The legal community has been buzzing for some time about the growth of sales positions within law firms. I was working on a relationship plan recently when the question arose, "Should we hire a sales force of attorneys so they can close deals, or should we hire non-attorneys and have them focus on filling our pipeline with ready-to-sign prospects?
While hiring attorneys to sell feels like the most efficient choice, my advise to law firms is the latter. Hire non-attorneys and focus them on priming the pipeline.
I believe clients develop emotional attachments to their attorneys, and this "chemistry" begins while they are still prospects. If the law firm sales person is their key contact all the way through the sales process the prospect will develop their bond with the sales person, not with the partner or attorney that will serve them.
It is also true that if the sales person is responsible for closing deals they will pursue prospects that they personally match up with, but might not be a good fit for the partner. And if a large portion of the sales persons earnings are tied to closing deals they will be even less discerning about client quality.
I do think anyone involved in the business development process should have the opportunity to increase their earnings through performance, but the reward program should help people make choices for the firm.
I consider developing the bond between client and attorney to be the most important part of the sales process. A sales force of non-attorneys is able to be matchmakers and enablers by performing many of the tasks around finding prospects and warming them up to your firm and still leave room for the partner to develop the all-important bond. By working together, the sales person and partner will be more able to objectively evaluate each opportunity.