Do you pursue clients, or do you attract them?
While both methods of finding new business work to some degree, finding the right prospects through attraction is a lot more fun and–for professionals and entrepreneurs who provide individualized service to their clients–it’s usually more effective than finding them by pursuit.
Attraction methods involve drawing prospective clients to you: People who relate to you, people who have an interest in what you have to offer, people who share your values and beliefs, and people who believe…in you. If you do it right, the people you attract are your ideal prospects. It’s a natural, comfortable, professional, and self-perpetuating process.
Pursuing clients, on the other hand, means spending a great deal of time and money on efforts such as social media advertising, e-blasts, or casting a huge, expensive fishing net of direct mailings to catch the next great client. One of the problems associated with this method is that people are so inundated with marketing messages that repeated mailings and advertising are necessary before someone will actually respond. This means more and more expense.
When the growth of your business relies on pursuing prospects, rather than on attracting them, the effort to find new prospects through these same methods is continual. If you stop the pursuit, the flow of prospects stops, too.
Attraction, on the other hand, has just two self-sustaining components:
~Being “attractive,” and
~Giving your target clients an opportunity to connect with you.
Being attractive. By being attractive, I don’t mean having an attractive appearance, although you do need to have a professional appearance. An easy way to understand this is to ask what kind of people you are attracted to–in the business sense. Who do you enjoy being around and working with? What character/personality traits do they have? What is it about them that attracts you?
Some traits are universally attractive: personal integrity, having a life purpose, and passion, for instance. People want to be around a person who is clear about who he or she is and what matters to him or her. Such a person is often viewed as a leader.
If you want to be attractive in business, become clear about what matters to you, and then work to develop a clean and concise way to let others know what that is.
Giving your target clients an opportunity to connect with you. There are a number of ways to give others an opportunity to be with you. Most of these involve getting out of your office and interacting with them. That means going where your prospective clients can be found, talking to them, and letting them know what you are all about—not just as a professional or business owner, but as a person.
Attraction methods include serving your clients on a level that makes them want to tell others about you, and learning to ask them to connect you with more people like them. It also includes speaking and writing about what you do.
By sharing about yourself, you allow others to understand who you are. Once people see who you are, you will attract the ones who relate best to you.
“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…
Anita, an advisor in her mid-thirties, was terrified about talking with her clients about introducing her to friends and family members who might need her help.
“What are you afraid might happen if you talk to them about introducing you to the people they care about?” I asked her.
“Well, I don’t know…,” she began. “Maybe they’re going to think I’m needy and have to beg for clients. And they’re going to get all awkward and tell me they can’t think of anyone, because they’re not going to want to bother their friends. It’s happened to me before.”
“If you make it about you–about your need for clients–you’re probably right,” I explained, “Your need is about the ugliest thing you can show a client.”
“But if you make it about the people they care about–family, friends, people they work with,” I continued, “you’ll be less awkward, and they’ll be more receptive.”
Referrals are an excellent way to grow virtually any professional practice or service business. In a practice like Anita’s, where the service is very personal, referrals are often the best way. Surveys in several industries show that most people would prefer to be introduced to a provider, rather than to respond to an ad or an internet search, and talking with your clients about introducing you to someone who might need your help gives them an opportunity to be a hero–to make a difference in the life of someone they care about.
So while referrals will definitely benefit you, they also benefit your clients and the people they refer you to. The solution is to stop asking for referrals–an act that may be awkward because it’s all about you–and start asking your clients to help the people they care about by introducing you to them. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I provide excellent service to my clients?
2. Do my clients have people in their lives who might need that service?
3. Do I deserve to be the one to help those people?
If the answer to all three of these questions is “yes”, start talking to your clients constantly about introducing you to the people in their lives who might need your help.
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…
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…
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…
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…