Sizzle vs. Steak – Sales Skills and Firm Growth

Sizzle vs. Steak - Sales Skills and Firm Growth

One of the top (but often overlooked) traits of a good leader is their ability to sell. In my opinion it is one of the most important traits in a successful Managing Partner.

Managing Partners, or leaders of law firms, are usually the best business developers and “sales” people within the firm. This trait is not often acknowledged openly because leaders in other industries do not always need to be top sales people. However, the legal industry is different in many respects. Leaders in our industry predominantly come from a partner background where they have spent years building up their client base and, by necessity, have honed their business building and relationship skills. Once appointed as leaders however, they continue to need those skills even further on three levels:

  1. With Clients– Many continue business development activities for the firm, or at least act as a promoter for the firm when there is a need for the “big guns” to come out;
  2. Within the Firm– They have to promote and reinforce the firm’s positioning, values and standards internally;
  3. With Suppliers and External Partners– They are the face of the firm in key areas but very significantly in any partner recruitment or merger activity. They are the best people to sell the firm when it comes to negotiating with suppliers in some instances but especially in partner recruitment. I have found over the years that we have been better able to achieve outcomes for our clients when the Managing Partner is the one that drives and engages in partner and merger search with the support of his or her management team.

Why is this the case? The fastest way to increase market share and reposition your firm, especially in a challenging environment, is through the attraction of partner candidates and merger partners that are in line with your firm’s strategic imperatives. This enables firms to propel themselves forward, ahead of their competitors, in the fastest and most targeted way compared to organic growth. Such a significant task needs to be retained by the leader.

Those firms that have exhibited the greatest and most sustainable growth in recent years have predominantly had a proactive focus on partner and merger search and recruitment and it has been DRIVEN by the managing partner. This one strategy can mean the difference between growing successfully and contracting.

So what do these successful leaders have that others don’t have that means that they should not delegate this role? In practical terms, they are consistent, clear and positive in their communication of the firm’s positioning and value:

  • Consistent– this quality includes not wavering, keeping the message the same and saying it over and over and over again. There are a couple of managing partners I know who I have heard on numerous occasions consistently communicate the same message without sounding tired, jaded or inauthentic.
  • Clear– Clarity has two aspects – being clear about the differentiators and positioning of the firm as well as the ability to distill their proposition into a simple yet compelling message that can be easily repeated and understood.
  • Positive– Finally but more importantly, they are passionate about their firm and their message and it shows. Anybody can do the first two steps and still not be effective if they are not emotionally engaged with their message and what they are doing. Being positive is about being present, being excited and being unashamedly engaged. Nothing is more compelling to employees, fellow partners, clients and consultants in our industry than a leader who shows that they care about what they are doing.

In summary sales skills are vital in today’s legal market especially for those at the helm. And the ability of the leader to sell the “sizzle and not the steak” is an often overlooked but crucial success factor in the growth of any firm. It is one of the most important aspects of a Law firm Leader’s role and should be retained by them in critical areas of firm administration. Our profession is about people and people fundamentally want to be inspired.

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