When passed over for an engagement, savvy business developers will often ask the prospect, “Why?” Many clients are happy to provide feedback on the selection process and where you did not quite measure up. Was it your rates? Geography? Experience? Reputation? This information can be helpful when preparing your next pitch.
But asking “Why?” may be even more valuable when you pose the question to a client who has just hired you. Often, one makes assumptions as to how hiring decisions were made. The real answer may be different and could even surprise you. The responses may be unexpected and may provide powerful information which you can use for the next pitch.
We would all like to believe that we were selected objectively and based on criteria such as expertise, reputation etc., but there may be additional reasons of which you were not aware. Over the years, we have heard an amazing array of reasons why clients chose one firm or one lawyer over another. Among the unanticipated responses were a client’s appreciation that the law firm supported a charity that was a favorite of the CEO. Another new client was impressed by the firm’s strong diversity program. One client hired a firm based on the strength of its flexible and user-friendly billing practices. Yet another client told me that they hired her because “she was a great listener” and during the pitch asked probing questions regarding the company’s unique needs.
I, too, have been surprised by clients who engage me! I always assumed that law firms hired me because of my experience. After all, I practiced law, was managing partner, etc. But after a few months of working with a new client, in response to my “why me?” question, the client told me that my “differentiator” was my graduate degrees in counseling. Ever since, I have incorporated my counseling background in my new business pitches.
Most attorneys are reluctant to ask a new client such a daring question. They are content with the win and want to focus on the work at hand. However, the information may be too important to leave the question unasked. The client’s response will often provide the opportunity to fine tune your “differentiation” message before making the next new business call. When asking the client why they hired you, take that opportunity to ask about the service you are providing—“How are we doing? What are we doing well?”
The next time you are asked to differentiate you or your firm from your competition, or why they should hire you, you can now respond with something like, “That’s a great question. Rather than me telling you what I think, we ask our clients that question and here is what they tell us.” You can then be more effusive with the praise as it is “the voice of your client.” Try it and let me know!