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Law Firm Marketing and Business Development

Selling in Times of Uncertainty

The natural instinct during times of chaos is to move into a place of scarcity. The single best gift you can offer clients is courage and confidence about the path forward.


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Two days before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus a pandemic, I conducted a business development session with a new client. As you might imagine, the impact of the crisis was top of mind. Clients had been calling nonstop asking whether they should put important projects on hold. My clients were concerned that panic was going to shutter the doors and bring business to a halt. They wanted to know what to do about it.

We evaluated two paths to follow. The first path focused on what they could do. Since conferences were being cancelled and face-to-face meetings were out, they could follow the lead of their competitors and try to do what they could through alternative channels such as social media, webinars and video chat. The underlying rationale for this approach was to play it safe, keep our heads down, and hope that will be enough to ride out the crisis. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it was something.

The second path was to throw out the standard playbook and rethink what mattered most, not for their own business but for the business of their clients. In evaluating how they might meet clients where they are and invest in the relationships, they focused on identifying different types of buyers and what their priorities were right now — things like the health and safety of their workers, the impact on their supply chain, their ability to maintain sales, and the ripple effect of panic on shareholder value.

This latter approach is at the heart of a “Sales as a Service” mindset. It defines sales as solving problems that need to be solved and is founded on the principle that success in business development has less to do with what you do and is more about how you do it.

When business is great, Sales as a Service is a proven approach to out-behaving the competition by creating a client experience tailored to the top concerns and needs of organizations.

In times of chaos, when fear moves many individuals and organizations to operate from a place of scarcity, the single best gift you can offer is confidence and conviction about the path forward. By reframing the way you think about sales as an act of service, you help leaders, organizations and communities come together, embrace a growth mindset and create confidence in a path forward.

Here is a simple framework for applying this mindset to client conversations during times of crisis.

Meet People Where They Are

Use gratitude and generosity to show clients you care. Check in on how they feel and be a trusted outlet to help them work through their own concerns and uncertainties about the path forward. The goal is not to sell but rather to elevate your relationship and engender trust and loyalty by demonstrating that your interest in them goes beyond just getting and keeping their business.

Use Good Discovery

Ask questions that help them move from a place of scarcity to a place of growth. Help your contracts reaffirm that, despite what is happening, their priorities and interests remain the same. This doesn’t mean there aren’t real consequences to what is going on. But it does help affirm the need to keep moving forward. Two simple questions that can help clients are:

Helping clients to clarify their own thinking opens the door for a more actionable discussion. How they choose to execute might change, but you’ve helped them start to envision a path forward. Clients may still lift their foot up off the gas, but it might keeping them from slamming on the brakes.

Help Them Co-Design a Path Forward

An interesting thing happened with the group that I was coaching. As we were taking about how they might add the most value to our clients, one of the participants said: “It’s not like we don’t know how to deal with this. It’s the same model we used during the financial crisis, and we got through it. We just need to show our clients how we can help them do it.”

They were able to identify specific things they did or realized now that they could have done to be more valuable to clients, and they developed a blueprint for how those approaches would work in the current climate.

And that’s the most important message. The value we bring as service providers is less about our technical skills and more about how we’ve successfully helped people achieve positive outcomes. Our job as lawyers and as sellers is to be of service to our clients, to listen to them, and to provide them with insight and wisdom that will help them see a path forward.

To be sure, the human, economic and community impact of this crisis is unclear. But as we navigate the unknown, the most important thing we can bring to our clients is courage to keep moving forward in spite of our fear. And that is the most valuable business development tool we have.


Debra Baker, a member of Marketing the Law Firm’s Board of Editors, is a lawyer and a managing director of GrowthPlay — a research-based business development performance company focused on helping law firms and professional services organizations improve sales effectiveness.

The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.

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