Vendors: 5 Things NOT to Do When Selling to Law Firms (and How to Fix Them)

“How you sell is a free sample of how you will solve.”

Over the years, I and my colleagues have seen countless demos by vendors trying to sell into large law. Many of them are really effective showcases of an interesting new product. Some are not. So, vendors, I’m letting you under the hood. Here are a few things to avoid doing when you’re showing us your shiny new tool.

1. Give a shit demo

Most of you rock your demos. But if you’re not prepared, or you haven’t thought through who will be in the room and what they might want from you, it shows. We’re not talking about minor issues, like having the wrong cable at set-up or briefly losing the wi-fi connection – we understand the Murphy’s law of live demos: something must always go wrong. But I have seen demos where the vendor is thoroughly unprepared to answer questions, where the salesperson giving the demo seems not to understand the tech himself, where most of the demo is a sales pitch and we barely see the platform, or where some of my team leave feeling insulted by the vendor and no wiser about the product.

Sometimes the tech might look promising, but if you can’t show it to us in a way that gives us faith in YOU, we will form a judgement about your customer service and reject the tool on that basis.

How to fix it:

  • Ask us ahead of time what features we might like to see, and take us there promptly.

  • Plan ahead and practice – pretend we’re an audience at a conference and you care what we think.

  • Know who is going to be in the room and tweak your presentation accordingly. It’s always impressive when the vendor has done her homework upfront and can tie the presentation to our specific roles or backgrounds.

  • Find out beforehand what use cases we have and adapt your demo to show us how we can solve our specific problems using your tool.

  • Try to be high energy and friendly, even if you’re having a crap day.

  • Don’t come across as arrogant or bored.

  • Conversely, don’t BE boring.

  • Know your own tech, and how to navigate it!!

2. Send the wrong people

If you send salespeople into a room full of lawyers, or lawyers into a room of tech people, and they are asked questions they can’t answer, you are unlikely to get the sale. Which is not to say you can’t send salespeople who are not lawyers into a law firm demo - but make sure you have the right expertise in the room for the type of product you are selling, and for the audience you’re selling to. My team recently saw a demo run by someone who kept repeating, over and over “I’m not an attorney”, as he ran queries on a database that required legal knowledge to ascertain whether the answer provided was correct. It meant he didn’t know until we told him whether he was bringing up good examples of the platform working properly. This is a surefire way to lose our confidence in you and your product.

How to fix it:

  • If you are giving a demo to lawyers, and your tool involves deep legal content, send someone along with your salesperson who has some legal subject matter expertise – or be totally upfront about the fact that you don’t have this and explain why it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen fantastic demos by non-legal salespeople – but I’ve also seen ones that illustrate a profound ignorance of the legal environment, and that is unforgivable when you’re selling to legal.

  • If you are giving a demo on an AI or analytics tool, have someone with you who can answer technical questions about the algorithm, how the system works, and what data sources are drawn upon – because all of us are getting better at asking these questions and by now you should expect them.

3. Take the call from a Starbucks

You think I’m joking – but seriously, this has happened to me.

If we can hear people ordering coffee in the background, we will assume you are a disorganized start-up without the resources to adequately support us – and that you do not understand our professional environment. This goes for other inappropriate background sounds too.

Note: there are some exceptions to this rule. If you ARE a tiny start-up and we really want in on your tech, we will forgive you.

How to fix it:

  • Be professional. If you can hear the coffee grinder, assume that we can too.

  • If your flight is delayed and you are unexpectedly stuck at an airport, we will appreciate the effort you have made to stay on schedule – but you’ll score brownie points if you get on the call and immediately give us the choice of proceeding with flight announcements in the background or postponing the demo until you are in an office.

  • If you are in town from elsewhere and you have no local office, it’s no longer an excuse. Ever heard of WeWork?

4. Talk to us like we’re stupid

We may not be technologists, but we generally know enough about tech these days to understand the landscape. If you make us feel like idiots, we won’t want to work with you – and we may also leave feeling like your tech is not intuitive enough for our users (who mostly understand tech less than we do).

How to fix it:

  • Speak to us like people who get it, but need to be guided through your platform.

  • If we really don’t get it, turn on the humor or the charm, and help us understand in a way that disarms us.

  • Talk to us like we might be your clients one day.

5. Try to get in the back door

You know what’s frustrating? When we have evaluated tools and we’re ready to go with one of them, but then a partner tells us they want to go with another because the vendor contacted them directly. It undermines us and puts us in an awkward position. The partner hasn’t lined up requirements against functionality, and isn’t aware of what other tools are on the market that may be better, or that work better in our integrated environment.

We know this seems like a viable option when you’re getting no love from the KM / Innovation team, but it’s unlikely the approach will work – we will show the partner the superior tool and explain why we have chosen it. And then you will end up without a sale, and we are unlikely to take your calls again.

How to fix it:

  • Find out who runs the KM / Innovation department at a firm, and connect through that person instead. If there is no KM or equivalent department, contact IT or Research Services first (depending on the type of product you’re selling).

  • Develop relationships so you’re not coming in cold.

  • Marketing. It seems obvious, but if we’ve heard of your tech, we will be more open to seeing it. And then you won’t need an alternative entrance point.

BONUS - 6. Lie to us!

We understand that your tool is in development and that there is a roadmap. We want to know what that roadmap is, and if we like working with you, we may want to help you get where you’re headed. But you are guaranteed to get us off-side if you mislead us about the current capabilities or functionalities of your tool. If you have an army of human beings populating a tool, don’t tell us it’s AI - even if that’s what you’re in the process of building. If your analytics tool is only populated by a sub-section of the court rulings within a jurisdiction, don’t tell us it covers that whole state. If you are not yet GDPR compliant, don’t tell us that you are.

How to fix it:

  • Be upfront! If you’re not, we will find out and it will hurt your credibility.

  • If you are transparent about the limitations of your functionality, it will serve to actually build your credibility with us - and, you may score a development partner in the process.

Ultimately, if your product is good and it solves a problem for us, we want to work with you as much as you want to work with us. So it’s a pity when it all falls apart at the demo stage, especially when that is easily avoidable. Consider us people rather than adversaries, bring us on side when you enter the room, and it could just be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Next up: vendors who are doing it all right, how their models are different, and why it works.