“I found a new way to talk with clients about referring me,” Ryan, a financial advisor, once told me excitedly on the phone. “I use a diagram! I’ll show it to you.”
Ryan emailed me a little while later with this:
Of course, I was interested, and I called him back right away to have him explain how it worked.
“First, I draw a circle in the center of a yellow pad, where you see the ‘Joe W’, representing the client,” he started.
“Then,” he continued, “I draw circles surrounding the first circle for people they’ve already referred to me. I thank them for the ones that worked out and tell them that these referrals are happy; I also point out the ones that didn’t work out, explaining how it just wasn’t right for whatever reason.”
“Finally,” Ryan exclaimed, “I ask them who’s missing from the chart! I say, ‘Who haven’t we talked about yet?’”
Ryan told me that the client at the center of this drawing, Joe, looked at the chart and said to him, “I wonder why we never talked about my niece, Barbara, and her husband.” He gestured to the open circles on the page. “Add Barbara in there.”
Ryan was very proud of his piece of “referral technology”—and so was I! I went on to suggest to him that any time a client or prospective client volunteers information, his next response should be a magical question—either “who else?” or “what else?” Once Joe volunteered Barbara, for instance, a “who else” could identify another person for Joe and Ryan to discuss, and with whom Ryan could go on to arrange an appointment. Asking “who else?” again might have brought to light a third—and then even a fourth—potential client for Ryan.
Most professionals are terrified of the referral conversation and they either avoid it entirely or approach it so awkwardly that it doesn’t end up working for them at all.
Tim, one of my current clients, told me earlier this week that he was uncomfortable “switching” from being a professional to asking for referrals. The goal, I told him, is to be a professional while asking for referrals. There shouldn’t be a difference. If you’re helping someone by providing a service, why not offer the same service to someone else in his or her life who might also really need your help?
If you have your own method of talking about introductions or referrals that works for you, please share it with me, and with the other professionals in your life! If referrals aren’t yet working for you, contact me now, and I’ll let you in on a few of the ideas that have worked for me and countless others in my network of clients and colleagues. No matter what strategy you implement, one technique is certain: ALWAYS be sure to keep REACHING…
Growing a practice or a business is way easier than most professionals and service entrepreneurs make it out to be.
Their problem is that they’ve been taught that they need to be frantically and furiously networking, buying and then contacting members off of “hot lists”, writing press releases and making public appearances, and bombarding social media outlets to get their brands “out there”.
All of these practices may have some value, but the most powerful and too often overlooked way to grow a professional practice or service business is to focus first on the clients you already have. You do this by serving them with all of your ability and in every way you can, and by surprising and delighting them along the way.
If you make your interactions with your past and existing clients as powerful as they can be, they will want to tell stories of their interactions with you to other people. Fiercely loyal working relationships begin with providing unparalleled service.
Great service starts with making “good lemonade”. In his now-out-of-print 1998 children’s book, Good Lemonade, author Frank Asch tells the story of a boy who starts out with a busy lemonade stand because he offers a better price (with lots of discounts) than his competitor, the boy up the street.
The boy up the street is charging more for the lemonade at his stand. As the summer days roll on, however, the higher-priced competitor is becoming busier and busier, and fewer people are coming to the less expensive stand.
In the end, our little boy visits his competitor’s stand and learns that the lemonade there is simply much better than his.
How’s your lemonade? Are you giving your current and past clients enough personal contact? Are you serving them in every way you can? Are you doing your best job for them? These are the minimum standards for great service.
SURPRISE AND DELIGHT
Clients tell stories about you when you do special things to show you care, such as:
~Calling them on their birthdays
~Knowing when their anniversaries are and surprising them with timely gifts
~Sending them articles or books that you know they’ll find interesting or helpful
~Bringing their kids face-painting kits on Halloween or pies on Thanksgiving
~Remembering their favorite flavors of ice cream
~Bringing chew toys for their pets
~Stopping by or calling for no reason at all—just to see how they’re doing.
In my past life as a lawyer, I would arrive at a real estate closing with a bottle of champagne for my clients and present it to them when all the papers were signed and the money had finally changed hands. Not only did I delight my clients—who came back to me again for other reasons and who referred their friends and associates to me—but sometimes I also delighted the people on the other side of the transaction, who would hire me the next time around. Was it just so they could get a bottle of champagne at their closing, or had they seen how well I worked with my clients all along?
I remember one realtor saying, “I should have thought of that!” (And she should have.)
If going out of your way like this seems too much to fathom, remember that there’s a huge difference between doing things so that your clients will think you’re “a nice person”, and doing things to acknowledge and value your clients as human beings—to thank them for their continued relationship with you.
Make an effort not only to serve, but to surprise and delight your best clients, and they will tell stories about you to their friends and associates. Those listeners may just want to have good stories to tell about their service provider, as well—and they’ll know where to find one the next time around.
Learn to send chills with your spookily-good service, and keep REACHING…
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“You want me to call up my previous clients, just to see how they’re doing?” my client Alicia asked me two weeks ago. She was astonished that I would suggest something so forward.
“Isn’t that unprofessional–or unethical?” she continued.
“Do you care how they’re doing?” I asked her.
“Well, of course I do,” came her reply.
“Why, then, would it be wrong to check up on them periodically?” I asked.
Alicia has been a coach for four years, helping young professionals with career transitions. She had consulted me because she wanted to grow her business. Her belief system was that she needed to maintain her professional distance, and her interpretation of what that meant included the idea that once a client had benefited from her services, she no longer had a reason to communicate with him or her on a personal level.
Alicia agreed to call four of her clients before our next session. She even agreed to ask them to tell her the value she brought to their careers and to their lives.
As soon as we connected on the phone again, Alicia couldn’t wait to tell me about her experience.
“First of all, they were grateful that I cared enough to follow up,” she began. “None of them thought, as I did last week, that my call was inappropriate.”
“That got me comfortable enough to ask them about the value they received from me,” she continued proudly, “And that’s what I’m really excited about.”
Alicia found out that she had given all of her clients confidence, focus, and someone to hold them accountable until they were on their feet again.
It reinforced for her all of her beliefs in what she was doing and got her excited about finding more clients. She was so excited, in fact, that she was now able to agree to the one thing she had been unable to bring herself to do the week before.
“I said to each of them, ‘Don’t keep me a secret,’ as you had suggested,” Alicia announced to me, “And right there on the phone, one of them told me about a friend she was going to talk to who she thought could use my help.”
Here’s what Alicia learned:
1) If you have former clients whose experiences with you were positive, stay in touch with them. An email or phone call at the right time could actually mean a lot to them.
2) Ask them about why they chose you and your firm, and what value they received from working with you.
3) Don’t be afraid to mention that you’re open to introductions to other people who may need your help. Simple statements like “Don’t keep me a secret,” or “I’m never too busy to help someone you care about,” can open the door to new clients.
Talk with current and past clients, ask how they’re doing, and keep REACHING…
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been busy producing material that you may find useful.
Two weeks ago, Postema Marketing Group sponsored a Webinar I presented called Making Client Referrals Easy. The entire program is now available on YouTube, just by CLICKING HERE.
This week, Sabrina-Marie Wilson released my interview on her acclaimed radio show “Abundant Success”, and it’s already getting lots of attention. It includes my personal story about leaving my “safe neighborhood” and overcoming my fears. You can listen to, or even download, the podcast on iTunes by CLICKING HERE.
In my coaching work this month, several of my clients have been talking about the stress of trying to balance their family lives with their work lives. In my articles, I write a great deal about FEAR, but I more rarely snag the opportunity to write about a related, but equally insidious monster: GUILT.
Years ago, I was helping a child psychologist who ran a busy private practice, made rounds at a local hospital daily, and made himself available to testify in all sorts of court cases. During one of our conversations, he mentioned that he himself had five kids.
“Five kids?” I gasped. It seemed to me that this must be a guilt-ridden man, whose excessive work with neglected children had to have fueled a certain degree of his own family’s neglect. “How can you possibly manage to give them the time you know they need with a schedule like yours?”
With true calm, the good doctor explained to me that the first appointments he put on his schedule each week were with his family—in blocks of two or three hours each. “I’d like to give them more,” he told me, “but I take comfort in the fact that I treat my appointments with them as being my most important.”
“I don’t allow interruptions—except for dire emergencies—of my family time, just like I don’t allow interruptions when I’m working with a patient. When I’m with them, I’m with them one hundred percent. I don’t feel guilty about not getting work done. When I’m working, I know they’re in my schedule, so I don’t feel guilty about not being with them.”
Like the doctor, most of my clients who struggle to balance family and work time are in practices for themselves. Unlike the doctor, most have somehow chosen to be their own worst possible bosses. These bosses could give them more time with their spouses and children…but they don’t.
In his book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber points out that most of us go into our businesses backwards. We don’t start by figuring out what kind of life we want—what Gerber calls our “Primary Aim“—so we are forced to accept whatever life our business or practice pushes us into.
You don’t have to work 70 hours a week to be a successful professional. Thirty-five hours—or even four—could get the same results, if you are focused. Fear and guilt can affect this focus. The fear often comes from being overwhelmed by the number of steps we see on the way to the success we picture—from forgetting to focus on just a few steps at a time. The guilt usually comes from not having clear boundaries set around our family and work time. Here are some ideas to keep things from getting muddled:
- Decide where you want your practice—and your personal affairs—to be in the next three years, and write each down in as much detail as you can.
- Just as the doctor did, create a Master Weekly Schedule that starts with your family time and time off. Leave open spaces for all of the things that might pop up during the week. Then, put blocks of time into the work portion for: a) the things you need to do on a regular basis, b) three important projects, and c) thinking and planning.
- Honor your family time as if it were a major professional commitment. Make “appointments” with your spouse and children. When you are on work time—barring emergencies—be on work time. But when you’re with family, be truly with them, so there is no guilt.
You can design your work and professional life around the personal life you want. If you want a sense of how balanced (or imbalanced) you may currently be, take a look at the “Wheel of Life” on my Free Resources page. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the things you need to do and feeling much better about where you are and how you’re spending your time.
If you’re already doing what you love and making separate time for those you love, keep that pesky guilt beast at bay, and just keep REACHING…
*Image courtesy of tech.co.
At the beginning of his classic self-help book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill tells the story of R. U. Darby and his uncle, who went out to Colorado from their homes in Maryland to strike it rich digging for gold.
After finding a carload of ore, their mine ran dry. They dug on for a few more weeks and then quit, selling their rights, their equipment, and their maps to a junk man.
The junk man consulted an engineer to take a look at the maps, and after digging another three feet, struck one of the richest veins of gold in Colorado history.
In their book, 100 Ways To Motivate Others, Steve Chandler and Scott Richardson call what Darby and his uncle did throwing the “Quit Switch”. The gold-diggers threw the switch just three feet away from incredible wealth.
Every day, I speak with professionals who have either thrown the Quit Switch or have one in hand.
“Asking for referrals never worked for me.”
“I tried doing seminars a few times, but they never did anything.”
“I tried running my own practice, but it was just too hard.”
“You can’t make a living as a [financial advisor, insurance agent, small town attorney, realtor—you insert the category]…Well, I know some people do, but I can’t.”
It was difficult, or it wasn’t instantly successful…throw the Quit Switch!
It was going along, but too slowly…throw the Quit Switch!
NFL Coach George Allen said, “Most people succeed because they are determined to. People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit.”
If your career or practice isn’t where you want it to be, stop thinking that you know when to quit. You may be only three feet away from your vein of gold. Don’t throw the Quit Switch.
One of the points Napoleon Hill makes in his story about Darby is that the junk man was smart enough (or humble enough) to call in an engineer (an expert) to look at the mining maps. That option was always open to Darby and his uncle, but they either didn’t think of it or they ignored it, and they chose to stop digging instead.
The only real question is: Do you want to be successful in this career or not? If you do, get the help you need to succeed. Don’t wait until you feel it’s hopeless and you already believe you have no choice but to give it all up.
In other words, if you really want it, swallow your pride, and keep REACHING…
Many professionals complain about the long hours they work. For some, at least, all those hours are being compensated. These professionals are moving and shaking because they want to make as much money as possible—even at the cost of family time, recreation, and often, their own health. It’s difficult to be sympathetic about their complaints, since their situation is a choice.
But many professionals are plagued with long days and long workweeks for which they are not being adequately financially compensated. Some of these people are simply not charging enough. They have priced their services at a low rate, believing this to be the only way they can compete in their market. They have not learned how to create value for clients so that they know they deserve—and then, can request and receive—better compensation.
Still others in this latter group may be confusing attendance at the office with productivity. They feel “busy” at work, but hours are spent each day performing tasks that aren’t actually making them money. Someone in this situation may spend an hour or two each workday involved in non-business conversations. Maybe there’s another half hour or so spent trying to resolve computer issues. Then, there are those lunch plans with someone he or she already sees every day…
Don’t confuse being present with being productive. You may spend an hour and a half at the gym or health club, but how much of that is talking sports, waiting for an exercise station instead of using a different machine in the meantime, and “resting between sets”? You could even count washing your socks—which is something you do have to do in connection with your workout—but none of this time really counts.
“The only time that counts is the time you spend with the weights,” says Corey, a financial services sales manager I work with. “You do have to wash your socks, but you can’t count that time.”
When you’re selling and providing services, the only time that counts is the time you spend face-to-face or on the phone with clients or prospects. If you’re not doing one of these things, you can’t claim you’re working a twelve-hour day. You may be at the office or on the road for that much time, but a lot of that time, you’re just washing socks.
Some experts call the time you’re actually performing income-generating activities “green time”. If you’ve been feeling that you are working long hours and not making enough money for the time you put in, try this for a week: Write down everything you do, all workday long, every day, for all five-to-seven workdays. Don’t change what you do, just record it. Then, go back and see how much time you’re actually spending “with the weights”—that is, how much of that time is actually green.
If your green time is six to eight hours daily, and you’re putting in ten-to-twelve hour days, too much of your time is being spent on socks. If this non-productive time is somehow work-related (follow-up phone calls and paperwork someone else could be doing for you), get some help. If it’s not work-related, either accept the fact that you’re at the office longer by choice, or choose to save non-work matters for after hours.
Another financial advisor I’ve worked with greets everyone in his office in the morning, and then spends the next 8 hours on green time. He makes it known that while he’s unavailable during the day to discuss pleasantries, at 6 PM, he’ll be happy to go for a beer with anyone who wants to spend time with him.
Stop the load of socks, and make room for green time instead. Once things are really shaking for you, keep REACHING…
A few years ago, I presented a teleseminar for advisors throughout the U.S. on referrals.
During the live Q and A, Paul, an advisor in the Midwest, expressed frustration with his efforts to grow his practice by asking for introductions.
“I ask my clients about people they know who could use my help,” he told us, “But it feels awkward, and then my clients get all awkward and put me off.”
“Who gets awkward first?” I asked him.
“Well, I guess I do,” was his response, “But it’s because I know that they’re going to be uncomfortable.”
“Did it occur to you that maybe they get uncomfortable because you’re awkward, and your discomfort actually triggers theirs?” I asked.
“I never considered that,” he admitted.
We then went through 3 Steps Paul could use to take the discomfort out of the act of asking for referrals:
1. Start your client meetings by giving your clients (verbally or in writing) an agenda, that includes as the final item a discussion about friends, associates, and family members you might be able to help. Don’t surprise a client with a sudden request at the end of an appointment to talk about this important subject. If a client is going to be uncomfortable with this agenda item, let him or her tell you right at the beginning, and spend a few minutes either then or at the end discussing why this item makes him/her uncomfortable.
…The last thing I’d like to talk about this morning is some of the people in your life who you would want to have my help. I’d much rather be working with someone you want me to work with than someone whose name I took off a list somewhere. We’ll talk about some of the people you have in mind, and, if we decide it makes sense, we’ll figure out the most comfortable way for us to get in contact…
2. Always ask about the value you’ve given them—either on that particular appointment, or in your professional relationship over time. Ask him what he got out of your meeting, what he learned, and what he will get or has gotten out of his relationship with you. Ask him to tell you something specific that he found particularly helpful. Then utter the magic question: “What else?” Keep getting feedback until he can’t think of anything else, and then direct him to the ideas that you wanted him to find helpful, and ask if he did.
Did you find our discussion this morning helpful?…Was there one specific idea that you found particularly useful?…What else?…What else?…How about when I explained…
3. Now, you can ask them about people they know who could be helped in the same way. Remind her that this was one of your agenda items and ask who came to mind.
Mary, I’m glad you found the work we did here today so helpful. The last thing I promised you we’d do this morning is discuss some of the people you care about who might want the same kind of help, and decide whether it would make sense to arrange an introduction—and how we would go about that. Who is the first person who came to mind?
Speak with confidence, I told the group. If you don’t feel confident, act as if you do. Paul admitted that part of his problem was that he had not practiced being firm, clear, and self-assured when he brought up the subject of referrals…and practice is essential.
If you want to attract more clients, put talking about the people in your clients’ lives on your appointment agenda and get it out into the open, right up front. Act assuredly, and keep REACHING…
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…
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 few years ago, I was asked to give the keynote address at the Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration of Princeton Toastmasters. I decided to speak about Napoleon Hill’s discovery in the 1930s that the wealthiest and most successful people of his time were all following the same Simple Success Formula:
If you conceive an idea for something that doesn’t exist in the world today—an invention, personal wealth, fame, the success of your business, or anything else—and you believe it is possible, and pursue it with passion, it will become a reality.
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe,” Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich, “The mind can achieve.”
Or, stated simply: “Conceive It…Believe It…Achieve It!”
Thomas Edison conceived that electricity could be a safe, economical source of power for lighting homes and stores, towns and cities.
Andrew Carnegie, the original “Slumdog Millionaire”, conceived as a boy that even a starving orphan could rise through the restrictive societal structure of his time to become wealthy and influential.
Both of these men conceived it, believed it, and achieved it.
In 1993, an unhappy lawyer who had spent a year battling cancer and complications from treatment that left him disabled and bankrupt conceived of an idea for a career—as a speaker, coach, and author—that was nothing like the one he thought he was chained to for life. He dreamt of helping other professionals who were struggling—or completely burnt out, as he had been—find their true calling and success.
But for years he didn’t believe what he had conceived, so nothing happened. A full five years later, in 1998, it was having joined Toastmasters, and having built confidence as a motivational speaker, that helped him believe in the reality of his dream career. The belief became so powerful that soon, nothing could stop him.
Now, over 15 years later, I visit firms and organizations throughout the country doing what I love. I coach individuals who are going through equally challenging life and career transitions as I once experienced. And I’ve written two books and countless articles, sharing the lessons that I’ve learned with an audience wider than I could have imagined.
The main one is this: You can have anything you want…You can be anything you want…You can do anything you want. If you conceive it and believe it, you’ll achieve it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help to find the right track and to keep yourself on it. Until you conceive of doing that, or until you believe you can, keep REACHING…