For Lawyers Today, “What’s the Difference Between Sales and Business Development?”

Most people hate the word, “sales.”

This word has justly taken its share of lumps over the past hundred years as soapbox salesmen and carpetbaggers made profits off of uneducated patsies. It’s really no wonder why we dislike salespeople and why the thought of selling someone something leaves a vile taste in our mouths. You may see legal business development in the same category as sales at this moment, but they are indeed different.

When comparing the differences between sales and business development, we must first look at the definition of sales. Selling is defined as the act of providing a product or service in exchange for money. For some reason this implies that we are attempting to convince someone to buy what we are selling. In the traditional model of selling a presentation is made to excite and motivate a buyer into making a purchase. You may have heard the term, “impulse buying”. The majority of sales professionals and, yes, even attorneys follow a similar path with their buyers. You may call it a “pitch” meeting, which is typically a presentation of your value, where you may provide possible solutions to a buyer’s legal issues. This happens soon after meeting a new prospective client as you attempt to demonstrate your verbal and legal prowess.

In teaching legal business development, I have found that the model for “selling” must change to include little actual presenting. There is a key difference in the traditional model of sales and what I call, “Sales-Free Selling”. In my approach, we must NOT present solutions until we clearly understand the prospective client’s needs, wants and pain points. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, which is why most attorneys fall back on “just making a pitch.”

How can you more effectively approach a potential client?

In today’s competitive market, making pitches too early can lead to providing free advice without ever obtaining the new client. I use the medical analogy, “prescription before diagnosis is malpractice,” to help emphasize the importance of holding back on your pitch. You will want to hold back until you better understand the prospect’s motivation for changing his existing situation.

A more challenging but effective approach is to invest time questioning the buyer. Be prepared to ask 30-40 minutes of questions to ensure that every issue, need or pain point is uncovered. Start slow with some basic background questions to better understand their business dynamics. Then, lead into asking, “What are your challenges, frustrations or concerns related to the legal side of your business?” This question can be altered as you see fit, but the point is to ask about their issues to better understand how you might be able to help solve them. Once you have a few issues on the table, keep digging to find what the prospect’s costs and impacts may be related to these issues. This will help everyone at the table to move forward together to solve the problems. As you might already know, asking questions is the single best way to understand someone’s needs.

When I think about sales in a traditional sense, I do feel my skin crawl a little.

My wife will tell you that I despise being sold to more than anyone. The beauty of legal business development is that you don’t have to “sell” anyone anymore.

Just focus on questioning your prospective client and you’ll understand why they should “buy” from you.

The best part about questioning and listening is how you will make the buyer feel. Not only will he like and trust you, he will feel confident that YOU are the right person to help him with his legal needs. So, forget feeling “salesy” and focus on walking a buyer through a buying decision.

There’s no better or noble thing one can do than to solve problems for others.