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Question: how many lawyers does it take to make a sale?

Answer: none, because lawyers don’t ‘make sales’, they ‘do business development’.

So, having got the joke/observation/objection/grumble out of the way, for the purposes of this article let’s deal in plain English. For any business to survive it needs to make sales, whether that be of goods or services, and this includes law firms and chambers. Doing the job effectively requires an understanding of certain simple but important concepts, such as the difference between a sales lead and a prospect.

A problem lies in these terms’ often being used interchangeably, trotted out with the assumption that everyone can make sense of them. Actually they are related but they refer to different stages in a process. Leads come first. You start with a lead, you then convert that lead into a prospect and, if you make it to the fabled third stage, you convert the prospect into being a customer or, in legal terms, a client.

A lead is just someone of whom you are aware and who may be interested in what you offer. Your BD/marketing team may have found them, or they may have shown up via a different route. You may not know how interested they are, or whether they are interested right now, and whilst you may be lucky and know a good deal about them in many cases you will have no more than a name and an email address. A classic example is someone who has visited your website, perhaps after downloading a white paper, and has entered some basic contact details.

So, you have the contact details of a person who has shown some vague interest in your business but you know very little more than that. How are you going to convert this ‘lead’ into a ‘prospect’? Usually this happens through engaging the lead in some more meaningful interaction with you. This may be as simple as their responding to a targeted email, but the point is that on some level you are now in a dialogue rather than just knowing that someone out there has shown a vague interest with the click of a mouse. This is your opportunity to find out more about them and, with luck, to identify a need that they have for your services.

By now it should be becoming clear that leads and prospects should not be confused because very different types of marketing will be needed for each. Not all leads are convertible. If the lead has no need of the service you offer, or similarly if you are looking for specific types of client and the lead does not match your criteria, there is nothing to be gained by wasting time pursuing them.

A lead rarely converts into a prospect like flicking a switch. Usually the conversion process will be more gradual, and you will need to make a careful judgement of the appropriate level of persistence to apply. Leads with great potential may be all too easily lost if they simply get annoyed with you for pestering them, and occasionally you may just have to accept that you misjudged it and move on. But asking yourself what they know of you, what you know of them, how much interest they have really shown and, importantly, whether they can afford your service, will help to avoid the pitfalls most of the time.

The point to remember is that where leads are concerned your aim should be to achieve a dialogue whereby you can test their potential and they yours. For prospects your aim will be to move this dialogue on and to convert them into being clients.

Where marketing is concerned leads, prospects and clients must be differentiated clearly. One person may be all of these at the various stages in the process, but at each stage the marketing challenge and message changes. By the gentle art of making someone see how much they need precisely what you offer you move towards that sought after point of making a sale, and yes, that even includes lawyers.

For plain English, practical help with business development, client care and even sales in your law firm or chambers, please get in touch.