- Legal Futures - https://www.legalfutures.co.uk -

The legal salesforce

Everyone in a law firm should be involved in sales and business development, says Kate Fleming of HuthwaiteFleming, and she explains how those who see themselves solely as service providers can help create value for clients


Fleming: sales/service is not a binary state

For law firms, as with other service-driven organisations, sales skills arguably touch more aspects of the business than any other skill-set. They have the greatest potential to impact a firm’s commercial performance – both positively and negatively. The bottom line is that without sales – more commonly defined as ‘business development’ within most legal practices – there is no business.

Sales belongs at the heart of the firm as a commercial philosophy, not siloed as a department. Whilst selling usually remains the domain of partners and the firm’s business development team, every member of staff has to appreciate the impact their own behaviour can have on the practice’s bottom line.

Positive behaviours have to be learned, retained and applied at every level – from the way incoming calls are handled, through to accounting and even the post room. This is more than simply good client service or delivering added value. It is about establishing real differentiation, by creating value – giving clients what they haven’t asked for – as a result of understanding and anticipating their needs.

This may require a fundamental culture shift for many firms, which will need to change behaviours to change results. Yet it is no longer just an optional ‘nice to have’; if you don’t do it, your competitors will.

Client touch points

So what happens in tough times when, because of economic uncertainty or lack of liquidity, clients simply stop seeing people who are trying to “sell” to them at all? If those directly responsible for developing business for the firm do not have the opportunity to create value, the answer must be your “service personnel”.

Almost every selling organisation has some group of external-facing people who do not have a direct sales responsibility and, in most cases, they will employ more of these “service” people than sellers. And these may well have the most regular and frequent access to your clients.

In addition, it is important to remember that it is not only senior managers or procurement professionals who influence buying decisions in a client organisation. Indeed, when every pound spent is being scrutinised, it is your day-to-day contacts – the clients your service people meet – who are the real judges of your quality. They are best placed to assess the value you create and are also the real key influencers when it comes to buying.

However, opportunity is only one of the things needed to create value. Whilst service may have opportunities in abundance, they may lack the other necessary attributes. So what are these other things your service people need?

Recognition, willingness, capability

Many service people, quite reasonably, see their role as simply that – service. They deliver the services wanted by the client, be it giving legal advice, issuing invoices or drafting documents, to a pre-agreed level. They deliver value in this way but see creating additional value as the responsibility of the partners or business development team.

So step one is getting support staff to accept they have a role in creating value and to develop an understanding of the role that service plays. Step two is to create a willingness within the service population to become more sales-orientated. And step three is to equip the service population with the skills and tactics it needs to have a positive sales impact.

So are we advocating that you turn your service people into sellers or business developers? Not at all. The reason many service people work in service is precisely because they enjoy client contact but do not want to sell. They have often made a conscious decision not to move into a business development role and are completely happy with that choice, so the chances of turning your service people into sellers is virtually nil.

Fortunately however, sales/service is not a binary state. You do not have to be one or the other, as there are shades of grey – what we call the service/sales continuum. As service operations progress along this continuum, they create more value for both client and seller.

The key is that each organisation – and, if necessary, each individual – can progress as far as their capabilities and willingness allow. Service does move closer to sales, but only as far as each person is both comfortable and willing to go.

Towards ‘sales through service’

So what are the stages along this continuum?

It becomes for you a collaborative and joined-up effort to create real client and sales value: for your clients it becomes a genuinely seamless, ‘one firm’ experience across each touch point.

Kate Fleming is a director of HuthwaiteFleming [2], which specialises in business development training for the legal profession