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How not to win business: a guide for professionals

16 September 13

"Focus on the law" is this month's topic in our tongue-in-cheek series

by Stephen Gold

I know this advice seems counterintuitive. If a doctor confided while examining you that his primary focus was not medicine, you would do a passable impression of a rocket-fuelled gazelle as you fled the surgery.

So with law; but we are concerned here with selling legal services, not performing them, and in selling, a clear understanding of what most influences decisions to buy is more important than technical skill.

Professor Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University is the acknowledged world-leading authority on influence. Here are his “joy of six” – the six factors he believes drive every decision we make.

1. Social proof

What respected peers do is hugely influential. In the 60s and 70s, there was a popular expression: “Nobody ever got fired buying IBM” – then the world’s leading supplier of computers. Today, it may be Apple or Microsoft, but the principle is unchanged. I know its potency from personal experience. If we act for prominent clients, or an impressive number of clients, we should shout it from the rooftops as loudly as they permit. Ask for and publicise testimonials – one client singing our praises is worth hundreds of blasts on our own trumpet.

2. Reciprocity

Slavish followers of this series (both of you) will recall the importance of reciprocity. If we provide clients, connections and prospects with contacts, intelligence, resources or other benefits, with no strings attached, we increase massively the chances of them giving us work. The more selfless we are, the greater their desire to reciprocate.

3. Authority

It is a common mistake not to explain fully our track record and experience. As well as doing good work, the more we write, speak, tweet (intelligently) and boost our online presence with quality content, the more authority we accrue. It costs precious time, but we need to embrace it as a vital part of the day job, not relegate it to optional extra.

4. Scarcity

The rarer our talent, the more we will be in demand. But how do we stand out from the crowd? What solicitors do is important, but much of it is administrative and repetitive (sorry, but you know it’s true). We can make big differences in our clients’ quality of experience, by the ease with which we communicate, our commerciality, accessibility, pricing and willingness to put our judgment on the line, not be just a receptacle for instructions.

5. Commitment and consistency

For most of us, our word is our bond. If we commit to an idea or goal, we are likely to honour it, even when the original reason is removed. So, in sales conversations, even if the ultimate decision to instruct proves elusive, one should try and secure at least incremental commitments to keep prospects engaged and the process moving.

6. Liking

Finally, to sell, we need to be liked. How many successful room emptiers do you know? Cialdini identifies that the more people appear to be like us, the more we like them, so identifying commonalities is important. But authenticity is vital – sycophancy and pretence are completely counterproductive.

Salvador Dali once quipped: “The secret of my influence is that it has remained secret.” Fine for you, Salvador, but those of us in the real world, not the surreal, can be thankful to Robert Cialdini that the secrets of influence are secret no more.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide. e:stephen@stephengold.co.uk; t: 07968 484232; twitter: @thewordofgold

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