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…
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…
Thank clients for their business. Thank them for referrals. Remind them about their appointments. And do each of these…with a handwritten note. Find an excuse to send a note card to people you meet, people who provide services to you, and people who you serve.
We have all become so accustomed to communicating by email, text, and other electronic and social-media means that the lowly note card—handwritten, hand-addressed, hand-stamped, and delivered by “snail mail”—has actually become an item of immediate interest and delight when someone is shuffling through her junk mail or bills.
While there is a cost-factor, and a small amount of labor in selecting stationery, buying stamps, writing, and posting the card—not to mention tossing an occasional mistake into the trash—the potential rewards are great.
One of my clients—Peter, a financial advisor—was telling me a story about how he thought his light gray suit was ruined when someone spilled red wine in his lap at a networking event. He was amazed that the Dry Cleaner was able to get the stain out entirely, leaving the suit as good as new.
“Send him a note, thanking him for getting the wine out,” I told him.
Peter protested that a handwritten note was overkill. He had thanked the owner personally when he picked up the suit.
I explained to him that the owner probably received dozens of complaint letters each year—people sending letters to complain about damaged shirts and demanding reimbursement. The seemingly outdated “Thank You” note, I told him, would surprise and flatter the owner and, in the long-term, help Peter’s business. Peter was skeptical, but he sent the Thank You note, with one of his business cards enclosed.
A week later, Peter called me, unable to hide the excitement in his voice.
“When I walked in with my shirts yesterday,” he started, “My note and the business card I enclosed were taped up on the wall near the counter. The owner thanked me for my note and asked me about my business—something he’d never done in the three years I’ve been bringing my clothes to him.”
“But wait!” he exclaimed, “It gets better. I told him what I did, using the audio billboard you helped me to develop, and he asked me if I’d be willing to talk with him about his situation. And all because I sent him that note!”
Peter eventually started working with the Dry Cleaner, who turned out to have other businesses, and a significant amount of assets.
“It won’t always work like that,” I warned him during one of our later sessions, “But it will open doors for you if you keep doing it.”
Make it a point to write three note cards a week—to anyone you can think of, and for any reason. Enclose a business card, and don’t be afraid to follow up when the opportunity arises by asking if your note was received.
You don’t need a note card to contact me for help. However you go about it, reach out, and keep REACHING…
P.S. Peter sent me a handwritten note to thank me for helping him land this new client. I was thrilled to receive it, and would be just as thrilled to refer him to anyone who needed his brand of help.
After two visits—a total of six hours—advisor Marianne had gotten an enthusiastic “thumbs up” from her new “almost clients”—a young professional couple with small children—to prepare a financial plan for them. The plan would specifically include some much-needed life insurance. There was no doubt the mission was going forward!
But a few days later, just before Marianne’s scheduled return with her specific proposal, the couple called to tell her they had decided to hold off on doing anything.
“I needed that sale,” Marianne complained to me during our coaching session.
“And that’s probably why you lost it,” I responded.
Our need is the ugliest thing we can show prospective clients. If they believe that your need to make money is more important than your delivery of the service they would be hiring you to do, they’ll back away. Retaining you or buying what you have to offer has to be their idea, not yours.
Blake, an attorney in Michigan, wrote me last week about his problem in getting prospective clients to engage his services.
“I find out what their situation is,” he writes, “and then I explain very carefully what I’ll be doing for them.”
“Then they ask about price. I tell them my hourly rate, which is competitive, but they say they want to think about it…and then, I don’t hear from them again.”
Professionals like Blake often don’t spend enough time developing a relationship with their clients, customers, or patients. They know their work. They know how to diagnose problems, and they know what the most likely solutions are. But they don’t know what their prospective clients really need: someone to hear them out; sympathy, empathy, and validation.
Here are some suggestions that might help you “close” more clients:
1. Ask more and better questions. “Situational” questions are essential for you in order to enable you to do your work, but they have relatively low value to a prospective client who already knows his or her own situation.
How does the situation make him or her feel? Why does he/she feel that way? What result would this person like to get from working with you? How will that make him/her feel better?
These kinds of questions don’t necessarily add any information to your business stats, but they help you to create a bond with your new client.
2. Find out if they’re committed to change before you talk about fees. Ask if she’s receiving value from the discussion and if she has any questions for you. Ask if she’d be interested in working with someone who could alter her status quo.
3. Find out what is causing them to hesitate. If he says, “Let me think about it,” find out what he agrees with and narrow down what his concerns are. Does he have reservations about your abilities? Is he looking for a better price? It’s okay—and important—to ask these questions.
If you want more clients to say “yes” and stick to it, start by making sure you spend the time to ask compelling questions, and base the solution you offer directly on their answers. Whether it’s in asking for the sale or asking for introductions, make it about them—not about your need.
With fewer than ten weeks to go in 2013, I’ve put together a list of the most effective ideas for my financial advisor friends to boost their holiday sales. Even if you’re not a financial or insurance professional, I know you’ll find at least some of these ideas useful.
1. Keep your schedule filled with appointments. If your goal is 8 appointments, don’t “try” to keep 8—keep them. If you need to fill your time slots with existing clients, turn those visits into referral opportunities.
2. Look through the information you’ve taken from existing clients to determine if there’s any way in which you haven’t yet served them. Maybe you need to discuss converting an existing term policy, or increasing their 403(b) contribution. Maybe you haven’t discussed long-term care with them. Is there a client who wouldn’t be helped by increasing his or her monthly contributions into retirement savings? Find out!
3. Use the holidays as an excuse to surprise and delight them. It takes a little extra time and few extra dollars, but the rewards can be incredible: a face painting kit or a barrel of pumpkins for Halloween, a fresh baked pie or a bowl of homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.
4. “Up” your offers. A client who needs $300,000 in life insurance might agree to $500,000 if given the option. A client who can put aside $300/month for investing might be able to stretch that to $500, if you explain the benefits. Just ask. If 1 in 4 prospects says “yes”, your year-end numbers will increase dramatically, just like that.
5. Ask for referrals as a way of helping someone start next year with a bang.
“Joe and Betty, thanks for letting me know how helpful I’ve been to you in getting your finances in order and in building toward the retirement you want. With the end of the year coming, I’ll bet you have at least a couple of friends who might like to get a new start on their financial situation for the New Year and may want the kind of service you’re getting. Who comes to mind that could use a hand?”
6. Ask for referrals as a way of giving a gift!
“Joe, how about giving your friend you mentioned the gift of a session with me to talk about his finances? It won’t cost him anything and I won’t pressure him to work with me if he doesn’t want to, but you’d be giving him an opportunity to get something life changing that will last…”
7. Focus on reaching out to people with whom you already have a connection. How many people attended a seminar or gave their names to you at a Home Show who you couldn’t reach right afterward, so you then just dropped those leads? Instead of cold calling people you’ve never met, revisit those “failed” contacts, starting with the most recent. If you can’t reach someone by phone, try a quick email, or drop a short message on social media. If you do connect, those people who you have met at least once are far more likely to agree to make an appointment with you than total strangers are.
8. Slow your fact-finding interviews down. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll turn more first appointments into [first and] second appointment sales if you ask more questions, especially about consequences of acting and not acting. It’s not good enough to ask how someone feels about a million dollar insurance need. Dig deeply into the consequences of not having that insurance in place. (If they can’t keep the house, where will they live? Is that okay with them?) Then, make sure your presentation addresses the consequences that they brought up in response to your questions. (This will ensure that they can stay in their house, at least until the kids start college.)
9. Keep your need out of it. You have numbers you want to reach, but the days of the “Contest Close” have long passed. Do they need your help, or not? Is what you’re offering them the best thing for them, or would something that gets you a smaller fee actually be better for them?
10. When it comes to services they need, don’t please your prospects or clients, and don’t sell to them, serve them. If they’re telling you that they’re going to put off applying for the insurance they need, and you believe that the delay does not serve them, tell them passionately that they’re wrong. Be proud of being in sales, but don’t sell, and don’t put having them like you above doing what’s best for them.
*Image courtesy of Mint.com.
I’ve shared a good deal of information with you recently on being willing to brand (and speak up about) the special service experience that only you offer. Consider this a prequel to all of that. Good; so, you’re special! But before we get into it…
The last time you sat down with a prospect, you probably went through some awkward small talk while you anticipated getting down to fact finding, when you could relax a little. After all, you’ve helped clients like this many times before. You’ve listened to them answer your questions and waited patiently until it was your turn to talk about insurance or financial concepts and strategies.
Then, as you got into your prepared interviews and well-practiced presentations, your confidence would grow a little, because now you had the opportunity to show your stuff. You were able to explain what you might do for each of these prospective clients. You told them why you love your work. You told them why your approach is unique—and it is—and that always felt great to share, didn’t it? And they always seemed really interested in the conversation you were leading. So all that was left was for you to ask them to get started—to “close”.
I mean, after all, potential clients only have one decision to make, right? It’s simple: Would you like to work with me—yes or no?
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Prospects actually have Three Decisions in front of them, beginning at the time when you first approach them for an appointment:
(1) Whether to spend some of their precious time with you. If you’re sitting down with them, they’ve already made this decision in your favor.
(2) Whether they want to change their status quo. A prospect may have no particular regard for his current advisor, and he may fully recognize the need for more or better insurance or professional advice, but he may still not want to do anything about it. This is the concept of inertia: A prospect at rest tends to stay at rest.
(3) Finally, the prospect has to decide that if he is willing to change, he wants that change to be with you.
If you’ve ever heard the words “I’d love to work with you…” and then couldn’t get the prospect back to hear your proposal, then you were probably short-changing yourself on appreciating the magnitude (and rarity) of the Second Decision. It’s one of the biggest mistakes advisors make in the sales process.
Deciding to change—from no advisor to having an advisor, from one advisor to another, from no insurance to having insurance, from one investment to another—is actually the most difficult of the Three Decisions. The prospect is weighing the status quo against what a change will mean, what the issues are, what his or her competing commitments are and what new commitments (financial, medical, legal, and mental) will involve, and who else might be impacted by this change.
She may have an advisor she doesn’t like. She may actually know she needs help, or more insurance, or some other change in her financial or insurance situation. But she just hasn’t yet made the commitment to do it. If a potential client has not yet decided she is ready to work with someone new, and you charge in with your “solutions” and your “methodology” and your “training, experience, and credentials”, you have launched an irrelevant conversation.
You might think they need to understand the benefits of what you’re proposing, but in the absence of the Second Decision, prospects have no interest in hearing your Third-Decision Discussion—the “why you”. Until a prospect has made the Second Decision, Third-Decision behavior (discussing the solutions only you can provide) is futile.
Talking about your unique services with someone before the person has decided to change is one of the biggest reasons you’ve often heard those positive comments about your work, and then are surprised [yet again] when the prospect cuts off communication. He or she may have truly been enthusiastic about the idea of working with you, even if he or she hadn’t made the commitment to do it. A single contradictory conversation with a brother-in-law, an accountant, or even a plumber could have been enough to send your shaky prospect back into hiding.
Ask questions to make sure the prospect is ready to hear solutions. The reward will be more meaningful commitments to hearing you out and moving into the Third Decision—in other words, fewer wasted presentations, and fewer lost sales.
If you could use help moving your potential clients into their Third Decision, you only need to decide you’re ready to make a change before you contact me. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
*This article was inspired by a recent writing shared with me by my coaching colleague, Rich Litvin. I admit to “borrowing” some of his ideas and language.
Are you aggressively selling your services and finding that few prospective clients—even those who are clearly in your target market—are buying?
“What is selling?” I ask at the beginning of many of my programs.
This question elicits a variety of answers that provide a window into the thinking of the professionals and entrepreneurs in attendance:
“Trying to convince someone to buy what you offer,” says one.
“Saying things that persuade someone to agree to buy your services,” says another.
“Manipulating someone into feeling he or she has to have what you offer,” a third might say.
“If your view of ‘selling’ your services is something along these lines, it’s no wonder that you can’t fill your practice or find enough clients for your businesses,” I tell them.
“STOP SELLING YOUR SERVICES!”
After pausing for effect, I explain, “If by ‘selling’ you mean some kind of noisy, pushy, aggressive ‘hawking’ of your services, you’ve already either sensed or discovered that ‘selling’, as you’ve defined it, doesn’t work.”
“But what if you had a different view of selling?” I ask them. “What if selling was asking appropriate questions so that your prospective clients understand that they need what you offer?“
“Stop selling,” I tell them. “Start attracting business instead.“
For the rest of the seminar, we usually discuss the distinction. Among the points I ask them to consider are these:
a) How to develop an “attraction” mindset. What you offer is something valuable—something that people want or need. If you have any clients at all, you’ve already proven that. People ought to know about your practice or business. You should be proud to tell them about it. But you don’t have to “push” it on them.
b) How to resist the urge to “sell” and ask great questions instead. The “selling” that doesn’t work usually involves identifying a potential client and then trying to “close” him or her on a meeting with you or on the purchase of your services.
Tell a prospective client what you do and then ask his permission to explore his situation. The conversation might end right there, but since people do like to buy—and you’re not selling—he’s likely to agree to let you explore. Once you have permission, ask questions designed to unearth some specific need or desire.
c) How to address the specific need or desire. Then, instead of talking about generic features and advantages of your services, discuss how what you do meets the specific need or desire uncovered by your questions.
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…
(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
In this article, I’ll focus on the first of these skills:
1. The ability to ask provocative questions. If you’ve found that your prospective clients (we’ll call them “prospects”) are backing away, it is likely that you have made the common mistake of cutting the questioning process short. You may have jumped to the solution you provide too early. If you’re like most professionals, before talking about your services, you do ask informational questions—who, what, where, when, how, and why. While you need this information to understand how you can help your prospects, it is more valuable to you than it is to them. Your prospects already have this information! Situational questions are more likely to help you get to the bottom of your prospects’ deeper needs.
Sometimes, your simple informational questions will bring up a relevant concern—maybe even one that a prospect didn’t know he or she had. Maybe the prospect is already working with someone in your field and is having some problems with that relationship, or with the results he/she is getting.
Well, there they are: problems! And that’s what we do, isn’t it? We solve problems. So, we’re done here, right? Isn’t it time to move on, and into the solution?
As soon as you identify this little bit of trouble in Paradise, you may want to pounce with your offer of services…but if you do, more often than not, your prospect will start squirming. Here’s an example of a conversation my client, Lisa, a financial advisor, experienced with a prospect who had already been working with another advisor:
Lisa: So, you haven’t heard from him in over a year and he didn’t return your call the last time you tried to reach him? He also hasn’t explained any of these things we’ve been talking about today, right? It sounds like you’re not getting the service you need from him. I can promise you that I’ll check in with you once a quarter and I always return calls immediately. How about we go ahead and transfer your accounts…
Prospect: You know, actually, I’ve been working with this guy for almost eight years. I think I should try to talk to him again first and, if he doesn’t return my call, I can get back to you.
One reason this conversation may have ended as it did—with the prospect’s objection—is that the problem Lisa identified is also one that she had to imply. Your prospects are always weighing whether their need for change is explicit and urgent enough for it to be worth their while to do all the work required to make that change.
When there’s only a vague sense of a problem, the scale tips in favor of leaving things as they are. To avoid running into a brick wall, you need to move from implied problems to explicit problems. And you can only get your prospects to see explicit problems by asking more [situational] questions first.
Here’s how Lisa learned to handle her next conversation, after working with me on asking better questions:
Lisa: So you haven’t heard from him in over a year and he didn’t return your call the last time you tried to reach him? He also hasn’t explained any of these things we’ve been talking about today, right? How is this level of service affecting you?
Prospect: It’s a little annoying that he doesn’t return my calls, but I guess I’m doing okay.
Lisa: Does it worry you that there’s no one reassuring you about your retirement, or letting you know the status of your accounts?
Prospect: Well, actually, that’s the reason I agreed to sit down with you. I am concerned that there might be more I should be doing, or that I might need to change my strategy.
Lisa: And if you try him again, and maybe he responds this time, but doesn’t respond again the next time you have a concern, will that be okay?
Prospect: Well, no. I need to feel like someone is watching out for me. Maybe my account is just too small for him.
Lisa: Well, how small is it? What’s at stake here?
Prospect: I mean, this is my life savings we’re talking about!
Lisa: Yes, it is. So, I guess the only question is, does it make more sense for you to wait and see what happens with this guy—or to start working with someone who definitely has availability for you, and does not think your life savings is “no big deal”?
Prospect: I probably shouldn’t wait around to be disappointed again. Can you tell me more about how you work?…
Next week, I’ll discuss the second skill for getting clients: the ability to actively listen. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
How are we doing?
What are you getting out of our work together?
Anyone in a business or professional practice should be asking clients questions like these on a regular basis.
A sincere discussion about your value—and the places where you could give more value—can help you keep the clients you have already and obtain referrals to many more. If the feedback you get is positive, it can do four things for you: Continue reading