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The most effective business development professionals have developed what I call strategic empathy— a thorough understanding of the rational and emotional drivers behind the client’s decision to use legal services. The more you know about how and why clients hire you, the more you can tailor your message and tactics to fit their motivation and create value. As you build strategic empathy, prospects will • be more willing to meet, share problems, and explore solutions with you, • make faster decisions, • choose you over competitors, and • be more committed to working closely with you to ensure the success of the engagement. Exploring the motivation behind your client’s decision to use your service allows you to align your message and tactics to support that decision — and win the business. TWO DECISIONS If you think about it, before clients hire you, they must make two decisions. They decide to change some aspect of their legal strategy (the change decision), and then they choose you to help them make the desired change (the service provider decision). If you support the change decision, you will most likely win the service provider decision, so our focus here will be to better understand the change decision. A change decision is an executive legal decision that has a major impact on a company. It’s a decision to abandon current practices in favor of a new approach; it is a commitment to a new legal strategy, process, team, or resource allocation. Change decisions occur when business plans and objectives meet the reality of a continuously changing market. Conditions such as new information, new competitors, fluctuations in demand, technology advances, or legal challenges can throw existing plans and methods out of sync, threatening the success of the organization. The service provider decision is choosing which of the many providers will help make the change. Without the change decision, the prospect has no need to make a service provider decision. So, you not only are asking companies to choose you, but also are first asking them to choose change. You are inviting them to make a decision to transform some aspect of their legal strategy. CHANGE DYNAMICS To build strategic empathy, let’s look at the dynamics that drive the change decision. All change decisions have three components: • a motivationto leave current practices, • a visionof a better future state, and • a reliable pathto achieve the vision. I refer to these three components as Change MVP. If one component is missing or undeveloped, the decision will be slow or will not proceed at all. To the extent that any stakeholder in the decision doesn’t share and support Change MVP, friction develops in the form of resistance to the decision. When you help potential clients recognize and assess risk, evaluate market threats and opportunities, and envision a better alternative, you build trust and a common purpose. This, in turn, increases a prospect’s motivation to make the change decision and reduces resistance to it. The more you know about your client’s motivation, vision, and path, the more likely you will be able to position your service, strategy, and message in a way that builds value and preference in the mind of the client. As the perceived risk of continuing on the same path (status quo risk) increases, so does the motivation to find an alternative path. Even motivated prospects won’t make a change decision unless a better alternative is visible and attainable. A vision of a better future becomes more compelling with clarity, consensus, and certainty of outcome. Clarity adds definition; consensus creates ownership; and certainty reduces risk. The path to resolution is the company’s clear and reliable way to achieve its vision within its means. The path to resolution is where prospects will encounter the most pain during the change process, so it is usually where you will confront the most resistance to your solution. Change decisions are motivated by perceived changes in legal circumstances that make current methods no longer sustainable. These decisions gain momentum as alternative visions become clear and attractive: that is, with the growing realization that there is a better way. To proceed, the client must see a reliable path from the current status quo risk to the future vision, or the reward. That path will usually require the help of a service provider. That is where you come in. When motivation to change is bolstered by the attraction of a shared vision, it builds purpose; having a strong purpose makes the pain of change (effort, cost, disruption, and risk) tolerable. Therefore, your role as a service provider is to increase motivation and vision attraction and decrease the pain of your path toward a solution. FIRST, THINK LIKE THE CLIENT Take some time to put yourself, mentally and emotionally, in your prospective client’s shoes. • What changes have occurred in your prospect’s company or market that could pose a legal threat? • What problems have those changes created that you can help fix? • What will happen if these obstacles are not addressed? In other words, what is the risk of continuing with the status quo? Your job is to help potential clients envision a better future. • How can you help them see and buy into that vision? • How can you build confidence that the vision can be achieved? • What is the client’s perception of the effort, cost, and risk of your solution? • Can you demonstrate that your vision is easier, more cost-effective, and less risky than alternatives? The more a prospect can see, feel, and believe in the vision, the easier it is for them to let go of the status quo. Use strategic empathy to create your own unique selling response that parallels your potential client’s purpose and situation. That will lead to faster decisions and more successful engagements. Successful engagements create delighted clients, and delighted clients willingly become your surrogate sales force. They give you more follow-on business and refer you to new prospects. Result: You will spend less time selling and more time helping your clients achieve their objectives. Robert A. Potter is the author ofWinning in the Invisible Market: A Guide to Selling Professional Services in Turbulent Times, which will be published this summer. He is also the managing principal of RA Potter Advisors, a marketing and sales strategy consulting practice for service providers. You can reach him at [email protected]or (415) 459-4888.

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