Thursday, May 11, 2006

Don't Give Away Your Hard-Earned Expertise

An expert who's been working with attorneys for 30 plus years shared some fascinating stories with me this week. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the best stories can't be told : )

But one tale about handling the initial inquiry from a prospective client really struck me because it is a hazard I frequently encounter myself. In one of his "if I'd known then what I know now" vignettes, he lamented sometimes giving out too much information in that very first call from an attorney regarding a specific case. "They call you, give the basics of the case, then proceed to pick your brain for half an hour or more. Then, at the end of the phone call, it's, 'Thank you so much. I'll be in touch.' And you never hear from them again."

Too often, in an effort to demonstrate competence, credentials, and overall expertise, consultants 'give away the store' on that initial contact. Usually, you hear a distant warning bell indicating this, but the desire to close the prospect and work on the case prevails, and you keep talking, especially with encouragement from the attorney, who of course is encouraging - he's getting valuable information!

The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to compose a set of standard responses to choose from so you do not have to scramble on the spur of the moment. For example, after you've heard the basics of the case -- "Mr. Smith, based on the information you've given me, it sounds as though you have a legitimate claim of liability. To fully and completely evaluate the specifics of this case, I would need to see the documents, evidence, etc." You could then add a statement such as, "How would you like to proceed?" but I find that silence is truly golden. Wait for a response.

If you continue to feel pushed to provide free consulting, don't hesitate to say, "Mr. Smith, the fee for my expert consulting services is $XXX an hour. I can fax or email an agreement if you would like to retain my services on this case."

Play around with possible scenarios, responses you might get back, and different things you could possibly say to create goodwill with the prospect while not giving away your services and expertise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Your post is right-on. I am a Marketing Expert and have been providing consulting for a number of years. It's taken hard work and practice to be able to balance "getting the job" and "sharing your ideas". Now that I work mostly on referral, the majority of companies with whom I have an initial meeting usually do some business with me - so the initial meeting doesn't necessarily put me in an awkward position.

The other method I use to help ease the initial request for information is to send people to my website ( to answer their questions or give them a relevant white paper that's meaningful/relevant to their particular issue or concern. This seems to work most of the time.

If necessary, I'm now confident enough in my services to ask them for a retainer upfront and/or provide references. I do agree that you need to be assertive and be cautious when a company asks you to do the work before signing an agreement!