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Will your answer surprise you?
When you speak with potential clients for the very first time, they are often looking for reasons to either qualify or disqualify you for the engagement. Throughout the conversation, the client’s criteria checklist is continually consulted and reviewed. Client criteria lists take many forms; they may be written or reside purely in the client’s mind, but one by one the key criterion are evaluated as “qualified,” “not qualified” or “unsure.” As topics, concepts, situations and/or experiences are discussed and reviewed, the client determines whether your approach resonates with him and if more information is needed to make a decision.
Listen to yourself ... who do you sound like? This is an important but often overlooked question for anyone looking to grow their business, but particularly for an attorney speaking with a prospective client for the first time. You may be thinking, “Why should I listen to myself to see who I sound like?” The answer is a simple one — you need to sound like the attorney and firm the client will be comfortable and eager to retain.
Rainmaking and securing clients is challenging in the best of economies and it is critical to be able to listen to yourself and evaluate how you sound. Do you sound like the attorney you believe you are or want the client to believe you are? Are you the attorney you want to be? Do you sound like the trusted legal advisor a prospective client can place her faith and trust in? Do you sound like the attorney your prospect can expect empathy from? Do you sound like the legal counsel a CEO, in a “bet the company” situation, can place his trust in? You also need to determine if you and your firm are right for a prospective client. This is where your work begins.
To start, you need to amass as much information about the prospective client and situation as possible. Ask yourself,“What do I already know about the person, the matter, any perceived and/or real risks and the probabilities for success?” Then look to go beyond what you already know to gather as much additional information as possible. Client information may be available in various ways and to varying degrees. If appropriate, start by asking the referring party, then conduct an online search using several of the popular search engines, and use any discovery resources available to you and your firm.
Once you have gathered, compiled and synthesized your initial client information, you are ready to develop specific questions. During the initial interview as the prospect is reviewing her checklist, you will also be working to determine if the prospect is qualified to be your client.
As you review the situation with the prospective client, he will be assessing you in a number of areas. Who do you sound like? During this process who you sound like is critically important. Do you sound like someone who asks questions consistent with the level of the prospect? If speaking with a CEO, are you asking questions that a CEO would consider important, relevant and be able to answer?
It is essential to recognize that your questions need to be formulated with an interest toward acquiring information commensurate with the CEO’s responsibilities. If your questions sound more likely to be directed to a person at a lower level,
that CEO will match you to the person that you sound like. Perhaps your questions are so specific that the level of detail required would be best answered by a less senior executive; if so, you can expect to be speaking with that person very soon. Without taking the time to know your potential client and without preparing the right questions in advance, there is a risk you may not be speaking with that CEO again. Who do you sound like?
As a matrimonial attorney, you may be speaking with an aggrieved spouse. Are you able to get beyond the emotional level likely to be at play here so that you can truly listen to the prospective client? Are you empathetic? While you may have already spoken with dozens of aggrieved spouses this month, you probably have not spoken to this one. Are you conveying that you are someone who understands the situation? Do you sound like someone with the right experience for helping clients in similar circumstances? Are you able to convey that you are an attorney with the experience, expertise and successful track record in fairly, if not always amicably, resolving matrimonial matters and helping your clients begin the next chapter of their lives? Alternatively, do you sound like someone who is a little preoccupied? Maybe you have heard this all before; you have seen it all and this is just like the case you finished last week. Do your questions sound condescending without your intending them to be? If so, your chances for that engagement may have already begun to fade. Who do you sound like?
As a trusts-and-estates attorney, you often acquire knowledge about and work with a client’s most private financial information. In certain cases, a potential client’s legacy may represent significant multigenerational wealth requiring specialized knowledge and detailed and complex document preparation, while for others it may be establishing a simple will to preserve and protect surviving family members. When first meeting a potential client in these situations, the prospect may have certain expectations and preconceptions of the professional he wants to engage. If you are meeting this prospect by way of referral, much work needs to be done to assure you approach this client at the right level.
It is important to ask questions that will help you gauge the knowledge of the prospect in a manner that will be perceived as not only professional but also as fully competent. Should your initial questions be above the level of the prospect’s knowledge, the prospect may think you to be aloof. Should your questions not be engaging enough, the prospect may perceive you as condescending. Prepare and review your questions prior to the meeting. A practice run with a colleague may be a good idea as well.
In every case, listen closely to yourself as you recite your questions. How do you sound? What is your tone and tenor and how are you coming across and being perceived? Who you sound like does make a difference. In today’s competitive business climate, it is important to fully vet every potential client and engagement. Qualifying and assessing all prospective clients, while they in turn are qualifying you, enables you to uncover potential mismatches early on. Engagements that do not align with your individual strengths and who you sound like, may not make sense to pursue. A referral to a colleague in your firm or someone in another firm may be the best option.
In this case, you sound like someone who listened closely to your prospect’s needs and with her best interests in mind, tells her that you believe someone else would be a better match for her situation. Success often follows good practice and good solid preparation. Much can be learned by just listening to yourself. Now ask yourself, “Who do I sound like?” Hopefully, the answer won’t surprise you