The practice of law is almost always stressful, but current conditions make this period and the near future more anxiety-producing than ever. Law firms are balancing the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty and ongoing pressure to bring in new business. This has led some to follow the lead of other professional services and create dedicated teams of sales professionals to help lighten the load. Should you join their ranks?
Related Read: Law Firm Planning in the Midst of a Pandemic
Pitching sales teams
The old guards at some firms have long resisted the idea of using non-attorney salespeople to generate business. But even those who have traditionally opposed the notion may welcome shifting the burden when they realize their firm can enjoy greater revenues while attorneys focus on core competencies. Reducing the expectations for business development lets attorneys be evaluated primarily on their legal performance and contributions — the reasons they entered the profession in the first place.
Sales professionals know how to make attorneys look good. They can coach attorneys and work with them on preparing for and making pitches. But they can — and should — do much more. While attorneys drive the substantive conversation in pitch meetings, the sales pro can drive the sales process and ensure that the deal is formally closed.
Moreover, clients generally appreciate having someone who can quickly put them in touch with the right attorney when new matters arise, so that they get the best person for their particular projects, rather than the attorneys who are the best at marketing themselves. Sales professionals often know the firm and its breadth of services better than individual attorneys who are used to working within their practice areas. They are armed to do the cross-selling that many attorneys feel uncomfortable pursuing.
However, bear in mind that these perks do not come cheap. Qualified sales professionals typically are paid a base salary, plus a bonus based on revenue. You should expect to pay six figures, and depending on the size and structure of your firm, a sales professional could make as much as some partners.
Hiring the right people
Look for someone who has previously met revenue expectations and has experience and contacts in your firm’s target markets. You also need someone collaborative, who can work with attorneys as well as marketing, finance and client relations staff.
Once you hire someone, you must institute an appropriate reporting hierarchy. Sales professionals should not report to the head of marketing: Marketing supports sales. A sales professional will interact extensively with partners and clients and should report to the managing partner or another high-level partner.
Finally, be patient. No matter how talented a sales professional is, he or she will need time to develop the necessary understanding of your firm and its clients in order to transfer or develop relationships in your firm’s target market. It can take six months to a year for a sales professional to get fully up to speed and for you to see a marked improvement in quarterly sales reports. The payoff, however, can prove more than worth it.
Laying the foundation
If your firm opts to bring on a sales professional, you should anticipate objections from some of your attorneys. If this is the case, it is critical that those at the top make the case to the entire firm and clearly demonstrate their support for the endeavor before the person comes on board.
For more information, contact Tom Pierce at [email protected] or 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about Law Firms and Lawyers Group.