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How to convert contacts to clients

This article was originally published in Canadian Lawyer.

How do you get to the point where your contacts and connections become clients and referral sources? It’s a question that baffles us all.

How do you get to the point where your contacts and connections become clients and referral sources?

It’s a question that baffles us all.

We can get to the point where people like us, enjoy our company socially, etc., but they don’t hire us or refer their friends and colleagues to us professionally. Why is that?

The answer to that question isn’t simple and there isn’t a silver bullet that will remedy it.

Most lawyers approach the question of how we get hired as though it is a decision based solely on facts. They broadcast all the facts that support why they are the best candidate for the kinds of engagement they want and expect that to drive contacts and potential clients to call or refer them.

But the truth is that none of us actually makes decisions solely on facts. Our decisions are driven by what we “feel” is right. And what we “feel” is right is determined by a completely different part of our brain (the limbic system) than the one that considers and analyzes facts (the neocortex).

Facts are still important, because people will use them to justify the decisions we want to make. But, fundamentally, if you want people to want to hire you or refer their friends to you, broadcasting a bunch of facts to them isn’t going to do it. You will have to engage both their hearts and minds — make their limbic system and neocortex fire in your favour all at once — so that they “feel” like it is the right decision, not just “think” it is. And you can’t do that on facts alone.

That is all very esoteric and ephemeral, so while it is fundamental that you keep it in mind, let’s unpack it and identify some practical things you can do to create this “whole brain” experience that will inspire your contacts to go beyond socializing with you and hire you or refer others to you.

Contacts “convert” at the convergence of a number of vectors. The more of the vectors you satisfy for any particular contact, the more likely it is that you will engage their hearts and minds in the way that will inspire them to become a client or a referral source. Some of those vectors are:

  1. Quality of your relationship – The goal is to cultivate your relationships with your contacts to the point that they are stronger and more loyal than are their relationships with others who do what you do. How do you do that? To summarize a number of my other columns, you identify their needs and fill them, you make promises and keep them and you give them the benefit of your knowledge, connections and emotional investment — over and over again.
  2. Deep understanding of them, their businesses and their industries – In survey after survey, clients identify communication of specific insights and anticipation of relevant emerging trends and circumstances as key factors in their hiring decisions and as hallmarks of “value” in their legal services providers. If you demonstrate a deeper understanding of these elements than do their current lawyers, or anyone else they know, you will engage them more deeply.
  3. Experience – Experience that is relevant and relatable to their issue on the part of the individual lawyers, the team and the firm all matter. That means not only experience with the particular kind of legal issue they have but also experience in their particular market sector and/or with other clients with whom they have something in common (industry sector, geographic location, cultural factors, etc.). The rest of the world doesn’t self-identify by subcategories of legal work.They identify by all kinds of other things. Fit yourself into the things that your contact identifies by when trying to articulate your relevant experience and it will resonate much more strongly with them.
  4. Added value – Generally speaking, the things that one does to be perceived as “adding value” are outside of a work portfolio. When you are an incumbent lawyer hoping to continue to cultivate a stronger relationship with your client, added value lies in the things that you do that are over and above performing your best work. When you do not yet have a working relationship with someone, the added-value activities are those same things. It requires you to figure out where you can contribute something to your contact that is genuinely useful and valuable and not tied to any reciprocal benefit that you are hoping to get. What is valuable to any given person at any given time is totally subjective and situational. You have to turn on your empathy and listen actively to figure out what is “valuable” to the person for whom you are hoping to create value.
  5. Proof points – Develop the stories and other means you use to communicate and give examples that back up your claims about all of the above to your contacts. Craft these intentionally, and with the factors that will engage your clients in mind, and they will be much more successful at communicating what is valuable and compelling about working with you than will a barrage of facts or bald, unconnected statements about how great your service is or how responsive you are.
  6. Engagement – People persistently underestimate how important emotional engagement is to the creation of bonds between people. It is one of the three most significant things available for you to contribute to support the building of rapport and connection with another person. Sharing enthusiasm, celebrating, commiserating or empathizing, actively and authentically, are forms of emotional engagement that are compelling and often catalyze connections between people.
  7. Pricing – Pricing is tricky. I do not advocate for racing to the lowest price as a means of distinguishing oneself, but there is no doubt that price is a necessary component of any value assessment. To put a fine point on it, the benefit given must exceed the price paid for there to be a perception of a value surplus in the mind of your contact and for you to successfully navigate this vector. However, rather than assuming that reducing the price is the only way to create the balance that you are looking for, think instead about what has value to your contact and increase how much of that you are contributing so that it is commensurate with and appropriate to the price you are charging.

Focusing on these vectors can work even if your contact already has legal counsel. There are many, many examples of lawyers unseating an incumbent lawyer or law firm when they were firing on all of these bases and the incumbent was not.


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