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Client rejection is the nature of the beast and should not be seen as a negative blow to your ego. When a potential client rejects your proposal, as with everything else in client relations, it is critical to handle this well. How you handle the rejection can go a long way in your own success as well as your ability to retain the connection. After all, sometimes having one person who is a central connector is better than winning a single project.
You Should Not be Winning All Your Proposals
If you win every single proposal that you submit, it is a bad sign for your business model. It probably means that your prices are too low. The first time I heard this it was a surprise to me, but it is important to keep in mind. When starting your firm and considering your pricing you should be narrowing the population to a select group. Not every request for proposal will be from this group and many times the only indication you will have will be their rejection.
Instead of “No”, Think of it as “Try Again”
At this point you have nothing to lose by not trying again. Often the rejection is not a complete rejection of your proposal but one part that your potential client does not realize is negotiable. Your first reaction to rejection should be to inquire about revising the proposal to better meet their needs.
The Argumentative Rejection
I have had a number of rejections that were actually really good news. From time to time a client will find sport in trying to aggressively persuade you into a lower price. In my experience this is born out of desperation; they need the work done but cannot afford it. Listen to what your potential clients are telling you about themselves, if it is already difficult and argumentative before you even have an agreement in place, imagine what it will be like when they think they have bought and own you. They may be doing you a favor by letting you know that they are not your ideal client which could save you a lot of time and aggravation. If you are considering negotiating, set your terms in your mind beforehand then hold steady.
It’s not you, it’s them
Maybe the timing is off and they don’t have the funding at the moment but would consider working with you in the future. In this case, their “no” is not a rejection but a postponement and you should consider it this way as you respond to their email and continue to make contact with them. This is the most ideal rejection as it leaves the door open for future transactions and is just up to you to do the appropriate follow up.
What the appropriate follow up entails will vary for each scenario, but I typically follow up directly every 6-8 weeks to check back about their specific project then also add them to my email list so they are getting a more regular (non-sales) contact from me so I am staying in the back of their mind
Sometimes it isn’t even them, it’s their boss or a board decision or something else that is beyond their control. In this instance it is even more important to be polite and understanding. When friends refer potential projects that did not work out they might be concerned about the potential future social discomfort. It is your responsibility to ensure them that you appreciate their confidence in your abilities and potential for business whether it worked out or not.
They’re Just Not That Into You
If they found a cousin or neighbor to do their project that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the potential to refer clients and/or opportunities to you. Landing new potential clients opens you to a new network of other potential clients. While you may be rejected by the initial contact, you can never be sure who they know, what networks they are connected to, and how a well played response to their objection might influence their likelihood to refer other clients to you.
Know Why They Are Saying No
When I get a vague “no thanks” response, I usually dig deeper and offer a few alternative solutions such as payment terms or carving the project into smaller parts. If a potential client has taken the time to contact you for a proposal they have already deemed your work worthy so rejection at this point is normally financial.
When I have worked with defense companies, the formal RFP process includes a detailed rejection process with an official substantiation for the reasons of rejection, the right for a review of the determination process, and the procedures for requesting the review. While most small businesses will not have such a formal a process, these are good parameters to consider requesting.
Use appropriate language when crafting your response. Do not just send a quick message saying “Hi Client, Why did you choose the other firm instead of us?”, instead spend some time writing a well worded message that you can re-use whenever you have a rejection and spend more than ten seconds on it. Something more like “We are sorry you didn’t choose our company for the job but we know we can’t win them all. We are always trying to improve and it would be helpful if you were willing to share why you made the decision to go with another firm. We do hope you will consider us again in the future.”
Finally, there is a danger in not knowing when to stop bothering them. The last thing you want is to come across as annoying and as though you just aren’t getting their message. When they stop replying to your emails or stop taking your calls: stop. Reduce your communication to only sending your email newsletter list so that they are receiving generic messages that support your branding and leave the door open for referrals.