Why Steven Skelton thinks bankruptcy attorneys throw money away when receptionists pick up the phone

In this episode of Bankruptcy Law Success, I interview Steven Skelton, a trained salesperson who answers the phone for his bankruptcy attorney clients.

Steven has spent his career in sales, even before he started helping his wife, Susan Skelton, increase sales at her bankruptcy practice. Simply by exercising his sales muscles, he was able to help his wife’s practice go from a one-room subleased office, to become a consistent top-10 filer in the Eastern District of Missouri.

Some of the highlights in this interview include:

  • Why it’s dumb for bankruptcy attorneys to spend thousands of marketing dollars to make the phone ring, and then have somebody not trained in sales picking up those calls
  • The lesson that Steven learned selling cars about the one thing you need to do in order to close a sale.
  • The not-so-obvious reason that it’s a bad idea for even sales-y receptionists to be picking up your phone. (Hint: sometimes, it’s not even about who picks up the phone, it’s about whether they have time to listen to prospects.)
  • The exact reply you should give when asked the most common question: “How much do you charge for a bankruptcy?”
  • And a whole lot more, including the difference between “dreamers” and “problem-solvers,” and how all would-be bankruptcy clients can be classified as one or the other (and exactly what to say to each type of prospect).

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above, or read a full transcript below.

You can also subscribe to get an email when we release new episodes of the Bankruptcy Law Success podcast.

Bob: Hi, this is Bob Hiler of the Bankruptcy Law Success podcast, where we introduce you to successful bankruptcy lawyers, as well as powerful ideas that can transform your bankruptcy practice. Today, I’m speaking with Steven Skelton, founder of Steven Skelton Consulting. He’s not a bankruptcy attorney, but, like me, he exclusively serves bankruptcy attorneys. He’s based in Everett, Washington.

Steven, welcome to the podcast.

Steven: Thank you very much for having me, Bob.

Bob: Steven, can you start by telling us what it is that you do for bankruptcy lawyers?

Steven: Yes, thanks for asking. In a nutshell, I bring their prospects in the door understanding bankruptcy already as a solution to their problem, and viewing my client — the bankruptcy attorney — as a trusted expert and advocate for them.

Bob: OK. So that’s a complicated answer. The way that I think of it is that you’re a trained salesperson that answers the phone instead of receptionist or a paralegal. Is that fair to say?

Steven: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve spent a career in sales, and I’ve taken the techniques that I learned in the mortgage business — and before that in the automobile business — and applied them to bankruptcy, to help bring bankruptcy clients into the attorney’s office.

Bob: And it’s fair to say… You used to work as a mortgage broker, so I think it’s fair to say that you’re a trained salesperson. Would you agree with that?

Steven: Oh yeah, sales has been my career since my early 20s. I started with the car company, Saturn, when I was 25, and sales is all that I have ever done.

Bob: Ah, Saturn. That was the one where you didn’t negotiate the price, right?

Steven: Yeah, but what we learned there was to build value. Saturn had great sales training, and they showed us that people make their buying decision when value equals price. So Saturn took price out of the equation, it is what it was, and as salespeople, our job was to build value in the car. In the bankruptcy business, it translates over. My job is to build value in bankruptcy itself as as a legal option, and to build value in my client, in the bankruptcy attorney — like I said earlier — by showing them as a trusted advocate and an expert on behalf of the client.

Bob: Absolutely. So I want to get into that but before we kind of get into the intricacies of what it is that you do, maybe could you speak for a moment on the benefits of having a trained salesperson answer the phone, instead of a receptionist or a paralegal who might not have a single sales bone in their body?

Steven: Oh, absolutely, yeah. The first is the attitude of the person on the call. When a paralegal or an administrative assistant in the office answers the phone, most of the time, it’s an interruption into what they’re doing. The attorney may have them typing in Schedule F and sending e-mails out there to their clients, and the phone rings and they stop. They’ve got to stop what they’re doing, and that new client is a distraction. Well, as a bankruptcy attorney, you understand that it’s not so much a distraction as it is the lifeblood of your practice. Where as with a sales professional, when we’re on the phone with that perspective client, then we’re right in the middle of where we’re supposed to be. That’s what a sales person does, and we’re fully focused on the call.

In terms of the benefits to the to the attorney, boy, there’s a lot of them. The first is that you’re going to get more clients in the door and maximize your return on investment on your marketing campaigns. Bankruptcy attorneys… some of my clients spend thousands of dollars every month to make their phone ring. It’s an expensive proposition. If you’re going to do that, it would make sense to have a sales professional on the other end of that call. When it comes in, you get as many clients as you can out of it.

Next, you’re going to get better and more frequent Google reviews from your clients. Let’s face it, when a prospective bankruptcy client calls an office, they’re expecting to have a secretary spend 30 seconds with them and write their name on the schedule. When they speak to us and they get a sales professional who’s interested in their lives and takes them through a process, allows them to say what they feel that they need to say, we rise above the expectation of what they had. And so that starts the process off to have a very satisfied client, and at the end get get better reviews.

As a bankruptcy attorney, the time that I invest upfront with the client on the phone, that’s all time that you don’t have to spend with them in your office. You’re going to have an easier first consultation, and you’re going to have an easier time closing that business, because (as I mentioned) they’re coming in already understanding bankruptcy as a solution to their problem. So they’re ready to hire you.

And, lastly, the people that work in your office, they’re not distracted as I mentioned at the beginning. They’re no longer distracted by those incoming phone calls, so that you can redirect their efforts towards other areas to help the clients who have already hired you. And I will deal with the clients are calling in.

Bob: Yeah. So, I mean, from a quantitative point of view you know there’s a hundred leads that come in, and 100 leads talk to you or one of your people, versus 100 leads that talk to the average receptionist or paralegal, what kind of difference in terms of turning them into — going from the prospect to the client journey — what’s the increase in the close rate or however you put it. What would you say, vaguely, roughly?

Steven: I don’t know the numbers. There’s a couple of foundational statements to my business, and the first is that, all else equal, the bankruptcy law firm that employs a sales professional will close more business than one that doesn’t. And I think that that right there is self-evident.

And the other is that everywhere else throughout the economy, where you have a transaction with a net revenue of $1,000 to $4,000, there’s a sales professional on that call whose job is to make the deal happen. Whether it’s F&I at a car dealership, or the sale of the car itself, a mortgage loan, a life insurance policy… There’s someone whose job it is to generate revenue that’s on the call. With the exception of bankruptcy attorneys!

Now, how much better are we in than just having a secretary answer the phone, or (excuse me) an administrative assistant answer the phone? I don’t know, I’ve never quantified it. I’ve never looked back, or asked my clients how were they doing before I started working with them. I don’t really know the answer to that question.

Bob: Well, I’m not backing this up with anything, but having listened to thousands of recordings of conversations with prospects between the prospect and a receptionist or a paralegal, I can say that it’s at least a double or triple, so I’m very excited by this concept.

Steven: Yeah I would hope so. My wife was my very first client. I’ll tell the genesis story now if you don’t mind.

Bob: No, please.

Steven: Yeah. My wife is a bankruptcy attorney and we were married in 2007. Shortly after was when the mortgage crash happened. And that was my background, as a one-man subprime mortgage shop. I came to work for her, and I found a stack of leads on her desk. And she had called a few, she had purchased them, I think there were about four thousand dollars worth of leads. And I began working them, just as as a sales professional would, just as I did my mortgage leads. And, boy, that was a lot easier sale than a mortgage, I’ll tell you that. And my wife’s practice went from a one-room subleased office, to become a consistent top-10 filer in the Eastern District of Missouri and she had a couple of attorneys working underneath her.

So we saw in a very short period of time from 2008 to 2013 — just a five year period of time — that she went from just starting out to being a top 10 filer. And the difference was having a sales professional on the line when people called in.

Bob: So, Philip Tirone introduced us, he told me that he had met you at NACBA.

Steven: Yes, yeah, I happened to meet Philip actually two NACBAs ago in Orlando, and then we reconnected in Denver.

Bob: OK. So, I want to admit something to you, Steven, that we didn’t get introduced by accident. I’ve actually been working with network to find someone just like you. And that’s because I am a marketing guy, I generate leads for bankruptcy lawyers. The problem is that that’s only the first step of the things that need to get done. Someone at the law practice needs to pick up the phone, and ideally that person needs to have some sales sensibilities and set the appointment and get people to come in. And I’ve been listening to these calls — because I use call tracking and I have a lot of recorded phone calls — and I listen to a lot of them. And my sense is that whatever a sales sensibility is — I’m not saying that’s the only kind of personality type that we want to have in this world — but the paralegal sensibility is almost like the opposite of a sales sensibility, so they’re just really kind of botching these calls.

Steven: Yeah, absolutely a paralegal is… I’m sorry to cut you off before you asked your question… A paralegal is a task-oriented job, and it’s very different from from sales. Sales is about you know connecting person to person solving problems, whereas a paralegal is about getting a pile of work done. I could tell you that if you had a pile of work to be done, I am absolutely the wrong person to do that. But if you need someone to represent your organization on a first-impression basis, that’s where you need a salesperson.

Bob: Are you taking new clients? And before you answer that, I should tell you that I actually signed up a new client for you this morning, pending your approval. It’s one of my own clients. And it was actually an easy sell, because this is one of my clients misspend has been spending thousands of dollars to generate leads, but them actually hasn’t even been picking up the phone. The receptionist has been busy, so it’s been really frustrating. That was actually the impetus for me to search for somebody like you. So we should talk after the podcast with the details on that.

But going back to my original question, are you taking new clients?

Steven: Oh, absolutely, I am taking new clients. And thank you so much for the referral. That’s how my business is growing, by people who are in the business, who understand what I do, and understand the value of what I do, as Philip does. And if you don’t mind, just a brief aside on Philip, I know you had him on the podcast just last week. And that’s the guy who is on to something with his 720 System Strategies. The clients that we share in common are absolutely going in the right direction, and I’m enjoying very much working with Philip’s products and using them to help gain more business for my clients.

Bob: Awesome. And, just for the bankruptcy attorneys out there, if you haven’t heard of Philip Tyronne, he runs “7 steps to a 720” and “720 Systems Strategies.” That “720 Systems Strategies” product is the one that Steven was talking about. It’s basically: “how do you use a credit education product — which is the 7 Steps to a 720 — how do you use that product to improve the experience of the bankrupctcy client. Because the bankruptcy is just the first step in improving your credit score, and improving their credit score and getting a cheaper loan for your car or truck is really a very common goal for bankruptcy clients. So you can check out the Philip Tirone podcast episode, I will link to it the transcript, so that’s that.

So yeah, I’ve so listen to tons of these phone calls, and it’s really pretty painful to listen to most of my clients, the way that they handle the phone calls. The one exception is one of my attorneys — actually two of my attorneys — usually pick up the phone themselves and when they do that they do have a call very similar to the ones you’ve kind of been describing with me where they have an in-depth conversation with the prospect. But everyone else just tries to set an appointment, and then they wonder why there are so many no-shows. Can you…

That’s one thing that you didn’t really get in to… It’s kind of a hidden benefit of using a salesperson. Can you talk about how using a trained salesperson will actually reduce the number of no-shows for appointments?

Steven: Absolutely, absolutely. Anyone with a pen and a calendar can schedule an appointment. You have to give the prospect a reason to come and that’s where I come in. And it’s about building value as we discussed earlier… Building value in my clients… building value in their practice… building value in bankruptcy… And you can do that. I do that, first, just by connecting. I allow them to speak to me. I allow them to say what they need to say, and that that drives the relationship, that builds empathy, and more than anything, it invests them in the process with my client. If they spent 30 seconds on the phone with someone and made an appointment, they haven’t invested much. And when they see the next billboard, they might call that guy. But if they spent 15 minutes with that first office, explaining everything going on in their life, and what happened and what caused them to get there, and all the troubles that they’re having, and invested that sort of time, they’re a lot less likely to look to somebody else to solve their problem. So in a nutshell that’s kind of the two things right there. We spend time in and get them to invest, and then we give them a reason to come into our office.

Bob: That makes a lot of sense. I agree with everything you say. The only thing that I might quibble about is that you keep on talking… you’ve made several references just now to the competition and other attorneys that they might call when they see their billboard… In my experience, the biggest competition to you completing a sale is not the competition. It’s just the status quo, and prospects not doing anything. Is that something you’ve seen as well?

Steven: Yeah. You can shake them down into two buckets. You have people that have problems, and people that have dreams.

The folks that have problems — they have a lawsuit, they have a foreclosure, they have a repossession on their car, or they’re at the end of their credit and this is the last month they can borrow from Peter to pay Paul — they have a problem that they’re going to solve. And for them, it is the competition that we’re worried about.

The other, I call them dreamers. They’ve been bad pay for a long time, they probably don’t owe a lot of credit card debt, but they owe every cell phone company, and back in the… ten years ago, they’d owe Hollywood Video and Blockbuster Video and all that. And they don’t really have something pressing, but perhaps they saw a car on the side of the road that they’d like to buy. Well, maybe I should call bankruptcy attorney and wipe the slate clean. Yeah, that person, it is the status quo that’s the problem, the status quo that you’re fighting. And that’s where you really build the value in reestablishing your credit afterwards. And you implant… You find out what it is that they’re hoping to do, what it was, was was it a car? Or was it a house? And then you show them how bankruptcy points them in that direction.

And for that client, the second type I described there, you also, you’ve got to get them into that bankruptcy attorney just as soon as possible before that wind goes away from them… And it might be months again before they think about filing bankruptcy.

Bob: It sounds like the no-show rate is a lot higher for the dreamers than it is for the other type.

Steven: Well, yeah. Yeah, absolutely it is.

Bob: Yeah, maybe we could drill into this a little bit. Maybe could you give us some tips for the bankruptcy attorneys out there, and how their staff should be answering phone calls? Maybe you could loosely walk us through how you structure your sales conversations?

Steven: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. Well, I have a process. I have a number of steps that I go through. The very first tip that I would give to an attorney is for the person who answers the phone to have time to invest in that relationship with the person on the other end of the call. That’s the first and most important thing that I would say, which is that “they don’t care what you know till they know that you care.” And you’ve got to spend that time with them.

The next tip that I would give would be if the person doesn’t tell you the problems in their life, to elicit that from them. It’s a necessary part of the process. The person needs to tell you that Aunt Sally got sick, or their hours got cut back at work, and they’ve got to tell their story, so allow them to tell their story.

Bob: And what’s a good way of eliciting that story?

Steven: Well, in my process, after I’ve established control of the call… First, a lot of them are going to do it initially. And that’s where that’s where a lot of administrative assistants will make the mistake of cutting the person off, because bankruptcy attorneys, we know that in the overwhelming majority of cases, it doesn’t matter how you ended up $30,000 in debt. It just doesn’t, OK?

But it matters to the person on the other end. So the administrative assistant will cut them off: “let’s schedule an appointment and you can tell the attorney all about it, they’re the ones who need to hear it.” So don’t cut them off, let them say it. And if they don’t, then after I introduce myself and what my role is and I gain control of the conversation, I will come out and I will ask them: “what’s going on in your life that has you reaching out to a bankruptcy attorney?”.

And that’s where I’ll be quiet, because the next thing they’re going to tell me is the problem that my client has to solve to win their business.

Bob: And then maybe…. Could you just walk us loosely for the rest of the conversation and explain how that goes? What your goal is?

Steven: OK. Yeah, my goal is after they’ve said everything they need to say. I’m going to ask questions to fill in the blanks, because I want to get an idea of everyone they owe money to and how much, so I can see the size of the problem. I’m going to ask them about how much they earn and what they own, to see: Am I prepping this person for a Chapter 7 or my prepping them for Chapter 13? Because either way, after they’re done and after I have this information, then I’m going to pivot and I’m going to present bankruptcy as a solution to their problem.

Now I always give the caveat that I’m not an attorney and you have to come in and meet with my boss to find out if all this is accurate for you. But here… And then I give myself a little bit of credit, I say, “I’ve been in this awhile. Let me tell you what I see. I don’t see any reason you can’t file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It looks to me like it’s going to solve your problems. First…”.

And then I’ll go through them and say: “you get to keep your house, or you don’t have a house so you don’t have to worry about the trustee taking it.” I’ll tell them “it will discharge their credit cards and then they can keep their car if they like it, they can let it go, if that was what they wanted to do.”.

But, with each one, I structure it around exactly what’s going on with them and I provide… show them bankruptcies as the solution to the problem, ask them if they agree, and then I move straight to putting them on the calendar.

Bob: I just want to take a moment here to talk about this, because I really like how you’re talking about how bankruptcy can solve the problem. Because I find that so many bankruptcy attorneys try to emphasize what makes them better than the next bankruptcy attorney, instead of just selling bankruptcy as it is. Like, just sell the cookie-cutter bankruptcy, it has so many benefits. And people don’t seem to sell the bankruptcy, they’re always talking about their great customer service and how they return their phone calls. You know what I mean?

Steven: Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with saying that, because it does build value. But bankruptcy itself has huge value. When I was in the mortgage business in the re-fi boom (late 90s, early 2000s), the deal that I was structuring, Bob, is I’m going to convince you to take $30,000 of equity that you have in your house and borrow against that to pay off your credit card. So let’s take your unsecured debt and secure it to your house, raising your monthly mortgage payment and resetting you back to a 30 year loan. Not that that’s an impossible sale, that’s how I made my living and there’s lots of people making their living that way. But, boy, it’s a lot easier to say: “hey, come on in and file bankruptcy and pay back none of it, you just pay your attorney’s fees and your filing fees, and go through this legal process and pay back none of it.” It’s a much easier sale and the people are excited to hear that. Sometimes we forget how little our clients know about bankruptcy when they call in.

Bob: Yes, exactly. That’s the point that I’m trying to make. I mean, there are also nuances of bankruptcy, but even the general concept of a no-asset Chapter 7 really needs to be explained to the prospect.

Steven: Yeah, the process needs to be explained, but more importantly how it impacts them needs to be explained, and how that process solves their problems need to be explained. And the hope they’re going to have for the future when they’re done. In a sense, that’s what you’re selling is: day one after bankruptcy and the rest of your life. That’s what you are selling.

Bob: There’s also some subtle benefits, like… For Chapter 13, from what I understand, you’re the man whose wife is a bankruptcy attorney so maybe you have a better answer… But I’ve been told that unsecured debt in a Chapter 13 is often… the payments are calculated with an interest rate of zero versus 23 percent or whatever the defaulted interest rate is. And even if you’re you know you want to pay back a hundred percent of your $50,000 in credit cards over the next five years in a Chapter 13, you’re going to pay it down a lot faster at 0% interest then you are at 23% or 29% interest rate. Do you know what I mean?

Steven: Yeah, absolutely. And for people that don’t qualify for a Chapter 13, I have a little speech or talk that I can give to them. There are a limited number of options. They can continue on as they are, which we know how that will turn out, that’s why they’re on the phone with me. Or you can get into a debt negotiation company, or you can do a Chapter 13. And there are three primary benefits to a Chapter 13 over a debt consolidation and I go… Debt negotiation, excuse me, not a consolidation. But I go through that one at a time: the tax implications are there, the civil court and what happens when they start escrowing your payments instead of making them. I go through that and I show them how bankruptcy is still the best solution to their problem. And you mentioned the 0% on the cards. It can provide budgetary relief. You know for your months a month budget because the car payments can get stretched out, or the courts will often have a court interest rate that is that is usually lower than what the person has on their car and it can give them all that relief in their monthly budgets even in a Chapter 13. There are still tremendous benefits to the consumer in a Chapter 13.

Bob: OK just a circle back, you said something about — this is this is the branch of your sales script that you go into when people don’t qualify for a Chapter 13 is what you said. Did you mean “when people don’t qualify for Chapter 7,” because of their median income?

Steven: Yeah that’s that’s exactly what I meant. Thank you for catching that.

Bob: OK, very good. OK, so you’ve sold the benefits of how bankruptcy can solve the problem. What next?

Steven: Well, after that, I’m going to move to build value in my client. At that point, it’s “let’s get you on the calendar to meet Joe, my attorney. Let me tell you a little bit about Joe.” And this is where, for me, it’s is very helpful… I only do business with clients that I feel strongly that when I send someone to see them that they’re seeing the right person in that market. I know when I send them in to see my clients that is absolutely the best thing that they can do. And so I just convey that to them. I say, look, Joe’s a real nice guy. You’re not going to meet a big stuffy suit. He’s laid back. He’s an excellent attorney but he’s a better guy. So come in and meet him, tell them about your problems. He’s going to give you his best legal solution, or his best legal advice on how to deal with that. And you can do all that for free, and then from there there’s no cost or obligation to you. So I build value in him. They may ask questions about what to bring, but then I put them on the calendar, because you’ve got to have an appointment in order to get a client.

Bob: So you put them on the calendar. And, then what?

Steven: Well, then you’ve got to make sure they come in. So you put them on the calendar, you get the contact information and everything in there. And next will come an e-mail, a confirmation e-mail. A confirmation of the date, the time, the address, directions, landmarks, that sort of thing. And I always asked them to please respond to it so I know that they got it. Two reasons. One, e-mail’s are the bane of my existence and I want to make sure they actually got it. But two, once again, it goes back to engagement. I want them to engage with me. If they have told me that they’re that they’re going to come. They’ve responded to the e-mail, it furthers their commitment. So when something better comes up that day, they remember “hold on, I gave my word that I’d be there.” And then we can we confirm again the day of the appointment. The very first thing I do every morning when I walk into my office is I go and I text out to all of all my clients who have appointments that day. I text out to the people and I just say “hey, please shoot me a quick text letting me know that you’re going to be there today. Or a quick text confirming your 3 o’clock appointment.” And we keep track… we keep track of those. We want to do everything we can to make sure that they actually come.

Bob: Got it. I don’t have it offhand… I’ll look for it, but I sent a client of mine a link to one of these online services where you hook it up to your calendar. And if there’s a… All you got to do is add the cell phone number to the event in your Outlook or Google Calendar, it automatically send a text that, like, a little bit before or whatever time you choose. Have you seen that?

Steven: Yeah I have. I have clients that use similar CRMs. And, yeah, that’s very convenient. I would like for all of my clients to use something like that. But we do want the human touch in it, though, that we do want to monitor it and make sure that people do respond back, so we can get them if they didn’t. But automating that process is very helpful as well, yeah.

Bob: Got it. So we’ve kind of covered the theory of how to structure this conversation. I do want to ask you a very specific question, because as I listen to these hundreds of calls with prospects, the number one question that I hear prospects asks is: “How much do you charge for a bankruptcy?” And the answer is that I continually hear from the receptionist is… Well the answer that I hear is… It’s terrible… And the answer is “we charge this” or “let me send you a price list.” And I did sales for seven years, at some point in my career. And this is an incredibly easy objection to handle, maybe the easiest objection to handle I’ve ever come across… I would like you, as an expert, to explain to the masses: what should your answer be when someone says how much you charge for bankruptcy?

Steven: I’ll start by saying what it absolutely should not be, which is the amount that you or your attorney charges for bankruptcy. That’s the last thing that you should do at that point. You’ve taken your attorney and made him or her a commodity, where it doesn’t matter what attorney you are. It’s just all about the money. That’s the first thing you don’t want to answer the question at that point.

There are a few techniques, and I think they’re easier said than done… With you and I having been in sales our whole life, it may be easy for us. But for someone who’s not a sales person, it’s difficult to not answer a question like that. It’s a similar question to the mortgage business: “what’s the rate, how many points?” And I remember what my main training manager told me in my training session when I first got in the mortgage business. He said a lot of them don’t mean that question, they just don’t know what else to ask. And, so, the best advice I could give is to have your mind set that 8 out of 10 times you hear “how much for a bankruptcy,” that’s not really the question they’re asking. Those are the words coming out of their mouth, but what they’re really saying is: “Boy, I’m in a pickle here and I can’t pay my bills. And I think I need help and I really don’t know what else to ask so I’m going to ask that question.”

And there are… So, keep that in mind when you hear the question. Also, it doesn’t mean that your boss has to be the cheapest around, or that you you have to be the cheapest around to win that business. It doesn’t mean that at all. So, the different techniques… You can ignore it, just pretend like you didn’t hear it and go on. You can test it, ask them what they mean, if they say for a bankruptcy, you say, “well Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, which one?” And, then if they don’t know, you go into your conversation. Or you could ask for further information and find out what they khnow. But which you you’re looking for somewhere that you can break off and ask an open ended question about what’s going on in their life. Easier said than done. And that’s why my clients are successful, because they have a sales professional on the phone to get through that step right there.

Bob: Well, maybe I can just run my answer by you, and you tell me what you think, OK? I’ll put myself on the spot.

Steven: OK.

Bob: “So, how much you charge for your bankruptcy?” “Well, it really depends on your situation. Let’s get you on in here…” Or, if you’re trying to build value in that conversation, you might say: “Let me ask you a couple questions and we’ll see what kind of bankruptcy is right for you, because there are a couple of types of bankruptcy, OK?” Now, you’ve just seized control of the conversation, you’ve move the thing away from price, and you’re asking them questions. And then you say: “So, why are you calling today? How can I help you? Usually there’s some reason that people call a bankruptcy attorney. What’s yours?: Something like that.

Steven: Yeah. I refer to that as the asking for more information. And that is a great way to get past that: “Hey, I can’t tell you because I need to know more about what’s going on. Can we talk?” Absolutely. So then you get into the conversation. The one thing you have to look out for (at least I do), not all of my clients like to quote fees over the phone. They want to take a look at it and in quote the fees in the office.

Bob: Oh, yeah, yeah. I never quote. Just to clarify, I say “it depends on your situation.” And particularly if I were in your situation, I would just be like, “it sounds like what what you need — I’m not their attorney, but it sounds like what you need — is a no asset Chapter 7. The good news is that it’s the cheapest type of bankruptcy. But let’s get you in here with Attorney Smith and he’ll tell you exactly how much you have to pay. How’s next Friday at 2:00 o’clock?” Something like that.

Steven: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You also deal with price rejection a lot at the end of the consultation. Particularly… You don’t want to leave anything hanging, and you don’t want to give anyone a reason to call another attorney or leave a question hanging… So I always ask at the end: “what other questions, comments, or concerns you have before I can let you go?” And if it hasn’t come up yet, it often comes up there and it’s nice to have a little speech prepared: “Listen, Joe is very fair with his fees. I promise you that he has very flexible payment arrangements. But in order to know exactly what his fee is going to be, he’s going to have to look at your case. He doesn’t just charge everyone the same amount as that wouldn’t be fair. He’d like to take a look at it and he’ll give you his fees upfront that will take you start to finish through the case. Would that be OK?”

And if I’ve done my job well, and they have invested in the relationship with me and the conversation with me, that answer is going to be more than sufficient to get them into the office.

Bob: Yeah. And just for the record. Should the administrative assistant e-mail a price list to the prospect immediately after the conversation?

Steven: That’d be negative, don’t do that.

Bob: That is the number two response. The number one response is to just say what the price is, usually the lowest price. And that sets you up as a commodity. And number two is “let me get your e-mail and I’ll send you a price list.”.

Steven: Yeah, I watched… Susan hired her sister in law for a little while to answer the phone. And before we had her properly trained — I was out in the reception area — and I heard her answer the phone Skelton Law Firm. And then she said “Oh, $1,295. … You’re welcome.” And hung up the phone. And if she wasn’t family, that would have been the end of it for me. But, yes, that’s an example of exactly what not to do.

Bob: Well I always tell my attorneys that the worst thing that you can do is answer the literal question that’s being asked. And it’s not just about price, it’s often about so many things, but I’ll give you a simple example.

Someone called and said… Maybe they were in Seattle. They were calling your wife Susan kind of thing, and they said: “are you guys in Seattle?” And maybe Susan was running an ad in Seattle trying to get people into Everett, something like that. I’m obviously just using this as an example. In this example I heard the receptionist say “No, we’re in Everett!” And then the client said, “oh, thank you,” and then hung up the phone. Of course, the correct answer is something like “We’re in Everett, but a lot of things we can just do over the phone and we can we have a lot of clients in Seattle. How can I help you?” … and then suck them into the conversations, something like that.

Steven: But, yeah, just a quick “We certainly take care of people in Seattle. Tell me what’s going on in your life that has reached out to a bankruptcy attorney.”

Bob: All right. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. So all the attorneys out there if you if you’re hearing “$1,295” on the phone and then “OK, thanks for calling,” maybe you should either hire a sales professional or reach out to Steven Skelton.

Bob: Steven, I do want to ask you a couple more questions, but I want to make sure that I don’t forget… What’s the best way for a bankruptcy attorney who is out there listening to this podcast and they want to get in touch, what’s the best way that they can get in touch with you?

Steven: Come to my Web site and there’s a contact form there. It’s Steven Skelton consulting dot com, Steven with a “v”, Skelton is S-k-e-l-t-o-n consulting dot com. Fill out the contact form and I’d be happy to discuss what I do.

Bob: And you just from dealing with you, I know that you’re busy during the day, so maybe suggest a time immediately before work or after work that’s good for a call back? Does that sound…

Steven: Yeah, I typically schedule a half hour before 9:00 a.m. Eastern, about 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Of course, I’m out on the West Coast, so that’s 6:30 to 7 my time. That’s where I took my appointments to meet with prospective clients or people who are doing marketing where I need to be on the phone for a while and because that gives me time away from regular business hours.

Bob: Great. So I want to ask you a couple… I know that you’re not a quantitative guy, but just maybe you could give a sense of some ranges. Like when you set an appointment for one of your attorneys, what percentage of the time (vaguely) do clients actually show up at your attorney’s offices. Do you have a sense of what the number is?

Steven: Yeah, I can speak on that subject a little bit. My wife Susan was the best closer that I’ve ever worked with, or is the best closer that I’ve ever worked with. And if I got them into the office — and keep in mind I keep out people who bankruptcy can’t help, so we don’t get appointments for them — but if I got someone into the office my wife, she would close them. Like it was news if someone was a good bankruptcy prospect and didn’t file with her. For the rest of my book, we track the total number of appointments. And then we track the number that work that were closed that became clients that retain. We don’t track any of the intermediate numbers there. But what we found is on a range anywhere between 30 percent to 50 percent of total appointments. My best guy closes at just under 50, and my lowest closes at just right about 30. That’s kind of the range that they are in.

Bob: And taking that a step back, the percentage of people that… I know you don’t track this, but do you know approximately, if you set 100 appointments, how many people show versus no show?

Steven: Oh goodness, I don’t know the answer to that. Let me just kind of think back and look over a calendar and say that no show is the biggest problem. Absolutely. But it’s also going to vary a lot. I have a client in Arizona that… His marketing campaigns are almost all aimed at people who are trying to improve their credit. His no-show rate is higher because as we talked earlier about dreamers and people with a problem. His clients are almost always, not almost always, but he has a higher percentage of the dreamer type and they’re more likely to not show up.

And whereas other clients I have, most of their people like… I have some clients that come exclusively from direct mail campaigns to people who are being sued. They almost always show up. So it’s difficult to get a fair number across the board because markets are different and the marketing the attorneys are doing is different.

Bob: Now, you told me about your wife’s secret closing technique yesterday when we spoke briefly. Do you mind sharing that with the bankruptcy attorneys out there?

Steven: You know what. I’ll hint at it and tease at it and I’ll give the rest of it when they when they call me up.

Bob: That’s good, I like it.

Steven: Yeah, you got to leave something in the bag, you know? But the secret is that if you treat him as a client from the time they get in, then they’re much more likely to become one. I will, rather than… It is not so much a secret but I’ll describe a woman that she had working for her. The exactly wrong thing to do is to come in with a yellow pad, a legal pad, and a pen, and sit down talk to them for just a few minutes, answer just a few questions to find out if they’re eligible, and then say well it looks like you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Here’s what my fees are. Let me know if you’d like to do it.

That’s the worst thing. What you want to do is treat them like they’re going to be a client from the beginning. I’ll give one hint. Pull out your computer and type them into your software. Because if they see you do that, and they see you acting like their attorney, they’re much more likely to act like you’re like your client. And one of the things clients do is they pay attorneys, and that’s what we’re in the business for. So act like their attorney, let them know they’re important enough to go onto your hard drive, because you’re a lot more likely to get paid that way.

Bob: Yeah I always say that people treat you exactly how you — I don’t have an articulate way of saying this — but people treat you the way that you project you want to be treated.

Steven: Hey Bob, why don’t I say it this way: the world will generally believe you how you present yourself to be.

Bob: Exactly, exactly. I like it. That’s much more articulate. That’s why you’re on the phone all day and I’m not…

So I can see if I was a bankruptcy attorney, and I was sending you leads from AdWords or a direct mail campaign, I can route them over to you. I could see how that would work. Well, I should ask, that’s a common lead source for you, right?

Steven: Direct mail campaigns?

Bob: And AdWords.

Steven: Mail campaigns and AdWords? Yes my clients… Now, I don’t do any of the marketing myself. I’m not a marketing guy, but my clients get their leads a few different ways. Organically, SEO, the big thing right now is to make sure that you have good white hat reviews on Google, and that you end up in the Maps result. That’s important. Then there is paid advertising. I have a client that killing it on Facebook, with paid advertising on Facebook. People are clicking and filling out the form and asking to be called.

I have people that are buying leads. Some lead companies are better than others. Some are trash and you just kind of sift through that. I don’t want to go… I know who they are, but…

Bob: I know who they are, too.

Steven: I don’t want to bad mouth anybody, but you know some are buying leads. Referrals, that’s the best sources, referrals from your clients. It’s the best source of leads. Others are doing direct mail campaigns, billboard advertising, television advertising, I’m not big on that because it’s not very directed but apparently it’s pretty cheap nowadays. But those are the different ways that people go about making the phone ring. Doesn’t matter how you do it, just so long as you have somebody on the other end of the phone to help you convert that into clients for your firm.

Bob: So that’s all great. My followup question here is: let’s say my receptionist picks up the phone on the main number, which you don’t want that main number ringing your phonem right? Because it could be a creditor…

Steven: Yeah, no, my business model wouldn’t work if that was happening. In fact, I had to let a client go over that. Yeah, the first client I’ve ever had to let go. But when one of your clients gets a letter from the trustee, I can’t answer that.

So I want the receptionist to be trained to do like a hot transfer and say “I’m going to put you on the phone with Steven Skelton. He’s our” — probably give you a title or — “our bankruptcy consultant” — I don’t know what the right title is, and then I would do a hot transfer over to your phone. Is that something… Because I don’t want the receptionists having a sales conversation. I want them to either schedule a call with Steven or a trained salesperson, or to do a hot transfer. Are those things… Is that something you encourage people to do or how should an attorney…

Steven: Yeah, there’s three ways to get a call to me. The first is the live transfer, and I like a human being to always answer the phone. The live transfer is what I would recommend. Have someone in your office answer the phone. That’s not feasible for everybody. And I get that. So the second would be a lot of people are having a virtual receptionists that answers the phone oftentimes in their voice. They’ll answer as “Hi, you’ve reached Joe Smith Law. Thanks for calling. If you’re a new client please press 1 to be connected to our intake specialist,” or something like that and that that works as well. It’s not optimal but that works as well. And then…

Bob: There’s… I just got to say, as someone who has listened to people hang up on these IVR menus (interactive voice I-don’t-know-what-the-“R”-stands-for), but you lose a lot of leads. So I would not recommend the IVR approach to people out there, but it is a viable approach. You’re just going to lose a ton of leads. But go ahead, what’s the third?

Steven: And then the third is to go ahead and I have a local number for each one of my clients. They can assign my local number to their digital advertising put it on their Web site, new client hotline, or if you have an ad up, you can go ahead and put that on there and a few more of the regular what I call “office calls” are going to filter to me, but I can tolerate that and deal with that, that’s just part of what goes on. That’s the third way, so you can do the… The live operator is always best. People want to talk to people, particularly in a situation like this where we’re sort of a traumatic phone call for them. They don’t want a computer answering the phone call when they’re about to spill their guts to a stranger about their financial situation. You know if that’s not possible, then you know, an IVR can work and just put the the transfer there first, “press one if you’re a new client” and it would go to me. So those are the ways to do it. Live transfer is always the best, a person answering is always the best.

Bob: On the flip side, let’s say that you talk to a certain prospect and you’ve collected all this information. Presumably you’re taking notes and you need to communicate… Maybe you set an appointment, but you need to get this information over the lawyer. Do you use a CRM, do you use e-mail, how do you handle that?

Steven: Each attorney has their own system. Most of it works out either to a Gmail or an Outlook online system, a calendaring system, where I’ll calendar the appointment. They each have their own conventions of how they like things to look. But at the bottom is where my notes are going to go. And I don’t get into how much they owe on their Chase card versus how much they owe on their Wells Fargo card. Someone else can fill out a schedule F. The information I’m putting there is what my client needs to know to, number one, bridge the gap when they come into the office: “Hi, Sally, Boy, I am so sorry to hear that you lost your job. I’m happy you got a new one. Let’s see what we can do to make this situation better.” So I give them what I call the “bridge line” there. Something personally about them.

Bob: That’s a great tip and I just want to emphasize it is bankruptcy lawyers out there. If you’re taking a walk and you’re kind of zoned out, that’s OK. A lot of people listen to the podcast like that, but really listen to that tip of finding this “bridge line,” where you can say “I’m sorry you lost your job, I’m sorry to hear that you were in the hospital,” whatever that is. Read that in the notes before the client comes in, and really… Then you can transfer that all the goodwill that Steven or a trained salesperson has generated, you can transfer that goodwill to yourself. Steven, it’s right to emphasize that, right? I mean that’s a big deal.

Steven: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s about connecting. It’s about empathy and knowing that… To the prospective client to know “Hey, I am important enough to Joe Attorney that Joe Attorney read the notes before I came in, he prepared himself for a meeting with me.” That makes them feel great. They love that. Everyone likes to be important enough to be prepared for their meeting. Absolutely.

And then the second thing that I’ll put on there in the notes is the problem that the person is trying to solve. What my client needs to do to win… The problem my client needs to solve to win their business. Or anything else that might come up that might trip up the process, I will put in there.

Bob: OK, so we’ve covered a lot of different topics, but I think we’ve gotten the core of what you do, Steven. Is there anything else you want to share with the audience of bankruptcy attorneys out there, in terms of you know what’s what’s working and what’s not, and to connect to your prospects to turn them into clients?

Steven: Oh, boy, that’s a very open ended question. There’s a lot of ways that I could go with that. If I could ask the question… If I could phrase it in a different way… A final nugget of wisdom that I could give to the attorneys, it would be this: that when you were sitting there across the desk from your prospective client, yes, you are in a legal counseling situation, but you are also in a sales situation. And there’s nothing wrong with treating it that way. Listen, Zig Ziglar, the greatest sales trainer of all time, said that is salesperson’s best tool is the absolute belief that the best move his prospect could make would be to buy his product. And when you have someone across from you who needs to file bankruptcy, you should understand that the very best thing that you could do for that person is to convince them to file bankruptcy through you. You’re a good attorney, you take good care of your clients, you’re respected in the court, you charge fair fees, and that’s more than most other attorneys. So your job at that point: go ahead and close them. Win their business, earn their business, because it’s best for them. It’s best for you, too, but it’s best for them. So go ahead and close the business and win it. That’s what I would say as my last nugget of wisdom.

Bob: I can only say “amen” to that. The other thing I would just add to that, to build on top of what you’re saying that… And this comes from Ben Suttle, an email marketing specialist I follow online, but he often says that not only is it your job to persuade people when you know when your product can help them, in their situation, not only is this a job that you shouldn’t fear, but it’s your ethical obligation. Imagine that someone… You’re a doctor and someone comes in and they have a terminal disease, and you have in your hand a pill that will cure their terminal disease. It’s your moral obligation to say to that person: “I have the magic pill that will cure disease right here.” You know what I mean?

Steven: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. You’ve got someone in your office who’s been trying to dig their way out of debt for five years — and that’s not unusual for people to tell you “for five years I’ve had a plan to pay this off,” and one thing after another after another. And you realize that they have paid tens and tens of thousands of dollars in credit card interest and they’re no closer to being done with it than they were when they started. If you don’t do everything you can to help put that person on the right path, then you’re not doing the right thing.

Bob: Yeah.

Steven: That’s what you do. And we’re all good decent people and we want what’s best for people and so we should just go ahead and do that.

Bob: Well, that’s a great note to end the conversation on. Steven, thank you so much for joining us today.

Steven: Thank you, Bob, I appreciate it.

Bob: OK. Thanks. Bye bye.