Interview: James Pennington on communications, sales, and negotiation

"The sales process is the building of a relationship between the seller and the client."

Interview: James Pennington on communications, sales, and negotiation
"The communicator, the salesman, and the negotiator." Image generated at '', Model = Imagine V4, Style = Bauhaus, Prompt = 'Interview on communications, sales, and negotiation'

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I recently spoke to James Pennington about communication, sales, and negotiation. This article contains a short summary of our discussion and my reflections on the subject in two sections:

Section 1: Do law firms require a communication curation system?

Section 2: The principles of sales, the sales process, and negotiation.

This article is not a transcription of our discussion. The opinions expressed are my own.

James Pennington is the Director of Pennington Hennesey Ltd, a business and commercial skills training company.

In the interview, we discussed the sales process and the attractiveness of the Tela messaging app's capability of monetizing its users' inboxes as a value proposition to large and small law firms.

He has coached lawyers on sales, management, and business since 1996. His first career was in the British Army where he qualified as a civil engineer and military cartographer. After leaving the Army he became a change consultant and e-learning specialist before working with lawyers.

He has worked with 25 of the top 50 law firms in the United Kingdom, as well as many of the largest US law firms. He specializes in non-legal issues and approaches required for success, and in helping organisations create training that comes alive through AI-Driven Scenarios.

James Pennington links:

Section 1:  Do law firms require a communication curation system?

The primary use case for the Tela messaging app is to filter out speculative emails, spam, and other time-wasting communication. In major law firms, such communication is filtered out by the large numbers of receptionists, secretaries, personal assistants, and paralegals employed to curate information. Additionally, Top 50 UK Law Firms, which manage large contracts in major global industries such as finance, trade, and commerce, are less likely to receive speculative communication. Initially, major law firms are unlikely to need the Tela messaging app, even if there is a need. (See Section 2).

However, smaller law firms which primarily focus on areas of the law including Family and Divorce Law, Small Claims, and Criminal Law are significantly more likely to receive speculative communication from their average clientele. Smaller firms also have smaller budgets and will not be able to employ the same numbers of staff as in larger establishments. These firms are likely to not only have a need for the Tela messaging app, but also to want Tela as a tool that curates the high volume of communication they receive from clients.

A further point of consideration is that, under the current model, lawyers will often offer a free consultation in order to understand the clients’ needs and questions. Lawyers are not able to charge until the relationship has been established. Therefore, there is a necessity for small law firms to answer and manually engage with prospective clients. This comes with associated costs in time and therefore money.

Discussion and Analysis:

It is historically normal for technological adoption to happen in smaller firms operating on the edges of an industry rather than in the major companies operating in that space. This concept dates back throughout history with good examples such as the adoption of gunpowder by weaker European kingdoms, the reorganization of the weakened City of London from the center of a world empire to a financial capital of the world and the use of cheap drones by Iran to deplete stocks of US-made million-dollar missiles. Shops and businesses which didn’t adopt the internet declined. Twitter and Facebook were early adopters of communications technology revolutions and have dominated the market. Major companies such as the US Postal Service and Royal Mail have failed to adapt and have made way for more nimble competitors from the edges of their industries.

The Top 50 Law Firms in the UK are likely to approach Tela in a similar manner. They already have an army of paralegals, secretaries, and graduate students to sift through information and control the channels of communication. Additionally, they have Artificial Intelligence systems which render these jobs increasingly redundant. However, buffering and curating communication with AI creates new difficulties: How does one contact a human? How does one get in touch with someone that one needs to speak to immediately?

While these problems exist for major law firms and there is a need to solve them, there is not a “want”. (Section 2). They already have systems in place to deal with the vast quantity of information that is available.

However, smaller law firms do not have the budgets, the staff or the time to deal with the growing load of information. They receive a significantly higher number of speculative emails and have fewer resources with which to deal with them. They also have the need for a communication curation system; they are more likely to have a “want”. Smaller law firms are, in many ways, small businesses. They face many of the same pressures in terms of resources: so how can Tela help?

The requirement to pay for messages and communication would reduce (or completely remove) any spam, speculative emails from unreliable clients, and non-profitable communication. Even if a client or potential client wished to communicate and potentially waste time, they would have to pay for this privilege; the law firm would benefit from this regardless of what kind of communication took place. Additionally, smaller law firms would no longer be required to hire as many staff to deal with this problem, since the Tela messaging app would act as a filter on time-wasting communication. Smaller law firms would benefit by reducing their staff budgets, filtering out useless communication, and protecting themselves from being overwhelmed by the increasing numbers of emails and messages.

There must be a cultural shift from charging for your time to charging for your energy itself.

Section 2: The principles of sales, the sales process, and negotiation.

Mr Pennington gave the following advice and guidance during our interview:

Before engaging with a potential client, we must consider the changes in technology. In a communications and information management context, what are the consequences of free, immediate, and unlimited communication? What are the unexpected problems caused by this technological revolution? Importantly for a business, what are the problems the business has encountered and do they want to solve them?

There are two things to consider: does the client have a “need” and, more importantly, does the client have a “want” to solve their problem? Inevitably, the driving force will be the “want” as opposed to the “need”. Though a client may need to solve their problem, they will only do so if they want to do so. What will make them want it?

The next step is to understand the background to why a client wants a solution. This is where the sales representative must listen! What are the motivations for the client? Why is the client spending time with you? Listen to the client, they must feel that you are hearing them and that you care about what they are saying.

Once the seller understands the problem, they must then understand their “need”. Would a solution be a nice thing to have or is it a critical requirement? Additionally, does the “need” align with the “want”? Does the client actually want the solution they need? Is the person you are talking to the decision-maker or have they just been sent to talk to the seller? It is important to understand who else is involved in the decision-making process.

Finally, all sales come down to the issue of trust. What is the source of the information and is it trustworthy? This is where relationships will become important. The sales process is the building of a relationship between the seller and the client. The seller must demonstrate that they are trustworthy.

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