Most attorneys I know have a pretty healthy opinion of their ability to close the sale at the initial consultation. Yet they are always looking for ways to improve their conversion rate — which tells me that maybe they’re not as confident as they appear.
If you’ve gone to the trouble and expense to get prospects in your door, you naturally want to close as many as possible at or immediately after the initial consultation. Here are some techniques we have taught our clients:
Step 1: Create the right environment.
The impression you want to give is one of professionalism, courtesy and comfort. Your front office and the conference space where you meet prospects will form their first impressions of you and your competency. If you have a conference room, then it should be staged for consultations. Create the environment that best reflects how you want prospects to feel about you. Put a sign on the door welcoming them, using their name or their company name if your firm focuses on business law. Keep it meticulously clean – no clutter! Set up a Keurig machine with a wide variety of choices for them to choose from and a mini-fridge with soft drinks and water.
Step 2: Make the right greeting.
Make sure prospects are greeted immediately by name. Establish a five-minute wait rule for all attorneys and paralegals – no prospect or client waits more than five minutes for an appointment (unless they show up really early). Greet them with a warm hello and a handshake and eye contact. Make them feel that you are truly glad to see them.
Step 3: Never have them fill out forms.
No one enjoys filling out forms. We’ve all been to the doctors and been given a wad of papers to fill out before the doctor will see us. It’s very off-putting. Never have prospects fill out forms at your office (unless it’s only one or two pages long) and never send them a detailed questionnaire ahead of time. Instead, have them meet with an intake specialist who is trained to establish rapport, ask qualifying questions, position the attorney or the firm as the best place to get their problem solved, share a few success stories or testimonials with the prospect, and set up the attorney for a quick win. The intake specialist can also fill out the necessary information to give to the attorney when they meet with them. While this technique may not work for a few practice areas (intellectual property and commercial litigation), the vast majority of consumer law firms could easily benefit from this kind of set-up.
Step 4: Provide a road map.
After you’re seated and they have been given a refreshment, briefly explain to them how the consultation works: “Let’s talk first about what brought you here today and then we can discuss how we’ll be able to help you solve your problem. I’m here to answer your questions, so please don’t hesitate to ask and be sure to let me know if you need clarification on any issues.” Remember, even though you do this every day, for most people this is the first attorney they’ve ever hired. Make it easy on them by providing some structure.
Step 5: Ask clarifying questions to control the conversation.
Be sure you listen more than you talk during the initial consult. Far too many attorneys try to talk their way into a new client. That’s a rookie mistake. You “listen your way” into a new client. They are coming to you with a serious problem that is rocking their world and they want a sympathetic ear more than anything else. Don’t jump in too early with your advice or thoughts – let them talk everything out first. If possible, don’t give any legal advice during the consult. Why? Because you don’t know the whole story. Clients never tell you the whole story until sometime down the road. Don’t be too quick to jump on a solution.
Some clients talk too much. Use clarifying questions to control the conversation (“So what you’re saying is … ” “Let me make sure I understand, you said … did I get that right?”). Don’t focus too much on taking notes. If they hire you, they’ll be happy to repeat anything you need to know. Give them lots of eye contact and make the appropriate comments that demonstrate empathy along the way. It may seem contrived at first, but trust me, it is important to the client that you can empathize with them. Remember, most buying decisions are made emotionally, then justified rationally. Not the other way around. Connect emotionally with prospects and more of them will hire you.
Step 6: Tell them only what they need to know.
One of the biggest reasons attorneys don’t convert more prospects into paying clients is because they over-educate them. Do not be overly concerned about educating prospects all at once about the process used to solve their specific problem. Just tell them the basics of what they need to know right now. Instead, focus on building a relationship with them and asking the questions you need to qualify them as a good client.
Step 7: Ask for the business.
Once you have identified a good case, never let them walk out the door without directly asking them to sign up at least twice – on the spot! Ask them closing questions like, do you have any other questions I haven’t answered today that would keep you from signing up? If they say yes, answer the question and then ask them if there’s anything else. Always bring in a retainer agreement ready to go. Make the sign-up process easy. “So all I need to move forward is for you to sign these three forms and then we can get started right away.” Assume they want to sign up. Never tell them to go home and think about it! If they agree to hire you on the spot, then stay with them through your client intake process. Don’t just leave them in the room – or worse, put them back in the lobby – with a bunch of paperwork where they can get distracted. If they say they have to think about it, then be sure to set a firm day and time for a follow-up call or visit when they will decide. Be sure to walk them out, shake their hand, and let them know you would be honored to represent them and your team is ready to get started as soon as possible.
Step 8: Follow up.
If they do not sign up at the consultation, send them an immediate email and have a staff member call them the next day to see if they have any questions you didn’t have a chance to answer during the consult. Keep following up with a series of emails and phone calls that gently remind them you care and that you are ready to move forward with solving their problem.
If you take these specific steps to properly structure your initial consultation, you will find yourself with a lot more new clients than you ever expected.