By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis
If you’re marketing well and generating a lot of inquiries, but only converting 50 percent of your qualified inquiries into clients, something is wrong with your intake system. A high conversion is the result of an intake system that mixes hospitality, professionalism and the ability to inspire confidence. If you find that potential clients are visiting your firm and not converting to paying clients at least 7590 percent of the time, there’s a problem.
One key question to tackle early on: How do you identify the right referral sources?
In the case of other attorneys,other professionals and business owners in your community, you determine their potential by observing who they serve.
Some people routinely see the kind of clients that fit your needs these people can become good referral sources. Others not only see these ideal clients but they see them much more frequently these people can become even better referral sources. Then thereare those people who not only encounter your ideal clients frequently, but they’re big fans and they’ll promote you in a significant way. These are the people that can become great referral sources.
Among your family and friends there will be people who are more well-connected than others and able to promote your services. Identify these people and make sure to educate them about the kinds of problems you solve and the kind of clients you serve, without being blatantly self-promotional.
The point of all this is to get the right people promoting your firm so you don’t have to screen a lot of clients who aren’t a good fit.
Screening is key
It’s important to look closely at who talks to potential clients when they call. This individual should possess good phone skills, a welcoming manner and the ability to talk at length with no interruptions (you should never take other calls during this conversation). This person should be educated in the ideal client profile, well-versed in how to ask the appropriate screening questions and able to intelligently answer questions that come his or her way.
Some firms have a team member who can handle the entire call and some employ a two-step process and only allow the call screener to go as far as his or her qualifications allow before handing the call off to someone who can take it to the next level. But whoever takes the call should focus on two things: determining whether the caller is”qualified” and scheduling qualified callers for an appointment.
One of the first screening questions the caller should be asked is, “Where did you hear about our office?”The answer will be the first tip-off as to whether the client may be qualified,and will also enable you to acknowledge the referral source, if there is one. If,for example, the answer is, “I found you on-line or in the yellow pages,” the call screener should listen carefully to determine if this is a caller simply looking for bargain-basement representation.
If, however, the person says that he or she was recommended by a good referral source, they are likely to be less price-sensitive and more “pre-sold” on your services. The call screener should then say something like, “May I ask you a few questions to help us be of service to you?”
This allows the intake person to ask further screening questions appropriate for the services sought by the caller. These kinds of questions are very practice-specific and should follow a script designed to further determine whether or not the caller is a good fit as a client. If he or she is, the intake person should set up an appointment.
At this point, the potential client should be told whether the consultation is free or has a fee. Whether or not you offer free consultations depends on your services it’s a common practice in criminal defense firms, lower-end family law firms and PI firms. If your marketplace is saturated with competing law firms who offer commoditized services at low prices you have two choices: either offer free consultations and lower priced services, or distinguish yourself as an up-market firm. High net worth clients, especially those who come to you based on a strong recommendation, are more likely to pay a consultation fee. The fee is often used as a further screening device to determine who’s really right for the practice.
Prior to the appointment, you should send out a well-crafted package of information that includes directions to the firm, a confirmation letter with the date and time and, if applicable, forms for the client to fill out and bring in. The client should also receive a reminder phone call the day before the appointment to confirm.
Making a good first impression
When the client arrives, he or she should be greeted warmly and by name by the receptionist, who then escorts them to the conference room. You should have a tray of snack items and bottled water, and offer coffee or tea.
Once the client has filled out any needed paperwork, the attorney should arrive and greet the client warmly. Then the interview begins. The interview will be different for each service you provide, but should involve the attorney asking questions and doing 30 percent of the talking initially, allowing the client to tell his or her story. The attorney should take the opportunity to talk about related cases or matters in which he or she was successful (respecting client confidentiality) in order to inspire confidence, while also taking the time to get to know the client on a personal basis.
Many of our attorney clients follow a scripted “Exclusivity” approach in which the attorney says, at the outset,that unfortunately he or she “cannot work with everyone,” and “after hearing the client’s story will let the client know if they can work with him or her.”This bit of reverse psychology means that instead of the attorney auditioning for the potential client, the potential client begins auditioning for the attorney.
If it’s at all possible you should get clients to sign the fee agreement on the spot, when their interest level is at its peak. If they are undecided, tell them you will be calling them in a few days. This small outreach alone may help you raise your conversion rate by capturing those who truly only need a few days to contemplate their decision.