Growing a practice or a business is way easier than most professionals and service entrepreneurs make it out to be.
Their problem is that they’ve been taught that they need to be frantically and furiously networking, buying and then contacting members off of “hot lists”, writing press releases and making public appearances, and bombarding social media outlets to get their brands “out there”.
All of these practices may have some value, but the most powerful and too often overlooked way to grow a professional practice or service business is to focus first on the clients you already have. You do this by serving them with all of your ability and in every way you can, and by surprising and delighting them along the way.
If you make your interactions with your past and existing clients as powerful as they can be, they will want to tell stories of their interactions with you to other people. Fiercely loyal working relationships begin with providing unparalleled service.
Great service starts with making “good lemonade”. In his now-out-of-print 1998 children’s book, Good Lemonade, author Frank Asch tells the story of a boy who starts out with a busy lemonade stand because he offers a better price (with lots of discounts) than his competitor, the boy up the street.
The boy up the street is charging more for the lemonade at his stand. As the summer days roll on, however, the higher-priced competitor is becoming busier and busier, and fewer people are coming to the less expensive stand.
In the end, our little boy visits his competitor’s stand and learns that the lemonade there is simply much better than his.
How’s your lemonade? Are you giving your current and past clients enough personal contact? Are you serving them in every way you can? Are you doing your best job for them? These are the minimum standards for great service.
SURPRISE AND DELIGHT
Clients tell stories about you when you do special things to show you care, such as:
~Calling them on their birthdays
~Knowing when their anniversaries are and surprising them with timely gifts
~Sending them articles or books that you know they’ll find interesting or helpful
~Bringing their kids face-painting kits on Halloween or pies on Thanksgiving
~Remembering their favorite flavors of ice cream
~Bringing chew toys for their pets
~Stopping by or calling for no reason at all—just to see how they’re doing.
In my past life as a lawyer, I would arrive at a real estate closing with a bottle of champagne for my clients and present it to them when all the papers were signed and the money had finally changed hands. Not only did I delight my clients—who came back to me again for other reasons and who referred their friends and associates to me—but sometimes I also delighted the people on the other side of the transaction, who would hire me the next time around. Was it just so they could get a bottle of champagne at their closing, or had they seen how well I worked with my clients all along?
I remember one realtor saying, “I should have thought of that!” (And she should have.)
If going out of your way like this seems too much to fathom, remember that there’s a huge difference between doing things so that your clients will think you’re “a nice person”, and doing things to acknowledge and value your clients as human beings—to thank them for their continued relationship with you.
Make an effort not only to serve, but to surprise and delight your best clients, and they will tell stories about you to their friends and associates. Those listeners may just want to have good stories to tell about their service provider, as well—and they’ll know where to find one the next time around.
Learn to send chills with your spookily-good service, and keep REACHING…
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(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…
“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…
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’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…
Financial advisors avoid it whenever they can. Coaches tremble at the thought of it. Lawyers pretend it’s beneath them, so they won’t have to do it. Even when I show them how to do it, they find ways to avoid it. What is this unthinkable task? …Asking for referrals.
Why won’t they ask? Either they’re afraid (What if my client thinks less of me for asking? What if she grabs back her retainer check and storms out of the room?) or they just don’t know that it’s okay to ask or how to go about it comfortably.
What these professionals fail to understand is that there are reasons why their clients would want to refer them to others.
Years ago, in my past life as a lawyer, Police Captain Myron taught me about the “hero factor” in the referral process. Myron, who tipped the scale beyond the 300-pound line and was known to consume more than his fair share of alcohol, was at a party to which both he and I had been invited. At one point during the party, he threw one huge arm around both of my shoulders and announced to the room: “You see this guy? I brought him all his business!”
It was true that Captain Myron had introduced me to several of my clients. I thought it wise not to argue that most of my business came from other sources. But what I came to understand that evening was how important it was to Captain Myron to be the champion of my practice—to be a hero. Here’s how it works:
(1) People generally like to help one another. If a client likes you and believes you add value to his businesses or to his life, helping you will make him feel generous and important. In other words, he can be a hero to you.
(2) When your client is referring you to someone she cares about, it’s an opportunity for her to show the people whose opinions matter to her that she makes wise decisions—decisions that could help them, too, if they followed her lead! In other words, she can be a hero to them.
(3) Asking clients to refer you to the people in their lives also gives them something else they need—validation. They’re thinking things like: If my sister uses your services, too, she must see in you what I saw. Then I know I made the right decision in going to you, after all. In other words, they can be heroes in their own right.
So, when you’re not asking clients to introduce you to those business associates, friends, and family members who you might be able to help (in the same way you’re already helping your clients), you’re depriving them of their opportunity to save the day.
If you want to help your clients be heroes, but are struggling to ask comfortably, order my 9-session audio series, Mastering Client Referrals, available as an Instant Download or on USB Flash Drive. Better still, you can contact me and let me help you. Or, if you have colleagues, friends, or loved ones who might benefit, be a hero and let them know about me. Whatever you do, keep REACHING…
Jim is a Senior Sales Manager who oversees a dozen branch offices for a financial services company. Each office has a Branch Manager who oversees 10-20 advisors.
Last week, Jim told me how he had asked each of his managers to bring certain advisors of theirs to a meeting he thought would benefit them—and how several of them didn’t bring the people he had requested. This was only one example out of hundreds wherein the Branch Mangers didn’t do what Jim told them to do.
“I don’t get it,” Jim complained to me. “I have to tell my managers to do something over and over and then they still don’t do it. If my boss asked me to do something,” he continued, “I would just do it.”
“It’s like they accepted their advisors’ excuses and let them off the hook,” he explained, “Instead of telling them that they were required to come.”
“It sounds like your managers may have used some weak words when they asked their advisors to come to the meeting,” I said to Jim. “They didn’t make it mandatory.”
“Exactly,” he exclaimed.
“Now, go over with me how you asked your managers to invite them,” I instructed.
“I told them how great the speaker at this meeting was going to be and suggested that they really should have these particular advisors there with them,” he lamented.
It was clear that Jim had also used weak words when he “told” his managers to bring their advisors. He wanted specific attendances to be required, but he used words such as “really should” and “suggest”—misleading his managers into believing that it might be optional. Powerful words, such as “I want them there” or “make sure they are there” would have accurately conveyed what Jim expected to have happen.
Why, then, did Jim choose weak words for something he wanted his managers to do? As he and I discussed it, we discovered a pattern. Wanting to be liked, Jim learned early on to “sugarcoat” his demands so that no one would feel he was coming on too strongly. This worked whenever he was seeking input from his managers, but not when he had made a decision for them and wanted them to take action.
If you’re an advisor yourself, are you using weak words with your clients, just so that you can be liked? Or are you serving them by clearly and concretely telling them what would be best?
You can’t make everyone like you, but most people will like you more if you actually say what you mean. There are nice ways to go about it, but when you want something to happen—you view it as necessary—make sure you use powerful words when you ask for it to be done.
Russell Conwell, the founder and first president of Temple University, is best known for his famous inspirational lecture, Acres of Diamonds.
At the heart of that lecture was a story about Ali Hafed (now available on my Free Resources page!), a farmer who sold his land in order to go hunting for diamonds all over the world—exhausting all of his money and energy, and eventually committing suicide.
In the meantime, the man who bought his farm soon discovered that the land was on what would turn out to be Golconda, the largest diamond mine in history. Across every acre of that farmland, below each and every inch, there were diamonds.
You can find Conwell’s entire speech online in several different places, and I have used the Hafed story many times before. It tends to come in handy when I’m working with clients who have more than 100 clients of their own (sometimes several hundred), but who are, for some reason, still frantically “prospecting” everywhere to try and find business. They’re cold calling, networking, advertising, sending out mailings, and doing other superfluous activities that might unearth the occasional diamond, but they’re forgetting to first look in their own back yards.
As professionals, the diamonds in our back yards are the people we know already, particularly, our existing clients and the people they can introduce us to. If they are not fully committed to us and are not yet willingly introducing us to the people in their lives, we should start digging here before we wander the globe looking for new sources of business.
These should be your initial steps:
1. Identify your 10-20 best clients and rank them (#1-#20).
2. Starting with your Number 1 client, ask yourself these three questions about each:
Is there a way I can serve her by connecting her with someone in my network?
Is there another way I can serve him beyond what I’ve done already?
What else can I do to make her my advocate?
3. As soon as you’ve done the analysis for a client, set an appointment with him in which you are prepared to serve, surprise and delight him.
4. Also, decide for each client how you’re going to bring up the idea of being introduced to someone in her life.
I would love to help you mine for diamonds without the frenetic prospecting that I see so many professionals fall in to, but you’ll have to find the courage to contact me. In the meantime, keep digging, and keep REACHING…
A few years ago, my fellow coach, Rich Litvin, decided to try speed dating. About a month after his first experience, he went to a second speed-dating event, where he ran into another guy who he recognized from the first event.
“Did you get many dates from the first one?” the man asked him.
“Three,” Rich replied.
“Oh!” the man exclaimed. “Well, how many women’s names did you select on the list?”
“Three”, Rich replied. “Why? How many dates did you get?”
“Not a single one,” the man admitted with a scowl.
“Well, how many women’s names did you check off on the list?” Rich asked him.
“ALL OF THEM!” the man replied, his scowl turning into a look of deep frustration.
“Needy is creepy,” coach and author Steve Chandler tells his clients when they are baffled by why they are not getting more appointments.
As in the speed-dating example, if you are too eager, a prospective client will get the sense that he or she is just one more person you’re trying to sell something to—and nobody who senses that is going to accept your request for a “date”.
I like to say that your need—for an appointment, for a sale, or for a referral—is the ugliest thing you can show a client. (A wise-guy branch manager I know once supplemented that statement by saying, “Yeah, that, or a butt crack.”)
You may be desperate for an appointment or a sale, but prospective clients all have their internal receivers tuned into station WII-FM (What’s In It For Me). They won’t start working with you because you need a client. They’ll work with you because they need something that you might be able to give them.
If you want more appointments, you need to stop looking—and acting—as if just ANYONE will do. Here are some suggestions that will help you develop the kind of targeted laser focus you really need to get more (and better) clients:
1. Get clear on whom you’d like to serve, what they need that you can offer, and what result they’ll get from working with you. The speed-dater in Rich’s story was interested in EVERY woman who attended the event, and as a result, NONE of them were interested in him. Prospects are no different; everyone wants to feel special.
2. Stop talking about you and what you do and focus on learning about others. When you are introduced to someone or meet her at some event, do as Dale Carnegie would have advised: Be impressed, not impressive.
3. Target people who are ideal clients and invite them to talk with you. If you’re clear about whom you want to work with, you may already know of individuals who could be great prospects. Find out their information and contact them directly, or through your existing clients or professional network.
4. Don’t call a prospect unless you’ve already made an effort to learn something about him. While I view cold calling as a last resort for most professionals, even if your calls tend to be “warm”, you need to make sure you’ve found out about the person you’re dialing before you pick up the phone. Use Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and use the people you know already to help you learn about your prospects before you reach out to them.
5. Most importantly, SERVE, don’t SELL. If there’s something you believe you can do to help a prospect, offer it with passion. If not, be honest, and let her walk away—or, better still, you do the walking, and keep on looking for a better fit.
I help advisors who have had some success—but feel stuck in a rut—grab onto the prizes that seem just beyond their grasp. If you think I can help you, find the courage to contact me. In the meantime, be selective, but keep REACHING…
My thanks to renowned publicist Wally Cato for his unsolicited, unpaid, over-the-top article about me in this week's Insurance Pro Shop newsletter. Read the Article>>
The other day, I was listening to a very successful advisor and entrepreneur talk about how client “attractors” are so much more successful and less stressed out than client “chasers”.
My book, BECOME A CLIENT MAGNET, is about how to be a client attractor. For nearly fifteen years, I’ve been talking about how attracting clients starts with figuring out how to go beyond satisfying your existing clients in order to create passionate, loyal and enthusiastic clients—referral partners—who go out of their way to bring new clients to you.
You create these advocates and referral partners by paying close attention to three activities:
a. Satisfying them constantly and consistently with your service and your attention to their needs,
b. Creating as many opportunities for contact with them as you can, and
c. Making each of your moments of contact as “magical” as possible.
In other words, attracting new clients is, at least in part, connected to the experience you are giving your existing clients. The more amazing the experience, the more they will be talking about you—to associates, friends, and family members who will want to have a similar experience. And that experience is something you create.
While the number of ways to create magical experiences is unlimited, here are six that come to my mind immediately:
1. Use each opportunity you have to speak with a client (or with your contact at a client’s company) to learn more about him or her. Spend time on every appointment talking about their lives. In his book, Swim with the Sharks, Harvey Mackay lists 66 questions for which every professional should have answers about his customer. Yet, most advisors I work with have never even asked their clients for the dates of their wedding anniversaries, let alone how they met their spouses, how the husbands proposed, or what their weddings were like.
2. Keep track of important dates and make use of them. “Sometimes I send a birthday card,” a client told me. This is someone who will not be able to create advocates to help him attract clients. For your best clients, offer to throw a birthday gathering and invite his friends. Or surprise her with a bottle of champagne when they’re having their anniversary dinner at their favorite restaurant. Or, have your whole office call to sing him Happy Birthday on the phone. “Sometimes I send a birthday card,” just doesn’t cut it.
3. Call your clients for no reason. “I was thinking about you today. How’s that ___ doing? How about getting together for lunch?” These are the moments your clients will remember and tell their friends about—not the moments during which you were advising them.
4. Have something available for children and pets—even if they don’t tend to visit you. A grandfather is in your office to talk about his business and your conversation ends with, “Oh…and here’s something for your grandchildren I think they’ll enjoy…” This is the type of “magic” you can create.
5. Give meaningful gifts. I wrote a while ago about finding a golf ball from a cruise ship in the surf at the Jersey shore and delighting a client whose son collected golf balls from different country clubs. I sent the ball to her for his collection. The cost was the postage, but an expensive holiday fruit basket would not have had anywhere near the impact. Gifts from the heart that show you listen to your clients and care about their lives are a powerful way to elicit referrals—to attract new clients.
6. Get your staff on board. Decide how you want your calls handled and discuss it with your staff. At minimum, they need to be pleasant and helpful, and to identify themselves by name. Trust them, but test anyway. Call your office—or have someone call while you’re listening in—and see how your employees handle the call.
What experience are you creating for your clients? Contact me to analyze whether you can make it more powerful and how you can use this power to grow your practice. Attract advocates, and keep REACHING…