Let’s talk movies. My father loved the “lone hero” characters played by Gary Cooper, who faced off with all of the bad guys virtually solo in the 1952 movie High Noon.
To my dad, Cooper represented the idea that action heroes had to find their way by themselves. Dad believed that strong, successful people don’t ask for help—and while he was always quick to help others, he found it almost impossible to ask anyone to help him.
I loved my father, but he died broke and broken. And I believe that a large part of the reason for this was his view on what it takes to be successful.
He had missed one of the main points of his favorite Gary Cooper movie. Cooper’s marshal, Will Kane, asked everyone in town for help—they were just all too afraid to stick their necks out. In fact, soon after the movie’s release, veteran “lone hero” John Wayne was publicly infuriated that someone had actually made a Western wherein a marshal asked for assistance. Wayne found a counter-vehicle for himself in the 1959 film Rio Bravo, in which he played a sheriff who didn’t ask anyone for anything.
Personally, I’m a fan of the 1992 movie My Cousin Vinny, with Joe Pesce and Marissa Tomei. In the ending dialog, Vinny becomes upset when he realizes that he didn’t succeed all on his own. His fiancé, Mona Lisa Vito, mocks him:
You know, this could be a sign of things to come. You win all your cases, but with somebody else’s help, right? You win case after case, and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, “thank you”. Oh my God, what a f*cking nightmare!
The moral? Keep trying, but STOP trying to do it yourself.
We all recognize that athletes have coaches. That’s where the idea of professional and life coaching comes from. But we are stuck with this archaic view that it’s okay for them, and not for us. They have special needs, and we don’t. Do you accept this view?
If not, find someone who you’d want to let help you. We spend our lives trying to convince other people that we have our acts together, but it’s an achievement to be able to say, “Here’s what I don’t have and here’s what I think is holding me back. Can you help?”
Whether it’s an assistant, a coach, a therapist, or a friend or loved one you never quite let in all the way, make it your hero’s mission to ask him or her for what you need. Often times, you don’t need more information to get things done; what you need is more application–an extra set of hands on the challenges of your career, practice, or personal life. And the motivation to get it all done is often most accessible when you’re working with a teammate, partner, or colleague.
Asking for what you need is courageous–and essential. Please, don’t end up like my dear old dad did. Choose to voice your needs to someone–anyone–who can help you accomplish your dreams.
In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“I found a new way to talk with clients about referring me,” Ryan, a financial advisor, once told me excitedly on the phone. “I use a diagram! I’ll show it to you.”
Ryan emailed me a little while later with this:
Of course, I was interested, and I called him back right away to have him explain how it worked.
“First, I draw a circle in the center of a yellow pad, where you see the ‘Joe W’, representing the client,” he started.
“Then,” he continued, “I draw circles surrounding the first circle for people they’ve already referred to me. I thank them for the ones that worked out and tell them that these referrals are happy; I also point out the ones that didn’t work out, explaining how it just wasn’t right for whatever reason.”
“Finally,” Ryan exclaimed, “I ask them who’s missing from the chart! I say, ‘Who haven’t we talked about yet?’”
Ryan told me that the client at the center of this drawing, Joe, looked at the chart and said to him, “I wonder why we never talked about my niece, Barbara, and her husband.” He gestured to the open circles on the page. “Add Barbara in there.”
Ryan was very proud of his piece of “referral technology”—and so was I! I went on to suggest to him that any time a client or prospective client volunteers information, his next response should be a magical question—either “who else?” or “what else?” Once Joe volunteered Barbara, for instance, a “who else” could identify another person for Joe and Ryan to discuss, and with whom Ryan could go on to arrange an appointment. Asking “who else?” again might have brought to light a third—and then even a fourth—potential client for Ryan.
Most professionals are terrified of the referral conversation and they either avoid it entirely or approach it so awkwardly that it doesn’t end up working for them at all.
Tim, one of my current clients, told me earlier this week that he was uncomfortable “switching” from being a professional to asking for referrals. The goal, I told him, is to be a professional while asking for referrals. There shouldn’t be a difference. If you’re helping someone by providing a service, why not offer the same service to someone else in his or her life who might also really need your help?
If you have your own method of talking about introductions or referrals that works for you, please share it with me, and with the other professionals in your life! If referrals aren’t yet working for you, contact me now, and I’ll let you in on a few of the ideas that have worked for me and countless others in my network of clients and colleagues. No matter what strategy you implement, one technique is certain: ALWAYS be sure to keep REACHING…
“I most certainly did not need a lecture!” Marie, an internet consultant, wrote me this week.
Last week, I had asked for proposals for help with an internet project I’m working on, and Marie had been the first to respond. Her email had specifically addressed my request and was filled with enthusiasm, and she appeared to have experience in both of the areas in which I needed help. Each of the other consultants who responded only had skills in one area or the other.
When I spoke to Marie a few days ago, we got a little more into the details of the project, and I told her that I still wanted to talk with the three other experts who responded, but that I would get back to her after my conversations and after reviewing her detailed proposal.
Marie then called me on Monday to make sure I had received the proposal, and to find out if I had reviewed it.
Yesterday, just one week after our initial contact and two days after her follow-up call, she wrote:
I’ve yet to hear back from you, so I guess it’s safe to assume you’ve decided on hiring someone else.
Regardless of your intention, a note like this conveys a neediness and negativity that can make a prospective buyer of your services run for cover. There were several good reasons why Marie didn’t hear back from me this week. What basis did she have to assume I had gone elsewhere? Was her intention to “guilt” me into reassuring her that I hadn’t made a decision yet, or to decide to use her?
Upon receipt of Marie’s note, I could have: (a) decided that the negative, needy tone was a turnoff and simply made Marie’s message a self-fulfilling prophecy, or (b) ignored the negative and needy tone. But because my work is helping professionals get more clients (something about me Marie needed to know), I chose option (c), to tell her how her letter might appear to a prospective client:
…It’s a giant and negative leap to assume that because a week has gone by, I’ve decided to work with someone else. A better approach might be to ask if there’s any way you can help a client decide.
I haven’t made my decision yet–let’s talk again next week!
Marie’s response is above. She also said,
Perhaps we would not be a good fit after all.
When you’re trying to attract clients, your need for their business is the ugliest thing you can show them. Perhaps I shouldn’t give my advice where it hasn’t been requested–a good lesson for me! But perhaps the reason “we’re not a good fit after all” is that I was right about my sense that Marie had shown me that her need to have another client was more important than my need as a prospective client.
By the way, had Marie understood why I was giving her advice on dealing with prospective clients, it would have shown me she completely understands the work I do, and she would have surely had the job. She could have disagreed with my interpretation of her email, or on my tone, and we might have discussed it–but none of that can happen now.
Marie wanted more clients…but she didn’t want help. If you do want to attract clients to your practice or service business, welcome help, be gentle, assume the best, and keep REACHING…
“I talk to my clients occasionally about introducing me to someone they know who might need my help,” expressed Art, a matrimonial attorney I work with. “But they always tell me that they can’t think of anyone.”
“Maybe that’s true,” I suggested. “Do you have a value discussion before you get on the subject of recommending you?”
“A value discussion?” Art asked. “You mean, like, asking them what they think of my services?”
“Exactly,” I replied.
“No way, man!” Art protested vehemently. “Most divorce clients are angry at everyone. They hate being in the situation they’re in, they hate paying me, they hate the whole process. If I ask them what they think of me or my services, I can’t imagine what would come out of their mouths.”
“Try it,” I suggested. “On all of your appointments this week, ask your clients how they feel about the service they’ve been getting, and see what happens.”
Art was skeptical, but he agreed to do what I asked.
When we spoke again the next week, I could hear Art trying to hold back his excitement.
“Every one of them said very positive, very flattering things,” he blurted. “The only negative comment had to do with me not checking in when nothing was going on with her case, so I promised to fix that and she was happy.”
“But here’s the real kicker,” he continued. “After we talked about how she felt, without my even bringing the subject up, one of them started to tell me about a friend who might need my help.”
One of the best ways to grow a practice of any kind is through referrals. Most professionals make the mistake of asking for referrals—or for the retainer, for that matter—before they have made sure not only that they’ve given value, but that the client has recognized it.
Discussions about your relationship with clients should come up often. Check in with them. Get them to tell you what is working and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to hear the bad news. Studies tell us that only one in twenty-seven unhappy clients tell us they are unhappy. They just don’t use us anymore and they don’t recommend us.
Think about that figure. It means that if just one person does complain, twenty-six others were unhappy and didn’t tell you. If you don’t believe the statistic, think about the last time you went to a restaurant, were dissatisfied with the food or the service, and vowed never to come back, but didn’t tell the manager about it.
Most importantly, though, before you talk with your client about other people or companies he might know about who could use the same kind of help you are providing to him, make sure he tells you just how great your services are.
Start with a general question, like:
“Peter, I just want to make sure you’re getting the best service we can possibly give you, so I wanted to ask you how we’re doing.”
The answer to a question like this is likely to be positive, but without any detail. So next, get specific:
“What’s something that we’ve done that you’ve found to be particularly helpful?”
When he mentions one thing, ask him, “What else?” Keep asking this question until he’s out of answers.
Then, continue the value discussion by asking directed questions:
“Did you like how we jumped on that mistake and got it out in the open?”
Finally, ask “Is there anything more I can do for you now, or in the future?”
If the client assures you that she’s really happy, ask her if she knows someone like her (or her company) that could use the same kind of service. If she’s not happy, fix your service.
Asking clients about your value can have some great results. Start doing it immediately.
In the meantime, keep REACHING…
If you need a plumber, would you prefer to hire someone you found in the local phone book, or someone your neighbor used for a similar problem and recommends highly? If you need surgery, would you prefer finding your surgeon through your research on surgeons.com or seeing a surgeon who performed successful surgery on a family member or is recognized as the top specialist in his field by your trusted internist.
I’d be surprised if your answer was not the second choice in both cases. People want to meet their professionals through introductions.
This means that one of the easiest and most effective ways to build your practice, in this or any economy, is through your existing clients, former clients and other people who already know you. Of course, they have to be willing to recommend you to others. There are two things you can do immediately to facilitate this:
(1) Be referable; and
(2) Be on their minds
“Being referable” is about developing relationships with your clients and others that go beyond the particular services you provide to them. It’s about knowing them as people, and treating them in a way that gets them to want to tell stories—good stories—about you.
Providing great service isn’t enough. The largest of corporate clients hires you based on your relationship with individuals. Competence and great service are important, but what these individuals want is a sense that you really care about them. Find out your clients’ birthdays and anniversaries. Know what flavor ice cream their children like.
My friend, Stu, is a master at this. In the first few months of our business relationship, he called me to ask for important dates in my life. “I already know your birthday,” he said, “but when’s your anniversary? When is your wife’s birthday? What are your kids’ birthdays?”
I knew exactly what Stu was doing, and I was thinking to myself, I could never just call up a client and blatantly ask about birthdays. He or she would know I was just putting them into my database.
Then, Stu called me on my wife’s birthday and told me to wish her a happy one. He made a similar call for each of my children’s birthdays. He called to sing Happy Birthday to me on my birthday. He called to wish us a happy anniversary. And he kept on calling year after year.
It no longer matters to me that his call about those dates was so transparent. I smile every time he “remembers” one of these occasions.
Stu also knows that “being on their minds” means having as much contact with them as possible. He has found five reasons to call each year that have nothing directly to do with the work we do together. He has assured himself that if I run into someone who needs his services, he’s the one I’ll recommend. He has made me a “referral partner.”
I learned early in my law practice many years ago that my clients were meeting dozens of lawyers each year, and tended to refer a friend or business associate to the last lawyer they ran into, rather than to me. It wasn’t that they didn’t think I gave them great service or did good work for them; it was a matter of convenience. They had the card of the lawyer they met last week right there, and it was just easier than trying to find my number after not hearing from me for months–or years.
Now, one of the first places I look when a client consults me to help her grow her business is what contact she has been having with her current and former clients, and other people she knows. “If it has been years since you spoke with old clients,” I tell them, “reach out to them now, just to say hello.”
Reach out to the people you already know, especially current and former clients who were satisfied with your work. Have a conversation with them:
- Tell them you were thinking of them.
- Ask them how they are doing in this economy.
- Ask them if you provided lasting value to them and in what way.
- Tell them your time with them was (or still is) meaningful to you.
- Ask them not to keep you a secret if they run across someone who might need your help.
- Ask them if you can help them in any way now—not for a fee—but because you care.
Then watch what happens to the growth of your practice.
In the meantime, keep REACHING…
I thought I’d share an e-mail I received recently from an attorney who attended one of my programs…
I am a corporate attorney. At a recent event for alumni of my college, I met an alumnus, George, who had started a company with a partner and was looking for an attorney to help him with several matters on a retainer basis. We had a great conversation. George told me he was impressed with my enthusiasm, and set up a call to have me meet his partner on the phone. While after speaking with them both, I had some reservations about working with the partner, they signed a retainer agreement and gave me credit card information, which I processed.
Under our agreement, either party could cancel at any time, but if the client cancelled without good cause, a certain minimum amount would be due. As we were in the process of choosing an appointment for our first discussion of one of the issues I was going to be handling for them, George called me to say they wanted to cancel, telling me that they had money issues and had been able to resolve some of the issues we were going to work on by themselves. He asked for the full fee back.
My problem is that I’m reluctant to simply let him and his partner out without at least keeping the minimum fee, as agreed. I incurred merchant fees and I put time into talking with them both and preparing to deal with our first issue. Then, there’s the precedent. And, frankly, I’ve already spent the money and now it will be coming out of my own pocket.
Give them back their money, in full. While minimum fee/cancellation fee agreements are not uncommon, the loss of good will from insisting on the minimum fee–or even holding back the credit card processing charges–will eventually impact your business negatively.
Maybe their emotional intelligence told them that you wouldn’t be happy working with George’s partner. Or maybe what George told you was the truth. Either way, this is a classic case of “Buyer’s Remorse.” It happens to everyone who sells anything, including legal services. The sale moves quickly, the buyer is caught up in the seller’s enthusiasm (but may not have established a sufficient amount of his own enthusiasm), there’s an agreement, and then, when the buyer is alone, the doubts creep in and he wants to back out.
Give them back the money and tell them that when they are ready, you’d like to talk again. Ask them if they know someone who could use your help right now, given that you set aside time to work on their matters.
To minimize the occurrence of Buyer’s Remorse in the future, consider these ideas:
- Focus your “sales” conversation on questions that foster a prospective client’s independent enthusiasm for working with you–and on determining, authentically, whether this is really a good fit. Get so deep into their situation with your questions that they feel compelled to retain you to get help with their issues.
- Take the credit card information and set up the first appointment on the spot for as soon as possible. If it can be done, set up a complete schedule.
- Give them homework. Get the giving of value started immediately.
- Finally, hold the credit card for a few days before processing the payment. That way, if despite doing everything I’ve suggested, the client does back out, you don’t incur any costs.
Take your need out of your client relationships from the very beginning, and those relationships will grow stronger. Then, keep REACHING…
“You want me to call up my previous clients, just to see how they’re doing?” my client Alicia asked me two weeks ago. She was astonished that I would suggest something so forward.
“Isn’t that unprofessional–or unethical?” she continued.
“Do you care how they’re doing?” I asked her.
“Well, of course I do,” came her reply.
“Why, then, would it be wrong to check up on them periodically?” I asked.
Alicia has been a coach for four years, helping young professionals with career transitions. She had consulted me because she wanted to grow her business. Her belief system was that she needed to maintain her professional distance, and her interpretation of what that meant included the idea that once a client had benefited from her services, she no longer had a reason to communicate with him or her on a personal level.
Alicia agreed to call four of her clients before our next session. She even agreed to ask them to tell her the value she brought to their careers and to their lives.
As soon as we connected on the phone again, Alicia couldn’t wait to tell me about her experience.
“First of all, they were grateful that I cared enough to follow up,” she began. “None of them thought, as I did last week, that my call was inappropriate.”
“That got me comfortable enough to ask them about the value they received from me,” she continued proudly, “And that’s what I’m really excited about.”
Alicia found out that she had given all of her clients confidence, focus, and someone to hold them accountable until they were on their feet again.
It reinforced for her all of her beliefs in what she was doing and got her excited about finding more clients. She was so excited, in fact, that she was now able to agree to the one thing she had been unable to bring herself to do the week before.
“I said to each of them, ‘Don’t keep me a secret,’ as you had suggested,” Alicia announced to me, “And right there on the phone, one of them told me about a friend she was going to talk to who she thought could use my help.”
Here’s what Alicia learned:
1) If you have former clients whose experiences with you were positive, stay in touch with them. An email or phone call at the right time could actually mean a lot to them.
2) Ask them about why they chose you and your firm, and what value they received from working with you.
3) Don’t be afraid to mention that you’re open to introductions to other people who may need your help. Simple statements like “Don’t keep me a secret,” or “I’m never too busy to help someone you care about,” can open the door to new clients.
Talk with current and past clients, ask how they’re doing, and keep REACHING…
Many professionals complain about the long hours they work. For some, at least, all those hours are being compensated. These professionals are moving and shaking because they want to make as much money as possible—even at the cost of family time, recreation, and often, their own health. It’s difficult to be sympathetic about their complaints, since their situation is a choice.
But many professionals are plagued with long days and long workweeks for which they are not being adequately financially compensated. Some of these people are simply not charging enough. They have priced their services at a low rate, believing this to be the only way they can compete in their market. They have not learned how to create value for clients so that they know they deserve—and then, can request and receive—better compensation.
Still others in this latter group may be confusing attendance at the office with productivity. They feel “busy” at work, but hours are spent each day performing tasks that aren’t actually making them money. Someone in this situation may spend an hour or two each workday involved in non-business conversations. Maybe there’s another half hour or so spent trying to resolve computer issues. Then, there are those lunch plans with someone he or she already sees every day…
Don’t confuse being present with being productive. You may spend an hour and a half at the gym or health club, but how much of that is talking sports, waiting for an exercise station instead of using a different machine in the meantime, and “resting between sets”? You could even count washing your socks—which is something you do have to do in connection with your workout—but none of this time really counts.
“The only time that counts is the time you spend with the weights,” says Corey, a financial services sales manager I work with. “You do have to wash your socks, but you can’t count that time.”
When you’re selling and providing services, the only time that counts is the time you spend face-to-face or on the phone with clients or prospects. If you’re not doing one of these things, you can’t claim you’re working a twelve-hour day. You may be at the office or on the road for that much time, but a lot of that time, you’re just washing socks.
Some experts call the time you’re actually performing income-generating activities “green time”. If you’ve been feeling that you are working long hours and not making enough money for the time you put in, try this for a week: Write down everything you do, all workday long, every day, for all five-to-seven workdays. Don’t change what you do, just record it. Then, go back and see how much time you’re actually spending “with the weights”—that is, how much of that time is actually green.
If your green time is six to eight hours daily, and you’re putting in ten-to-twelve hour days, too much of your time is being spent on socks. If this non-productive time is somehow work-related (follow-up phone calls and paperwork someone else could be doing for you), get some help. If it’s not work-related, either accept the fact that you’re at the office longer by choice, or choose to save non-work matters for after hours.
Another financial advisor I’ve worked with greets everyone in his office in the morning, and then spends the next 8 hours on green time. He makes it known that while he’s unavailable during the day to discuss pleasantries, at 6 PM, he’ll be happy to go for a beer with anyone who wants to spend time with him.
Stop the load of socks, and make room for green time instead. Once things are really shaking for you, keep REACHING…
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…
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…