By Summey Orr, partner, Hartman Simons

Summey Orr So, you’re part of the commercial real estate world and you want to do a better job attracting and retaining clients and customers. From what I’ve observed in my 25 years of practicing law and providing services for the real estate industry, a number of different behaviors will help — from listening carefully to promising only what you can deliver. Below are my seven tips to reel in — and keep —clients and customers.

Stop Talking. Many of us (particularly lawyers) have a tendency to talk non-stop, often about ourselves, when meeting with a potential client. By simply asking questions, then closing your mouth and listening to the answers, you can gain a true understanding of what your prospect is looking for. This, in turn, will enable you to talk about your relevant experience and how you can serve that person or company’s needs.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open. Don’t let the day you are hired be the last time you have a conversation with the brass of the company. In fact, the client probably is expecting even more contact and attention than they received when you were pitching them.

And keep listening — a customer’s needs change, and time didn’t stop the day they hired you.   From my perspective, it’s easy to think I know everything about our clients, particularly if I’ve been working for them for a number of years. But don’t get complacent; to continue giving great service, you have to continue to learn about your clients and their needs.

Don’t Be a Hater.  Not only is hating on the competition bad manners, it’s bad business.  Bashing the crowd that is competing for the client tends to make you look desperate. Besides, in my business, I never know when the lawyer I’m competing with for business is the sister-in-law of the CEO I’m pitching for work.   Railing on someone’s relatives, neighbors, or long-time family friends will rarely score points for you.  What we have to sell is ourselves and our services.

Avoid Overpromising. It can be tempting: you really want this client, and that makes it all too easy to make too big of a promise about what you can deliver within certain time and cost parameters. In the end, this is a losing tactic: if you win the client but don’t live up to the expectations you created, you’ve paved the way for a rocky relationship.

Along the same lines, be careful about selling yourself primarily on your low cost.  In the service business, no matter how you try to sell that concept, it tends to come out as “We’re not very good, but we’re cheap!” which is not a winning strategy.   Being fair with your charges and understanding what a customer or client is prepared to pay for is generally more important than an alluring, low entry number. 

Know Thyself (and Assume the Prospect Can Figure Thyself Out).  Be honest with yourself and the potential client about your expertise.  In our business, we’re usually pitching work to sophisticated consumers of legal services.  If I try to sell myself as a trademark lawyer, the prospect can see through that pretty quickly, and then I’ve lost my credibility.   And if the prospect falls for it, I may be selling a service I can’t perform, which could be even worse, for both of us.

No Loose Lips. When meeting with a potential client or customer, be careful about what you say about your current ones. A current client may be OK with you disclosing certain kinds of information, but you should avoid revealing anything that could be construed as confidential. If you’re too willing to share war stories about a current customer, the prospect may understandably worry about what you’ll say about them to your next prospects.

Know Where The Line Is.  Marketing is important.  Stalking is illegal.  Be persistent, but know when to stop asking.  We don’t do criminal law work, so if your prospect serves you with a restraining order, you’re on your own. 

In the end, remember that being successful in your business is about more than knowing your business.  It’s also about displaying the interpersonal skills needed to win and keep the clients who use your services.