Monday, June 30, 2014

Successful "Sales" Functions Within Law Firms©

By: Julie Savarino, Attorney and Managing Director, Business Development Inc.

Marketing and selling are related but distinctly different disciplines within law firms (and for all businesses). In most law firms, the sales function and associated responsibilities still rest primarily on the lawyers and the sales support structure is not well defined beyond assisting with RFPs.

Within law firms that have and use sales professionals, there are inherent tensions between the sales professionals - whose primary job is to close the sale/bring in new business - and lawyers - whose primary job is to provide quality legal advice/solutions, etc., and avoid malpractice claims. This tension is intense in today's highly competitive market where slow demand and price pressures are a given.

Unlike lawyers, sales professionals have no formal code of ethics or rules of professional responsibility they are required to abide by. Therefore, when hiring and managing sales professionals within law firms, law firm leaders should be very cognizant of this inherent tension and strive to carefully structure sales professionals' position descriptions, responsibilities, expectations, performance reviews and remuneration accordingly. In addition, before hiring sales professionals, law firm leaders should specifically define the sales professionals focus to be sure those professionals are targeting and working to close qualified new business – not just working to sell any legal work from any entity or person needing legal services.

Before hiring sales professionals, smart law firm leaders formally assess the partnership and/or practice groups to help define the needs, wants, roles, markets, desired clients/referral sources and training/coaching needs. Then they structure the resulting position description and salary/bonus scheme so the most desirable and profitable business is targeted while firm culture and partner needs and expectations are simultaneously supported. This sets a solid foundation to help insure the sales professional(s) success.

Sales professionals generally succeed when they: are former lawyers and/or have a significant understanding of what it takes to get quality legal work done and delivered, and; have a solid understanding of the legal needs and common issues of the specific market/sector and client. Most complaints from lawyers about their in-house sales professionals center around this issue, i.e. "our sales professional does not understand what it takes to get the legal matter/case completed and has no thought/care for my profitability – they just want to close the business no matter what".

Successful sales professionals make a concerted effort – before they start selling externally to clients and prospects – to sell internally. In other words, they take the time and make the effort to get to know the lawyers with whom they work, their desired markets/clients and the cost ranges (and law firm leaders communicate this specific expectation upon hiring). Also, effective in-house sales professionals provide periodic/ongoing training and coaching for the firm’s lawyers on key sales steps. In addition, before selling externally, sales professionals who work closely with the financial records department to calculate and know the ranges of the actual fees/costs associated with desired and common matters/cases are much better prepared to generate qualified leads for and sell profitable legal work.

The inherent tension between lawyers and sales professionals is no one's "fault" – it is a reality that lawyers need to accept. Therefore, this reality requires lawyers to step up and make an effort to communicate and work with the sales professionals. Lawyers need to reach out to the sales professionals when they are first hired and communicate their needs and expectations, and then they need to continue doing so before, during and after each sale. Lawyers also need to spend time creating efficiencies and pricing options within their practices so that bespoke and hourly rate solutions are only one pricing option – not the only one.

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