Wednesday, June 3, 2009, 9:52 AM

Many pathways to greatness for lawyer-salespeople

What are essential characteristics of successful professional services sales people?

That's a question that I, as one of the longest tenured nonlawyer salespeople in the profession, am supposed to help address on the "sales" panel at LSSO Raindance www.legalsales.org/raindance/ later this week. It's also a question that I grapple with frequently in my role as adviser to lawyers, who are both the product and the sales force at law firms.

Other LSSO panelists who also will tackle the issue are Patrick Fuller from Thomson Reuters, Tim Corcoran from Altman Weill and Robert Randolph from Bryan Cave.

Thanks to some brilliant education I have received from The Gallup Organization www.gallup.com/consulting I know there is no one right answer. As Gallup teaches, every person "goes to life" with her or his own individualized array of human strengths. Gallup has identified a total of 34 human strengths, or talents. From a very young age, we come to rely on our top 5 or 10, and we repeatedly and unconsciously put these top talents to work in every aspect of our lives, including sales, if that is the task set before us.

There is, of course, a stereotype of salespeople as gregarious, and, indeed, some of the most outstanding professional services sales people I have known are rich in the Gallup strength WOO -- "winning others over." Other, equally effective sales people are highly reserved, and they, perhaps embued with the Gallup strength known as "deliberative," achieve their sales objectives via thought and careful execution of well-planned steps. Still other great salespeople may have an abundance of the "strategic" strength theme and thus be able to chart many courses, depending on the circumstances and obstacles related to a particular sales objective.

The point here is that there is no one perfect set of attributes for a lawyer or a salesperson. This is an incredibly powerful realization for some of the lawyers I coach, and it empowers and engages them when they learn that making sales will not require them to project a persona that is just not them, rather, sales demands that they operate in their own unique zone of strengths.

However, no matter which strengths a lawyer has, one task is critical: listening. If an individual cannot find within her or his strengths the ability to listen and understand, very few buyers will stick around long enough to make the purchase. After all, the buyers of professional services are much too sophisticated to be "sold" anything. A much more productive approach is to work hard to understand and address THEIR strengths, so that when they get ready to buy, they know where to turn.

For a broader discusssion of Gallup's insights into strengths, check out the website above, or read any of the organization's strengths-oriented writings. One of my favorites, and the one that got me interested in a strengths-based approach to work, is "First Break All The Rules."

- Steve Bell

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