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January 25, 2008

Do You Know What Questions to Ask Prospective Clients? Do You Know How to Listen To Their Answers?

Do you REALLY know what questions to ask prospective clients (PC) or current clients?  And do you really know how to LISTEN to what is being said?

You may have copied an intake list from a former employer or a client satisfaction survey from another successful attorney and maybe modified it for the size of your firm or practice area.  You may even remember hearing a term from your law school days called 'client-centered approach' but not really sure what it means.  Or worse, intellectually understand what it means but have no practical experience with it so you flounder during the initial consultation losing business but not understanding why.

Jim Hassett, author or LegalBizBlog and consultant to large and mid-sized firms, in two very popular posts back in June, 2007, gave us 34 questions to ask prospective clients and 24 more questions to ask current clients.  In these posts Jim focuses not just on the questions, but the process of implementation which includes a significant amount of listening, something lawyers are notorious for not doing.  He says experts suggest you should listen 50% of the time.  These experts are wrong. (Read Jim's follow-up post on Listening.)

In order to build effective relationships you need to listen and actually hear what another is saying in order to respond appropriately. When experts suggest a fifty/fifty conversation in the context of the initial consultation they are implying a balanced conversation where both the attorney and PC participate equally.  Mmmmm.  No. Consider the following:

(excerpts from Listeningwell.com)

In your professional life, you cannot possess a more important skill than listening. It’s the best-kept secret in the business world.  The cost to the corporate world for being so asleep to this principle— is enormous! 

Did you know that— in the business world:

1. Listening is the most critical element in the sales process — more critical than talking.

2. The best salespeople are typically the best listeners.

3. Millions of deals are lost every week due to the salespeople’s poor listening habits.

4. Most business people operate the majority of the time in Level One listening — by far the least effective level.

5. The quality of your business life is largely dependant upon how well you listen.  Listening helps determine the success— and future— of every person in business!

In the course of a reasonable and effective initial consultation a good lawyer will be doing most of the listening asking mostly open-ended questions and periodically asking for specifics during the narrative for clarification on points that are key to deciding whether or not she wants to take the case.  The only time there will be much talking on the part of the lawyer is when she is answering specific questions posed by the PC, explaining the law as it may or may not apply to the PC's case or detailing representation. 

Studies show that GREAT salespeople only speak about 25 % to 30% of the time. Their customers speak about 70 to 75 %.  And when you are initially probing to discover the customer’s needs, the listening-talking ratio should be 80% the customer and 20% the salesperson.  It helps to think of listening, rather than talking, as the entry point into the sales process.

Yet, many salespeople have grown insensitive to how much they’re talking.  In presenting products to their clients, millions of salespeople are over talking by 20 to 50%-- to even 100% or more— day after day after day. And if that’s the case, you can be sure it’s affecting the salespersons monthly income---perhaps significantly—not to mention how much it’s costing their company.   Your customers are perceptive. If you’re talking too much-- and not listening well, they will sense it.  And although they may never mention it to you, they will quietly make up their mind— to not do business with you anymore.

It really is the PC's show. Remember the only way you will learn whether or not this is a client and/or matter you wish to take on is if you LISTEN.  And the only way the client will decide if they want to give you their legal matter is if you LISTEN.  This concept holds true when canvassing clients upon completion of your legal work for them.  LISTEN effectively in order to cultivate this proven valuable asset, the existing client.

Links of Interest: Be A Brilliant Salesperson To Be A Successful Lawyer

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