One of the most interesting elements of my job as a business development coach for attorneys is interviewing top rainmakers to better understand “How they did it.” While every attorney knows a rainmaker or high-level business developer, you might never get the chance to hear how they actually accomplished their goals, what it really took to do so and how to avoid the pitfalls they’ve encountered. One of my first interviews occurred with the Managing Partner and co-founder of Stahl Cowen, Jeff Stahl. He put everything on the line when he went out on his own. As he stated in our interview, it was “a combination of need and fear,” to begin developing his book of business. Here are Jeff’s top three tips for success in building his legal practice, followed by some of my own thoughts on the subject. Jump to the end for the full interview. Enjoy!
Jeff’s Tip #1: Helping versus Selling
Jeff’s first and most important revelation as a business developer was to really want to help people, not to sell them legal services. He says quite empathetically that it’s imperative to, “Recognize when someone is in need of service and then be there, and be creative to help them. Then it isn’t perceived as a sale, but as assistance that usually has greater receptivity than somebody who is hard selling.”
From my point of view, he is touching on one of the critical turning points for attorneys as it relates to sales and being viewed as a “salesman.” I don’t know too many lawyers who like or want to be seen as a salesman. What Jeff explains so clearly in his interview is that you need to switch off that mindset and turn on the idea that you are in the unique position to help people with real problems. The key here is to try not pitching and selling, but rather try asking and listening.
One of my favorite mantras is, “Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.” Think about that. If you walked into a doctor’s office with a migraine and he suggested amputating your head, I’m sure you’d move pretty quickly to the nearest exit. The same rule should apply to prescribing legal services in the form of a pitch meeting. Just don’t do it! At least not until you’ve fully diagnosed the issues, needs and pains the prospective client is dealing with.
Jeff’s Tip #2: Market Yourself When You’re Busiest
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 1000 times, “I’m too busy to market myself.” One of the best take-aways from Jeff’s interview was his statement, “Too many people go out and market when they’re slow. You need to market when you are busy, because when you market when you’re slow, you often appear desperate. That comes across and people realize that.” Even when you’re working 60 hours a week, it’s imperative to find ways to market. If nothing comes in right away from the effort, at least you’re building your pipeline which will pay off when things do slow down.
In my experience, the key to success here is to find the time to market by getting organized with your day and opening up gaps of time for business development. A few suggestions I typically offer include:
- Time blocking- Get into the office at 6:30 am once a week and spend an uninterrupted hour emailing clients, strategic partners and new people you’ve met to schedule a coffee or lunch sometime in the next few weeks. This one hour block of time each week will help ensure that you get meetings set every week without fail.
- Delegating more- Do everything in your power to delegate administrative tasks to others at a lower billable rate. If you are billing $300-600 an hour, why are you making copies or doing filing? Try making a list of every administrative task that you do and add up the hours in a week. You might be shocked at how much time you’re wasting on activities that can be done for under $50 an hour by someone else. This “found time” can be better used for business development activities or even going home for supper with your family once in a while.
- Never eat lunch alone- It’s the title of a great networking book for a reason. Schedule lunch at your office and invite someone to join you. Utilize a conference room so that it’s quiet and you can focus the conversation on your guest. If you did this with two of your existing clients or strategic partners every week, you will be delighted to the results you might see. Working during lunch might be helpful to get things done, however it doesn’t have to be your routine every day.
Jeff’s Tip #3: Be Impressive!
“When a client tells you what their issue is, it isn’t always their issue. Through effective listening you may recognize things that they may not even realize themselves.” Effective questioning and listening is not only important as a way to best service the client, but also as a way of differentiating yourself from other attorneys who aren’t focused on the clients story, needs and issues. From Jeff’s perspective it’s more important to be perceived as impressive and knowledgeable, than to beat your chest regarding your prowess as a successful attorney.
Jeff’s hit on something really critical here. Perception is reality and belief stronger than fact. The concept is simple if you think about it. By asking relevant, probing and open ended questions, the prospective client will perceive that you are an expert based on the way you are managing the conversation and your bedside manner. A great example here would be observing two psychologists. The first spouts off about why she is so good at what she does and her advanced degrees. The other, warmly welcomes her patient onto the couch and begins building rapport. Then the second psychologist begins asking questions about the patients reason for being here today. The patient’s response is followed up with additional questions which open up the dialogue to reveal the actual issues being faced.
If you are working diligently to find new business opportunities, and a prospective client finally agrees to meet with you, try to act like the second therapist by asking questions and being an expert listener. You will not only build greater credibility as a lawyer, but also uncover issues that your new client didn’t even know he had. A win-win outcome is inevitable.
I’d like to thank Jeff Stahl for his rainmaking insights. The reality is that there is always a way to find balance in work and in life. For many of you, it’s a matter of having the proper mindset. For others it’s obtaining new strategies and tactics to accomplish the goals you’ve set. Check in monthly for a new installment of Rainmaker 101 for more tips from the business development superstars I’ve interviewed.