I talked a bit about sales in my last post on what it takes to create a successful law firm. Making sales is a necessary component to running a law firm. Without closing the deal and taking on new clients, you quickly deplete your law firm of cash. And without cash, you won’t be in business very long.
Why do lawyers (and most small business owners, in general) hate sales so much? From talking with numerous clients – and in my own experience – a lot of it comes down to perceptions of what “sales” is and a fear of rejection.
What is “sales”?
To most people, sales is about presenting yourself in the best light possible – or saying that one “right” thing – so that your prospects will want to hire you. This makes sales sound extremely shady and unethical. And with decades of experience trying to buy cars or getting sucked into buying stuff we didn’t want or need from high pressure telemarketers or door-to-door salesmen, it’s not surprising that most people think of sales as distasteful or unprofessional or even sleazy.
In reality, the hard close – or the philosophy “always be closing” – rarely works anymore. People have so many choices and they don’t want to feel pressured into buying something they don’t want or need. They can always go with someone else.
On the other hand, people love shopping and buying things they “absolutely must have.” They want the positive experience that comes with making a purchase that will alleviate some pain they are experience or give bring them more joy. They want to buy a solution to their current problem so they can move on with their life.
Modern sales is about listening to what people really want, what problems they are currently having, and what pain they are currently experiencing. Once you know this, you can craft a solution to that problem that will help them.
As a recent article in Inc Magazine put it
“Instead of selling, I think of it as listening to the challenges that my customers face and providing them with a way to help them solve them.” – Are You Sales Phobic? March 2007
Why do we fear rejection?
As a service provider, what we offer is our knowledge an expertise – a part of us – so we’re attached to it. We believe strongly in it. When we’re rejected, it’s not just businss. We take it personally. Our prospect isn’t simply rejecting a third party product that we can detach ourselves of any emotional outcome. They’re rejecting us. They’re telling us that for whatever reason, we’re just not good enough to take on their project.
Of course, from our prospect’s perspective, it’s not personal. It’s simply that there wasn’t a good fit, or we didn’t have that emotional bond that a competitor did, or our price was too high, or that it wasn’t a good time for the prospect to move forward.
Regardless of the reason, we take that baggage with us – as anxiety that our next prospect will be just like our last and won’t want our services. It builds. And eventually we want to avoid the rejection at all cost so we shy away from opportunities to promote ourselves.
In other words, it’s classic punishment theory. We try something. We are “punished” by our own negative reaction (feelings of failure) to not getting the client. We want to avoid the pain of feeling like a failure so we avoid the activities that cause them (sales).
The same Inc article mentioned above gives the following advice for overcoming this type of fear.
“In cognitive therapy, people identify negative thoughts – those they perceive as limiting their performance – and reframe them. So, for example, if the problem is fear that a sales call won’t result in a sale, the entrepreneur would learn to treat each individual call as an interesting exercise and ultimately to bolster his confidence in the next round. He would try to see any individual rejection as part of the routine: a discrete, inevitable setback that can improve the chances of ultimate triumph.” – Are You Sales Phobic? March 2007
I tend to frame things slightly differently. Now, I see each conversation I have with a prospect as a way to better understand the current problems of my target audience. Each conversation offers a bit of market research that helps me provide better service to my current clients – because if one person is experiencing a certain problem, there’s a good chance that many others out there are also experiencing the same thing.