and hopefully, their urgency to move things forward. Without this, a cat and mouse game may occur, which is an inefficient time spend and can chip away at your self-esteem. It never feels good when someone ghosts you in life or in business.

Tip #3. When all else fails, use email to get things done.

In some instances, people will make commitments and then just break them without giving it a second thought–especially buyers who are very busy or feel no urgency to take-action. This is where a well-presented email may help. Here are two suggestions on follow-up emails to establish a next step or get back in the game when someone’s being a little cagey.

Scenario #1. No next step was established at the end of a meeting. Here you must provide specific times/dates to get this next step locked down.

Hi ______,

Terrific meeting you last week. I hope you found the conversation beneficial. My apologies for not setting up a specific next step for us, as we discussed. How about a check-in call next week on Monday at 9 am, 10 am or 1 pm? Let me know which works for you and I’ll set up a meeting invite for us.

Scenario #2.  You’ve emailed her already and there was no response. We will remind her that it’s safe to respond yes or no, to get some form of resolution.

Hi _____,

I hope the day finds you well. I emailed you last week and am checking back to see if you received the message. If so, it would behoove (or benefit) both of us to hear your thoughts about whether we should continue the discussion and move things forward. Or, if you believe there’s no fit here, please feel free to share that as well. As we discussed, I am very open to feedback if you’re thinking you’d rather go another direction. If you would like to speak again, I am available this Friday at 8 am, 9 am or 11 am. Please let me know which direction you’d like to proceed. Thanks!

This last email is interesting because you are coming across with some confidence that you don’t need the business, even if you really do. The goal is to get you to the next step forward or to move the person to a “no” decision. You can then decide to address it or let it go. Either way, you should have a much better idea of what’s going on, versus always wondering what happened.

As you can see, it’s mission critical to set up the meeting for success at the very start, while also driving it forward upon its conclusion. Without a process to move qualified buyers and networkers forward, you could be wasting countless hours. I would encourage you to try these concepts and you’ll see for yourself how positive things can be.