Lawyers are anti-social. Can they use social selling?

By Alexander Low, director of social selling at Digital Leadership Associates

Can lawyers use social selling? Simple answer is yes, and they should be.

The problem that any organisation faces today is that the old school approach to business development and marketing is no longer working – cold calling, mass outbound emails, self-inflated thought leadership about how brilliant organisations are, none of which is customer-centric or focuses on how the individuals themselves are solving business problems.

Today we live in a hyper-connected world, where everything we do is driven by social and digital interactions; Trust can be built over years and eroded in a nano-second through social.

Organisations across all Industries are just waking up to the power of social, digital and most importantly, how extraordinarily powerful the network of their employees can be. I have worked at a Big Four accountancy, top 20 UK law firm and one of the largest global commercial property firms. In my most recent role, I lead the UK social selling change programme; it generated a 4.5x ROI through investing in coaching and behaviour change through social and the employee network; this was across multiple business lines and levels of seniority – in real money, this was close to half a million pounds in net new business and a pipeline of £5m over 12 months, all through engaging with prospects and clients through social. This does not replace the phone or face-to-face meetings, this supercharges them.

In my view, the partnership model is far better suited to social selling than a traditional corporate structure with a defined sales function.  In a partnership, you have hundreds of CEO equivalents in the partner, who all have CXO decision level relationships, across multiple business and industries that have been built up over the years. The time and effort that has been put in to these relationships can now be truly multiplied across the organisation – not to mention the rest of the employees, and I include all support services and functions. If your employee network is connected and engaged, for all you know, the new hire you just made went to school, university, law school etc with the son or daughter of a general counsel or senior decision maker and they are best friends – within a couple of clicks this could open a relationship you didn’t even know you had.

However, law firms, and professional services generally are still very slow on understanding the benefits of leveraging their social networks and channels to maintain and grow their client base, whilst developing a new one.

If we review the Linkedin’s definition of what social selling is, you will find the following:

Listening:

Identifying what your prospect cares about and needs

Educating:

Brand yourself and your company as thought leaders through sharing content that represents you as subject matter experts.

Prospecting:

Leveraging social media for networking and client warm referrals and introductions.

Positioning:

Researching and gathering intelligence that can be used to influence the sale, then relating offline.

I would like to think that one can remove the word “social” and what you have is a basic view of what selling means. I am fully aware that for some law firms and lawyers that sales is a dirty word and they do not see themselves as sales people – which I understand, as you all trained to be lawyers, studied hard and have worked hard to get to where you are today.

The problem is that today is very different to 20 years ago in how business and relationships were conducted. Yes, legal services, and professional services is still very much a people business, you are selling your expertise and knowledge. Much like the black cab driver in London sold their knowledge in terms of how to get you from a to b. They are proud of the years of study this has taken them to do this, then out or nowhere, Uber arrived, armed with a mobile phone, google maps and an army of willing drivers.

I am by no means suggesting the law will ever be disrupted to the degree where anyone with smart a phone can become an on-demand lawyer, however I wanted to draw the parallel in how a knowledge based service industry was disrupted because they a) did not see how digital would change the way their customer base wanted to be served b) or they did but were too arrogant to think it would ever happen to them. I think it may be a combination of both.

So why is this relevant to social selling – if we follow the taxi analogy for a little further. You hailed a black cab because you associated trust with what it stood for, and you assumed that the cabbie would be able to get you from a to b – each experience was a unique one, no doubt some journeys more positive than others, but overall, they delivered. Now you have Uber which provides the exact same service but delivered through a digital platform, not only that, the drivers are rated and the passengers – this in turn drives people to make decisions based on how other people have rated them – both ways – yet just because I gave four stars, does not necessarily mean the next passenger will do the same – but if enough people give good ratings, we start to make assumptions.

Still don’t get why this is relevant to social selling I sense you thinking; Ok the law firm brand is still the black cab – ie you work for a law firm, therefore you are a lawyer, you must be half decent based on the brand you work for. Now I want to know more about you – think the Uber driver ratings; I want to see the real you and see what people think of you – this is your personal brand. LinkedIn is an incredibly powerful platform when used as a business to business tool for maintaining your digital presence. This is the equivalent of the Uber driver rating, for people to see what makes you, well, you and what other people think of you.

Yet I see so very few partners and lawyers using their LinkedIn profile to do this. There is limited to no content or summary of what you do and how you help solve business problems for you clients. There are very few with actual recommendations from their clients (note these are not endorsements for skills, but actual written recommendations by clients).

If we refer to an article published in Harvard Business Review earlier this year, it cites research which says “Outbound B2B sales are becoming less and less effective. In fact, a recent survey found that connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls, call back rates are below 1 per cent, and only 24 per cent of outbound sales emails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.”

This is the equivalent of the driver rating, but taken to the next level – just because a referral has been made, it still needs to be backed up with evidence to support that referral – which is also influenced by peer to peer recommendations. You still need to able to pick up phone, meet face to face and sell why YOU over the competition.

If we look at some more research from Gartner CEB – “At the same time, the number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today, and these stakeholders come from a lengthening roster of roles, functions, and geographies. The resulting divergence in personal and organisational priorities makes it difficult for buying groups to agree to anything more than “move cautiously,” “avoid risk,” and “save money.” “

With all the above in mind, social and digital networks can play a huge role in driving the influencer network and brand.  The other great thing is that all of your networks are unique, no one person or organisation has the same network.

General counsel do not use LinkedIn or Twitter I sense you thinking. This statement is fundamentally wrong.

Using a premium sales version of LinkedIn, I can see that there are over 73,000 GCs on Linkedin,

2400 of those changed their role in the last 90 days meaning they have proactively gone into LinkedIn and updated their profile – panel threat or opportunity?

257 were mentioned in the press in the last 30 days

3,800 proactively posted or published something into LinkedIn in the last 30 days

Here is the secret sauce – I can see which law firm every single one of those general counsel used to work at – and so could you. Referral selling?

LinkedIn is the biggest and most powerful b2b alumni network on the planet (now, it will be interesting to watch how Facebook will start to disrupt this market too) – it has over half a billion users. So just think about all those potential influencers or referrers who you are not using. Yet all of this is irrelevant if you are not building your own brand, whilst you may be able to get the warm referral, you still have possibly up to five other decision makers to influence and sell why you over the competition.

I referred to Twitter; If you search #legal in google, there are over two million conversations happening around that topic. If you advise a sector, try searching that # eg #banking, there are over eight million conversations happening around this. Are you part of that? Are you perceived as a thought leader? Can you be found, or back up your claims that you are?

Social selling is not just some fad – this is here to stay, Microsoft didn’t pay $26.2bn for LinkedIn at an 8.1x valuation for fun. This will become the way people do business with each other – still people to people but driven by digital and social.

In my view, law firms and professional service firms can excel and really leverage social, if they choose to, every lawyer, no matter how junior or senior you are, you can help build the brand through your network. You are selling through it, not to it.

After all, if you look up the definition of partnership in the dictionary you will find: (noun) the state of being a partner or partners. “We should go on working together in partnership.”

Alexander Low is director of social selling at Digital Leadership Associates

@alexander_low

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