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Hot Prospects Turn Cold, Build Defenses When You Look Like A Salesperson: Here's A Checklist Of Do's And Don'ts

by Trey Ryder

If you talk or act like a salesperson, you immediately trigger your prospect's sales defenses, which he uses to keep you at a distance. This puts you at a serious disadvantage because it causes your prospect not to trust you. And it may erase your opportunity to ever win that prospect as a new client.

One fundamental difference between education-based marketing and selling-based marketing is the issue of control. Selling-based marketing tries to wrest control away from the prospect. Then, through key questions, the salesperson dominates and manipulates the prospect until the prospect makes the desired commitment.

Education-based marketing does the opposite. It gives up any attempt to control the prospect. Instead, you help your prospect understand his problem through education and solve his problem through services. You always make sure your prospect knows that the decision to hire you is his -- and that he is always in control. Education-based marketing treats prospects the way you and I like to be treated, with dignity and respect.

Follow this checklist of Do's and Don'ts so you won't be perceived as a salesperson.

DON'T #1: Don't cold call prospects over the telephone. This is a dead giveaway that you are a salesperson. What do you think of people who solicit you over the phone? The fact that you're a lawyer doesn't make you any less of a telephone solicitor if you cold call prospects.

DO: Design your marketing program so you clearly identify genuine prospects and get them to call you. You do this by creating an educational message that educates prospects about their problems and the solutions you can provide. You deliver your marketing information to prospects through any number of methods, including advertising, media publicity, seminars, newsletters, web sites, cassette tapes -- whatever ways your prospects find comfortable and convenient. You have many effective and powerful ways to get information into your prospects' hands.

DON'T #2: Don't hand a new prospect your business card unless he asks for one. The cross-over technique of shaking hands with your right hand and delivering a business card with your left hand is a sure sign that you are a salesperson. From that moment on, your prospect knows that everything you say is part of your sales pitch, designed to get him to do something he probably doesn't want to do.

DO: If, during your conversation, your prospect doesn't request your card, you can always ask if he would like one. (This leaves the decision to accept your card under your prospect's control.) But never hand your card to a prospect unsolicited. Wait until he asks, or until he has given his permission in response to your offer to provide one.

DON'T #3: Don't insist on an in-person meeting before you divulge any information. The good ol' "let's get together so we can discuss your needs" tells your prospect a sales pitch is imminent. The needs approach is used so often that prospects know you learned it in sales school. When you withhold information and insist on a meeting, your prospect recalls the last time he had this experience with his life insurance agent, real estate broker, or someone else who insisted on meeting face to face. As a result, when you make this offer, you arouse your prospect's suspicion. This causes him to fortify his defenses and look for an excuse to cancel the meeting.

DO: You should be ready and willing to provide information any time you are asked, whether over the phone or in person. You greatly increase your credibility when you are open and up front with information. In fact, you should offer your educational handouts so prospects know you have materials that could help them. When prospects realize that you're not trying to hide anything -- and not trying to control the flow of information -- they perceive you to be a level above other lawyers. And your prospect responds favorably because he can tell you are trying to help him.

DON'T #4: Don't avoid revealing your fees. How you respond to the fee question can really help you or hurt you. It's your choice. Prospects ask fee questions for two reasons: One, to find out what you charge. And two, to see whether you'll be up front with them, or whether you'll try to duck the issue.

Prospects know that vacuum cleaner salesmen (and most salespeople, for that matter) dance around the price and won't reveal it until they reach a certain point near the end of their sales pitch. Your prospect concludes the more you dance around your hourly rate, the higher it will be. Plus it proves to him that, at least in this instance, you have not been forthcoming in answering his questions.

DO: Your prospect wants you to answer his question with a number. So give him your typical hourly rate. This satisfies your prospect's immediate need to hear you put some number in the blank. Then reassure him that you will give him a fee estimate, range or quote as soon as you learn more about the services he needs. This makes a positive impression twice, once when you disclose your hourly rate, and a second time when you tell him you'll provide a better answer when you learn more.

DON'T #5: Don't ask questions designed to trap your prospect. In one of his books, Zig Ziglar teaches the 3-question close. I suppose Ziglar would describe it delicately something like this: By asking just three simple questions you are able to show your prospect how much he will benefit from buying your product or service.

As someone who is tired of salespeople and phone solicitors, I hear it more in a carnival barker's voice: "Yes, my friend, you heard right. In just 30 seconds, by asking three simple questions, you can turn an innocent conversation into a steel-jawed trap that nails your prospect to the wall so he has nowhere to go and nothing to do but sign your contract."

What is the result of using this method? To start, you trapped your prospect, so you immediately jump to the top of the list of people he doesn't trust. Do I have to go further? Do you like it when someone does this to you? Of course not.

DO: A persuasive marketing presentation offers all the facts and all the ways your prospect benefits from hiring you. Then it emphasizes that you will do whatever it takes to make sure your prospect has the information he needs to make an informed decision. You add urgency to the message by pointing out what your prospect risks by waiting and how bad those consequences could become. But you always make it clear to your prospect that the decision is his and his alone -- and that you're there to provide information, answer questions, and help him make the best decision, to whatever degree he wants your help.

DON'T #6: Don't sell services from a trade show booth. Lawyers already have enough problems with their image. The last thing you need is to look like the guy hawking his vegetable slicer/dicer/cuber/chopper/corer/shredder/peeler. And even if you don't perceive a trade show that way -- even if you rationalize your way out of this comparison -- remember that your perception doesn't count. The only perception that matters belongs to your prospect. And when your prospect sees you standing in a trade show booth, he immediately assumes you are there because you have something to sell. That's exactly the appearance you want to avoid.

DO: Trade shows often work because they provide the opportunity for you and your prospects to interact, which is the essential marketing step most lawyers overlook. Fortunately, you can design interaction into your marketing program in better and more dignified ways: For example, you can interact with prospects over the telephone, in person, at seminars, during lunch, even on the golf course.

In most cases, when you act and sound like a salesperson, your prospects treat you like a salesperson. They avoid you. They don't trust you. They don't even want to talk with you. This is why I urge lawyers to avoid selling-based marketing.

To increase your prospect's trust, respect and confidence, stay in the education mode because education-based marketing is the key to attracting new clients with dignity.

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