Over a decade of Sandy’s weekly written articles on strategies and motivation for your business and your life.
(1) The ability to ask provocative questions
(2) The ability to listen with total focus on your client
(3) The ability to relate compelling stories and metaphors
In this article, I’ll discuss the second of these skills:
“Honey, you wont believe this! I got to work fifteen minutes late this morning and when I looked out the window there was a flying saucer with two little green men in it. They waved and flew off into space…”
Hannah would then probably ask:
“Why were you late? You left on time.”
We tend to listen to one another, surf the Internet, and watch television—all at the same time. When we do, the “listening” part of this multitasking ends up being pretty passive.
Some of my clients and friends have taken courses on active listening. They’ve been told:
“When you’re speaking with a client, stop everything else, put your papers aside, turn away from your computer, make eye contact with the client, concentrate on the words he/she is speaking, and don’t interrupt!”
All of these tips are truly important, but they can’t prevent us from the problem of being “Waiting To Talk” listeners. Even when we stop all activity and elect to listen actively, our minds often cannot help but race through responses to whatever it is that our client or prospect is saying. Because those wheels in our heads are turning, we may miss the most important component of communication—the emotions behind our clients’ words.
Listening with total focus on your clients requires all of the skills you need for active listening, but adds the requirement that you let go of the need to ready a response. Listen to their words, listen for the emotions behind their words, and observe their body language. Step outside of yourself, and pay attention without standing at attention, ready to pounce in and solve problems. Take in what your clients are saying, but also, absorb what they aren’t saying.
Professionals who are totally focused on their clients and prospects are always more likely to win—or keep—the loyal advocates who give them business. But cultivating this level of focus takes practice. Contact me if you think you want some help in becoming the best listener you can possibly be.
Next week, I’ll shift focus to the third skill you’ll need to build your client base: the ability to relate to your clients through powerful words and compelling stories. In the meantime, stay active, let go, and keep REACHING…
(1) The ability to ask provocative questions
(2) The ability to listen with total focus on your client
(3) The ability to relate compelling stories and metaphors
In this article, I’ll focus on the first of these skills:
1. The ability to ask provocative questions. If you’ve found that your prospective clients (we’ll call them “prospects”) are backing away, it is likely that you have made the common mistake of cutting the questioning process short. You may have jumped to the solution you provide too early. If you’re like most professionals, before talking about your services, you do ask informational questions—who, what, where, when, how, and why. While you need this information to understand how you can help your prospects, it is more valuable to you than it is to them. Your prospects already have this information! Situational questions are more likely to help you get to the bottom of your prospects’ deeper needs.
Sometimes, your simple informational questions will bring up a relevant concern—maybe even one that a prospect didn’t know he or she had. Maybe the prospect is already working with someone in your field and is having some problems with that relationship, or with the results he/she is getting.
Well, there they are: problems! And that’s what we do, isn’t it? We solve problems. So, we’re done here, right? Isn’t it time to move on, and into the solution?
As soon as you identify this little bit of trouble in Paradise, you may want to pounce with your offer of services…but if you do, more often than not, your prospect will start squirming. Here’s an example of a conversation my client, Lisa, a financial advisor, experienced with a prospect who had already been working with another advisor:
Lisa: So, you haven’t heard from him in over a year and he didn’t return your call the last time you tried to reach him? He also hasn’t explained any of these things we’ve been talking about today, right? It sounds like you’re not getting the service you need from him. I can promise you that I’ll check in with you once a quarter and I always return calls immediately. How about we go ahead and transfer your accounts…
Prospect: You know, actually, I’ve been working with this guy for almost eight years. I think I should try to talk to him again first and, if he doesn’t return my call, I can get back to you.
One reason this conversation may have ended as it did—with the prospect’s objection—is that the problem Lisa identified is also one that she had to imply. Your prospects are always weighing whether their need for change is explicit and urgent enough for it to be worth their while to do all the work required to make that change.
When there’s only a vague sense of a problem, the scale tips in favor of leaving things as they are. To avoid running into a brick wall, you need to move from implied problems to explicit problems. And you can only get your prospects to see explicit problems by asking more [situational] questions first.
Here’s how Lisa learned to handle her next conversation, after working with me on asking better questions:
Lisa: So you haven’t heard from him in over a year and he didn’t return your call the last time you tried to reach him? He also hasn’t explained any of these things we’ve been talking about today, right? How is this level of service affecting you?
Prospect: It’s a little annoying that he doesn’t return my calls, but I guess I’m doing okay.
Lisa: Does it worry you that there’s no one reassuring you about your retirement, or letting you know the status of your accounts?
Prospect: Well, actually, that’s the reason I agreed to sit down with you. I am concerned that there might be more I should be doing, or that I might need to change my strategy.
Lisa: And if you try him again, and maybe he responds this time, but doesn’t respond again the next time you have a concern, will that be okay?
Prospect: Well, no. I need to feel like someone is watching out for me. Maybe my account is just too small for him.
Lisa: Well, how small is it? What’s at stake here?
Prospect: I mean, this is my life savings we’re talking about!
Lisa: Yes, it is. So, I guess the only question is, does it make more sense for you to wait and see what happens with this guy—or to start working with someone who definitely has availability for you, and does not think your life savings is “no big deal”?
Prospect: I probably shouldn’t wait around to be disappointed again. Can you tell me more about how you work?…
Next week, I’ll discuss the second skill for getting clients: the ability to actively listen. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“It seems like you’ve already got nearly as many clients as you can handle,” I declared to Victoria, a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) who had just started working with me. “So, how can I help you?”
“Well, the truth is, Sandy, that none of them have any money,” she confided.
Victoria is 27 years old and has managed to grow her practice to its current level by giving terrific service to small retailers, most of whom are as young as she, and are either just starting out or within their first two years in business.
These clients are often struggling and can barely afford basic accounting services. Invariably, after working with her, Victoria’s satisfied clients recommend her to their budding-entrepreneur friends. While she is grateful for their loyalty, she is frustrated about starting work with still more struggling small-business owners.
I explained to Victoria that you can’t attract what you want into your life—clients or anyone or anything else—unless you have a clear picture of it that you can share with people. “It’s hard for you to make the kind of living you want on these small clients,” I acknowledged, “but who do you want to take on as a client?”
Victoria thought for a moment and then replied. “Well, I do like to work with ‘Mom and Pop’ business owners, but I wish I could be working with some that are larger and more established.”
“Then tell your clients that that’s who you’re looking for,” I challenged.
“Just like that?” she asked. “I don’t know…”
Two days later, Victoria called me. With excitement rushing her words, she related a conversation she had had with one of her small-business clients just the day before:
“I was finishing up paperwork with Tom, and he told me he had recommended me to a friend of his who had just opened a deli. So, I thanked him for the referral, but then I did what you told me to do. I said ‘Tom, you know I always appreciate your faith in me and will always take good care of anyone you recommend me to, but I do my best work with people who already have bigger, more established businesses.’
Tom’s wife, Marie, happened to be walking by while I was explaining this and said, ‘Why don’t we send her to see my uncle?’ Well, Marie’s uncle owns a large, well-known furniture store the next town over. And, I have an appointment to see him next week!”
Victoria’s accounts knew she wanted more clients, but they all thought she wanted more clients like them. Victoria learned that people don’t know what you want until you tell them, and asking for what she wanted resulted in her landing exactly the kind of client she was hoping to reach.
If I can help you learn how to get more of what you want, contact me to talk about how we might work together. I’ll let you know if your concerns would make you the type of client I can currently serve best.
Ask for what you need, and whether or not you get it right away, keep REACHING…
How are we doing?
What are you getting out of our work together?
Anyone in a business or professional practice should be asking clients questions like these on a regular basis.
A sincere discussion about your value—and the places where you could give more value—can help you keep the clients you have already and obtain referrals to many more. If the feedback you get is positive, it can do four things for you: Continue reading
Two years ago, Karen became a “Top Ten” representative out of the several hundred agents at her financial services firm. She received a certificate, a $15,000 bonus, and a great deal of attention from her peers.
Last year, she barely made it into the Top Thirty…
In January, Karen called me for help. “I didn’t do anything differently this past year than I did the year before,” she told me. “Maybe it’s the economy,” she continued, “’Cause it just seems like fewer and fewer people are saying ‘yes’ to me.”
“When you made the ‘Top Ten’ two years ago, were you consciously pursuing it?” I asked her.
“Well, no, actually,” she responded. “I was totally surprised by it.”
“What were you focused on, then, that year?” I continued.
“I guess, my total focus was on helping as many people as I could in as many ways as I could,” she explained, with a note of pride in her voice.
“Well, did your focus change this past year?”
There was silence on the other end of the line. After what seemed like minutes, Karen responded:
“I wanted to make it to the Top Ten again, and I guess my focus was on that, and not really on helping anyone,” she realized, “But would that really have made the difference? I was helping people, either way!”
“There’s a way to find out,” I hinted. “Start focusing again on helping as many people as you can in as many ways as you can, and see what happens.”
Karen called me a few weeks ago to let me know she had already made it back into the Top Ten, but that she was no longer focused on either getting there or staying there. Her focus was, once again, on what got her into the Top Ten in the first place.
“But what about the economy?” I teased.
Stop worrying about your standings, your income, or the number of cases you’re opening, and instead focus your energy as Karen has remembered to do: on serving. If you do, you’ll undoubtedly find the personal success and satisfaction you’re after, no matter what your numbers are.
If you’re having trouble with your focus, contact me, and I’ll help you get back in [the front of the] line. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“I think I ought to go back to the way I was doing it before,” Ron, an advisor in Nevada, asserted to me in his weekly coaching check-in email. He had just taken advantage of an opportunity to teach a one-session evening class on financial concepts for a local college’s adult education program.
One of Ron’s challenges was that he rarely asked directly for an appointment. Instead, he would passively talk around offering to sit down with someone, hoping they’d get the hint—something that just wasn’t working.
In anticipation of this event, I had coached him to announce to his attendees that he had already set aside two days the following week during which he could meet with any of them who wanted to explore their situations. He would instruct them to approach him right at the end of his program in order to schedule their appointments.
Ron continued his report to me:
“I tried being more direct with everyone about setting an appointment with me afterwards, but nobody did.”
And, he concluded, “People don’t want me to be so direct.”
A few hours later, Ron received this email from one of his attendees:
I wish you had given us more valuable information, and not spent so much time promoting your business. I would have liked to get some beneficial information along with stories and facts to illustrate your subject. Then, you could have asked for questions before letting people know you were available to make appointments.
Ron sent this email to me as his proof that the direct approach isn’t a good one for him.
But Betty wasn’t complaining about his “direct approach” at all; she was upset that there wasn’t enough substance to the program and that Ron was selling his services instead of giving the attendees value. If you read her last sentence, you see that she concluded that had Ron provided the service the attendees had expected, it would have been okay to be direct about appointments.
What Ron couldn’t see was that his direct approach to appointments wasn’t the issue. He needed to have given extraordinary value first. And from the tone of Betty’s email, he clearly did not do that—at least, not for her.
Ron wants to build his business through seminars and programs like this one. If he does go back to his coy little dance around his invitations and he continues to give too little value, his results will be even more disappointing.
On the bright side, there are two clear lessons here for professionals who do presentations:
(1) Give extraordinary value and don’t spend all your time trying to sell attendees on using your services, and
(2) Only then—but always—be direct about the next step you want your attendees to take.
Every seminar should end with a clear “Call to Action”. But you can’t ask for your prospects’ action if your seminar did not move anyone to take action. Deliver value, and then tell your attendees, “Here’s what I want you to do next.”
Don’t choose to go backward before taking a direct leap forward. Contact me, and let me help you make your presentations—and your results—extraordinarily more powerful. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“I’ve just been lucky,” my client, Jerry, responded when we started talking about the success of his financial practice.
Jerry started working with me when he felt he had hit a plateau. He was afraid to lose what he had built by raising his management and planning rates, and he wasn’t sure what he wanted his next steps to be.
“Jerry, you’ve worked hard to develop your practice to this point,” I affirmed to him, “So what makes you say that it was luck?”
“It’s just that the people I work with haven’t discovered how little I really know,” he replied. ”I mean, I’ve got all these licenses and certifications, but if they knew how often I was just winging it, none of these people would have stuck with me for so long.”
Jerry was suffering from “Imposter Syndrome“. While his clients believed in him and gave him glowing testimonials, in his own mind he was a phony, and whatever successes he had were only attributable to blind chance. The fact that his “luck” was based on how he treated people—as well as on a combination of training, continuous learning, intuition, and life experience—didn’t register with him at all.
Jerry is not alone. According to an article published a few years ago in Inc. Magazine, as many as 25% of successful entrepreneurs feel like imposters all of the time, and up to 70% feel that way at least some of the time. (That leaves little more than 5% who are confident that they have earned what they have!)
But I worked with Jerry to change his paradigm—to get him to understand that while it may appear that some people have success that is attributable to chance, his success is attributable to the dedicated effort with which he applies the skills he does possess, and to his obvious care and concern for his clients—it comes from ACTION.
Jerry came to realize that it was appropriate for him to raise his rates. “I still feel like a fake sometimes,” he told me, “But I understand that the feeling is about my fear that I don’t deserve this success. I have to look in the mirror and remind myself that I do deserve it.”
For a great discussion on the Paralyzing Fear of being unworthy, refer to my first book, The High Diving Board. I encourage all professionals to start selling services by “acting as if” they are already successful. Somehow, many of them never stop feeling that they are only “acting as if”, even long after they’ve actually become quite skilled and knowledgeable, and truly excellent at what they do.
If you think you’ve been riding on luck alone, and you’re worried it’s going to run out, contact me now and I’ll set you straight. Don’t give Imposter Syndrome the chance to hold back the growth of your business, practice, or person…just keep REACHING…
Several years ago, during a teleconference where Josh Hinds had interviewed me about my work, listeners got to hear one participant, Matt (not his real name), tell us that he was about to receive an acceptance of his offer to work with a big, new client. “How do I deal with the feeling that I may have oversold them,” he asked, “—that I’m not really capable of delivering what I promised?!”
“My wife calls what I’m going through ‘imposter syndrome‘,” Matt continued, “but whatever you call it, it is really making me feel like a fraud, and as though that at some point, they’re going to figure it out.”
Imposter Syndrome describes that collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is the feeling that you are not really competent; that you are only posing as someone who “is”. It often hits professionals at the worst time—when they are negotiating an exceptionally large contract.
Josh and I both came to Matt’s aid. I pointed out that Matt should tell himself that it is okay to have this fear. “Instead of trying to fight it,” I recommended, “acknowledge that it’s there—that it’s okay to be afraid—and take steps to do what you need to do to get rid of it. Be the expert you told them that you are.” I explained to Matt that the first step anyone takes in order to become an expert at something is to declare that he or she is an expert. Then, he or she needs to “walk the talk”.
“Get whatever training, materials, and books you need to make what you told them true,” I advised him.
Josh and I both also pointed out that Matt needs to trust his clients’ guts. “Believe that they have thoroughly considered your credentials and background,” we coached. “If they have more faith in you than you do,” we told him, “Then you need to borrow theirs.”
Many of us have a gap between what our abilities are and what we perceive that they are. While it sometimes works the other way, usually our abilities are greater than our perception of them. If you’re feeling the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, more often than not, that’s probably what is going on.
If the feedback you’re getting is overwhelmingly positive, trust in your client’s or employer’s perception of you! If you’re still afraid, acknowledge the fear, and contact me for help getting over it. Move forward as your best self syndrome-free (with confidence), and keep REACHING…
Last week, I read an article by Dan Waldschmidt in the publication LifeHealthPro that inspired me to sit down and write this article of my own. The gist of Dan’s piece was that just because some technique or strategy works for someone else doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Not everything works for everyone all the time, Dan expressed, and you can’t underestimate the importance of how a strategy is being executed.
Jamie Smart, author of the new book Clarity, refers to the same concept in this way: It’s like taking the fruit off of someone else’s tree and trying to glue it onto your own. It just doesn’t work that way!
Over the past fourteen years, I’ve studied just about every strategy a professional can use to grow his or her practice. I’ve seen countless methods that were hugely successful for one professional that were terrible disappointments for others.
That’s because your success isn’t necessarily going to come from any of the strategies you employ, as much as it will come from how you employ them—or, in other words, from how you show up in the world.
How do people—particularly clients, prospects, and referral sources—see you? Do they see you as someone who is there to serve them…or to sell them something? Do they get the sense when they meet you or talk with you on the phone that you are someone with whom they can share their most intimate secrets…or someone around whom they have to be careful?
A timid, weak, uncertain, distracted advisor can put on an expensive suit and learn some powerful marketing and sales strategies, but he will still be seen as timid, weak, uncertain, and distracted. For him, the magical techniques that worked so well for the million-dollar producer from whom he learned them will ultimately prove to be ineffective.
Growing a business or professional practice is about reaching people who might need your help, and then “converting” them by getting them to engage your services. We can spend months developing strategies to reach prospects and techniques to convert those prospects into clients—which are both things we definitely need to do—but in the end, our successes will depend largely on who we are being, not on what we are doing.
If you aren’t getting the kinds of clients you want, it’s possible there’s nothing wrong with your strategies. The question you need to ask yourself is: “Who do I have to be (who I’m not being) to have all the great clients I can handle?”
If you can answer that question, be who you need to be. If you’re not sure what your answer is, let’s talk. In the meantime, try to engage the clients you want by branching out to grow your very own fruit, and keep REACHING…
Bill is a financial services representative in the Southwest U.S. who told me that one of the greatest challenges for him was his fear of reaching out to the already “successful” people in his community who he thought he could help.
“I have a list of these people I never call,” he told me. “The thought of reaching out to them gets my stomach churning, and I just can’t bring myself to do it.”
Bill’s list of these special prospects had at least 50 names on it. He called it his “Whale List”.
“What’s the actual challenge in contacting them?” I asked him. “Why is that you have no trouble contacting other people, but you’re paralyzed when it comes to contacting the whales?”
Bill thought for a moment and then nearly gasped at his own answer.
“They might think I’m a fool to believe that I could help them.”
“Bill, do YOU believe you can help them?” I asked.
“Well…yes, I think I might be able to!”
“So, all you’re really saying is that they might say NO to you,” I pressed on. “And if you think about it, how is that any different from when anyone else says NO to you?”
Again, there was a silence, and then Bill replied. “Well, I guess it really isn’t any different.”
“So, if you weren’t afraid to pick up the phone and ask them if they’d like to work with you,” I asked, “what would you do differently than you do with anyone else you call?”
“Nothing different at all,” he quickly conceded.
“Could you commit, then, to just one Whale Call a day?” I asked, and Bill agreed that he would.
After a week, I could tell we had created some magic. Bill had already made five Whale Contacts, and while three of them had politely told him they had no interest in speaking with him about their situations, two of them made appointments with him. None of the Whales were rude to him or refused to take his call.
A few weeks have gone by now, and Bill is still too intimidated by these local “movers and shakers” to make more than one Whale Call per day—but he has also successfully converted one of the whales into a promising new client.
If there are people on your list who you’re terrified to contact, challenge yourself to call just one a day—or even one each week. Prepare and rehearse what you’re going to say, and then make that single attempt to connect. It could change the entire course of your practice.