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Selling

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Your Need Is the Ugliest Thing

“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?

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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…

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Are You “Recommendation Worthy”?

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“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…

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Make Referrals About THEM

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.

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“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.

Keep REACHING…

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“Buyer’s Remorse”

I thought I’d share an e-mail I received recently from an attorney who attended one of my programs…

Dear Sandy,Buyers Remorse

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.

Richard

My reply:

Richard,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Give them homework.  Get the giving of value started immediately.
  4. 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…

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Advantages Are for Anyone; BENEFITS Are Better!

One of the Internet “gurus” I follow once summed up marketing in three sentences:

Here’s what I got…Here’s what it will do for you…Here’s what I want you to do next…

It struck me that this simple—if grammatically incorrect—triplet is at the core of everything I coach professionals and their sales teams to do in their efforts to attract clients.

1) Here’s what I got… Once we’ve talked about choosing a clear target market for your services, my next question is, What services or products are you selling?”  This is as simple as: a brand new car!

2) Here’s what it will do for you… This is where you talk about the Features of your offering, and two types of results: Advantages and Benefits.  Advantages are a description of what’s better about your “what”, which could yield positive results for anyone who bought what you were selling:

This brand new car is equipped with an Acme Soundaround fifteen-hundred jigawatt stereo, which gives the clearest, most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard.

Professionals who don’t sell their services very well tend to stop with mention of Advantages.

Benefits, on the other hand, are the ultimate results that a particular client might be looking for.  A Benefit looks something like this:

Having that beautiful, clear music will give you what I know you are looking for in your brand new car: a sanctuary from the stresses of the road.  It will soothe you, so that you’re at your absolute best when you arrive at that big appointment, even after battling a brutal rush hour.

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But another person might want that clear sound because he needs to follow the guitar riff of his favorite musician while he drives to his next audition.  The only way to know what clients consider Benefits is through thoughtful, caring questions about what they need and why that need is important to them.  The best professional sales are made not from talking about Advantages, but from finding out about Benefits.

3) Here’s what I want you to do next… This is your “Call to Action”—what the guys in the loud plaid jackets call “the close”.  Contrary to what they might tell you, the way you word your Call to Action is just not that important if you’ve helped your prospective client understand, through your questions, that he or she really needs the Benefits of what you’re offering.  All you have to do now is explain what they would need to do next:

If you want the brand new car, it’s yours!  We’ll just have to get started on the paperwork.

Here’s what I got… A proven system for attracting the kind of clients you want without increasing your workload.  Here’s what it will do for you… You’ll soon stop struggling to grow your practice or business, and you’ll get to enjoy your work the way you did when you first started.  Here’s what I want you to do next… Reach out to me for a free consultation if these Benefits appeal to you, and we’ll find out if we want to work together.

Just remember that Advantages are for anyone, but you’ll never know the Benefits unless you keep REACHING…

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Approaching…the “S” Word!

Branding” is just one end of the client-funnel.  This week, terrifying as it may be, I’d like to talk about what’s at the other end…the “s” word.  You know…“sales”.

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Whether you’re marketing your services, trying to get a new job, or looking for a business partner, at some point, you’ll be “selling” yourself or your products, whether you like it or not.

But if that thought scares you, take heart: It’s less daunting than you may realize.  Selling isn’t the drift towards doom you’re imagining.  It’s not about manipulating someone into falling down the rabbit hole with you, by getting him/her to buy something that you offer.

Selling is the asking of appropriate yet provocative questions such that your prospective client determines for his-/her- self that he/she needs what you offer.

I teach the professionals I coach that anything you can tell a client or prospect you can get him/her to tell you, if you ask the right questions.  Contrary to what many of the great sales “Gurus” of the Twentieth Century were preaching, “closing” a sale is, usually, the least relevant part of the process.  Closing can only be accomplished at the end of a series of good questions, with something like:

“So, should we try this out?”
“What do you think the next step is?”
“When would you like to begin?”

From the start, ask questions about consequences—questions that elicit emotions and unearth explicit problems—and you’ll convince them early on in your conversation, by no crooked means, that they should be working with you:

“How do you feel about that?”
“Is it important?”
“What’s important about it to you?”
“If we can fix that, how would that affect you in the long run?”
“How would you feel then?”

Then, and only then, can you can demonstrate your value (via your genuine engagement), properly ask for the “closing”, and make the “sale”.

Don’t suppress your interest, and don’t fear your approach of the “s” word.  You won’t descend into darkness if you simply ask, listen, and just keep REACHING…

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Simple Pictures Are Best

When my daughters were little, I used to love to read them a particular book.  The book is so seemingly outdated that it has only recently been revived from out-of-print status by the miracles of internet shopping (and used copies now sell for just a cent).  It’s called Simple Pictures Are Best.

It’s the story of a farmer and his wife who decide to buy each other a photo session with a professional photographer for their anniversary.  The fun begins when the photographer comes and the couple can’t decide what to wear, where to sit, or what to include in the picture.  The farmer ends up wearing his new shoes on his feet while showing off his old shoes on his ears with arms full of farm produce.  His wife wears both of her hats, brings all of her pets, and stuffs her hands and pockets with kitchen and gardening utensils.

Each time the couple decides to add something to the picture, the photographer warns, “Simple pictures are best!”  But the couple continues to ignore him and assembles everything they can into the picture.  Finally, the commotion causes their bull to charge at the photographer, and the only picture taken that day…is of the bull.

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Recently, I worked with Ryan, a client whose company provides computer graphics packages to financial services companies.  Ryan was running two huge, expensive half-page ads weekly in a local paper with a broad-based readership.

“How much business do these ads generate?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” was his reply.

It turned out that he had been running these ads for years, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, but had never asked his new clients how they found out about his company, and had never asked existing clients whether they had even seen the ads.

“If you don’t know whether there’s any benefit to running these ads,” I asked him, “Why do you keep running them?”

His real answer took several minutes to get to.  He told me about how he had started these ad campaigns along with several other very broad marketing efforts years before.  He also disclosed that he was still paying for a lot of other advertising and marketing efforts, without knowing whether any of them were working.

I thought of the farmer with the shoes on his ears and his feet and arms full of produce.

“Simple pictures are best,” I said to Ryan.

Science often adheres to Occam’s Razor, a theory which tells us that when there are several competing explanations for something, the simplest explanation is probably the right one.  More or less, it says, “The simplest of all possible solutions is preferable.”

Similarly, the “Simple Pictures” rule tells us that if you have a practice you’re looking to grow, the simplest marketing picture is probably best:

1. Be very clear on your target.
2. Choose strategies that are designed to reach that very clear target.
3. Test to see whether and to what extent those strategies are working.
4. Keep using the ones that work until you have the kind of business or practice you want!

Another principle I like to fall back on is K.I.S.S.

Create a simple picture that works for you.  If you want to climb high…get a ladder, and then, keep REACHING…

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Start “Branding” You

“A 15-minute call could save you 15% or more…”
When you Google search “gecko”, GEICO appears first on the web list.

I’ve been preparing for my web program on kick-starting your business next week.  So, this week, I thought I’d revisit (and shed some more light on) a classic business strategy: branding.

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In any practice, branding is a primary way to attract your ideal client.  It is an expression of your unique identity to “sell” your services to the kind of people you most want to work with…and then some.  But branding isn’t just about showing how you’re different from your competitors.  It’s about getting your clients or prospects to see that what you offer is exactly the solution they’ve been searching for.

If I meet someone at a party or gathering, and I tell him during our conversation that I’m a coach for financial and service professionals who want to get to the next level in their careers and lives, and then ask him if he would like to work with me, I’m engaging in direct marketing.  If his friend comes across the room at that party and says to me, “I hear that you’re a great work-performance and client-attraction coach and I’d love to work with you,” I’ve successfully branded my business.

But to brand yourself and your work seamlessly, you need to take Three Preliminary Steps:

1. Know your “Target Market“.  Who do you most want to work with or for?  As a professional, a consultant, or a service-business owner, you will have more success if you become an expert in the needs of one particular narrow target market: teenagers, “Boomers”, families, entrepreneurs, landscaping contractors, retirees, ADD adults, etc.  It’s aiming a high-powered rifle at the bullseye, rather than shooting up hundreds of pounds of buckshot in the hope of hitting something wild turkeys.

2. Identify one to three “core needs”.  What are their biggest problems, or dreams?  Obviously, you want to talk about the needs that you have solutions for.  Your typical client may need dental work, but if you have a house cleaning service, this isn’t a core need you can use.

3. Design your unique solutions.  Why will people or businesses in your target market buy the services they need from you and not your competitors?  Clients like “packages”.  If the solutions you provide are not special, start thinking about ways to package them to make them special.  If you’re just another white crayon in a box of white crayons, there’s no good reason to use your services.  Be the red crayon in the box.

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote: “If you can, be first.  If you can’t be first, create a new category in which you can be first.”

Fedex is the business to use “when it absolutely, positively has to be there over night”.  When are you the business to use?  Decide who you are, and then, keep REACHING…

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You Can’t Count the Time You Spend Washing Socks

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.”

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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.

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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…

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Put Referrals on Your Agenda

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.

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…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…

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