Over a decade of Sandy’s weekly written articles on strategies and motivation for your business and your life.
A few years ago, I presented a teleseminar for advisors throughout the U.S. on referrals.
During the live Q and A, Paul, an advisor in the Midwest, expressed frustration with his efforts to grow his practice by asking for introductions.
“I ask my clients about people they know who could use my help,” he told us, “But it feels awkward, and then my clients get all awkward and put me off.”
“Who gets awkward first?” I asked him.
“Well, I guess I do,” was his response, “But it’s because I know that they’re going to be uncomfortable.”
“Did it occur to you that maybe they get uncomfortable because you’re awkward, and your discomfort actually triggers theirs?” I asked.
“I never considered that,” he admitted.
We then went through 3 Steps Paul could use to take the discomfort out of the act of asking for referrals:
1. Start your client meetings by giving your clients (verbally or in writing) an agenda, that includes as the final item a discussion about friends, associates, and family members you might be able to help. Don’t surprise a client with a sudden request at the end of an appointment to talk about this important subject. If a client is going to be uncomfortable with this agenda item, let him or her tell you right at the beginning, and spend a few minutes either then or at the end discussing why this item makes him/her uncomfortable.
…The last thing I’d like to talk about this morning is some of the people in your life who you would want to have my help. I’d much rather be working with someone you want me to work with than someone whose name I took off a list somewhere. We’ll talk about some of the people you have in mind, and, if we decide it makes sense, we’ll figure out the most comfortable way for us to get in contact…
2. Always ask about the value you’ve given them—either on that particular appointment, or in your professional relationship over time. Ask him what he got out of your meeting, what he learned, and what he will get or has gotten out of his relationship with you. Ask him to tell you something specific that he found particularly helpful. Then utter the magic question: “What else?” Keep getting feedback until he can’t think of anything else, and then direct him to the ideas that you wanted him to find helpful, and ask if he did.
Did you find our discussion this morning helpful?…Was there one specific idea that you found particularly useful?…What else?…What else?…How about when I explained…
3. Now, you can ask them about people they know who could be helped in the same way. Remind her that this was one of your agenda items and ask who came to mind.
Mary, I’m glad you found the work we did here today so helpful. The last thing I promised you we’d do this morning is discuss some of the people you care about who might want the same kind of help, and decide whether it would make sense to arrange an introduction—and how we would go about that. Who is the first person who came to mind?
Speak with confidence, I told the group. If you don’t feel confident, act as if you do. Paul admitted that part of his problem was that he had not practiced being firm, clear, and self-assured when he brought up the subject of referrals…and practice is essential.
If you want to attract more clients, put talking about the people in your clients’ lives on your appointment agenda and get it out into the open, right up front. Act assuredly, and keep REACHING…
My fellow coach Amir Karkouti shared a story with some of his colleagues recently that I want to share with you now:
Some time ago, a team of scientists took a dog and put him in a cage where the floor had a very mild electric current running through it—just enough to make the dog a little uneasy.
As soon as the dog was put in and felt the current, he bolted out of the cage through the open door.
They returned the dog to the cage and this time shut the door. A week later, when they opened the door again, the dog had no interest in leaving. He had become accustomed to the discomforting cage.
While the dog stayed sitting there, with the electric current running through the floor, the scientists brought in another dog, and opened an adjacent cage with an electrified floor. As had originally happened with the first dog, as soon as the second dog felt the current, he jumped right out.
Here’s the fascinating part: Seeing the second dog bolt, the first one suddenly realized that he, too, could leave the dissatisfying space he was in and, after a few seconds, again ran through the open door.
Only after seeing the second dog escape did the first dog remember that he didn’t have to stay in that less-than-happy place.
Most professionals find themselves in a dissatisfying cage of their own: not earning enough money, being overwhelmed by work, being otherwise unhappy in their situation. But, like the first dog in the study, after awhile they become “comfortable” with being uncomfortable, and they make no big moves to change the current.
In my book, The High Diving Board, I refer to what most people call the “comfort zone” as the “safe neighborhood”. Staying where you are is not necessarily “comfortable”. Sometimes it’s downright UNcomfortable. But it is familiar. And because the unknown—stepping up your game, hiring a coach, etc.—might be more uncomfortable, you stay where you are.
With humans, even seeing someone escape from his or her cage doesn’t always inspire us to leave our own. That requires a decision—the decision to get out. Once you’ve made the decision, knowing what to do becomes much easier.
If you’re in a cage of your own making, or feel that you’ve ended up in someone else’s, don’t wait until you’re in so much pain that there’s no choice but to leave, or be there forever. Make the decision to do it now, and then find the help you need to run free.
Hey, even a DOG can do it. So if you’ve been stuck, pick a new direction, and just keep REACHING…
I’ve taken to sharing a line with attendees at my workshops that I borrowed from my colleague, Mitch Axelrod:
Too many of the people I talk with are waiting…waiting until they have their next license…waiting until their legal knowledge or product knowledge or some other knowledge is perfect…waiting to ask for introductions until their relationships with clients have reached a certain depth or they’ve perfected their skills in asking…waiting until they have all the money in place to get the help they know they need in order to grow their practices.
Their inaction is perfect—and nothing is happening in their businesses and practices.
Pat, the top financial advisor in his company, has a simple formula for success:
“Show up and do it with passion,” he tells new advisors. “Listen and try to turn every conversation into an opportunity.”
Every time I look at a professional or sales person who is successful, I see the same thing: Someone who is passionate about what he or she does, and does it. People want to follow people who are passionate, and who do what they’re passionate about.
If you’re not passionate about what you do or what you offer, maybe it’s time to reconsider your career. If you are passionate and have been afraid to show it, remember what Zig Ziglar said:
“For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough.”
One of the messages of my first book, The High Diving Board, is that taking some small action in the direction you want to go—any dedicated action, however imperfect—will start (and keep) you on your path. The end of paralysis starts with an awkward, barely perceptible, wiggling of a finger or toe.
Yet, many of the people who attend motivational and sales workshops would rather wallow in their perfect inaction, than work to create that first, tiny, passion-induced movement.
If your business or practice is not growing, and you recognize that the cause is your perfect inaction, try just a tiny bit of passionate action, and let me know what happens.
Soon you’ll be ready to move from wiggling your toes…to walking…to running…to flying. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“I’ve been at this for five years,” James, a financial advisor with a small solo practice, told me last week. “How do I get people to proactively send me referrals?”
“Deserve them,” I told him.
“But all my clients are already satisfied with my service,” he protested.
“Satisfying your clients isn’t enough to turn them into passionate, loyal referral advocates,” I told him. “It’s the minimum you need to do to keep a client and maybe pick up a referral or two. If you want more, you need to get them to tell stories about you.”
I then shared two stories with James:
A while ago, I dropped into a well-known department store near my home to buy a new shirt. There was a good selection of shirts in my size and the shelves were neatly arranged. The sales assistant was friendly and professional, and the shirt I bought was on sale. The entire experience was satisfactory.
I was completely satisfied…but I had never actually told anyone this story before. I hadn’t even told anyone I saw later that day about the satisfactory experience I’d just had. It had left my mind as soon as I left the store. So, why didn’t my experience render me a passionate, loyal, referring customer? The lesson is the same for a retailer as it is for an entrepreneur or a professional: There was no story to tell. The salespeople had just done what they were supposed to do.
Contrast that story with this one:
Once upon a time (a long time ago now), my wife Hannah and my daughter Stefanie went shopping for a prom dress. They found the perfect blue gown at Nordstrom. But when they opened the bag and looked at it that night, there was a ballpoint ink stain on the skirt of the dress. It was Thursday night, and the prom was on Saturday night.
First thing Friday morning, Hannah called the store frantically from work in the hope that they would have another blue gown she could pick up at the end of the day. The department manager informed her that there were no more blue gowns in my daughter’s size, but offered to call around to other Nordstrom stores to see if she could find one.
Hannah hung up the phone and fretted over what she was going to tell my daughter and what they were going to do with only one evening left to find another gown. But, half an hour later, the department manager called her back with news that she had located the identical gown at another location.
Then, she gave Hannah a story to tell. She offered to leave her store at the end of the work day, drive the twenty miles to the store where she had located the new gown, and drive another 20 miles back in the opposite direction to Hannah’s business to make the exchange. By evening, my daughter had her gown, and Nordstrom had another loyal customer, willing to tell this story over and over again—even over a decade later.
To make your clients loyal and willing to refer you, you need to take every opportunity to give them stories to tell. Doing a satisfactory job for them isn’t enough. Create a Client Service Plan that distinguishes you from your competitors. Serve coffee and pastries on a silver platter when they visit your office. Find out where they’re celebrating their anniversary and have champagne or dessert delivered to them at their table.
If you astound them—exceeding their expectations so far that they want to tell everyone your story—you’ll have more referrals than you can handle. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
A Guest Blog by Forrest Wallace Cato
Today, I’m giving my weekly message over to Wally Cato, the acclaimed publicist and writer, who interviewed me, Tom Hopkins, and before his recent passing, Zig Ziglar. A longer article containing the following excerpts appears in the latest Insurance Pro Shop® newsletter. While our interviews were primarily focused on helping financial advisors, they should offer value to any professional.
The Late Zig Ziglar Says…
Cato: What is your key advice for people trying to sell financial products and services on making difficult decisions?
Zig: People often say that sales motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why I recommend bathing often. Money isn’t the most important thing in your life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on your ‘got to have it’ scale. Every choice you make has an end result. Not doing what you should do is a choice. Not investing in yourself can be your choice. But these are bad choices for you. Sometimes you need to face adversity in order to force yourself to make the right choices in becoming successful. ‘Failures’ make the choice to do little or nothing that is significant. They don’t improve their skills. They do nothing more, nothing new, and nothing additional or different.
Cato: What is the main cause of most failure?
Zig: The chief cause is trading what you want most for what you want right now.
Cato: Can a sales agent improve by doing the same things over and over again?
Zig: If you are doing the right things, then yes! If you are doing the wrong things, then no! There is little improvement you can make from doing nothing, or from doing nothing more. You don’t have to be great to start. But you do have to start and continue with the right habits in order to become great.
Sandy Schussel Says…
Cato: What do clients expect from their financial planner (advisor)?
Sandy: When I make the decision to hire a financial planner, my expectations are different than many planners might think. Sure, I want him or her to be an expert in the field. But given the choice of an expert planner who appears to like and care about me, or one who doesn’t, I’ll take the one who does every time.
A few of your clients might be watching the performance of their investments relative to the market. Most, however, don’t really know—or care—whether you’ve created the best possible plan, are delivering them the best possible performance on their investments, or even if you’ve set them up with the best possible insurance and annuity products. They want to know that they’re important to you. Dale Carnegie referred to this as being impressed, rather than being impressive.
Cato: Does an advisor have to motivate his or her clients?
Sandy: Some clients are already motivated. They want help with retirement. They know they need insurance. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions. The rest need to be motivated to do what’s right for them. A client who thinks he is prepared for retirement or believes he has enough life insurance is not likely to be motivated to do what you know is best for him.
All of your logical reasons why a client needs to have something won’t motivate a client. Nobody will take your recommendation unless he feels that it is something he wants or needs. That gives advisors at least two motivational jobs: First, to be passionate about what you’re recommending (clients will buy your passion long before they buy your solution); and second, to ask the questions that need to be asked so that they can see their need for what you’re recommending.
Cato: How much of an advisor’s work is to inform and educate his or her clients?
Sandy: Everywhere I speak, I hear advisors tell me that their job is educating their prospects and clients. Informing and educating is a part of the job, but it’s just one part. Your first tasks are establishing rapport and thoroughly understanding the client’s situation. After that, you can prepare and present a plan or solution. You should certainly inform and educate your client as to what went into the analysis and choices you’ve made, but what they really want is leadership. Too many advisors give clients a choice based on the information, when what clients really want and need is a clear recommendation based on the information. Invite your clients to learn, but lead them to the right solution.
Cato: In what ways do you recommend that an advisor strive to protect his or her clients?
Sandy: There has been a lot of controversy lately over what kind of advisor has what kind of fiduciary responsibility, and what that means. There’s also a lot of confusion about such concepts as “suitability” and “risk tolerance”. Only when someone’s account has suffered a significant loss does his real risk tolerance surface.
All the Continuing Education in the world won’t do more for you than understanding the answer to a simple question: Does what I am recommending best serve my client? If the client is going to pay a “back end” charge to switch, will she be better off when that cost is considered? Does the small client with a few dollars to invest really need a $5,000 plan?
We need to protect a risk-averse client from market volatility, but we also need to protect him or her from our own need to make money. If what we’re proposing best serves the client, it’s right. If not, it’s wrong. The best way to protect our clients is to ask this question of ourselves, again and again.
Wally Cato is an internationally renowned speaker and “Legendary Publicist” to the Financial Services Industry, who has made placements on 60 Minutes and 20/20, interviewed five US Presidents in the Oval Office, and co-authored or ghost written a total of seven books appearing on the New York Times Bestsellers List.
I was listening to an old interview with Michael Port last week, and I smiled when the subject of “elevator speeches” came up. “We hate giving them,” he told Louise Crooks of BlogTalkRadio’s Keys to Clarity, “And we hate listening to them. Why, then,” he continued, “Do we keep making them?”
Despite plenty of sales training to the contrary, I happen to agree with Michael…DOWN with the elevator speech!
Don’t get me wrong: You do need to be crystal clear about three things I sometimes refer to as the Universal Marketing Questions:
(1) Who do you work for? (Who’s your “target market”?)
(2) What do they need? (And why is it important?)
(3) Why should they buy it from you? (What’s your unique experience or impact?)
I also believe you need to be bold and compelling. That’s why I’ve replaced the “elevator speech” with my notion of the “audio billboard”.
In my seminars, I sometimes ask:
“If you were cruising down the highway at 65 miles per hour and you saw, up on a billboard, what you usually tell people in response to a question about what you do, would you slow down to read it…or would you drive right past it?”
The usual answer is, “I would probably drive right past it,” but that’s obviously the WRONG answer.
What you don’t have to do is blurt out your billboard in some “cutesy”, one-sentence, automated statement. Your audience is, after all, not filled with mechanical “prospects”, but with real, human people. In his radio interview, Michael went on to explain that describing “what you do” should be part of a conversation—or as I like to say, part of a human-to-human conversation.
Here’s a sample of a conversational “audio billboard” exchange:
John: I’ve been talking a lot, Peter. What do YOU do?
Peter: Well, John, do you know how a lot of people fall behind on their mortgage payments?
John: Of course.
Peter: Exactly…which means that there’s a serious danger they could lose everything they’ve worked for their whole lives.
John: It’s sad, but it’s happening a lot, with the job market the way it’s been.
Peter: Yes! And that usually means that unless someone can help them work something out with the mortgage company, they have to live in constant worry and stress, right?
John: I’m sure…
Peter: Well, I step in and help them work something out with their mortgage companies so that they can stop worrying and get on with the rest of their lives…
The template for this conversation is:
Person: What do you do?
You: Do you know how…? [Mention your target market.]
Which means… Which means… [Mention the importance of the need you fulfill.]
Well, I… [Mention your impact.]
Using a simple but meaningful conversational format like this, you move from the dreaded “elevator speech” to an “audio billboard”—within a short, human-to-human interaction.
Remember to be a person, and you won’t drop down the shaft. You can keep your conversations bold and clear—not “cutesy” and forgettable—if you just keep REACHING…
I can’t think of anyone.
I don’t know anyone.
I never give referrals.
Let’s see how things go for a while.
Everyone I know is already working with someone.
Everyone I know has no money.
Everyone I know is old like me.
I can think of some people, but let me talk with them first.
I never discuss finances with my friends.
Give me some business cards and I’ll pass them around for you.
While a great deal of what I teach in my Mastering Client Referrals program is how to discuss introductions in a way that trumps these evasive responses (such as asking to talk with specific people instead of the buckshot “who do you know?…”), objections will come, no matter what.
But we can also break down what’s really happening when we get these “ANRs” (Automatic Negative Responses). The “I can’t think of anyone” objection just needs some direction from you. Over the years, I’ve found that most of the others are smokescreens for the four real reasons clients raise them:
1. They’re not sure how you’ll deal with people to whom they might refer you. Will you stalk or badger them? Will you try to pressure them into buying from you?
2. They don’t yet fully trust you. The old adage that clients need to know, like, and trust you has truth to it! This trust comes when clients feel you’re fully serving their interests and that you care about them.
3. They’re not sure how their friends, family members, or associates will respond to being referred. Even if they trust you to be the kindest and gentlest of professionals, they worry whether the people in their lives will resent being referred.
4. They’ve had a bad experience with referrals in the past. There’s always a perceived risk that an unsuccessful referral can damage a friendship. If there’s already a story in which that was the case, the client will be even more uncomfortable with making new introductions.
It is important not to try to have a pithy reply for any of these responses. Instead, you want to find out more about the underlying objection, in the following sequence:
1. Ask permission to explore. “I’m sorry if my bringing this up has made you uncomfortable. Do you mind if I ask you why?”
If the response is “I just don’t know you well enough” (which might have been expressed at first as “Let’s see how things go for awhile”), you can say something like this:
2. Explore. If the response is that your client has had a bad experience, ask her to tell you about it.
If it is concern about how you’ll deal with her friends, or how they’ll react to you, move directly to the next step.
3. Reframe. Point out the positive experience this client has already had with you. Then ask, “Would it help if I explained to you how I would approach and work with a friend or family member?”
Explain your process, highlighting the help you’d provide and the lack of any kind of “sales” pressure.
4. Move ahead, or leave the door open. Ask if the explanation has helped. Depending on the response, either go back to asking about people who might need your help, or simply ask permission to talk about introductions again in a few months.
The important thing to remember is not to fight objections, but to ask about them instead. For better results, just keep REACHING…
My friend and colleague, coach and author Steve Chandler, recently wrote this:
“Most people try to move toward wealth in embarrassing, clumsy ways. They have cynicism programmed into them from an early age. So they want a course called Manipulate and Grow Rich, or Network and Grow Rich or Win People Over and Grow Rich.”
“They see companies like Apple, Amazon, Nordstrom, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, and Google, and they think ‘I need a big, clever idea like that!’ or ‘I need diabolically opportunistic branding and positioning!’ When that doesn’t work, then they think it’s time to suck up to powerful people…polish some apples and lick some boots! Why? Because it’s Who You Know that makes you rich!”
“Yet all the while, there is a spirit that runs through all radical wealth creation…and we’ll keep it simple by calling it service. All the individuals and companies I have worked with in the past 30 years revealed to me this underlying truth: wealth comes from profound service.”
If you’re working on your Business Plan for 2014, make sure it includes serving your clients profoundly. If it does, this will be a great year for you.
To get specific, here are a few of Steve’s (and my) tips:
1. Stop Pleasing and Start Serving. As children, we are conditioned to please. “Were you a good girl, today?” Daddy asked, and what he meant was: Were you sweet, passive, obedient and not too vocal about your opinions? Never did we hear him ask: “Were you bold and powerful?” Or, “Were you courageous?”
Adults were the people with the money and power. If we pleased them, we’d get that ice cream or that allowance. As a result, too many of us learned to default to pleasing. We want our clients to think we’ve been a good little boy or girl, so if we think there will be resistance to what we believe serves them best, we choose what will please them instead of what we believe they should do or have.
If we served instead pleasing, we would astonish our clients, instead of simply being “a nice guy”. We would be making a real difference in another person’s life.
2. Create Agreements, Not Expectations. We become anxious because a client or prospect hasn’t done what we think they “should have” done. Expectations belong in the recycle bin, along with ideas like a “no” answer being a rejection. To fully serve and grow rich, you don’t need those anymore. In fact, they will slow you down and give you a life of disappointment—even causing nagging and persistent feelings of betrayal.
If you want a client to do something, create an agreement. Agreements serve because they are creative collaborations that honor both people. They are like a co-written song. Expectations, on the other hand, live and grow in us like cancer. Nothing good can come from them.
3. Don’t tell a client she’s wrong. Proving that your client’s or prospect’s view or understanding about the world is wrong—no matter how ridiculous her opinion might be—is not serving.
Listen for the value in what she is saying before you respond. Recognize the merit, and acknowledge that you see it. Agree with the “objection” rather than trying to overcome it with a humiliating argument. Instead, agree with her, and find a way to “reframe” how she’s seeing it.
“I understand that you don’t believe in life insurance, and if I saw it the way you’ve explained you do, I wouldn’t believe in it either. What I do believe in is making sure my family has money at the most critical time that I won’t be able to help. If we didn’t call it ‘life insurance’, wouldn’t that be something you’d want your family to have?”
Make 2014 the year of profound service, and it’s bound to be your best. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
If you’re like most people, you found yourself juggling all of the things you had to do this past month, including social obligations and gifts galore, and you may have left someone very important off of your list by mistake…YOU! If you could have anything in 2014, what would it be? And why don’t you have it yet?
When we don’t have what we want, we tell ourselves stories about why we don’t. These stories usually involve our circumstances: Not enough time, not enough money, not enough education, the wrong kind of education, etc. Or, they involve the people in our lives: Friends who don’t understand us, spouses who are overbearing, children who are demanding, sick parents, etc., etc., etc.
I often upset my workshop attendees and clients by calling the people or circumstances we blame for holding us back exactly what they are—excuses. Not having money, time, or training may make getting what you want more difficult, but people whose circumstances are far worse than yours have overcome these obstacles by the sheer force of their commitment.
A simple “resolution” you can keep this month is to commit to giving yourself an hour’s worth of time to figure out what you want and what’s keeping you from having it. During that time, ask yourself these Five Questions as part of a “SWOT” Analysis:
1. If you and I were to meet three years from now, what is the absolute minimum that will have to have happened in order to allow you to say your life is terrific?
2. What strengths do you already have that you could leverage to get you there?
3. What weaknesses will you have to acknowledge?
4. What opportunities can you take advantage of that will help you along the way?
5. What are the hardships and obstacles you’ll need to overcome to get to that point?
If you do this analysis before the end of the month, you can make plans you will keep for the New Year. Make time for yourself, and you’ll be able to maintain your holiday spirit all year round, even as you work hard to keep REACHING…
A few years ago, I was asked to give the keynote address at the Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration of Princeton Toastmasters. I decided to speak about Napoleon Hill’s discovery in the 1930s that the wealthiest and most successful people of his time were all following the same Simple Success Formula:
If you conceive an idea for something that doesn’t exist in the world today—an invention, personal wealth, fame, the success of your business, or anything else—and you believe it is possible, and pursue it with passion, it will become a reality.
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe,” Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich, “The mind can achieve.”
Or, stated simply: “Conceive It…Believe It…Achieve It!”
Thomas Edison conceived that electricity could be a safe, economical source of power for lighting homes and stores, towns and cities.
Andrew Carnegie, the original “Slumdog Millionaire”, conceived as a boy that even a starving orphan could rise through the restrictive societal structure of his time to become wealthy and influential.
Both of these men conceived it, believed it, and achieved it.
In 1993, an unhappy lawyer who had spent a year battling cancer and complications from treatment that left him disabled and bankrupt conceived of an idea for a career—as a speaker, coach, and author—that was nothing like the one he thought he was chained to for life. He dreamt of helping other professionals who were struggling—or completely burnt out, as he had been—find their true calling and success.
But for years he didn’t believe what he had conceived, so nothing happened. A full five years later, in 1998, it was having joined Toastmasters, and having built confidence as a motivational speaker, that helped him believe in the reality of his dream career. The belief became so powerful that soon, nothing could stop him.
Now, over 15 years later, I visit firms and organizations throughout the country doing what I love. I coach individuals who are going through equally challenging life and career transitions as I once experienced. And I’ve written two books and countless articles, sharing the lessons that I’ve learned with an audience wider than I could have imagined.
The main one is this: You can have anything you want…You can be anything you want…You can do anything you want. If you conceive it and believe it, you’ll achieve it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help to find the right track and to keep yourself on it. Until you conceive of doing that, or until you believe you can, keep REACHING…