How to make conference attendance worthwhile

This is a longer article than usual, but if you’d like a step-by-step outline on how to get value from attending meetings and conferences, it’s worth your time to read.  (1741 words, about five minutes to read)

Attending a conference can be of high value for business development, or it can be an expensive undertaking with disappointing results. Some of that is out of your control—if, for instance, conference attendance is surprisingly low for reasons neither you nor the planners could anticipate. However to a large degree, your actions and decisions control the value you’re likely to receive.

It’s tempting to wait until the last minute to decide whether to attend a meeting (especially if it’s local), but that will decrease your ability to create success. Decide as early as you can, and block the time off on your calendar. That allows you to spread out your advance activity, which increases the likelihood that you’ll complete it and also leaves room for serendipity.

For example, I recently put two meetings on my calendar. One, I will attend; the other, I likely won’t. Here are the steps I went through:

  1. Calendar the event. That’s obvious, but setting it on the calendar also let me get an idea of how far away they are and what I have going on in between, which allows me to watch for synchronicities and challenges in scheduling.
  2. Ask, what else I should schedule along with the event itself? For example, one of the events I calendared is the ABA Annual Meeting in NYC. Here’s what I thought through:
  • Should I plan to meet with anyone else while I’m in town? This is a good opportunity to visit clients and potential clients as well as various other contacts. Calendar the calls or emails to get those meetings set up.
  • Should I consider scheduling anything else during that trip? Might you have an opportunity to attend another meeting, to arrange a speaking engagement, to meet with colleagues in your firm’s local office, etc.?
  • Should I make sure to call anyone while I’m in town, even though there won’t be an opportunity to get together? Make that list now, not when you get to the conference.

3. Ask, can I make any contacts before the conference? If you know people who are likely to attend, reach out before the meeting to see whether in fact they’re planning to be there. That may be the logical next step to suggesting coffee or a meal together, or it could be a nice pre-conference connection to ease into conversation when you meet in person.

If you’re active on social media, consider sharing information about the conference online and asking if others are planning to attend. Some of your contacts might decide to join you, and strangers who have already made their plans may respond, leading to new connections. This is an especially nice tactic for introverts, because it increases the likelihood that you will know a few people before you get to the meeting, and online conversations can easily segue into face-to-face discussion. Be sure to use the appropriate hashtag for the conference, if one has been defined. Hashtags often appear in promotional materials, including the conference website and using them will help you to find other attendees.

4. Ask, who else needs to know about this conference, and how can I help spread the word? You can always share information about the meeting, though you may choose not to. The meetings that I calendared recently are offered by the ABA Section of Science and Technology, and since I’m an officer in that Section, I have both the responsibility and desire to share information about programs we host or sponsor. (Pro tip: even if you have no responsibility, if an organization with which you’re actively involved is hosting the event, share! It won’t hurt, and it might help both with attendance, which is always an issue, and with your own name recognition.)

Calendar whatever you will do to help, counting back from the date of the conference. Helping might include making phone calls or forwarding a copy of the program announcement to people who might like to attend, listing the conference in your own newsletter or blog, or contacting a local group that might want to share information about the conference with its members. Think about your help in two buckets: one-to-one invitations (conversation and emails) and group invitations (such as forwarding information to the contact for a group or sharing information on social media).

For example: the Second Annual  Internet of Things National Institute will be held in Washington, DC on May 10 and 11. Last year’s National Institute was a smashing success, and I’ve listed a number of people to invite individually to attend this year’s conference. As the time draws closer, I’ll share information about the National Institute and topics to be addressed on social media as well. I’ve also shared sponsorship information with several firms and businesses who might like to be visible to the attendees. (If you’re coming up blank with people to invite, note that many conferences have a “Who Should Attend?” section on the website or in the brochure that may help you. See, for example, the image on the right, from the 2016 National Institute.)

If you have a special connection to a sub-part of a meeting (for instance if a speaker is a valued contact), you can share that specific information. As the August ABA Annual Meeting approaches, for example, I will invite contacts who are interested in the law as it relates to technology and music to Unblurring the Lines: Navigating the Complex Relationship Between Technology, Music and Copyright Law and those interested in cyber-security to a program on that topic, to be followed by Cyber Security Scorecard for the 45th Presidency, which may also appeal to those especially interested in governmental aspects of cyber-security.

Planning this kind of outreach early is critical. It ensures that you have the relevant information ready to go and that you have the time to come up with the right people to invite. If you’re planning to share anything about the conference or subparts of it via social media, you’ll also create a buffer that gives you time to reach out to or connect with speakers on social media. Share information about a conference exclusively because you have the full expectation that it will be excellent. After all, why would you attend if that isn’t your expectation? When you do share information, especially about a specific presentation, you can tag the speaker—which allows your audience to find out more about him or her and may also let the speaker know that you’re telling others to attend, which could help you to make a useful connection.

Be sure to schedule your outreach on your calendar, so you hit the sweet spot of sharing information soon enough for people to attend or sponsor if they so choose, but late enough that they don’t delay in making a decision. Somewhere in the 4-6 weeks pre-event range is generally about right.

5. What follow-up should I plan, and what do I need to do in advance to be sure I can do this effectively? If there’s one single place where success is made or lost, it’s in the follow-up. Much of the follow-up activity you’ll do will depend on who you meet and what you discuss, but you can prepare for certain aspects.

  • Prepare any materials you might want to offer. You might want to prepare a well-formatted and branded copy of a few articles you’ve written that you expect to come up in conversation because they’re relevant to the meeting in some way. You might want to have a single-sheet description of your firm and/or practice. Or you might simply want to be sure that you have plenty of note paper for follow-up notes.
  • Calendar time to do the follow-up. That means that you need to know in advance what you’re going to do, perhaps including sending LinkedIn connection invitations to new contacts, adding new contact information to your database along with notes you made after meeting them, and sending the materials you promised. You may not know full details, but have a plan in mind. Block out time on your own calendar, or talk with an assistant in advance to plan deadlines for him or her to do the administrative part of this.
  • Set a reminder for the questions you won’t be able to answer until after the event, such as:
  1. Should I send thank-you notes to speakers or anyone else?
  2. Is there anyone who was planning to attend but didn’t make it, and should I follow up with him or her?
  3. Is there anyone who was there that I didn’t get to meet who would be a particularly good contact? How can I follow up with that person?
  4. What did I learn that would be of value to a client or other contact, and how can I best share that information?
  5. What did I learn that I could work into an article, a presentation, a newsletter, etc?

This process will complete the advance strategic planning for attending a conference, and it can take time to execute effectively. For example, if you’re hoping to add a speaking engagement to a trip to attend a conference, begin trying to arrange that at least six months in advance. Don’t give up hope if you don’t have that much time to plan, but creating the greatest opportunity for success means giving yourself that window or longer. Going through these five steps will take some time and doing the work that you identify as a result will take longer, so it’s important to give yourself as much lead time as you reasonably can.

Finally, remember to leave time close to the meeting for your tactical planning. That should include actions such as making plans for one-on-one or small group time with other attendees (even if you can’t identify them until you’re on-site), making a list of whom you want to meet by name or profile, and knowing how you want to introduce yourself.

The first and easiest step in conference attendance is deciding to attend the conference; the subsequent steps are the ones that will make that first step and the much more expensive step of actually attending worthwhile. And note that, although my suggestions in this article are directed to large conferences, you can and should use the same framework for attending even smaller, local meetings such as networking breakfasts and CLE programs. The time and intensity of effort will change, but the steps themselves are the same.

Don’t make assumptions.

I ran across this quote recently:

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So true, isn’t it? And yet, we all tend to make assumptions.

  • That client is thrilled with our engagement; this one isn’t.
  • That target client is represented and has no interest in moving; that one understands the legal situation that’s cropped up but can’t (or won’t) spend the money to resolve it.
  • That contact knows what kind of work I do and knows I’d like to get referrals.

What assumptions are you making that may affect your business development success? How can you test them?

 

What can law schools teach you now?

I recently paged through the Vanderbilt University alumni magazine and ran across a story titled Law 2.0: Vanderbilt Law School Innovates to Stay Ahead. The article provides a nice summary of the practice a law in the years leading up to the Great Recession, the shifts that the economic crisis created, and the efforts to adapt. Little of that, of course, is news at this late date, but several quotes jumped out at me:

  • “Some commentators call this the ‘new normal.’ I call it the ‘post-normal.’ We don’t know what the new normal is yet for law firms, but we know there’s no going back to how it was.” J.B. Ruhl, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Professor of Law at Vanderbilt
  • “The billable hours don’t indicate value at all. The firm that I hire really needs to help me reach a business result, and that business result is not 1,000 hours.” Julie Ortmeier, vice president, general counsel and secretary for Carfax
  • “Succeeding at a law firm today is more about forging an entrepreneurial, business-oriented path than simply executing good legal work.” Andy Bayman, partner at King & Spalding
  • Daniel Reed, CEO of UnitedLex, a global consulting and legal services firm that offers comprehensive technological solutions for law firms, corporations and law schools, believes the technological revolution in law is only just beginning. “If this is a baseball game,” he says, “we are probably still in the first inning of change.”

 

The article also describes the Program on Law and Innovation, Vanderbilt Law’s response to all of the changes in the legal profession, providing core training in e-discovery, legal project management, law and technology, and legal futurism. Although other programs are not discussed in this article, other schools are also working to identify the skills and new disciplines that law students need to master to be competitive. (See, for example, the regrettably defunct Law School Innovation blog, the Legal Tech & Innovation Concentration at Suffolk University Law School, and the Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice Seminar at Georgetown Law School.)

For those already in practice, so what? While I believe it’s too early to call these new topics and programs required, some programs seem to have been launched at least in part in response to the criticisms about the value of law school and the ease and profitability of entering the practice of law. It would not be surprising to find that new lawyers who have completed them have a leg up if only because taking part in these programs indicates an understanding of the importance of the business of law, which is now a key client focus. You need not adopt the new approaches fully, but failing to be aware of and fluent concerning them may in time mark you as a legal dinosaur—hardly a competitive advantage.

Tracking which topics and programs are successful also allows you to make a call about legal fads versus legal futures. When you see the basis for program initiation and the response, you have an opportunity to be an early adopter of the trends that will speak most directly to your clients.

And if you’re feeling off the hook because you don’t work in a large firm—not so fast; small firm practitioners may have a better opportunity to innovate simply because you usually have to cut through less red tape to implement new ideas.

Here’s the bottom line: you need not go back to law school to learn about today’s innovations, but you can’t afford to quit studying.

Two keys to biz dev perseverance and success.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of your business development sails? That can happen when you expect to land some new business and it doesn’t happen, when you hit a few closed doors in a row, or even when you lay out your business development plan and feel exhausted just looking at it. Nobody said building a book of business is easy or fast.

Here’s what makes it less frustrating: doing business development activity on a consistent basis and tracking what you do and your results. When you act consistently and build a track record to look back on, you’ll find it easier to keep on keeping on.

I’ve written extensively about the need for consistency. In talking with several clients recently who were slammed with billable work and leaving business development work on the back burner as a result, I suggested this:

  1. Determine, with all the clear-eyed realism you can muster, how much time you can make available for business development activity on a daily basis.
  2. Block that amount of time on your daily calendar.

  3. Categorize your task list based on the type of activity (contexts, to use Getting Things Done language) and on the amount of time necessary for completion.
  4. Work on one “chunk” of activity each day. If your tasks take less time than you have available, cross a couple of items off your list. If they take more time than you have available, define and complete one step toward the task.

You probably won’t keep your scheduled block every single day, but if the blocks are on your calendar, you have a much better chance of making consistent progress than if you only have one block of time set aside per week.

Tracking

I’ve also written about parallels between business development and going to the gym. Last month, I shifted from a small local gym to my neighborhood YMCA, and I discovered a new parallel: tracking matters!

My new gym features Fitlinxx®, small screens that show the proper settings for each machine and connect to an online program that tracks participants’ activity. Through Fitlinxx®, I can see historical data about what machines I used, how much weight I lifted, and how much cardio or other activity I performed, along with my standings among other FitLinxx® members. I not only stay motivated (right now, I’m #8 among women in my age range in my gym, and I’m just over 200 points behind the #5 position—hello, competition with myself to move up!) but I can also correlate how I performed with how I’m feeling, how I’m sleeping, and so on. All of this data is measurable and meaningful to me, and I can use it to help me improve.

So too with tracking your business development activity and results. When you track what you did and what happened as a result, you’ll get data that will tell you what you can and should do to improve your results. (Do more of what works well and eliminate what doesn’t work, and use the data to tell you which is which.) You may also find that tracking your activity is motivating in itself, and if you share it with an accountability partner (a peer or a coach) you’ll likely find that you do more activity and work to do better.

Here’s the bottom line on tracking:

Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.

You can find more information on how to track your results in Chapter 3 of The Reluctant Rainmaker, and you may download a sample tracking sheet here.

How will you build consistency and tracking into your business development approach?

Are you ready to thrive in your practice?

Two offerings for you this week.

1. The next round of Coursera’s Better Leader, Richer Life begins on October 5. This free online course is taught by Steward Friedman and based on his bookTotal Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. If you’ve ever felt like there isn’t enough time for your practice and your family and serving your community and meeting your own personal needs, you can’t afford to miss this opportunity.Click here to register.

2.  Have you ever stopped yourself from applying for a job because you aren’t 100% qualified?  An interesting post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network addresses this situation, and though it speak specifically to women, it should be required reading for women and men alike. Not looking for a job? Read on anyway:  The discussion applies equally to responding to an RFP or asking for business.

For you to consider…Do you stop yourself from seeking to get hired because you don’t meet the requirements (or perceived requirements)? Do you stop yourself because you don’t think you can do the work?The article’s conclusion is that women should spend less time observing “requirements” that may be only guidelines or a wish list.

What does this have to do with business development?
An RFP may have explicit requirements, or you may perceive that a contact is looking for certain qualifications that you don’t fully meet. Sometimes it makes sense not to answer an RFP or to ask for the business, but it’s important not to psyche yourself out of an opportunity.

Consider this:

Major decisions were made and resources were allocated based not on good data or thoughtful reflection, but based on who had built the right relationships and had the chutzpah to propose big plans.  It took me a while to understand that the habits of diligent preparation and doing quality work that I’d learned in school were not the only—or even primary—ingredients I needed to become visible and successful within my organization.

That goes double in the context of business development.

Finally, for those of you in the United States, Happy Labor Day weekend! 

Fear can be good news!

I’ve been talking about fear with my clients quite a lot recently. (If you’re feeling fear, trust me, you aren’t the only one!) Sometimes it’s the fear of taking a step–more accurately, the fear of making a misstep. The fear of losing what you have (either material belongings or a reputation or self-identity) can be paralyzing, even if you know that you can’t get the next thing you want without giving up something you now have. And the fear of missing out has become so commonly identified that it has its own acronym, FOMO. Neither last nor least is the ubiquitous fear of rejection, which nearly everyone feels at some time.

Years ago the title of a popular book proclaimed, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. While the title is attractive, in my experience it’s hard to follow. In fact, given the typical risk resistance that most lawyers have by nature and/or nurture, it may be tougher for lawyers than for others who spend less time thinking about what might go wrong.

I was mulling how to talk to my clients about acknowledging fear, mitigating risk, and then moving forward when I found this article by Seth Godin. This sentence hit home for me: “The reason you’re afraid is that there’s leverage here, something might happen.” (The rest of this brief article is also worth a read.)

What would happen if you were to view fear as a signal both to be aware of potential snags and also to get moving?  Why not test it this week: take a moment and notice what you’ve been delaying or what has you paralyzed. Do you not have any idea how or when to take the step you’ve been contemplating? Or are you afraid that it won’t go well, that you’ll jeopardize a relationship or a position, that you might even fail? Take a breath…then take a first step.

Because in addition to the problems Godin notes about waiting for the fear to subside, there’s one more challenge: Sometimes the fear just doesn’t subside. And then you’re really and truly stuck.

So don’t wait. Get whatever assistance you may need (whether tactical or just someone to whom you can safely admit your fear), then get it done.

Legal Business Development: Plans Are Important, But Nothing Happens Without Action!


It’s obvious that action is required to bring in new business, right? 
Sometimes, though, you have a great justification for not action…  When everyone is out of town or busy, when you’d like to get started with networking, but no available group feels like a good fit, when you just don’t know where or how to get published or to get an opportunity to speak, what then?

Here’s the simple truth:  you will hit roadblocks, quagmires of uncertainty or doubt, and even roadblocks in your business development journey.

A few of my clients have run into this situation, and their response often predicts (or even determines) their level of success.  Those who move forward in a helpful direction, even if it isn’t optimal, tend to do well; those who stall out and wait for the “right” conditions tend to flail and eventually fail.  The successful ones pursue a common line of analysis, and that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

Step one:  determine whether this is an obstacle, meaning a temporary challenge that can be resolve through action or by the passage of time, or a roadblock, meaning a long-lasting challenge that is due to issues you don’t control.  Imagine that you’ve identified an organization that sounds ideal for your practice.  If it’s on hiatus for the summer, that’s just an obstacle.  If your review of the events calendar shows that activity has dwindled to nothing and that the organization appears to be moribund, that may be a roadblock.

Solve or wait out obstacles; strategize an alternative approach to get around a roadblock.  Continuing the organization example, if the group is on hiatus for the summer, you can simply wait for Fall to get involved, and perhaps you can consider helping the group find ways to stay active even over the summer.  If the group is moribund, however, even though you could try to revive it, it probably wouldn’t be the best use of your resources, so you should look for another activity.

Step two:  if you’re waiting out an obstacle, get started with something else in the meantime; if you’ve hit a roadblock, go to plan B.  Could you identify some leaders in the group whom you might contact directly?  Is there a next best organization you might join?  You might choose instead to work on getting an article written and published, or you might track down a speaking opportunity that makes sense for your strategic plan.

There is always a viable Plan B.  If you find that you’re tied to a single approach, pull out a piece of paper and brainstorm alternatives, giving yourself permission to list even the silliest ideas in service of finding the right idea.

Whether you adjust your plans to move around an obstacle or a roadblock, you must keep moving.  Don’t allow an obstacle to prevent you from launching or continuing your business development plan.  There’s always more than one route to a goal.  Choosing to wait until you can execute your original plan (or even what feels like the best plan) is analogous to delaying the start of an exercise program because you plan to ride your bike but can’t because it’s monsoon season.

In summary:  make your plans, but be ready to adjust them in response to obstacles and roadblocks.  Plans are important, but when it comes to business development (and just about everything else, too), nothing happens without activity.

Legal Business Development: Where do you stop yourself from getting results?


A few days ago, a colleague and I were swapping stories about our business missteps:  the things that just didn’t work, and the things that were colossal, flaming failures.
 To listen to us, you might think that neither of us had a viable business, must less a successful one–but fortunately, that isn’t at all the case.

Although the failure stories are fun to tell (with sufficient hindsight and success in the time since), the real story is in how we respond to the failures and, more importantly, how we turn failures into success.  Stella and I shared experiences in which we’d had to undertake massive action to change course and shift our results.  Sometimes graceful, usually not, we’d refused to quit until we had succeeded.

Toward the end of our conversation, Stella said, “That’s the difference between success and failure:
knowing when to quit, and when to dig in and do what it takes to succeed.”

Are you stopping yourself when instead you should shift strategy and keep going?  Here are some indicators:

  • Have you put in enough effort?  I attended a Christian high school, and every classroom included a poster that read, “Bless me, Lord, according to my preparation.”  Religion aside, if your preparation has been half-hearted, you can’t expect good results.  Be honest:  have you put in the necessary time and energy to get the results you want?
  • Are you picking apart opportunities unfairly?  Lawyers are highly skilled at finding problems, and that skill sometimes undermines business development.  For example, are you waiting until you find the perfect opportunity to get active in a relevant industry organization?  Are you searching for the perfect speaking opportunity?  If no action seems to have a sufficient likelihood of success, you may stop yourself from taking any action at all — and that’s a certain route to failure.
  • Are you unconsciously looking for proof that you can’t land business?  If you believe that business development is a talent that you may lack, you may unintentionally expect and then highlight any evidence to support that proposition.  Do you expect to succeed?
  • Do you feel disheartened? It’s ok to feel discouraged for a time, but recognize that feeling as an impotent emotion.  When you’re disheartened, you’ve given up and your activity will grind to a halt.A client once consulted me on an upcoming pitch and described some of the challenges that might prevent him from getting the matter.  Rick’s tone was downcast, though he put a good face on it by asking how he could address the problems in the future, so he might succeed next time.  He had already given up on the pitch, which ensured that he would not be successful.I pointed out that he had declared failure prematurely and challenged him to buckle down and shoot for success or to bow out of the pitch contest altogether.  Rick chose to strategize how to meet the challenges that had consumed him.  He was irritated (first with me, then with the challenges themselves) and he used that energy to create and deliver a powerful pitch, and a few days later he received the good news that he’d been retained.

    When things aren’t working out, take a bit of time to be disappointed, but then get your energy flowing.  Do whatever you do to pump yourself up (work out, listen to powerful music, review a list of your successful engagements) and then get active.

  • Do you have a partner who can push you forward?  I pushed Rick forward, and many times my mentors have urged me to continue when I really wanted to give up.  Be sure that you have a mentor who can offer objective insight into whether you should keep going and who will give you a swift kick if you stop yourself.  You may find this a difficult determination at times, and outside help and support makes all the difference.

A successful business development plan will require you to give up unsuccessful activities, but before you stop, be sure that you’re stopping for the right reasons.  Don’t allow the discomfort or discouragement to stop you short.

Legal Rainmaking: To Sell Is…

This week, I met with a lawyer who’s been in practice for 50 years, who will be using The Reluctant Rainmaker to teach a law school class on business development.  We touched on how the practice has changed over the years and why he encouraged his sons to become lawyers, but the bulk of our conversation centered on how he has marketed his practice over the years.  Perhaps you’ll be interested in these three takeaways from our talk:

  1. Business development starts with personal development and must be grounded in integrity, authenticity, and truth.  Turns out that we’re both fans of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I recommended The Speed of Trust by Covey’s son, Stephen M. R. Covey.
  2. Small, consistent touches are memorable and build relationships.  For instance, this lawyer sends a book that meant a great deal to him when his mother died whenever he learns of a death in a client’s immediate family.  His firm also uses a client satisfaction form at the close of every representation, and he’s created cards to send whenever he sees a client mentioned in the news.
  3. Meeting new people is critical to the success of any practice.  This lawyer serves on several boards, speaks regularly to associations relevant to his practice, and is active in a wide variety of community activities.  As we discussed, the small, consistent touches won’t accomplish anything if you don’t have people to receive them.

We also agreed that too many lawyers have bought into the myth that sales is inapplicable to professionals.  Every lawyer must understand how to sell, and that’s why I’ve reviewed Daniel Pink’s recent book To Sell Is Human recently.  Read about that here.

Out of curiosity, how would you complete the sentence stem, To sell is…?

 

Legal Marketing: To Sell Is Human

The subtitle of Daniel Pink’s recent book To Sell Is Human is The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.  I’m not entirely sure that the truths shared in the book are altogether surprising, but the book puts a human, approachable face on a necessary skill that suffers from a bad reputation.

Pink starts by proving that we’re all in sales now.  He defines sales as the business of persuading, convincing, and influencing, which he calls “moving” others.  With a definition that broad, it’s almost impossible to find someone who isn’t in what Pink calls “non-sales selling.”  Pitching an idea (to a boss, a team, or a jury), convincing a hyped-up kid to go to bed, or teaching resistent students all qualify as sales activity.

Nonetheless, the majority of people view selling with distaste, largely because of the deceptive tactics that salespeople are known to pull.  Pink cites record-breaking car salesman Joe Girard, known for establishing relationships with buyers by fabricating connections.  (“You’re from Yonkers?  Me too!  Your aunt has a beach house on Long Island?  Me too!  Your middle name is Thaddeus The Great?  Me too!”  UGH, right?)  Although Girard was quite successful in the past, Pink suggests that he wouldn’t do as well in today’s world.  Why?

We have shifted, writes Pink, from caveat emptor to caveat venditor.  Today’s purchasers come into sales conversations armed with information, reviews, and ratings of products and services.  As a result, sales now consists of curating information to assist the purchaser, finding answers together, and making sales both personal and purposeful.

In contrast to the old “ABC” = “Always Be Closing” model of sales, Pink defines the ABCs as Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.

  • Attunement refers to approaching the sales exchange from the buyer’s perspective.  Pink notes that in contrast to the stereotype that extroverts are the best personality type for sales, ambiverts (meaning those in the middle of the extrovert/introvert range) are actually more successful because of superior skill in attunement.
  • Buoyancy is the combination of “a gritty spirit and a sunny outlook.”  Pink urges sellers to be optimistic and reason-focused (asking, for instance, “Can I succeed?” before a sales encounter, to prompt reasons to expect success rather than just ungrounded motivation), with just enough negativity to stay pragmatic.
  • Clarity calls on a successful seller’s ability to define the problem to be solved through the sale and why the purchaser might not want to buy your solution.  Pink offers several tactics to use her, including emphasizing experience over material objects and including a small negative attribute to the solution being sold to make the positives more believable.

When it comes to the “how to” of selling, To Sell Is Human is not comprehensive, and if you’re looking to become an expert in sales, you’ll want to add other resources.  However, he offers three points that provide significant insight into the process of selling.  One of the most useful is Pink’s list of six new ways to pitch a solution:  the one-word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch, the 140-character Twitter-style pitch, the subject line pitch, and the Pixar pitch.  These won’t translate directly to selling legal services, but the exercise is helpful in crystallizing what a buyer needs to know and what will pique her interest.

Pink also recommends the use of improvisation techniques, which allow the seller to accept whatever a buyer says and to add a suggestion that supports the sale.  I couldn’t agree more about the value of improv for sales and any other business discussion.  See my review of Improv Wisdom for additional suggestions.

Pink finally urges sellers to come from service, focusing on the value that the solution will bring to the buyer.  This point feels like the most “human” of the suite:  instead of just looking from the buyer’s perspective, service requires an independent determination that the buyer will benefit.  Sales, in other words, is not done to someone, it’s done for them.

What’s in it for lawyers?

So many lawyers have told me that they can’t possibly excel in rainmaking because they aren’t extroverts.  This interview in which Pink explained why ambiverts (which includes most of us) perform the best in sales is what prompted me to pick up the book.  If you’ve ever worried that your introversion will block your ability to land business, read the book.  That section alone makes it worthwhile.

More generally, the book’s premise and examples will help to mitigate distaste for selling and the idea is something you do to someone, not for them.  That shift in perspective alone can transform the way you approach business development.

Finally, the examples and exercises will focus your attention and will help you to improve in sales.  As I said, learning sales techniques will require additional training (I recommend Mastering the Complex Sale:  How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High!  By Jeff Thull), but To Sell Is Human will help to erase discomfort around sales and provide an authentic way of approaching a necessary task.