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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My fellow coach Amir Karkouti shared a story with some of his colleagues recently that I want to share with you now:
Some time ago, a team of scientists took a dog and put him in a cage where the floor had a very mild electric current running through it—just enough to make the dog a little uneasy.
As soon as the dog was put in and felt the current, he bolted out of the cage through the open door.
They returned the dog to the cage and this time shut the door. A week later, when they opened the door again, the dog had no interest in leaving. He had become accustomed to the discomforting cage.
While the dog stayed sitting there, with the electric current running through the floor, the scientists brought in another dog, and opened an adjacent cage with an electrified floor. As had originally happened with the first dog, as soon as the second dog felt the current, he jumped right out.
Here’s the fascinating part: Seeing the second dog bolt, the first one suddenly realized that he, too, could leave the dissatisfying space he was in and, after a few seconds, again ran through the open door.
Only after seeing the second dog escape did the first dog remember that he didn’t have to stay in that less-than-happy place.
Most professionals find themselves in a dissatisfying cage of their own: not earning enough money, being overwhelmed by work, being otherwise unhappy in their situation. But, like the first dog in the study, after awhile they become “comfortable” with being uncomfortable, and they make no big moves to change the current.
In my book, The High Diving Board, I refer to what most people call the “comfort zone” as the “safe neighborhood”. Staying where you are is not necessarily “comfortable”. Sometimes it’s downright UNcomfortable. But it is familiar. And because the unknown—stepping up your game, hiring a coach, etc.—might be more uncomfortable, you stay where you are.
With humans, even seeing someone escape from his or her cage doesn’t always inspire us to leave our own. That requires a decision—the decision to get out. Once you’ve made the decision, knowing what to do becomes much easier.
If you’re in a cage of your own making, or feel that you’ve ended up in someone else’s, don’t wait until you’re in so much pain that there’s no choice but to leave, or be there forever. Make the decision to do it now, and then find the help you need to run free.
Hey, even a DOG can do it. So if you’ve been stuck, pick a new direction, and just keep REACHING…
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…
For most advisors, the Fourth Quarter means a year-end blitz to improve their production numbers, hours billed, and company or office standings. Realistically, there are only a few ways to do this:
The majority will focus on the first of these, squeezing in as many cold calls, workshops, and client-appreciation events as they can. They’ll rush around, becoming exhausted and frazzled—but not necessarily maneuvering themselves into a better position—by the time the holidays hit.
Many top producers, however, will slowly and meticulously examine their top clients’ files to see if there are more ways they can serve them, planning out their referral discussions, and looking for ways to surprise and delight them enough that these advocates will tell their friends and family members about the magical experiences they are having. More business from existing clients and more quality referrals—without the frazzle and exhaustion. Their Strategy is Simple:
1. Serve them. Set appointments with your best clients. Review their files first to see if there’s any way you can help them that you aren’t already—whether it will produce immediate income for you or not. If they need an introduction to an accountant or a good podiatrist, serve them by being the source.
2. Use the holidays as an excuse to surprise and delight them. Fortunately, while the upcoming season may feel like crunch time, it also presents some great opportunities to get your clients talking about you. The first of these opportunities is actually Halloween. Just think of all the ghoulish possibilities!
Do your best clients have children who will be dressing up? How about investing in the Klutz Face Painting Book? It comes with easy-to-remove face paints and detailed instructions for creating characters. Or, pick up and deliver some great pumpkins and bring them to their homes.
For Thanksgiving, find out if your best clients will be traveling and, if not, order them a wonderful pumpkin or apple pie from a local bakery or pie company. Hand-deliver it a day or two before the Holiday—or on Thanksgiving morning.
Two years ago, my coaching client, Don, was invited in to meet his financial client’s family when he showed up at the door with pie. In the presence of her relatives, his grateful client announced how much she enjoyed doing business with her advisor—how much they had accomplished and how much more they would have to do. A few days later, one of her guests contacted Don about starting to work together.
If pies aren’t your thing, be creative. It’s about astonishing your clients in a way that gets them smiling about their relationship with you and raving about you to the people they know. Brainstorm with your team. Is there something unique and special you can do to show them how important they are to you?
3. Talk about helping their families and friends. With another financial year coming to a close, do your clients have friends or family members who might need your services? If you can specifically identify someone in their circles, ask about him or her. If not, ask them if they know someone who might need your help before the quarter’s done.
You can still go ahead and make those cold calls, book those workshops and events, but put your emphasis on existing clients—the people who already do business with you and will be joyous to rave about you to those they love. If you need more tips on serving up the right surprises, contact me. Either way, keep delivering what you do best, and keep REACHING…
GIVE SOMEONE THE GIFT OF SELF/SALES HELP
Send someone a thoughtful and thought-provoking gift this season:
Autographed copies of my books, The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. I’ll even include a personal note that you can customize. There’s no extra charge for the signing, nor for holiday gift-wrapping. Simply click here to order the 2-book package, and make sure to edit the Gift Options and/or Add a Comment or Request to let me know your needs.
I have written before on the Three Universal Marketing Questions that anyone selling his or her services needs to know the answers to:
(1) What are you offering?
(2) To whom are you offering it?
(3) Why should they hire you?
The third point—the “why”—seems to be the most troubling for many people.
“You should work with me because I really care about my clients,” Terry, a 2-year veteran financial advisor, posed in a role-play sales conversation with me.
“But that’s exactly what [your competitor] said to me,” I responded. “Why should I choose you over her?”
Terry was stumped. “If we’re all white crayons in a box,” I continued, “What difference does it make which crayon I pick? All of them would tell me, if they could talk, that they are really good at coloring inside the lines.” Once again, Terry could not answer.
“What is different about you,” I asked him again, “from all the other people who do what you do?”
“Well, I’m not really different in any particular way” he started, “we all provide the same kinds of planning services and give advice aimed at the same goals…I just know I would be more caring than anyone else.”
“What makes you think so?” I pressed.
Terry thought for another moment, and finally responded, hesitantly. “My father died when I was just a teenager and left us with no money, so I know how important having money is—and I made up my mind that I would spend my life helping people prevent that from happening to their families.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Terry’s face brightened. He realized he had stumbled onto the perfect answer—for him—to the “why you” question.
When you can tell people why they should hire you or use your services in a way that distinguishes you from the other crayons in the box—perhaps by using powerful, personal stories or strong metaphors—you’ll get more business.
If you don’t have a clear answer to the third, or any of the Three Universal Marketing Questions, contact me for help. Don’t be afraid to stand out of the box, and keep REACHING…
Last week, we discussed the second of three basic yet essential skills that will help you get, and keep, more and better clients:
(1) The ability to ask provocative questions
(2) The ability to listen with total focus on your client
(3) The ability to relate compelling stories and metaphors
At last, we’ve made it to the Third Skill:
3. The ability to relate compelling stories and metaphors. Testimonials about your service help you get clients, because human beings are hard-wired to believe and love stories. Even before people developed a fully-spoken language, they could tell stories with cave paintings. As language progressed, one of its first uses was to communicate tales of great exploits, while sitting around the campfire…
But even when there are no clients around to give Testimonials—or campfires to sit and chat around, for that matter—stories of your service exploits can assist you in turning uncertain prospects into ready clients.
My client Michael, a financial professional, is a Master at “sales” stories: “Joe, your situation is very similar to that of another client I’m helping at the moment. He approached me a few years ago, having lost a bit more money than you did…but what his last advisor did to him was almost identical to what yours did to you. He also struggled with whether he should get back into the market or not. But after we talked that first time, he decided that he couldn’t let a past mishap get in the way of his retirement, and we’ve been working together successfully ever since!”
It’s a rare instance when a prospective client doesn’t come on board in the face of stories like these.
Michael also uses metaphors. I remember our discussion about a client of his with a small retirement fund, who asked him whether he thought she could handle it herself, without an advisor. “Sure you can,” Michael told her, “But you’d be like a leaf on a rushing stream. With no rudder and no one to steer, you’d be rushing toward whatever result the system had in store for you.”
One of my favorite Masters of Metaphor was Ben Feldman, who is considered possibly the greatest insurance salesmen in modern history. Ben could look prospective insurance-purchasers in the eyes and say things like, “with the stroke of a pen, you create an estate,” and the prospects would pick up their pens to sign the application Ben had brought with him.
Another client of mine, Larry, is a financial advisor, as well. To explain a Roth IRA to his clients, Larry uses a farming metaphor:
“If you were a farmer and you had to pay taxes,” he asks, “would you rather pay taxes on the seed, or on the crop that you harvest?”
“The seed, of course,” is the prospect’s usual reply.
“Why is that?” Larry asks.
“Well, the tax on a huge crop is probably a lot more than the tax on the seed would be,” goes the response.
“That’s why I want you to make this investment,” Larry tells his prospect. “You’ll have already paid taxes on the seed—and you’ll be able to harvest the crop tax-free!”
As this plays out in real life, Larry manages to put all Three Sales Skills together in his presentation to prospects. He asks provocative questions, listens with focus to their answers, and reacts empathetically by relating compelling analogies that help explain in clear terms how he is able to serve his clients.
Contact me, and I’ll help you develop these fundamental skills—or take them to the next level. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“I think I ought to go back to the way I was doing it before,” Ron, an advisor in Nevada, asserted to me in his weekly coaching check-in email. He had just taken advantage of an opportunity to teach a one-session evening class on financial concepts for a local college’s adult education program.
One of Ron’s challenges was that he rarely asked directly for an appointment. Instead, he would passively talk around offering to sit down with someone, hoping they’d get the hint—something that just wasn’t working.
In anticipation of this event, I had coached him to announce to his attendees that he had already set aside two days the following week during which he could meet with any of them who wanted to explore their situations. He would instruct them to approach him right at the end of his program in order to schedule their appointments.
Ron continued his report to me:
“I tried being more direct with everyone about setting an appointment with me afterwards, but nobody did.”
And, he concluded, “People don’t want me to be so direct.”
A few hours later, Ron received this email from one of his attendees:
I wish you had given us more valuable information, and not spent so much time promoting your business. I would have liked to get some beneficial information along with stories and facts to illustrate your subject. Then, you could have asked for questions before letting people know you were available to make appointments.
Ron sent this email to me as his proof that the direct approach isn’t a good one for him.
But Betty wasn’t complaining about his “direct approach” at all; she was upset that there wasn’t enough substance to the program and that Ron was selling his services instead of giving the attendees value. If you read her last sentence, you see that she concluded that had Ron provided the service the attendees had expected, it would have been okay to be direct about appointments.
What Ron couldn’t see was that his direct approach to appointments wasn’t the issue. He needed to have given extraordinary value first. And from the tone of Betty’s email, he clearly did not do that—at least, not for her.
Ron wants to build his business through seminars and programs like this one. If he does go back to his coy little dance around his invitations and he continues to give too little value, his results will be even more disappointing.
On the bright side, there are two clear lessons here for professionals who do presentations:
(1) Give extraordinary value and don’t spend all your time trying to sell attendees on using your services, and
(2) Only then—but always—be direct about the next step you want your attendees to take.
Every seminar should end with a clear “Call to Action”. But you can’t ask for your prospects’ action if your seminar did not move anyone to take action. Deliver value, and then tell your attendees, “Here’s what I want you to do next.”
Don’t choose to go backward before taking a direct leap forward. Contact me, and let me help you make your presentations—and your results—extraordinarily more powerful. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“There’s just never enough time to do all the things that need to be done!” Dave, an insurance producer, told me during a recent workshop. “Is it possible,” I asked Dave, “that you’re focusing on the trivial many instead of the vital few, and that’s why you don’t have enough time?”
I explained to the group how the Pareto Principle—the 80-20 rule—applies to most businesses and professional practices:
20% of the things you do to grow your business or improve your career—the vital few—produce roughly 80% of your results. If you want to work “smarter” instead of “harder”, your goal should be to do more of that 20% work—the work on the vital few—and less of the usual 80% of your work that doesn’t get results—the trivial many.
To know what is vital and what is trivial, you first need to figure out what your mission is—what you want to accomplish. This needs to be crystal clear to you. Each of the vital few activities has to be designed to get you to your business goals.
Once you know where you’re going, you can figure out which activities are helping you get there directly, and which ones are only peripheral pit stops. Then, every time you’re doing something in your business, you can ask yourself whether what you’re doing at this moment is directly aimed at the result you want—whether it’s vital to your success. If it’s not, why not delegate it to someone else?
Do the work that only you can do, that you’re best at, and that you like the most. Delegate the rest.
“The first thing you can eliminate is the work you hate the most,” I suggested to the seminar group. “What do you hate the most?”
“The bookkeeping,” Dave spoke out, before anyone else could respond. “But delegating that is expensive and I really can’t afford to do it,” he complained.
“Have you figured out how much you make per session when you’re working with clients?” I asked him. With some humility, Dave confessed that if we figured his time with clients hourly, it came out to about $200 an hour.
“And how much would a bookkeeper cost?” I continued.
“About $40 an hour in my area,” Dave admitted.
“That means,” I pressed on, “that if you spent just one more hour this week with a client, you could hire a bookkeeper for five hours and not lose any profit, right?”
Dave’s eyes lit up. I knew that he, and at least a handful of the other workshop attendees, would be freeing up some time for themselves soon.
If you weigh the cost of having someone else do the work you hate against the energy drain and erosion of effectiveness you experience in doing that work yourself, the cost of having help reveals itself as a very small price to pay.
This week, list all of the things that need to be done in your business or practice, but that you hate to do, and be honest with yourself about whether someone else could be doing those things for you. Pick one item from your list and arrange to have someone else take care of it. You’ll be amazed at how much time, and energy you’ll free up for the vital few.
If I can help you consolidate your professional schedule, contact me. In the meantime, as part of your 20% work, keep REACHING…
Financial advisors avoid it whenever they can. Coaches tremble at the thought of it. Lawyers pretend it’s beneath them, so they won’t have to do it. Even when I show them how to do it, they find ways to avoid it. What is this unthinkable task? …Asking for referrals.
Why won’t they ask? Either they’re afraid (What if my client thinks less of me for asking? What if she grabs back her retainer check and storms out of the room?) or they just don’t know that it’s okay to ask or how to go about it comfortably.
What these professionals fail to understand is that there are reasons why their clients would want to refer them to others.
Years ago, in my past life as a lawyer, Police Captain Myron taught me about the “hero factor” in the referral process. Myron, who tipped the scale beyond the 300-pound line and was known to consume more than his fair share of alcohol, was at a party to which both he and I had been invited. At one point during the party, he threw one huge arm around both of my shoulders and announced to the room: “You see this guy? I brought him all his business!”
It was true that Captain Myron had introduced me to several of my clients. I thought it wise not to argue that most of my business came from other sources. But what I came to understand that evening was how important it was to Captain Myron to be the champion of my practice—to be a hero. Here’s how it works:
(1) People generally like to help one another. If a client likes you and believes you add value to his businesses or to his life, helping you will make him feel generous and important. In other words, he can be a hero to you.
(2) When your client is referring you to someone she cares about, it’s an opportunity for her to show the people whose opinions matter to her that she makes wise decisions—decisions that could help them, too, if they followed her lead! In other words, she can be a hero to them.
(3) Asking clients to refer you to the people in their lives also gives them something else they need—validation. They’re thinking things like: If my sister uses your services, too, she must see in you what I saw. Then I know I made the right decision in going to you, after all. In other words, they can be heroes in their own right.
So, when you’re not asking clients to introduce you to those business associates, friends, and family members who you might be able to help (in the same way you’re already helping your clients), you’re depriving them of their opportunity to save the day.
If you want to help your clients be heroes, but are struggling to ask comfortably, order my 9-session audio series, Mastering Client Referrals, available as an Instant Download or on USB Flash Drive. Better still, you can contact me and let me help you. Or, if you have colleagues, friends, or loved ones who might benefit, be a hero and let them know about me. Whatever you do, keep REACHING…
Jim is a Senior Sales Manager who oversees a dozen branch offices for a financial services company. Each office has a Branch Manager who oversees 10-20 advisors.
Last week, Jim told me how he had asked each of his managers to bring certain advisors of theirs to a meeting he thought would benefit them—and how several of them didn’t bring the people he had requested. This was only one example out of hundreds wherein the Branch Mangers didn’t do what Jim told them to do.
“I don’t get it,” Jim complained to me. “I have to tell my managers to do something over and over and then they still don’t do it. If my boss asked me to do something,” he continued, “I would just do it.”
“It’s like they accepted their advisors’ excuses and let them off the hook,” he explained, “Instead of telling them that they were required to come.”
“It sounds like your managers may have used some weak words when they asked their advisors to come to the meeting,” I said to Jim. “They didn’t make it mandatory.”
“Exactly,” he exclaimed.
“Now, go over with me how you asked your managers to invite them,” I instructed.
“I told them how great the speaker at this meeting was going to be and suggested that they really should have these particular advisors there with them,” he lamented.
It was clear that Jim had also used weak words when he “told” his managers to bring their advisors. He wanted specific attendances to be required, but he used words such as “really should” and “suggest”—misleading his managers into believing that it might be optional. Powerful words, such as “I want them there” or “make sure they are there” would have accurately conveyed what Jim expected to have happen.
Why, then, did Jim choose weak words for something he wanted his managers to do? As he and I discussed it, we discovered a pattern. Wanting to be liked, Jim learned early on to “sugarcoat” his demands so that no one would feel he was coming on too strongly. This worked whenever he was seeking input from his managers, but not when he had made a decision for them and wanted them to take action.
If you’re an advisor yourself, are you using weak words with your clients, just so that you can be liked? Or are you serving them by clearly and concretely telling them what would be best?
You can’t make everyone like you, but most people will like you more if you actually say what you mean. There are nice ways to go about it, but when you want something to happen—you view it as necessary—make sure you use powerful words when you ask for it to be done.