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Are you in a profession or field where selling WHO you are is just as important (if not more so) as WHAT you do for your clients?

I like to say, “If you focus on building transactions, you’ll fail to build relationships.  But if you focus on building relationships, you’ll build transactions, too”.  It’s a truth that will help take you to the bank . . . if you practice it in your business or practice!

My Advice:  Write Personal Notes
In these days when no one ever seems to have enough time to do everything we want to do, the mere act of setting aside the time to write a personal note  is a behavioral statement that, “Dang it, You Matter To Me!”.

Now I can’t speak for you, but most people are a little ‘stroke deprived’.  We get all kinds of you-know-what but never, so it seems, enough ‘love and recognition’ from others.  In basic human terms, we don’t get recognized as having value — in an unconditional way!  So . . . by sending a note to someone who’s a prospect, client or center-of-influence, you’re effectively validating that, at least to you, they matter!  And that, is what marks you as a person of interest and value to them.  That builds goodwill and . . . sooner or later . . . revenues for you.

And here’s a simple, powerful and highly effective way to do this . . .

Write One (1) Personal Note / Day
While there is value in doing more than this, let’s not overwhelm you before you even get started.  So I’m deliberately suggesting you ‘start small’ with this idea.  Once you get to the point where you’re consistently and conscientiously getting ONE personal note written (and, sent!) each day, you can ramp it up a bit.  But remember . . . ‘walk before you run’ . . . just doing ‘one note’ a day is far better than doing ‘no note’ a day.

By the way you don’t need to say a lot!  Something as simple as, “Dear Chris,   I just had a moment and wanted to say how much I admire how you never let the economy get you down.  You’re an inspiration to me.  Thank you, Dana” will work just fine!  In fact, you could even print up a nice ‘notecard’ for yourself as the gifted author (and prolific note-writer!) Bob Burg has done here:


Who and Why?
Your business network consists of many people who fall into three (3) main categories:

1.  Prospects
2.  Clients, and
3.  Centers-of-Influence

Each person in your network is in a position to do at least one of the following:

BUY . . . what you’re selling or doing, and/or
REFER . . . others to you / you to others . . . who can

Your network is your business lifeline . . . so it’s important to keep it working –– for you!  And there’s nothing like any act of recognition to demonstrate how important and valued they are to you.  That breeds tons of GOODWILL and BRAND PREFERENCE for you.  And, while that may not be a tangible asset on your balance sheet, it’s a critical factor that drives value to it.

But here’s the problem:  “HOW . . . do you stay on the ‘Mental Shelf’ of your prospects, clients or centers-of-influence in a way that makes you both memorable to and appreciated by these people?”

And, “HOW . . . do you get them to think of  you FIRST and FAVORABLY???”
whenever they (or, someone they know — a friend, family member, client, co-worker, etc.) — develop a ‘need-to-know’ about something YOU can do.

The Method . . . Ya Gotta Have a Method!
Here’s what I suggest you do . . . to get started.  Once you’re doing this for a few weeks, you’ll be ‘hooked’ on the practice because of all the positive and wonderful feedback (not to mention goodwill and business opportunities!) that will be coming your way.

Again, let’s keep this simple.  Make an appointment with yourself on a Saturday or Sunday for just 30 minutes. During your appointment with yourself, here’s what you want to do:

IDENTIFY . . . five (5) people you’d like to build (or, continue to build) a relationship with
CHOOSE . . . something about them worthy of noting — in a note, of course!
WRITE . . . a brief note to each person recognizing them for that quality or action you admire
PUT . . . each note in an envelope, address it  and add a stamp (remember those?)
SCHEDULE . . . to send out one note . . . for each day of the week

That’s it.  Kind of like working out at the gym.  Don’t overdo it.  But do get started.  The benefits you’ll enjoy will be amazing.  People will call you to say, “Thank You”.  Sometimes they’ll even say, “Funny how, after your note arrived, a friend called me looking for some help with . . . and I thought maybe you could help . . . here’s her number . . . why not give her a call and mention my name when you do . . . ”  Yes.  It WILL happen.  And yes, it is all good!

KEY POINT:
In a world where the simple act of recognition has become increasingly elusive, taking action to honor the relationships you have with your key people — by writing them a personal, handwritten note — is huge.  Hugely appreciated by your key people and hugely productive and profitable for you, as well.

There is a wise and seasoned professional colleague of mine . . . named Kyle Hunt.

Kyle’s based in Michigan and he’s the owner of Remodel Your Marketing.  He specializes in working exclusively with clients who are  in the remodeling business and related trades — painters, carpenters, builders, electricians . . . well, you get the idea.

Kyle is undoubtedly one of THE best marketing advisors to trades people that I know.

Kyle is someone who ‘Walks his Talk’.  He practices what he preaches to his clients.  And there’s great wisdom in how he does that.

One of the basic marketing objectives is to seek to be attractive . . . to the kind of people you want as clients.  And, of course, the corollary to that would be to know the kind of person you do NOT want to attract.  That suggests you should have an ‘Ideal Client Profile’.

Your Ideal Client Profile
Often, when we talk about a ‘profile’, we mean the demographic and psychographic factors that correlate highly with the kind of people who can best understand what we do, desire the benefits we offer, afford the fees we must charge and (sooner or later) buy what we offer.

This is NOT that kind of profile.

The profile I want to introduce to you now — and use Kyle’s own profile (below) as an excellent example — is more of a profile that allows your prospects to self-qualify or, self-DISqualify themselves as being viable candidates to work with you.

Below you can see the “7 Characteristics” that Kyle uses to help people determine if they might be a good ‘fit’ for Kyle and vice versa.

Knowing WHO you do NOT want to work with is as important as knowing who you do. Effective marketing honors the truth that . . . “You can’t be all things to all people”.

So Kyle brilliantly just ‘puts it out there’ for all to see and use to determine if they’re even QUALIFIED to be one of Kyle’s clients.

It’s not hubris to do this, it’s brilliance!

KEY POINT:
When you know who you want (or, don’t!) as a client . . . and can communicate that to others . . . you’re far more likely to end up with clients you’ll like! 

Welcome back.  My summer sabbatical is over and I’m ready to resume my work here on the blog with a renewed vision and refreshed energy!

In case you’re thinking, “Oh no!  He’s going to belabor the old ‘feature vs. benefit’ issue . . . I get it . . . people want ‘holes’ not ‘hand-drills’ . . .”  To which I’ll simply say, “PUT A SOCK IN IT!”  That’s so basic I’m not going to insult you by seeking to make that point . . . again.  Actually, I have something far more subtle and important to share on this.

“It’s Not Really About You”
I’ve  been noticing something that’s happening . . . a lot  . . . especially over the summer months.

I call it the “It’s Not Really About You” viewpoint that so many people in business and the professions are adopting.  And it’s not endearing them to their prospects and clients.

Here’s an example of how this played out:
I was talking with an attorney one of my clients had hired to help him resolve a minor legal matter.  Not serious.  But it had to be addressed.

At one point, I asked this attorney to explain the basis for the statement that my client just received.  I wasn’t challenging his bill, I was truly curious about what it represented.

Long story short, the attorney explained how he had to do this (and charged .5 hours for it) and then he had to do that (and charged 4.2 hours for that), and so on.

At the end, I just asked, “So tell me, after all this work . . . did the client get what he asked you to do for him in the first place?”. “Uh, not yet . . . but I’m working on it!”  True.  And he was very proud of the effort (and, time-consuming activities) he’d done on behalf of our mutual client.  But the client still did not have what he engaged this attorney to do for him in the first place.

In my own world, we’d had some work done on an online service (software) a developer built for us. At one point, it needed some ‘maintenance’.  So we hired a firm to correct the ‘bugs’ in the software.  At one point, we still had some issues — and a hefty bill from the developer.  I asked, “Why?”  The reply was essentially, “Look, we had to put in all kinds of time trying to figure out why the software wasn’t working as it should and THAT . . . is why we billed you for X hours of our time”.  The fact that my reason for hiring this firm hadn’t been addressed was (apparently) secondary to the primary interest of this firm to be paid for it’s time.  This firm had a legal right to be paid.  But their focus on their time vs. our outcome . . . was an emotional ‘wrong’ — to us as the clients.

It’s Way Beyond “Holes vs. Drills” . . . It’s About EMOTIONAL FULFILLMENT!
In both these cases, the providers of the service were ‘top shelf’ quality providers of their respective expertise.  I never doubted (still don’t!) their expertise.  But it seems to me that there is an inherent tendency to focus on WIIFM (M = ‘me’ as a provider) rather than WIIFTC (TC = ‘the Client’).

We can all take a lesson from the ‘contingency’ or ‘PI’ (personal injury) attorneys.  They’re a great example of professionals who are converting their expertise into compensation (roughly 33% of any damage award they win for a client).  While they do charge for expenses, that is not (or, shouldn’t be) the main basis for their compensation.  They are paid, pure and simply, for their . . . PERFORMANCE and RESULTS . . . that follow from their performance.

KEY POINT:
Focus more on what your client wants to receive by hiring you . . . and less on the time or activity their request may require.  The Result . . . is what your client wants, the Activity is what you want . . . just be sure you don’t lose sight of why you’re being paid  . . . to go into the swamp in the first place!

If you know me, you know I believe that how you operate your business is as important as how you promote awareness of your business or professional practice.

The Secret of a Great Team?  Communication!
I just read a fascinating article in HBR on The New Science of Building Great Teams.  

In it, Alex Pentland, a professor at MIT and the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, and the chairman of Sociometric Solutions, shared a fascinating insight — the more team members interact (i.e. communicate) with one another, the more productive and effective they are.

Professor Pentland created a ‘tech-tool’ that, worn by team members, collected data about:

1.  who people talked with,
2.  how much intensity (energy) they used, and
3.  how often they interacted with other members of their team or work-group

Net result:
The more team members actually communicated, the more effective and productive they were.

The ‘Bee’ Among The Flowers is Not Only Busy but Increases Productivity, As Well
Pentland noted (around 3:30 sec into his 6 min video in the article) that some team members are ‘above-average’ at getting to know and share awareness of special skills and abilities of their team with others on a team.  They’re the people who are always seeking out people to meet, asking them to ‘Tell me more about how you . . .” and then connecting these people into parts of a project on an ‘as needed’ basis.

The more of these ‘bees’ you have in your ‘hive’ . . . the sweeter the honey . . . the greater the success of the team, overall.

KEY POINT:
Productivity is attractive in marketing your business.  Facilitating communication — quality and quantity of it — among your staff or team-members may be one of your best ‘marketing’ secrets. 

Seen your doctor lately?  You probably get more ‘face time’ at a speed-networking event than you get with your doctor!

It’s not the doctor’s fault.  Today’s M.D. sees, on average, about 60 patients a day.  Do the math.

In an eight hour working day, that means the average patient gets about 8 minutes with their doctor.  Some get more.  Many get less.  Not much time to ‘build the physician-patient bond’, is it?

Relationships Matter
In a world where most of us have more to do than time to do it, it’s easy to give clients less time and attention than they’d like.  Easy but also deadly.

Because if you do, you do so at our own peril.

A Quality Experience Is a Great Differentiator
To your client, a sincere, authentic, and heart-felt connection with you is . . . priceless.  It doesn’t take much.  But, it takes time.  Time to listen to what is troubling them.  Time to communicate you care.  Time to let them know you care about what they care about.

I like to say, “Treat your clients like prospects” . . . because they can be stolen away if you neglect them.  But I also like to say, ‘Treat your prospects like clients” . . . so they will know what it’s like to be your client.

Take Time to Make a Difference!
Either way, take the time you need to make your prospects, clients and centers-of-influence feel important.  It doesn’t take much time.  But it does require a commitment to help people see you differently because you make them feel better about their issues after sharing time with you . . . better than any alleged competitor who’s too ‘time-starved’ to care to act better.

KEY POINT:
People want to feel SPECIAL . . . take the time to make them feel that way and they’ll love you for it!

Given the proliferation of information — and access to it — is today’s consumer better prepared than ever before to buy a car, choose a restaurant or find a new dentist?  In fact, with the availability of social rating services — e.g. Angie’s list, Yelp, etc. — is there truly any need (or, an opportunity) to ‘sell’ anymore?

The Background
I have a friend who’s been in sales all his life.  Recently, due to some changes in his industry and company he found himself ‘out looking’ for a ‘new thing in a new ring’ as he put it.

That lead him to work with an old friend who owns several auto dealerships.  Yes, my friend decided to add ‘sold cars’ to his long and fairly successful resume.  But, based on his recent experience, I’m not sure how long that’s going to be. 

“Bill, it’s Hell. We get people coming in (the dealership) who know what they want and what it costs us to put their dream vehicle on the road as well as I do.  They even know what the ‘car mats’ or ‘upgrade package’ costs the dealership.  Even worse, when they come in they view a salesperson as an ‘order taker’ whom they ‘negotiate’ with by saying if I don’t give them the price they want, they’ll walk and talk to a competitor who will.  It’s terrible.”

Does It Have To Be That Way?
I agree that today’s consumer has more information about most things they’re seeking buy than ever before.  And, I believe that’s a good thing. But that does NOT make selling irrelevant.  Far from it

Perhaps . . .
If whatever you do or offer is considered a ‘commodity’ by your prospect, then God help you because the ONLY basis for differentiation becomes ‘price’. And because information is so prolific,  you may not need to ‘sell’ as much as ‘tell’ someone what your fee or price is and hope (which is always a poor strategy) that you win the bidding war more often than not.

Perhaps, NOT . . .
It’s difficult to differentiate a tangible product outside of price. If you’re looking for a new car or TV or PC or . . . then it’s true that you can do much, on your own, to assess your needs, learn your options and find a price for a solution that you’ll want.

But if you’re providing a service, selling more than telling . . . is a very viable strategy.  Especially if you know how to reframe the conversation.

“Find The Flaw . . . Start The Thaw”
When a prospect, armed with knowledge and a certain ‘coolness’ (or, hubris — you choose!) begins the buyer-seller ‘dance’, you want to ask a question that helps your prospect discover that maybe they don’t know everything about the purchase they intended to make.  You don’t need to do anything more than plant the seed of doubt that what someone thinks they want may not be what they truly need.

The sooner you can plant a seed of doubt, the sooner you’ll find a basis — other than price — to get your prospect to have a ‘real’ conversation with you.

An insurance agent may hear, “What’s it cost to insure a new _________?”.  That question suggests a buyer who appears to believe that ‘all policies are the same’ and she’s ‘shopping’ for the best price to get one.  That’s the moment-of-truth.

One agent I know asks, “Before I give you a quote, may I ask if you own a giraffe?”  That interrupts the pattern of her prospect!  It also forces the prospect to ask, ‘Why?”.  That invites a conversation about how many factors other than the car help her determine the best alignment of company, coverage and cost for her clients.

That also creates an experience that demonstrates how she is both different from and better to work with than all the other agents who don’t know how or care to get out of the ‘commodity’ mentality.  See how that works?

That’s how you can move the conversation from, “What’s your price?” to one that’s better at helping both you and your prospect explore what’s driving them to want some ‘thing’ you offer and what, in spite of any previous research they’ve done, is really the best option (from you) to satisfy their need.

KEY POINT:
Asking questions, sooner vs. later, engages your prospect in a real conversation and avoids the ‘commodity-penalty-box’.

 

 

 

 

Four (4) things prospects like to know when they first meet you:

WHAT . . . do you do for your clients? (Value Proposition)

WHO . . . you do that for? (Target Market / Ideal Client)

HOW . . . you do that? (Secret Sauce)

WHY . . .  are you better than other firms? (Unique Selling Proposition)

Your TALKING LOGO addresses most of these questions.  But what’s the REAL basis for ‘standing out’ from your competitors?  It’s NOT (darn it!) as easy as crafting a great message you can use when you meet someone for the first time.

How Do You STAND OUT . . . to a Prospective Client?
Years ago a famous marketing professor at Harvard Business School (Ted Leavitt) was asked to help a major accounting firm ‘differentiate’ their audit services.  A major corporation’s audit business is worth a LOT of money to the accounting firm that “wins the audit” away from other competitors.

To differentiate a product or service, it must be BOTH:

1)  Beneficial . . . i.e. it must offer a meaningful benefit, and
2)  Unique . . . i.e. it can’t be like anything else

Then, he explained the challenge . . . “If something is truly beneficial, it won’t be ‘unique’ for long — competitors will follow suit and if something is truly unique, maybe what you’re offering isn’t all that beneficial”.

Everything this firm offered in an audit was also being offered by their competitors.  So where was the opportunity to differentiate?  It didn’t (seem to) exist!

The Challenge of Differentiating Your Business and Services
But Leavitt had an idea.  He asked to interview their best audit clients to learn, “WHY . . . did they choose your firm to get an audit?”.  The client agreed.

A large number of their clients later told him, “We just liked them better than any other firm”.

“Perception IS Reality”
In marketing, being ‘liked’ isn’t about being ‘nice’ (even if you are!).  It’s about being seen as a Preferred Provider relative to your competitors.

The clients suggested a number of PERCEPTIONS about Leavitt’s client and told him that it was how they behaved during their meetings that convinced them his client was the ‘best firm’ to use to get that audit.

Basically, what they SAID and DID convinced these prospects to go with Leavitt’s client!

The Big Lesson Here
Ask your ‘best clients’ the question, “Why did you choose OUR firm?”.  Follow that up with, “What did we SAY or DO to make you believe we were ‘the best’ firm to use?

You’ll learn what you need to say and do in front of prospects . . . to ‘Stand Out’ from the crowd of your (alleged!) competitors.

When you think about what makes for a valued relationship between two people, I think EMPATHY has to be a key factor.

Empathy Invites Emotional Engagement and Commitment
Jane Wurwand, Founder of Dermalogica wrote an article and cited author, Daniel Pink who argues that empathy is a right-brain quality.  Jane feels empathy is more ‘feminine’ than ‘masculine’ and it’s why, more often than not, highly successful business people seem to possess this quality and exercise it liberally.

Empathy Is a Key Factor in Business Success
Wurwand’s article reminds us of how both the masculine quality of ‘assertive energy’ as well as the feminine quality of ‘connective energy’ are necessary for reaching effective decisions and building consensus to implement them effectively.

Gertrude Bell’s Legacy:  Rim-Walker
Gertrude Bell was woman ahead of her time.  A graduate of Oxford University in England, she was an advisor to Arab kings, European heads of state and spoke several dialects of Arabic.

Her ability to connect with her clients was incredible.  She knew how her clients saw the world because she lived as they did.  After graduating from Oxford, she learned Arabic by living with the Bedouin tribes in North Africa for several years.  When King Faisal of Iraq (it was 1921) sought her counsel, she not only understood Arab culture, she spoke his language.

If western culture was in one ‘bowl’ and arab culture was in another, Ms. Bell was able to ‘walk the rims’ of each — seeing what both had  to offer (or, protect!).  Her role as advisor and liaison to powerful world leaders resulted from her being highly effective at providing empathetic counsel and using it to gain consensus from extremely disparate parties.

What You Can Learn From Happy Clients
Ask clients of highly regarded / desired advisors, “What do you like most about your advisor?”.  They’ll tell you.  Usually, it’s some variation on “S/he understands our business, our culture, our industry, our competitors but most of all . . . me”.

This makes it easy to ensure any recommendations you may make will be more acceptable and more likely to be implemented. But it all hinges on your ability to understand your client’s world, hopes, fears, concerns and desires.

KEY POINT:  
Get out of your world long enough to get into your clients’ world and business

There’s such a DIFFERENCE!

Skilled Expert:  Going DEEP
Like most of us, you probably began your working career in some field — e.g. law, accounting, financial planning, etc. and developed a professional reputation and regard for ‘knowing your stuff’.  Expertise in your primary field is a foundation . . . on which to build your professional reputation and regard.  But it’s not enough if you aspire to build a long-term, trusted advisor relationship with your clients.

Valued Advisor:  Going WIDE
Building on the foundation of being really, really good at what you do — i.e. ‘solving problems for your clients’ —  you’ll next want to gain knowledge that is not directly applicable to the field of your primary expertise.

The primary value — to you — of gaining an education about topics outside of your primary expertise is so that you can see things from an entirely different perspective — unlike a skilled expert who ‘knows it all’ . . . and not much else.

An Example:  “Learning To Fly”
Some years ago I had the privilege of learning how to fly.  Fortunately, I also had the aptitude to do so effectively.  While not critical to my later work as an advisor to salespeople and managers in the financial services industry, my pilot training proved to be an ‘edge’ that other ‘equally skilled’ experts did not enjoy.

At one point, an agency manager I was working with asked me, “How will I know that my training of a producer on some skill was adequate?”  What he really wanted to know was, “When can I ‘stop worrying’ about my producer and ‘assume’ she’s developed the competency I’ve been training her to have?”.

It was a good question.  Fairly common, too.  Because of my earlier flight training, I recalled — and shared — what I learned on the day I ‘soloed’ my training aircraft.

Aviation Navigation and E-6 Flight Computer

It was a cold January day in New England.  Snow squalls were coming in from the west.  Grey, overcast day.  The kind you like to think about while you’re on a Caribbean cruise!

“Today’s your lucky day, Bill!”
My flight instructor had me doing the usual take-offs and landings (known as ‘touch-and-go’) in the airport’s landing pattern.  Nothing too eventful.  I felt I was doing OK.  “Make the next landing a ‘Full Stop’ . . .”  I wasn’t sure why.  I soon found out, though!

We taxied back to the hangar area.  My instructor opened the door and said, “Bill . . . you’re ready . . . do three take-offs and make a ‘full stop’ after each.  Taxi back to the active (runway) and do it again.  I’ll be watching you from the hangar . . . don’t worry, you’ll be fine.  Now GO!”  With that, he got out of the aircraft and walked off toward the hangar area.  I was not expecting that!  But I felt excited at the thought that today I would fly the aircraft all by myself.  Woo hoo!

The three take-offs and landings were (with one exception) ‘uneventful’ and (obviously) successful.  After my third landing I taxied back to the hangar area.  I got out of the aircraft and asked my instructor, “How did you know TODAY . . . was THE day to let me ‘go solo’?”

He told me, “Well, I sit in the right seat and I observe you.  I want to see if you’re able to hold a steady heading and altitude.  If you do, that’s evidence of your SKILL.  If you stop holding either one, I want to see if you notice.  If you do, that’s evidence of your AWARENESS.  Finally, I watch to see if you correct the situation by using the controls and power to restore your heading and altitude.  If you do, that’s evidence of your MASTERY.  Once I know that you can:

1.  make the aircraft do what it’s supposed to be doing,
2.  spot it when it’s not, and
3.  correct in a timely manner . . .

you really don’t need me to sit in the ‘right seat’ and today . . . you demonstrated all three factors so . . . I got out of your way of becoming the pilot I know you’re going to be”.

Wow!  That was brilliant.  I shared both that story as well as the lesson it taught me . . . with my agency client.  Technically speaking, learning to fly had ‘nothing’ to do with getting his producer to generate more revenues for the practice.

But it had a lot to do with helping my client become more effective as an agency manager whose success reflected the quality of skills his producers were learning from him –– just as my own piloting skills reflected my talented and caring flight instructor from many years before.

KEY POINT:
Go deep AND wide.  Deep = expertise in your primary field.  Wide = broadening experiences in other (often unrelated!) fields. You’ll be more of a Valued Advisor and . . . more difficult to replace!

cultivating imageThe third function in your client development process is . . . CULTIVATING.

People Have The Attention Span of a Gnat
You know it’s true.  We are being deluged with 3,000 – 5,000 messages bombarding us on a daily basis.  It’s daunting!  And, it’s so easy to simply tune out anything and anyone who does not present us with an immediate need for a response or an opportunity for possible gain.

Even Your Ideal Prospect Probably Isn’t Ready To Buy . . . Today
Regardless of how you come into contact with someone who satisfies the ‘Ideal Client’ profile for your services, there’s a very good chance that they will not have an ‘immediate need’ for your services.

You buy groceries weekly, you get a dental cleaning every 6 months, and you look at buying or leasing a new car every 3 – 5 years.    

In between those periodic ‘high need’ moments, you’re still a qualified prospect but you’re not a ‘HOT’ prospect, are you?

And THAT . . . is why you want to Keep-In-Touch to Stay-In-Mind with people who, sooner or later, WILL be buying what you’re selling.

Cultivation Makes You More Competitive
Maintaining contact with your prospects — especially when they’re in the early or middle stage of their buying-cycle — builds awareness of you and preference for your brand . . . so when they are ready to do business or refer someone who is, you’ll have a competitive edge!

KEY POINT:
If you’re not cultivating relationships with people who can buy and/or refer you to others who can . . . you’re missing out.  Big time!