The “Approach-Avoidance Tango”

It can happen to anyone who sells a service:  We speak to someone who is thinking about hiring us.  She calls again with a question and leaves a message to call her back.  We’re enthusiastic about the prospect of working with her—but when we return her call, she’s suddenly unavailable—forever.

This is the “Approach-Avoidance Tango”, and it’s not unlike the dance you might have seen or done while playing the dating game.  After my first terrific date with Hannah (now my wife of nearly 35 years), I didn’t call her again for months.  I even stood her up once—which prompted her to throw the chocolate mousse she was making for me at the kitchen wall.  Come to think of it…I can’t imagine why she married me after all.

When someone is doing this Tango with you in your personal or business life, you usually start second-guessing yourself:  “Was I too enthusiastic?”  “Did I come on too strong?”  “Should I have waited a day or two so I would appear less interested or needy?”

But the dance is seldom about something you’ve done.  It takes a great deal of courage to decide to commit to anyone.  Choosing to be someone’s client means admitting to him or her that there’s something you can’t do on your own, and—particularly in our society—everyone wants to look like they’ve “got it together”.  It also means agreeing to trust that someone’s advice, even if you’re not always sure you want to follow it.

So, let’s say that a prospective client does find talking with you to be beneficial.  He thinks you might be the one who can finally help.  He picks up the phone with some trepidation and calls you—and you’re not there.  He leaves a message, but now his courage has waned.  By the time you dial back, it’s gone—and he can’t even dream of mustering it up again to pick up the phone, or to return your call.

Should you just let him go?  Or is there something you can do to convince him to stay?

Rory, a financial advisor in Seattle, did this to me just last week.  I decided to call him out on it in an email, since I could no longer reach him by phone:


When we last spoke, you may have genuinely had someone else you wanted to talk with, but I’m guessing that you didn’t hire anyone.  I think you know that opening up to someone (whether it’s me or someone else) will help you, but I bet it scares you, so you continue not to do anything.

Changing just this one approach (avoidance) in your life could mean boatloads in the long-term.  But it won’t happen without taking the first step…

I received another call from Rory over the weekend in response to this note.  In his message he told me I had given him a lot to think about and that he would be back from vacation—and would call me again—in two weeks.  We’ll see…

In any event, if the Tangoing client is lost, you have nothing to lose by boldly telling him you can see the dance he’s doing.  Try reaching out that one extra time like I did with Rory, and see what happens to your practice.

If you need it, don’t avoid the help I’m offering, and take me up on the free coaching session that came along with your re-opt on this e-letter.  Whatever you do for yourself or your clients, always keep REACHING…

Become an Expert

A few years ago, I asked one of my clients, Carrie, if she had started thinking about saving for college for her one-year-old daughter, Megan.

“It’s funny that you’re asking me this now,” Carrie replied, “Because I just recently sat down with a specialist in college planning.”

When Carrie told me the name of the company this financial advisor had come from, I chuckled to myself.  I knew there were no advisors in that company who were given any “special” training.

“What makes you say that this advisor was a specialist?” I asked her.  Carrie told me that he had set up a college savings program for a friend of hers, who had then referred him along to her and Megan.  She boasted about how knowledgeable and well-read he seemed on a plethora of issues having to do with raising a child.

“We talked about an article in [the local] Parent’s Magazine and he offered to recommend a pediatric dentist for Megan’s teething problem,” she reported.

Carrie hired this advisor because he was a specialist.

In my book, Become a Client Magnet, I talk about being the “Red Crayon”.  Most professionals are white crayons in a box filled with other white crayons—they are indistinguishable accountants or civil engineers or financial advisors.  Being the Red Crayon in your industry’s box immediately distinguishes you from all the other choices a prospective client has and makes it more likely that you’ll be chosen for the job.

One way to make yourself a Red Crayon is to choose a specialty: a narrow target market to serve, or a specific type of service for which you can become the leading expert.

You can do this even if you’re already involved in a specialty in your field.  An orthopedic surgeon can become a “hand reconstruction” specialist, a labor lawyer can become a “non-compete” specialist, and a chiropractor can become a specialist in “cervical adjustments to lower blood pressure”.

If you’re not already a specialist now, become one.  The steps are this simple:

1. Declare your specialty. Concentrating your skills to work with one target or type of service doesn’t usually require exams, apprenticeships, licenses, or certifications.  There are few professional codes of conduct that could prohibit an accountant from “concentrating” on businesses owned by women, or stop an attorney from “limiting his practice” to a certain area of litigation.  There’s nothing wrong with focusing your efforts.

2. Walk the talk. Once you’ve made the declaration, develop the expertise.  Instead of trying to keep on top of dozens of areas in his profession, a Red Crayon will learn everything he can about his focus and find ways to serve his chosen market.  Carrie’s advisor read the same magazines his clients read and learned about their children’s developmental needs.  He became acutely aware of the local network of child-development specialists in other industries—dentists, doctors, and educators—thereby ranking himself among them.

3. Take the cases you enjoy. Branding yourself with an expertise actually enhances your Red Crayon status outside the area of your specialty.  People will tend to seek out an expert whether or not his/her focus is exactly what their situation calls for.  They’d rather have a specialist make an exception to work with them than have a mere commodity handle their case.  Stay focused on the market that makes you happiest, but if it also moves you, help these other clients whenever you wish.

If you want help becoming a Red Crayon to attract more business, contact me today.  Whatever you do, keep REACHING…

10 Rules for Working with Clients

My friend Rich works for a large regional bank and sometimes does seminars for his fellow bank employees. Rich was kind enough to share his notes with me from a seminar he presented, entitled “Rules for Working with Attorneys”.

It was clear to me that with a little editing, these rules could apply to work with any type of prospective client:

1. Make your time as important as her time. When a prospective client tells you that she’s very busy, let her know that you understand, but tell her that you are very busy, too.  Set up a mutually convenient time to talk.

2. How someone does one thing is a good indication of how he does everything. Rich tells the story of a sales rep trying to deal with a prospect who would motion aggressively for her to leave whenever she paid him a visit.  She was shocked when Rich’s advice was to stop trying.  He explained that how this man was as a prospect—rude and nasty—is how he would be as a client.  “Why would you want him as a client?” Rich asked her.  “If he throws you out of his office, that’s a sure warning sign!”  Take the hint!  There are many more prospects out there who won’t be such trouble.

3. Find ways to let your client in. Offer to connect them to your networks.  This will open the door for them to do the same for you.

4. Always conduct research and do pre-call planning before seeing your prospects. Use the internet.  Find out from your networks—either through Linked In or by asking around—if someone knows a person and can tell you a bit about him or her.  If you find someone who knows, ask for an introduction, or get the okay to drop this contact’s name with the prospect.  A referral or warm connection beats a cold call every time.

5. If you drop in, differentiate yourself by being there to set an appointment. Many sales professionals drop in and expect to be seen right then and there.  Show your prospect that you respect his time.  If you drop in, make your purpose to find out his availability, and to put a meeting into his calendar for a later date.

6. Learn about her business before asking for her business.  “It’s not about you,” Rich tells his coworkers.  “It’s about them, so ask lots of questions.”

7. Be polite to “gatekeepers”, but be assertive and ask for them for help. Gatekeepers have two seemingly conflicting functions: to keep you out, and to help you out.  Ask them firmly to help you.  Demonstrate your value.  There has to be a good reason for them to let you in to see their boss, but there has to be an equally good reason for them to refuse.

8. Be on time. Nothing more needs to be said here.

9. Offer to show him the money. Most business and professional prospects are primarily interested in how you can save them—or make them—money. Make sure you are clear about how you can do one or both of these for them.

10. Build rapport. While you’re asking about his business, ask him about him—why he does what he does, how he got started, what he finds most rewarding.  Have you ever met someone who wouldn’t enjoy spending a minute or two talking about himself?

You’ll find 27 more suggestions like these in Become A Client MagnetBuy it today, and regardless, keep REACHING…

Make an Offer, and Let Them Say “No”

Nineteen years ago, I needed lifesaving surgery.  I worked hard to find out who the surgeons with the best reputations were, and then I made separate appointments with each of three doctors who had been most highly recommended.

The first surgeon I met with did not impress me one way or another.  The second told me exactly what the problem was, what he could do, and when he could do it.  When he started to schedule the surgery, I interrupted him to tell him I still had one more surgeon to see before I locked anything down.  “You’re going to see another surgeon?” he asked with incredulity.  “All right, you know where to find me.”

That attitude—“you’ve come to the person who should be doing this for you; why would you need to look elsewhere?”—stuck with me when I visited the third surgeon, who was nowhere near as self-assured.  I ended up going back to the second surgeon…and he saved my life.

To be clear, Surgeon Number Two’s inquiry hadn’t come across as arrogant—he had seemed genuinely surprised that I’d waste my time with another doctor when he’d already made his offer to me.  It also didn’t seem to matter to him if I said “no”.  In his mind, it would have been my own misfortune.

How quickly would your business or practice grow if you could approach the offers you make like this surgeon approached his?

A friend and coaching colleague of mine, Rich Litvin, reminded me about a scene in the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona, in which Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem) makes a proposal to two women at once:


Juan Antonio: Well, I’d like to invite you both to come with me to Oviedo.

Vicky: To come where?

Juan Antonio: To Oviedo. For the weekend. We leave in one hour. …

Vicky: Oh, right. You’re asking us to fly to Oviedo and back.

Juan Antonio: Mmmm. No, we’ll spend the weekend. I mean, I’ll show you around the city, and we’ll eat well. We’ll drink good wine. We’ll make love.

Vicky: Yeah, who exactly is going to make love?

Juan Antonio: Hopefully, the three of us.

Juan Antonio makes an offer to the women, with confidence, and it doesn’t really matter to him whether they accept or not.  We get the feeling that Juan makes pitches like this often, and that there are plenty of “yes”s among the “no”s he receives.

Make all of your offers like Juan Antonio—or, more appropriately, like Surgeon Number Two—and ultimately, your business will flourish.

Contact me today if you need help learning how to make powerful offers that will grow your business.  In the meantime, keep REACHING…


Too Many Clients

While some of my clients would love to have this problem, many of the professionals I work with who have been at it for years actually complain that they have too many clients, and they are concerned that they can’t service all of them adequately.

But the real problem isn’t that there are too many clients; it’s that we try to treat them all in the same way.

Every professional with a large clientele knows that there is just a handful who they love—the “A+”s—and then, there are a range of clients behind those, who are: “really good clients”, “good clients”, “okay clients”, and “the duds”.

The truth is, every client and former client deserves attention, but they don’t all necessarily deserve the same level of attention.

If you have more clients than you can comfortably handle, consider taking these steps:

1. Segment your list of clients into categories based upon criteria you’ve established for them:

A+ Clients (Platinum Club Members) could be your absolute favorites.

A Clients (Gold Club Members) might be those really good clients who take your advice, refer their friends and business associates to you, and have entrusted you with all of their work.

B Clients (Silver Club Members) might be missing some of the “A” qualities.

C Clients (Bronze Club Members) could basically just be customers who do happen to take your calls and don’t happen to be a bother.

D Clients (The Duds) are probably the ones you never hear from until, out of the blue, they’re demanding that you take care of something for them immediately.

2. Fire your “D” Clients. In the beginning of our careers we take on clients even when we know they’re going to be “D”s, because we need the work and think we shouldn’t turn any business away.  I coach professionals who are just starting out to turn down business if it isn’t right for them, but most of my clients come to me after they have already accumulated a long list of duds.  As long as my clients’ clients continue to be “D”s, they are an energy drain, and worse, they are potential liabilities.  I teach people to just get rid of them.

3. Automate your service to the “A”s, “B”s, and “C”s. Maybe you’ll check in with the “C”s once a year and send them birthday and holiday cards.  For the “B”s, it might behoove you to follow up twice a year with coffee visits, and not to forget a birthday phone call.  The “A”s should get quarterly calls and visits, and a small birthday gift.  All of these can be scheduled right into your contact manager, so you can be sure not to miss anyone.

4. Give the “A+”s the keys to your Lake House. When an “A+” client introduces friends to you, there is an increased likelihood that those friends will be stellar to work with.  Spend your time, energy, and money on your best clients, and the result will be more referrals and more “A+” business.

If you’ve been avoiding these steps because the initial work threatens to be time-consuming, pause to recognize the huge benefits of sharpening your client base, even just a few clients at a time.

Contact me if you’d like help getting a “service system” going for your clients.  In the meantime, keep REACHING…

It’s Okay, but Can I Ask You Why?

In conversations with clients and prospective clients, all professionals and salespeople eventually run into what is commonly referred to as an “objection”. Most initial objections, however, are not really objections at all.  They’re Automatic Negative Responses (ANRs).

You walk into a department store to buy a picture frame for your mother for her birthday.  You know exactly what you want, but you’re not sure where it is in the store or what the selection is.  A very polite salesclerk approaches you and asks, “May I help you?” and you respond, “No thanks, just looking.”

Of course, you lied.  You weren’t just looking—you knew what you wanted and had two very specific questions, and yet, you gave this individual a negative response.  But why?

Part of the answer is that we love to buy, but we hate to be sold.  The presence of someone who might try to sell us something causes us to automatically find a way to reject the offer of help, and we become conditioned to give Automatic Negative Responses (ANRs) when our “salesperson” radar is triggered.

ANRs are ever-present in the offering of professional services—when you’re trying to set an appointment, when you’re asking the prospective client to engage your firm’s services, and when you’re asking for an introduction to a colleague or friend.

We hear “let me think about it,” or “I’m really too busy right now,” or “I have a few more people to speak with,” or “I don’t give referrals,” and some of us panic, thinking that all is lost.  But if you recognize that these initial responses are most often ANRs, and not real objections, you can understand that your job has become to find out what the real concern is, and to address it as best as you can.  There might be a legitimate issue or question at the source of the objection, but the pseudo-information given in this knee-jerk reaction probably has nothing to do with it.

The best response we can give to an ANR is to (1) validate it, and (2) ask about it:

It’s okay for you to feel that way, but would you mind if I asked you why you do?

(1) Of course you want to think about it; it’s an important decision, (2) but would you mind telling me what questions or concerns you want to mull over?

(1) I completely understand that you have concerns about giving referrals. I sometimes do myself.
(2) But I find that usually there’s a reason for those concerns.  Would you mind if we talked about your reservations?

An Automatic Negative Response is usually a “smokescreen” for a real concern.  Find out what it is and then work on gently reframing how your prospect or client is viewing that concern.  This may open the door to moving forward with them or someone they know.

Let me help you get better at dealing with issues like these.  All it takes to talk with me about it is a quick click here.  In the meantime, keep REACHING

How to Lose Your Clients: 7 Sure Strategies

Today I want to give you some pointers on how to lose clients.  Losing good clients is relatively assured if you follow these simple directions:

1. Avoid regular communication. Make sure that you never let clients know what the status of their case is.  Don’t proactively report to them on a regular basis, whether you’re in some kind of holding period or there’s a lot of activity.  Clients who are kept informed on a regular basis—even when there’s nothing to report—are always more content and less likely to leave you.

2. Don’t send copies of correspondence or report important conversations. After all, it’s annoying how clients who receive copies of correspondence call you to see if there’s anything they need to do to follow up, even when you tell them that no response is necessary.

3. Be careful not to show you care. Never follow up with clients after an important event, like a big meeting you’ve helped them prepare for, a sudden sharp downturn in the market, or a disaster of some sort in their neighborhood.  People who communicate with clients at these times keep them longer and end up getting unsolicited referrals.

4. Don’t buy into the idea of having client relationship management systems. Stay away from systems that would allow you to automate regular periodic contact with clients.  These types of systems help clients stay loyal.

5. Don’t answer or return pesky phone calls. If a client should happen to be irritating enough to call you for the status of his case, try not to be available.  If he or she leaves a message, be sure not to return the call—or, at least, don’t return it too quickly.  If you really feel compelled to return the call, wait at least a week before you do.

6. De-personalize your service and teach your staff to do the same. Make sure your staff is rude and annoyed by constant interruptions to their day due to client calls and visits.  Avoid being in the same room with clients if at all possible, and when you have no choice, be as aloof and unconcerned about their issues as you can be.  If you prefer, you can be really “salesy” and make them squirm.  Clients love to complain about professionals who do these things.

7. When you’re done with the client, move on for good. Make sure you never contact him or her again.  Show no concern for former clients whatsoever.  Don’t do anything for their birthdays or anniversaries or their children’s birthdays.  Don’t even bother to learn when these events are, so you won’t need to try to forget them.  This will ensure that if they need more help in the future, or if they come across someone else who could use your services, they won’t be tempted to turn to—or to recommend—you.

If, for some reason, these ideas don’t appeal to you, I can help you turn your clients into fiercely loyal referral partners.  Contact me today, and we’ll talk about how.  In the meantime, keep REACHING