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Here’s a logic problem with practical consequences: Given that a firm’s survival depends on revenue; that revenue comes from sales; that lawyers are the ones charged with bringing in revenue; and that most lawyers can’t sell and don’t want to, which of the following should law firms do?

A) Keep depending on a handful of rainmakers with portable business.
B) Continue spending millions on marketing to support people who can’t sell.
C) Fire the CMO—again.
D) Scrap the existing compensation plan for one that truly provides a motivation for selling.
E) Teach the lawyers how to sell in a way they’ll accept.

If you doubt that the last answer is the best, consider one major law firm’s experience.

In the second session of a sales training program, several of the firm’s partners abruptly announced they had to opt out to respond to an urgent over-the-transom beauty contest. They were persuaded to stay and use the session to prepare for the pitch, so that all the participants could see the program in action.

The team garnered one of the largest antitrust cases of the decade. The astonished head of litigation, an initial skeptic, later wrote in a memo that the two things the client noted in its decision were the very two things (revolutionary for the time) that the session had stressed—gaining the prospect’s trust and showing that the lawyers knew the company. In a different pitch, the head of litigation added, there was an “unmistakable” difference between those who’d been trained and those who hadn’t.

Seldom do marketing programs produce such a “smoking gun.”

You’d think that in the ensuing 19 years, word would have leaked out about the potential of sales training. But a recent survey by The American Lawyer’s research arm found that the biggest complaint raised by young partners is that their firms don’t sufficiently prepare them to develop business.

Instead, firms have collectively spent literally billions of dollars and decades of time on an endless succession of dubious flavor-of-the-month marketing programs that don’t generate revenue.  Why? Because these programs are dictated more by what the partners will do within their comfort zones than by what works.  And then marketing—the process or the department—is blamed. 

If a worker keeps blaming his tools for his failure, you don’t keep giving him more expensive tools. You teach him how to build.

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