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…
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…
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 favorite hypothetical of mine:
Let’s imagine two professionals in the same field. We’ll call them Advisor A and Advisor B.
We’ll give them the same educational background, the same training, the same resources and connections, and even similar personalities and work ethic.
But when we put them out in the field, I can promise you that one—let’s say, Advisor A—will do better than the other—our unfortunate Advisor B.
If we made them practically identical in every aspect, the only factor that could account for the difference in their performances is that Advisor A would be taking more of the kind of action he needs to take than Advisor B is taking.
But if their work ethic were the same, how could their actions be any different?
The simplest explanation is that for each, the way his world is occurring to him will be different: the way he views his work, the way he views the people he interacts with, and, of course, the way he views himself.
Advisor A might see his work as being important to the people he works with—something they need in their lives.
He might see the world as a safe and friendly place where what he has to offer is welcome.
He might see clients and prospective clients as open and interested in doing what they need to do for their families. And he might see the people he works with as good people, who are there to support him.
Advisor B—the less successful advisor—might have a different view of his world:
Maybe it’s a difficult, unfriendly place, where you have to struggle to succeed.
Maybe he sees himself as a “salesperson”, who “bothers” people.
Perhaps he sees clients and prospects as closed and deceitful, and he sees the people he works with as being there to make his life difficult.
When Advisor B feels he is not succeeding, he tries to imitate what Advisor A is doing, or he enrolls in yet another course to learn another way to do what he already knows how to do. He experiments with the latest and most advanced strategies and language nuances, and finds that none of it works for him.
Of course it doesn’t. All of his effort is like trying to take the apples off of someone else’s tree and tape them to his own, withering tree stump. It’s not the same, and it won’t yield any new, ripe fruit.
If you identify with Advisor B in this hypothetical, you should understand that it is a mistake to try to solve your work performance problems with more information. You already know enough to succeed. What you need is a transformation—an alteration in how your world is occurring for you. Your “inner game” needs fixing, not your “outer game”.
Strategies and language nuances may help a little, but until you view the world as a place where taking action is easy and fun, you will continue to struggle.
If you’re not taking enough action because you are uncomfortable or overwhelmed, don’t spend your time, energy, and money on another course to learn new ways of doing the same thing. Instead, get to work on your view of your world.
How different would your practice be if you believed that finding new prospects is easy? That people are grateful for the help you offer? That it’s OK to tell them what you believe, even if it might upset them? That you bring value to everyone you speak with?
Change your inner game and you automatically change your results—but only always.
I always believe in game-changers, so contact me if you’re in need of one. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
I had been limping around for three weeks with a pain across the top of my left foot that didn’t seem to be getting any better. I made it through five straight days on my feet for two workshops and an active vacation, but the pain did not subside. So, I finally decided to visit a local orthopedist.
It was good for me to go through this experience, because as often happens, it reminded me of why I do the work I do.
I called the doctor’s office and an unhappy-sounding scheduling assistant treated me as if I was a huge interruption to his day. He was abrupt, unsympathetic, and annoyed when it took me a couple of seconds to give him precisely the information he demanded. He advised me that the doctor I wanted wouldn’t be available in this century, and offered me some alternatives. And he became noticeably agitated when I wasn’t satisfied with the first available appointment. After all, who did I think I was? HE worked for a DOCTOR and was VERY busy. I was just one more bother in his bothersome day.
Actor Frank Morgan as “The Gatekeeper” in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
When I arrived at the office, the staff was annoyed that I didn’t notice the big hand-written sign at the window on the right that says “Sign In Here”, and that I thought it was okay to approach the busy person sitting behind the desk on the left instead. When I got back to the person on the right, she handled our entire transaction—from the clipboard to the insurance card and picture ID—without ever looking up to see my face.
Believe it or not, your staff may be treating people like this—and no matter how good you are at what you do, or how kind and considerate you might be, your clients are thinking, “I’m not coming here again.”
Maybe, as it was in the case of this doctor, there are so many people waiting to see you that you can afford not to know how your staff is behaving. But if you’re like most professionals, it matters to you that clients who have experienced something like this aren’t staying with you, and that they will tell others to stay away, as well.
If you want to grow your practice or business, you need to be certain that you’ve spelled out for your staff how to handle the phones and how to greet people, and you need to be sure that they’re following your system. This means listening in on a prospective client or patient call, and having someone report to you about how they are treated while they’re waiting for you. Don’t assume because you’re being treated well by your assistant that he or she is treating your clients in the same way.
It also means spelling out the basics for your team with a formalized procedure that includes, at least, all of the following points:
1. Identify the office and yourself. Everyone who answers a phone should use his or her name.
2. Be pleasant. No matter how frenetic your office might be, every caller deserves to feel that he or she is not an interruption in someone’s busy day.
3. Offer to help. The identification should be followed by “How may I help you?” or “How may I direct your call?” or—well—anything that’s genuinely helpful.
4. Don’t rush the caller. No matter how busy you are, clients want to ease their stress, not to confront yours.
5. Own the call. Until the caller is connected elsewhere, the person answering the phone is responsible for the caller’s experience.
These are just some of the basic rules.
Nearly an hour later, when I finally got to see the orthopedist, I found him to be extremely competent, and a genuinely nice human being. He advised me that I had fractured a bone, but I wasn’t willing to face his staff for the follow-up appointment. I ended up taking my foot elsewhere.
Referrals come from clients who tell stories about the “magical” service they are receiving. If you’re not certain that you and your staff are making magic in your practice—right out of the gate—you can always contact me. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
Thank clients for their business. Thank them for referrals. Remind them about their appointments. And do each of these…with a handwritten note. Find an excuse to send a note card to people you meet, people who provide services to you, and people who you serve.
We have all become so accustomed to communicating by email, text, and other electronic and social-media means that the lowly note card—handwritten, hand-addressed, hand-stamped, and delivered by “snail mail”—has actually become an item of immediate interest and delight when someone is shuffling through her junk mail or bills.
While there is a cost-factor, and a small amount of labor in selecting stationery, buying stamps, writing, and posting the card—not to mention tossing an occasional mistake into the trash—the potential rewards are great.
One of my clients—Peter, a financial advisor—was telling me a story about how he thought his light gray suit was ruined when someone spilled red wine in his lap at a networking event. He was amazed that the Dry Cleaner was able to get the stain out entirely, leaving the suit as good as new.
“Send him a note, thanking him for getting the wine out,” I told him.
Peter protested that a handwritten note was overkill. He had thanked the owner personally when he picked up the suit.
I explained to him that the owner probably received dozens of complaint letters each year—people sending letters to complain about damaged shirts and demanding reimbursement. The seemingly outdated “Thank You” note, I told him, would surprise and flatter the owner and, in the long-term, help Peter’s business. Peter was skeptical, but he sent the Thank You note, with one of his business cards enclosed.
A week later, Peter called me, unable to hide the excitement in his voice.
“When I walked in with my shirts yesterday,” he started, “My note and the business card I enclosed were taped up on the wall near the counter. The owner thanked me for my note and asked me about my business—something he’d never done in the three years I’ve been bringing my clothes to him.”
“But wait!” he exclaimed, “It gets better. I told him what I did, using the audio billboard you helped me to develop, and he asked me if I’d be willing to talk with him about his situation. And all because I sent him that note!”
Peter eventually started working with the Dry Cleaner, who turned out to have other businesses, and a significant amount of assets.
“It won’t always work like that,” I warned him during one of our later sessions, “But it will open doors for you if you keep doing it.”
Make it a point to write three note cards a week—to anyone you can think of, and for any reason. Enclose a business card, and don’t be afraid to follow up when the opportunity arises by asking if your note was received.
You don’t need a note card to contact me for help. However you go about it, reach out, and keep REACHING…
P.S. Peter sent me a handwritten note to thank me for helping him land this new client. I was thrilled to receive it, and would be just as thrilled to refer him to anyone who needed his brand of help.
After two visits—a total of six hours—advisor Marianne had gotten an enthusiastic “thumbs up” from her new “almost clients”—a young professional couple with small children—to prepare a financial plan for them. The plan would specifically include some much-needed life insurance. There was no doubt the mission was going forward!
But a few days later, just before Marianne’s scheduled return with her specific proposal, the couple called to tell her they had decided to hold off on doing anything.
“I needed that sale,” Marianne complained to me during our coaching session.
“And that’s probably why you lost it,” I responded.
Our need is the ugliest thing we can show prospective clients. If they believe that your need to make money is more important than your delivery of the service they would be hiring you to do, they’ll back away. Retaining you or buying what you have to offer has to be their idea, not yours.
Blake, an attorney in Michigan, wrote me last week about his problem in getting prospective clients to engage his services.
“I find out what their situation is,” he writes, “and then I explain very carefully what I’ll be doing for them.”
“Then they ask about price. I tell them my hourly rate, which is competitive, but they say they want to think about it…and then, I don’t hear from them again.”
Professionals like Blake often don’t spend enough time developing a relationship with their clients, customers, or patients. They know their work. They know how to diagnose problems, and they know what the most likely solutions are. But they don’t know what their prospective clients really need: someone to hear them out; sympathy, empathy, and validation.
Here are some suggestions that might help you “close” more clients:
1. Ask more and better questions. “Situational” questions are essential for you in order to enable you to do your work, but they have relatively low value to a prospective client who already knows his or her own situation.
How does the situation make him or her feel? Why does he/she feel that way? What result would this person like to get from working with you? How will that make him/her feel better?
These kinds of questions don’t necessarily add any information to your business stats, but they help you to create a bond with your new client.
2. Find out if they’re committed to change before you talk about fees. Ask if she’s receiving value from the discussion and if she has any questions for you. Ask if she’d be interested in working with someone who could alter her status quo.
3. Find out what is causing them to hesitate. If he says, “Let me think about it,” find out what he agrees with and narrow down what his concerns are. Does he have reservations about your abilities? Is he looking for a better price? It’s okay—and important—to ask these questions.
If you want more clients to say “yes” and stick to it, start by making sure you spend the time to ask compelling questions, and base the solution you offer directly on their answers. Whether it’s in asking for the sale or asking for introductions, make it about them—not about your need.
COME TO PRINCETON IN OCTOBER
AND BECOME A REFERRAL MASTER
If you’re a financial or insurance professional, join me on Saturday, October 19th for an all-day
Mastering Client Referrals Workshop.
Boost your year-end sales and start 2014 on a roll. For details, take a look at
Register by Friday to take advantage of the Early Registration Discount. Or call me at (609) 454-3810 and we’ll talk about whether this program makes sense for you.
Most people don’t really understand what courage is. When I ask them to define it in my workshops on Overcoming Fear, the answer I often get is “the absence of fear”.
But this answer isn’t accurate. While there are a few seemingly fearless fighters, most military personnel will admit, when you ask them, that they were afraid much of the time they were in the field.
Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s action in the face of fear. These brave people risk—and sometimes sacrifice—their lives, but not without fear. They do what has to be done, despite the fear.
Wherever I go, I find professionals and entrepreneurs struggling to grow their businesses or advance their careers. These are people with all of the technical skills they need to be successful, but they’re still, somehow, not getting what they want.
Other times, more simply:
(3) they haven’t yet decided to make the change.
If you feel like your practice ought to be growing, but you’re just stuck, start by recognizing that one, both, or all three of these factors might be at play. If fear is one of them, understand that it’s okay to be afraid when it comes to stepping into sales and marketing and other “dangerous battlefields“. Admit that you are afraid. But don’t respond by backing away.
Ultimately, the fear itself can’t hold us back from having what we want and need in our businesses or lives—how we view fear and our learned response to fear are the real threats. We feel the “fear factor”—the butterflies in our stomachs, the rapid pounding in our chests—and the little voice in our heads warns us: “It’s not okay, back away.” And we obey.
When we were children, this response probably saved our lives many times. We’d feel those feelings when we came too close to a hot stove or stepped into the street. But as adults, if we so much as think of picking up the phone to make that prospecting call, or attending a networking event, or making a presentation—our “back away” response keeps us from doing what we need to do.
The good news is that if we learned this response, we can unlearn it and replace it with something better:
“It’s okay to be afraid, but if this is my goal, then I have to do it.”
If you can get past the fear on your own, do it. If you can’t, decide to hire someone who can help you, or contact me to take a step in the right direction and back onto the playing field. No matter what you choose to do, if you have a mission, keep REACHING…
Are you aggressively selling your services and finding that few prospective clients—even those who are clearly in your target market—are buying?
“What is selling?” I ask at the beginning of many of my programs.
This question elicits a variety of answers that provide a window into the thinking of the professionals and entrepreneurs in attendance:
“Trying to convince someone to buy what you offer,” says one.
“Saying things that persuade someone to agree to buy your services,” says another.
“Manipulating someone into feeling he or she has to have what you offer,” a third might say.
“If your view of ‘selling’ your services is something along these lines, it’s no wonder that you can’t fill your practice or find enough clients for your businesses,” I tell them.
“STOP SELLING YOUR SERVICES!”
After pausing for effect, I explain, “If by ‘selling’ you mean some kind of noisy, pushy, aggressive ‘hawking’ of your services, you’ve already either sensed or discovered that ‘selling’, as you’ve defined it, doesn’t work.”
“But what if you had a different view of selling?” I ask them. “What if selling was asking appropriate questions so that your prospective clients understand that they need what you offer?“
“Stop selling,” I tell them. “Start attracting business instead.“
For the rest of the seminar, we usually discuss the distinction. Among the points I ask them to consider are these:
a) How to develop an “attraction” mindset. What you offer is something valuable—something that people want or need. If you have any clients at all, you’ve already proven that. People ought to know about your practice or business. You should be proud to tell them about it. But you don’t have to “push” it on them.
b) How to resist the urge to “sell” and ask great questions instead. The “selling” that doesn’t work usually involves identifying a potential client and then trying to “close” him or her on a meeting with you or on the purchase of your services.
Tell a prospective client what you do and then ask his permission to explore his situation. The conversation might end right there, but since people do like to buy—and you’re not selling—he’s likely to agree to let you explore. Once you have permission, ask questions designed to unearth some specific need or desire.
c) How to address the specific need or desire. Then, instead of talking about generic features and advantages of your services, discuss how what you do meets the specific need or desire uncovered by your questions.
I have written before on the Three Universal Marketing Questions that anyone selling his or her services needs to know the answers to:
(1) What are you offering?
(2) To whom are you offering it?
(3) Why should they hire you?
The third point—the “why”—seems to be the most troubling for many people.
“You should work with me because I really care about my clients,” Terry, a 2-year veteran financial advisor, posed in a role-play sales conversation with me.
“But that’s exactly what [your competitor] said to me,” I responded. “Why should I choose you over her?”
Terry was stumped. “If we’re all white crayons in a box,” I continued, “What difference does it make which crayon I pick? All of them would tell me, if they could talk, that they are really good at coloring inside the lines.” Once again, Terry could not answer.
“What is different about you,” I asked him again, “from all the other people who do what you do?”
“Well, I’m not really different in any particular way” he started, “we all provide the same kinds of planning services and give advice aimed at the same goals…I just know I would be more caring than anyone else.”
“What makes you think so?” I pressed.
Terry thought for another moment, and finally responded, hesitantly. “My father died when I was just a teenager and left us with no money, so I know how important having money is—and I made up my mind that I would spend my life helping people prevent that from happening to their families.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Terry’s face brightened. He realized he had stumbled onto the perfect answer—for him—to the “why you” question.
When you can tell people why they should hire you or use your services in a way that distinguishes you from the other crayons in the box—perhaps by using powerful, personal stories or strong metaphors—you’ll get more business.
If you don’t have a clear answer to the third, or any of the Three Universal Marketing Questions, contact me for help. Don’t be afraid to stand out of the box, and keep REACHING…