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Sales and marketing for lawyers

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Part 1 of this series on Lawyer Personality and Profits gave an overview of the results from the various psychological studies that have been conducted on law firm lawyers and how they compare to the general population. In Part 2 we will consider what aspects of the classic lawyer personality correlate to successful rainmaker traits.

Sales professionals (according to Caliper) possess high self-esteem, are impatient, assertive, creative, effective risk takers, and sociable. Here are the Caliper definitions for these select traits:

1. Resilience is the characteristic of healthy self-esteem that allows someone to bounce back after a setback or rejection. Since lawyers often hear “no” and rarely “yes” in the client acquisition process a strong self-concept is essential to success.
2. Urgency is the characteristic to push to get things done now rather than later. This is essential in the selling process because time kills deals. The longer a process is the more likely a new variable will emerge causing the business to flow in a different direction.
3. Ego Drive/Persuasion is the characteristic to always need to win others over to our way of seeing things. It speaks to an inner competitiveness to persuade and influence. Like Alec Baldwin’s character in Glenngarry Glen Ross, the ego driven person is practicing his ABCs: Always Be Closing! A true ego drive personality enjoys playing the devil’s advocate, as it is more important to win the argument than to advance a particular point of view.
4. Assertiveness speaks to the ability to express an unpopular point of view in a strong and confident way. Salespersons are often told in a direct and confrontational way that their goods and services are unneeded. Sales pros have the ability to maintain composure and not wilt under pressure. They possess the inner strength to make their case, and never to acquiesce to the temptation to agree to the prospect’s point of view. Oftentimes it is the person with the stronger frame of reference that will ultimately decide who wins the business or not.
5. Risk Taking is the attribute of knowing how to take well-calculated risks, where the upside is good and the downside is minimal, or at least where the odds are good. This attribute also speaks to one’s ability to try new approaches and discard old ones that have faded in effectiveness. Early adaptors, or those who are willing to try new technologies and methods, are an example of those who have a healthy risk taking profile.
6. Sociability is the preference to enjoy making new friends, and spending time with others on a one-on-one basis. Since rainmaking is about relationships sociability is a very helpful attribute.
7. Abstract Reasoning/Creativity is the ability to form theories about the nature of things, and is required to provide thought-based solutions to complex problems. Since selling is about finding innovative solutions to complex problems, those who demonstrate a high level of abstract reasoning will be more inclined to win the business. Creativity speaks to those areas outside of Abstract Reasoning such as the ability to take a fresh perspective on a sticky problem, develop new ideas, and use other capabilities such as intuition in finding new solutions.
8. Skepticism is a surprising quality top sales producers possess insofar as they are suspicious and do not easily trust. This keeps the rainmaker engaged throughout the entire sales process, and alert to any dangers that may emerge. Suspicious of the motives of others; a healthy dose of skepticism goes hand in hand with good judgment.
9. Empathy is the ability to predict the reaction of another person’s emotional response to a situation without necessarily agreeing with their point of view. Highly empathic persons are able to gauge the other person and tailor their approach consistent with the client’s preferences.

Lawyers typically posses the following traits consistent with top producing salespersons: Urgency, Persuasion, Abstract Reasoning/Creativity, and Skepticism. In some cases lawyers are also Resilient, Assertive, and Empathetic. Natural rainmakers will possess these characteristics in the right proportions. What is not clearly understood in law firms (but is a well know fact in professional sales circles) is that certain persons, who have not been blessed with the perfect combination of traits, are nonetheless successful when they cultivate their strengths and ameliorate their weaknesses.

Since humans are humans, and not bred like Golden Retrievers, they rarely have every single characteristic in the right proportion. But if they have one or two dominant rainmaker traits, and find a way to compensate in areas where they are less gifted, a formula can be developed for success in the client acquisition process. If a rainmaker wannabe were strongly Urgent and Persuasive and was careful to proceed cautiously with the feelings of others, combined with good sales metrics –this could be a winning combination for success in rainmaking. There are many possible successful combinations because selling is a human activity, and therefore many possibilities exist for success. The real issue is whether we are willing take on our weaknesses, and install a consistent discipline to keep them in check.

For example, one sticking point for many lawyers is a low score on the Sociability scale, or the desire for interpersonal contact with a wide variety of persons including strangers. Since this trait is highly correlated with success in rainmaking it is incumbent on the lawyer if he or she is determined for rainmaking success, to address this issue. Here is my One Minute Solution for Sociability success:

1. No negative self talk such as “I don’t like meeting strangers” or “I hate small talk” or “I’m no good in social situations” if you say such negative things about yourself you are guaranteed of self-fulfilled prophecy. Start speaking and thinking about yourself in a more positive way. “I am really improving my social skills, and networking is starting to be a lot more fun for me.”
2. Track your numbers such as number of business cards collected, new contacts on LinkedIn, number of strangers with whom you initiated any sort of conversation, etc. Selling is essentially a math game like baseball so you need to have adequate numbers to have any chance of success. Natural rainmakers are constantly making conversation with others and if you imitate this behavior you will get good results.
3. Improve your social skills by paying attention to the reactions of others. Watch their faces and overall body language and look for good reactions. Stop doing the things that piss people off, and do the things that make them feel good about themselves. Read books on this subject. Get a wingman with superb social skills to help coach you.

Let’s keep in mind that few successful rainmakers possess the perfect combination of personality traits necessary for big success in client development. In my experience many successful rainmakers have two or three of the important traits, and possess the determination to succeed. These studied, dogged pluggers are often able to outperform the naturally gifted who lack a consistent work ethic. Keep in mind Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

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A recent study conducted by the Hogan Assessment Project on Lawyer Personality, and published by Hildebrandt scientifically confirms what we already knew about the classic lawyer personality. Based on a sample of 1800 big firm lawyers tested, it found that lawyers compared to other business personalities tend to be more cautious, skeptical, reserved, academic, task focused, and prestige oriented. It also found that lawyers test as average with respect to the need for power and control, interpersonal interaction, and structured problem solving. The study additionally found that lawyers have a below average appetite for tradition, personal recognition (with certain notable exceptions), and commercial self-interest.

These findings confirm other studies such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Martin Seligman who found the quality of pessimism is highly correlated with both successful attorneys and law students with high GPAs. The Calper Personality Profile, in use for 40 years with over 1 million business professionals tested, finds that lawyers test as highly intelligent, skeptical, autonomous, and impatient. The Calper results also confirm that this group tests low for resilience (ability to recover from setbacks), and sociability (need for human interaction).

While these qualities are excellent for things like providing adult supervision to real estate developers and commodity traders, they work against the lawyer with respect to building a unique clientele. I strongly believe that there is far more to the story than simple genetics. With determination, dedication, and discipline we can achieve things that are not obvious to our personality profile. Our mind working in concert with our will can overcome our natural tendencies enough to allow success in proportion to our effort.

Here is the prescription to establish the correct psychological framework that will allow the sales avoidant personality to function on a professional basis:

Step one is to gain an accurate view of oneself. Establishing a proper baseline understanding of our personality profile is essential if we are to know what will need correcting. If necessary we might even wish to sit for one of these profiling exams to help us gain this insight.

Step two is to bracket the anti-sales tendencies we have identified that are holding us back in this important aspect of our careers. While these tendencies perhaps have made us excellent in our work in deals or litigation, they are working against us in pursuit of our proper commercial interests.

Step three is to establish some challenging but achievable metrics that we hit without fail on a daily basis. Having written goals that we refer to on a regular basis can help to keep us on track. The other important factor is making sure the activities we are engaged in are effective. Each discrete activity completed forges a link in the chain of events leading to the collection of a bill for services rendered.

Here is a list of attitudes to watch out for:
• Do I dislike salespersons, and their interruptions? Do I treat them rudely? If so this may be an attitude worthy of reform because harboring such feelings may undermine my own ability to see marketing activities as legitimate and self-respecting.
• Do I have a LinkedIn account with at least 100 contacts? Do I have a Facebook page? Is Twitter for twits? If I am adverse to social media it may stem from an irrationally cautious nature. Resistance to social media can put me at a serious disadvantage when it comes to helping me sell professional services. Going against the instincts that are undermining our rainmaking success is required to turn our career around. Force yourself to do it, smile and enjoy, and I promise you that the sky will not fall down.
• Is small talk with strangers a problem? Am I resistant to breaking the ice when opportunities present themselves at any time? Retraining myself to be more gregarious while standing in line at the opera, or at a cocktail during a professional conference can yield big dividends.
• How much time do I actually spend on marketing activities? Do I make it a priority? Is it something I am willing to get out of bed early for? If I really want to have a $2 million book of business it may pay to arrive to the office a couple of hours earlier than normal. With so much riding on this career wise isn’t it worth it?

In summary once we identify our relative strengths and weaknesses in terms of selling the next step is to develop and implement a plan of action of high value activities. When we engage in these activities repeatedly in an organized fashion, with some heart, good results will follow.

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