“You went to law school?” I get this question all the time, especially during my interview with Marketo last November. Yes, I graduated from law school and yes, I am now a sales development rep (SDR) selling software.
So how does a legal education set you up to be successful in sales? I didn’t have to look far to find ways to apply the analytical and strategic thinking I learned in law school. In fact, it translates almost seamlessly to B2B sales.
The critical thinking I’m referring to is the approach used in the IRAC method, which stands for issue, rule, application, and conclusion. It’s used by almost every single law school student and lawyer in writing out legal briefs, which are used to convince a judge to rule in your client’s favor. Similarly, in sales, you must come up with a strategy that puts you in the best position to win a deal. In this blog, I’ll explain how you can apply the IRAC method to your presentations and conversations to scale your sales process:
I – ISSUE
In law, the issue is a clear and concise statement of the question of law or fact in dispute. In both criminal and civil court, the defendant’s liability is based on the prosecutor or plaintiff’s attempt to prove a relevant cause of action (e.g. murder or breach of contract), which requires certain factors or elements to be met through evidence. The issue most often arises out of a dispute over a specific factor or element of the cause of action. The best issue statements are both informative and persuasive.
In sales, the successful identification of the issue(s) a prospect is facing derives from a few investigative/discovery calls. By asking the right questions, we can usually unearth an issue relevant to the particular prospect or client. It is imperative that all contributing “factors or elements” are uncovered during these calls. Typically, they stem from dissatisfaction or pain with the current solution, specific departmental goals they failed to hit, or even issues later in the sales process regarding implementation. And the investigative phase doesn’t end with your own acknowledgment of its existence—the prospect/client needs to know that you understand their issue(s). So, restate the issues as you see them and confirm that there is nothing additional to add.
Once you know an issue exists, you must find the rule/answer that is most relevant to that issue.
R – RULE
In law, the rule usually comes in the form of a statute (written, codified law) or precedent (previous cases discussing similar issues). Statutes are intended to be taken at their face value and read for their literal and policy meaning as explained by our legislative law makers. The influence of precedent is determined first by the level of court (supreme, superior, etc.), then by relevance.
For example, if you are arguing over a state issue, you shouldn’t use the U.S. Supreme Court because their rulings are only relevant to federal issues. Instead, use the highest ranking state court, which is the State Supreme Court. As far as relevance, you don’t want to use precedent that discusses one element of a cause of action to prove your conclusion on another element. Without finding the most relevant governing rule, an entire argument can be thrown out by the court.
In sales, the rule will derive out of specific functionality, services, or satisfied customers who previously experienced similar issues. Applying the example above, you won’t want to use case studies or a reference calls from an enterprise customer to convince a 1-2 person marketing team they will be successful. Relevance is king. You want to make sure you provide prospects with information showing how similar companies have overcome similar issues using your product, including the hard data. The business model, use case, and any other contextual similarities make the case study or referral call that much stronger. Since you’ve already broken down the issue based on the elements and factors, you can narrow down the relevant rules more accurately.
Next comes the big question: how does the rule apply to the issue at hand?
A – APPLICATION
In law, application is when you explain why the rule is applicable to the specific set of facts. This is the most important part of the legal brief as well as the sales cycle, yet it is often overlooked. You must explain your selection process for the rule (e.g. state court for state law) and why it is relevant. For example, “in Smith v. Smith, the issue in dispute was element/factor number one to prove the cause of action, the same as that in dispute today.” The ruling is relevant because those set of facts are similar enough to the facts at-hand for the court’s reasoning to apply. If there are differences or counter-arguments, it is equally important to address and dispel them.
In sales, if you can’t demonstrate exactly how your product solves their particular issue, then you will fail to differentiate it from others. For example, you could set the stage with “AB Software was struggling with similar issues because they were using a similar solution.” Then, explain how your product or feature helped them achieve certain results that the prospect/client is also looking to achieve. Always remember to explain why. Maybe it’s a similar business model for a company moving from a similar solution. Maybe it’s a unique use case, but a similar goal or issue. Sometimes, it may even be sheer volume and how your product can handle higher capacities than others. It could be a service issue or trouble with onboarding and implementation.
Think outside the box here, because a direct alignment may not always be clear. Understand relevant terminology and positions to most clearly communicate the application of your rule to their issue.
C – CONCLUSION
In law, your conclusion will refer back to your issue and state that it is a matter of fact or law to close up your argument. This means that it is either clearly written or can be applied closely enough to similar facts supporting your conclusion. Ideally, in sales, your prospect or client has already come to the same conclusion, so take this time to summarize exactly why your product is the best solution for them in two to three sentences.
Overall, effectively applying the IRAC method to sales depends on clearly understanding the facts at hand. Recognize that your target audience is not the same—not every school needs to boost admissions and not every asset manager needs more clients. Maybe the school wants to boost donations through alumni engagement. Maybe the asset manager simply needs to provide a more diverse set of investment opportunities by building relationships with other advisors. Never assume you know the answer to every question.
Take some time to think analytically and strategize. Ask more questions so that you can provide more relevant answers. This model is scalable and repeatable, so if you can find a way to make it work with your style of sales, the sky is the limit.
What other lessons have you learned from different professions that apply to sales? I’d love to hear in the comments below.