In Sales, Sometimes You’re The Problem

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In the middle of a 0-10 football season in high school, one of our coaches said, “Everyone says you suck. Just don’t suck.”

To which one of our players responded, “Thanks for the inspiration, Lombardi.”

After the laughs wore off, there was some truth to what our coach said: sometimes, having success doesn’t mean being great. It does mean being a little better than we are.

And for some of you reading this, that may be what your business needs: for you (and/or your people) to be a little better with potential clients.



While I’ve worked in several industries to help companies grow, I’ll use the example of law firms today because I’ve worked with so many over the last year. The principles for them hold for anyone reading this.

Since May of ‘22, law firm clients have seen:

  • A (near) doubling of their conversion (closing) rate without cutting price
  • A 2.5x on their annual billing run rate
  • Their close rates go from 20% to 80%
  • Improved cash flow by 70%
  • Price increases of 15% WHILE increasing closing rates

All had lead flow. All knew they were leaving money on the table as people who had met with them opted NOT to retain them.

When I began working with them, here are two massive mistakes they were making that wrecked their close rates. I’ll then share some small adjustments that led to the above results.


Attorneys sometimes think everyone else wants to know everything they know. And they try to convey all that knowledge in a 30 minute meeting.

People come to attorneys to get something fixed, or to get an answer, NOT to get an education.
They want pain relief – aspirin for a headache.

The PRIMARY question they’re asking in the consult is, “Can you help me?”

Most prospects tend to believe that the person they’re talking to are competent. They’re rarely looking for proof of that. They may need to feel something, but they don’t assume you’re an idiot.

Another way to think of this is that people want to know, “Will the car get me there?” NOT, “What’s under the hood?”

Most attorneys LOVE to look, sound, and feel smart. They talk way too much. (If you’re not in law, you may also be guilty of this…) They’re trying to get their needs met, instead of doing the work that is selling:

  • Finding compelling reasons to do business
  • Understanding what’s at stake for the person and possibly their business
  • Discovering what they’ve tried, and why those solutions didn’t work

When attorneys move into a primarily logical-rational mode, the potential client’s brain starts processing a lot of information. They begin trying to filter out what’s what, how to categorize it, and what to do with it.

The attorney has moved the PNC from thinking, “Can you help me?” to, “What do I do with this information?”

How do those consults end? With PNCs saying, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Because they’re thinking. A lot.

Not Listening

Most attorneys are incredibly smart. They had to do well enough on the LSAT (a bear of a test), and then grind out the three years in law school.

Then they practiced law for several years, learning to see patterns. They recognize them rapidly, AND are usually quick thinkers. It’s what drew them to the law. They love to solve problems.

So when someone comes to them with a problem, the attorney sees a lot of the pieces of the puzzle quickly, and is wanting to help the prospects “get it.”

The problem? They aren’t listening. And even though this is the attorney’s 1000th case like this, it’s the PNC’s first time dealing with it.

They NEED the attorney to hear them out, to listen, to make them feel like, well, a human being.

Because if that doesn’t happen, the prospect doesn’t believe the attorney really understands what’s going on for them.

And yes, this holds true in finance, oil and gas, consulting, and tech.

Most people selling don’t listen. How do I know? I listen to their calls… and hear them miss layup after layup after layup…

This isn’t a logic game – it’s about making sure people feel heard and understood.

And problem solvers rarely want to slow down long enough to hear about the nuances of a problem they’ve solved 1,000 times before.

They rush to either educating, or presenting. And both lead to missed opportunities.

All of us wish we had a truly unique offering that no one else can touch. And most of us don’t have that. Some do, and some will get there. But most of us are fighting for differentiation.

If you’re undifferentiated, AND you don’t listen, and overeducated, your sales results will be mediocre.

A Simple Solution

You may be saying, “What? A little bit of education and not listening enough is a problem? You sound like my spouse.”

Look, if you’re getting the results you want, stop reading now. But if you’re not, look in the mirror.

A client recently said to me during a coaching call, “This is so simple…wow.” And yes, it is.

Let’s look at what you can do NOW to impact your selling.

Restructure your discovery call

This is numero uno. It’s about a different objective than showing your stuff.

It will require changing beliefs, though.

Rather than educate, start believing that the purpose of a consult or discovery call is to find a compelling reason for someone to take action. And to talk about it. Openly. Without assuming.

Because assumptions are behind overeducating, and not listening.

I tell my clients, “Look, if someone is talking to you, there’s a reason. Job #1 is to find out why. Stop assuming.”

The structure of a consult is then something like this:

  • Understand the need (stated)
  • Find the compelling reason driving this person to take action
  • Quantify what’s at stake
  • Determine if they’re committed to solving the problem
  • And then uncover how they’re going to select a solution/partner/etc….

There’s some detail missing there, but that’s the core. It’s not about educating deeply or presenting.

You will do some presenting. Some. Not a lot. (I’ll explain in a minute.)

Prospects will share what they believe their problem is. If you’re patient enough, you will find out if they’re right or not.

Then, if you don’t just “ask questions,” but ask the right questions, in the right order, you’ll find out what’s at stake. 95% of people selling anything NEVER find out what’s at stake for the potential client.

They *think* they do, because they’ve assumed they and the prospect are thinking the same thing. But it’s not true.

Simple rule: spend your time verifying assumptions. This will keep you asking more of the right questions, and prevent you from talking too much.

After this, you’ll focus on finding out what’s on the line financially, if they’re committed to solving the problem, and how they’ll make a decision. That’s most of it.

How to Present

But you still want to educate or present. I get it.

There’s a time to do so. A little. After you’ve asked about 35 questions.

Here’s your rule for this:


I recently talked to an attorney who explained estate law via the metaphor of a 30 cup coffee maker.

He spent 5 minutes drawing a coffee maker, and how it worked. He then related trusts and wills to this.

He closes 80+% of those he sees.

Another attorney gets into details, spends 20+ minutes going over the nuances of estate law, and how everything works.

Struggles to close 20% of those he sees.

The principle of using metaphors doesn’t come from that one example. That example is just an illustration of the law at work.

The brain likes a story. The brain likes the familiar. When you need to explain something to a non-expert, use metaphors.

Unless you’re talking to engineers or scientists about something they understand deeply, stick to metaphors. People will be less confused, and more engaged.

Spend the rest of your time listening, finding compelling reasons, verifying your assumptions.

Then let me know how it goes.

Adam Boyd