Archive for October, 2006

Don’t forget the personal touches

October 24, 2006

I recently engaged an attorney at a large law firm to help me out with some legal documents. The attorney performed fine, as far as handling my business issue.

But he made a mistake that many professionals make: He didn’t focus on building rapport or any kind of relationship with me. For instance:

– He rarely smiled or even made eye contact with me.

– He never took any interest in my business, personal life, life in the community, how I heard about him, or anything else.

– He didn’t follow up with a letter to thank me for my business or to invite me to contact him at any time for further work.

– He didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor, or get much joy out of his work.

– I haven’t heard from him since his final invoice.

In general, the entire experience was formal, sterile, and generic. I left feeling that I could have hired anybody, anywhere — including a web-based low-cost service — and got the same results, probably for less money.

Plus, he failed to earn my loyalty for future work.

Please — don’t forget the personal touches when you work with your clients. Understand their personal and business goals, and help them achieve them. Stay in touch beyond the final invoice. Look for articles and information that your client could value, and send it to them with a handwritten note. Thank every client for their business. Follow up once in a while and see how each client is doing, even if they haven’t engaged you for some time. Smile. Be human!

If you market your professional services, YOU are a big part of the product. Don’t forget the personal touches.

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How to avoid providing your services and advice for free to a prospect

October 17, 2006

One of the problems that many professionals face is how to avoid giving free but valuable advice to a prospect.

Because most people don’t want to hire a professional, many prospects are pretty savvy at asking questions to get “free consulting” before making a hiring decision. At the same time, because we like to show our expertise, some of us have a tendency to provide valuable advice for free — even enough so that a prospect doesn’t have to hire us at all!

Here is what I do when I sense that a prospect values my advice, keeps asking me questions to help his or her business, and yet won’t move forward to work with me on a fee basis:

“I really appreciate these questions, but I’m sensing that we are moving into an actual engagement, and that right now I’m giving away my services for free. Could I suggest that we set up a formal engagement? That way, I can give you all the advice you need without worrying about whether you are going to hire me or not.”

Most serious prospects will agree at this point. However, the above approach also separates out those prospects who really only want free advice. If the prospect says something to the effect of, “Well, of course I intend to hire you, but I just have a few more questions…” then you know that you might not have a serious prospect — especially if his questions are about what you know and not about the scope of an engagement.

At that point, I say, “Well, those are exactly the issues we will cover during an engagement. I’ve given you a good sense of how I work, and answered many of your questions so far. At this point, I really feel like you are getting my services for free. I can’t answer any more questions like this without an engagement letter.”

Of course, I happily answer questions about scope, my general approach, and the results I can achieve. But I don’t do free work.

Last week I utilized the above approach with a prospect who had called me again and again with marketing questions. Now the calls have stopped and I know he wasn’t serious about hiring me. So I can move onto other things and not remain under the illusion that if I just answer another question I’ll get the assignment. This person had no intention of engaging my services.

Because most professionals are smart and highly skilled, we tend to enjoy showing what we know. Unfortunately, this tendency can cost us time and money, and cause us to focus on prospects who will never hire us.

Don’t give your services away for free!

The problem with traditional sales programs

October 12, 2006

Today I got a call from someone trying to sell me his professional services.

He began the call with a line I had heard dozens of times, “Mr. Neitlich, the purpose of this call is to determine if there is a fit for us to work together. Could I ask that at the end of the call you tell me whether it makes sense to keep talking or not?”

It’s a reasonable request, but it is also a standard selling technique called the “up-front contract.” David Sandler popularized this approach in his now ubiquitous sales training system.

The problem with this kind of scripted approach is obvious: This professional immediately labeled himself as a salesperson. By using scripted formulas, he became a vendor, not someone who could ever be an authentic, trusted advisor to me.

Most sales training programs suffer from this problem of inauthenticity, even tackiness. The double-reverse close, scale-of-one-to-ten technique, and dozens of other obvious attempts to close the sale all come across as superficial and even desperate.

Highly-educated, sophisticated professionals need a different approach. Most importantly, they need to focus more on business development than on traditional sales. They need to educate their target market about the problems they can solve, and build credibility and trust over time. That way, done right, prospects see their value and come to them.

When this happens, everything changes. You no longer have to sell. You don’t have to pitch your services or chase prospects. Your prospects are already qualified (for the most part),  and so you can have a natural conversation to determine if it makes sense to work together or not. If so, great! If not, maybe the prospect can refer you to someone.

Of course, there are some conversations you can and should have to move the discussion forward and ensure that your prospects make a decision in an appropriate time frame. But these conversations don’t need to be scripted or formulaic. They can be natural.

In conclusion: You don’t need to sell. Not at all.

You do need to get visible in your marketplace as the go-to, credible professional who can solve important problems. Once you do, everything falls into place naturally.

If you are a sophisticated professional who serves as a trusted advisor to your clients, please say “so long” to traditional sales programs.

The power of educational marketing

October 11, 2006

One of the most powerful forms of marketing that a professional can employ is “educational marketing.”

With educational marketing, you provide valuable information to your target market, prospects, and clients. The information should identify a key problem that your market faces (and that you can solve), the costs of that problem, why it is important to address it, potential solutions, and the benefits of those solutions.

You can use this form of marketing in a variety of media: articles, letters, newsletters, blogs, speeches, seminars, audio CDs, booklets, white papers, and video clips.

Some tips for using educational marketing include:

1. Use a catchy headline, like “The seven fatal mistakes that [your target market] make when…” or “Five secrets….”

2. Be sure to focus on the needs of your target market. As a test, make sure you use the word “you” at least twice as much as you use the words “I” and “we.”

3. Provide useful tips.

4. Make some sort of offer to invite your audience to contact you for more information.

5. It is fine to tell your audience about your qualifications, but do so at the end of your piece, in a tasteful way.

At its best, educational marketing is a natural, authentic way to educate people about your expertise. Over time, a series of educational pieces helps you to build trust and credibility and demonstrate your value.

Educational marketing should not be the only tool in your marketing tool kit, but certainly should be an important one.

The important difference between word-of-mouth and proactive referral strategies

October 3, 2006

Many professionals say that they get most of their business from “word of mouth.”

That’s too bad, and may be costing you money.

While it is great that people rave about you, word of mouth is a weak business development strategy; in fact, it is not really a strategy at all as it relies on hope. (Hope is not a strategy!) Word of mouth means that you rely on busy strangers to talk about you — even with everything else they have going on. Word of mouth is a passive strategy, based largely on chance.

If you are receiving positive word of mouth, you have the opportunity to build your practice and attract more desirable clients through a variety of proactive referral strategies.

The top-producing professionals proactively ask clients and their network for referrals. There is an art and science to asking for referrals the right way — including knowing the right time to ask, having a focused conversation, and following up appropriately. You also should have a planned, systematic approach to reaching out to people in your network and clients. There are many ways to do this, and our program focuses on these skills.

In addition, there are some highly effective ways to team up with complimentary professionals to take advantage of each other’s network and client list. For instance, you can do a joint promotion in which you endorse the other professional to your respective client/prospect base, and perhaps make some sort of offer (e.g., a free report, a special introductory price). You can also work together to put on a seminar together that covers your areas of expertise.

Without a doubt, the most satisfying and cost-effective way to build a professional services business is through referrals. However, many professionals leave business on the table by confusing passive word of mouth with the much more proactive and reliable referral strategies.