Tired of chasing after potential clients? Learn to use the “Up Front Contract”

A potential client calls your office and makes an appointment. You are excited at the new prospect. All you know is what your receptionist wrote on the note: possible business matter. You get ready for the appointment. You are dressed to impress, your assistant has cleared your calendar to make sure that you have a full, uninterrupted hour, your yellow note pad and pen at the ready.

The meeting

You enthusiastically meet your client. A firm handshake as you make eye contact. You escort them to your office or conference room, making some small talk as you go: “Did you have any trouble finding us?” “No, you have a great location.” You sit down across from your potential new client and your discussion begins.

You ask, “So, what brings you in?” and the potential client launches. He outlines a series of issues he has had with his business. You take great notes, all along thinking of ways that you can help him.

Back and forth the conversation goes. You realize that your discussions have eaten up almost the whole hour. You have explained that you can help. Perhaps you have detailed the actions you would take and why. The prospect is very attentive and things are going great. The conversation turns to fees. There are questions as you explain your mode of billings and why. You even go so far as explain why he will receive a great return on investment from your fees.

Everything is going great then you hear, “I want to think about it.” Ugh, that again. Your heart sinks and you feel a bit heavy but you put on your best smile and shake hands. Your prospect leaves the room. You have no new client.

Now what?

Not only do you have no new client but you think that you may have a new client. It is even possible that your solutions to his problems need quick action. Now you are wondering what will happen next.

If you are doing what “they” (practice advisors, partners, Bar Journal articles) tell you to do, then you are going to follow up on the meeting. Another game starts at this point: you start to “chase” the potential client. Perhaps you call and leave a friendly message: “Just a little reminder that if we are to respond before the deadline, we should get to work on this.” Maybe an email. When you do connect, you hear it again: “I am still thinking about it.” This chase goes on and on until you quit, or your prospect starts letting your messages go to voicemail, again and again…then you quit.

If this has happened to you, it is because it happens all the time. It happens to lawyers, accountants, consultants – just about everyone trying to make a sale or providing services. It used to happen to me until I started to use the “Up Front Contract.”

By all means, if you like chasing people, continue to do what you have been doing. If not, try something different.

Like anything new, it will require some practice but if you take the brave step of trying it, you will soon see the benefits. I did not go to law school to become a “pest” and that was what I had become before I learned the technique. The problem with being is pest is that no one likes being, or dealing with a pest. Ready to learn the contract? Here we go…

Establish the Up Front Contract

At the very beginning of your conference seek to get agreement. This is the contract that you set right up front. I establish it by beginning with: “Now as we talk, you will have questions for me and I will have questions for you, fair enough?”

After I get a verbal agreement I ask: “At the end of our conversation, we will either reach a yes or a no regarding whether we work together, true?”

After I get an affirmation, I continue. “We can agree that we both reserve the right to move forward, or to decline to do business for any reason, or for no reason at all…we may just determine that we are not a good fit?” This meets with agreement.

I then explain, “What I am concerned with is that I may be a yes, and you may be a no, but that you are afraid to tell me no because you think that you may hurt my feelings or that I may take it personally.” I usually get a nod of the head.

Then I say, “I promise that I will not take your no personally, and that you will not hurt my feelings…can you agree to the same?” With that said, I explain that what I am really afraid of is that one of us will say, “I want to think about it,” and that will leave us hanging and will do nothing about solving the issue that brought them in to see me. Another nod of the head.

I go on, “So can we have an agreement that at the end of our conversation, that neither one of us will say, ‘I want to think about it?’”

Surprisingly, I have never had a person disagree. At that point, we have formed a contract that neither one of us will say “I want to think about it” at the end of the conversation. I get a yes and get to work for them, or I get a no and go back to looking for others that I can help.

It is as simple as that. If you use this clear way of communicating with your prospects, you accomplish a number of very valuable things:

1.    You no longer have to be a pest instead of a professional.

2.    You take a giant step in establishing your credibility.

3.    You establish yourself as a person who speaks clearly and directly.

4.    You eliminate that awkward time when your prospect says, “I want to think about it,” and the resulting awkward walk to the door.

Studies have proven that a successful person is one who consistently demonstrates the trait of decisiveness. With the Up Front Contract, you also learn whether your prospect is decisive or wishy-washy. Having had some experience of working with wishy-washy people before, I have decisively decided not to repeat that pattern.

Good luck with your newfound conversation opener! As always, I would love to hear about your experiences using this little gem.


Brian Vincent has over 30 years of experience as a business law attorney and has worked extensively with business owners to protect and defend their interests. Contact Brian online or at (616) 608-4440 with your questions.