Do you have a plan to succeed in 2007 or not?

December 12, 2006

In this blog entry, I am about to tell you something you already know. That’s the strange thing about working with highly educated and sophisticated professionals: They almost always know the answer intellectually, and yet don’t always take action based on what they know in order to get better results. In other words, some professionals prefer being smart to being successful.

As 2007 approaches, you are either ready to achieve your financial goals or you are not.

You are ready if you agree with these statements:

– You know what financial results you want to achieve by the end of 2007.

– You have identified any gaps between where you are at the end of 2006 and where you want to be at the end of 2007.

– You have a specific plan in place to achieve your goals in 2007, or to fill that gap between desired 2007 and actual 2006 results.

– You are putting into place more effective and authentic ways of developing business.

– You can clearly articulate to prospects: the problems they face, how you solve them, the benefits and value of your solution, why you are unique/better, and proof that your claims are true.

– Clients come to you. You don’t have to chase them.

– You make business development a priority, dedicating a set amount of time every day or week to attract new clients and opportunities — whether your pipeline is strong or not.

– Developing business feels natural and easy for you, because you do business development strategies that befit your status as an impeccable professional and advisor.

How did you do on this assessment? Do you really have a plan to succeed in 2007 — one that includes an actual action plan? Do you have an opportunity to improve results? Could you benefit by learning more natural and effective ways to attract clients?

And most importantly: Are you poised to actually take action (vs. absorbing information and strategies intellectually without doing anything to get better results)?

If you see an opportunity to improve or if you would like some support to attract more new clients rapidly and effectively, contact me anytime and learn more about the Trust-Based Marketing System. Make 2007 your best year ever!

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Observations on supposed “salespeople”

November 30, 2006

I am involved in a start up venture that is recruiting salespeople to sell our solution.

It is mind boggling to watch how these supposed professionals respond to our job listings.

We have described the opportunity and the qualifications we seek. We have provided links to our website so that prospective candidates can research our company. We have been clear about the attributes of the ideal candidate.

You would be amazed at the unprofessional way that many serious prospects respond. If they are really effective salespeople, you wouldn’t know it from the way they communicate.

Here are the top gaffes:

– No cover letter or note in the email, just a resume. Whatever happened to the days when people would write a concise cover letter explaining why they are interested in the position and how they can add value? When they are hired, will they be equally cavalier in establishing relationships with prospects? It is up to the salesperson to demonstrate their value, not the other way around.

– Spelling my name wrong. I am their potential client. My name is not the easiest to spell, but one can always copy and paste it from the listing.

– Other spelling and grammatical errors. We seek a highly professional salesperson. Spelling and grammar should be important skills in this profession.

– Asking what we can do for them before explaining what they can do for us. Sales is all about establishing value. Too many candidates have responded by focusing on their needs and interests, instead of on communicating how they can help this venture succeed.

– Having a negative attitude. We have spoken to some candidates, and they act as if they are doing us a favor by taking the time to speak with us. To give one example, one candidate responded to our answers to questions with a long, “okaaaaay” as if he were judging and doubting everything we had to say. This is an annoying way to behave, and I wouldn’t buy a thing from someone who speaks this way.

– Doing absolutely no homework. Some people called us asking questions that were right there in the job listing. Others asked us what our company did (rather than going to our website). Come on.

Of course, a few candidates look strong. They have sent a crisp, concise letter establishing their credibility and potential value right up front. They have done some research about us, our industry, and what is required to succeed. They have been polite and professional throughout the process. They strive to build a relationship while also staying on equal footing and asking great questions.

The lesson here for me is that “regular professionals” can do circles around supposedly professional salespeople by learning how to demonstrate value, establish credibility, and remain professional throughout the business development process.

How is your 2007 pipeline?

November 20, 2006

The end of November is upon us, and 2007 fast approaches. It is already almost past the point of creating a strong pipeline for the first quarter of 2007. You have either done the work for that first quarter or you haven’t. However, now is the time to think about 2007 as a whole, and build momentum.

What are your revenue and income goals for 2007? How does that compare to 2006? What is the gap? How do you intend to fill that gap? What business development activities, new solutions, and strategies can have your clients and prospects think of you FIRST when they have a need?

If you want to join a group of like-minded professionals taking a proactive and systematic approach to these issues and to achieving their financial goals while being a trusted advisor to their clients, click here.

It is never too late to get started, and the earlier you make appropriate, tasteful business development a priority, the sooner you’ll enjoy results.

Make 2007 the best professional year of your life.

To rapidly increase sales, start with where you are and where you have been

November 20, 2006

Many members of the Trust-Based Business Development Program ask how they can make rapid gains in revenues, without spending too much time or money, and without doing anything that feels awkward.

The answer: Start with where you are and where you have been.

In other words, look to your current network of contacts and clients.

We spend three calls in the program focused on how to generate the most value possible from our network — without being obnoxious or inappropriate and of course while providing equal or great value back.

Briefly, there are three opportunities:

1. Get better at proactively generating referrals from current and past clients. Most professionals are WAY too passive and hopeful when it comes to generating referrals. There is an effective time, place, and way to ask for referrals from clients.

2. Get better at generating referrals from your network. Again, too many professionals rely on word of mouth, which is not a viable or sustainable strategy. Word of mouth means you rely on the good will of busy strangers. In contrast, there are a number of effective, proactive ways you can put formal referral systems in place with your network — while also growing your sphere of influence.

3. Get better at optimizing the long-term value your provide to clients, so that they remain loyal to you and keep asking you to do more for them. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 firms and independent professionals; both ends of the spectrum leave money on the table when it comes to doing as much work as possible for existing clients.

The most successful professionals reach a point where the above three opportunities account for most of their revenues. However, whether you are only starting out or a veteran, these activities need to be a priority, and need to be done right.

Are you visible or invisible to your target prospects?

November 8, 2006

Too many professionals sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Is it pride? Self-righteousness? Cockiness? Fear of business development? A desire to avoid the awkwardness that can come with traditional approaches to marketing and sales?

The uncomfortable but true fact is that the most qualified professionals are not always the most successful. A mediocre (but competent) professional who knows how to develop business will be hired more often than a brilliant professional who sits back and waits for the phone to ring.

To work with the most interesting and desirable clients and achieve your financial goals, you have to make business development a top priority.

Part of doing this means getting visible. Take the following assessment to determine if you are visible enough:

1. You reach out at least every 3 months to a network of at least 200 other professionals.

2. You have frequent conversations with current clients about people who might refer business your way.

3. You speak at events where your target market congregates.

4. You write articles in publications (online and offline) that your target market reads.

5. People you don’t know call you because others have told them about you or because they love the contents on your website.

6. Prospects associate you as the”thought leader” on a particular issue, problem, or solution.

7. You are active in your community in ways that put you in touch with opinion leaders in your target market.

There’s more, but you get the idea. Are you visible enough?

Why nice professionals finish first

November 2, 2006

Two colleagues contacted me last week to discuss how we might exchange referrals, and the contrast in the two approaches was telling.

The first wanted to set up some sort of arrangement where he would receive a percentage of any deal he refers my way. I don’t care for this kind of arrangement because it creates a conflict of interest. I want referrals from people who value my expertise and want people in their network to benefit from my services.

The second had an approach that I really liked. “Andrew,” he said. “I really like your work. I have tons of clients that could benefit from what you do, and I want to introduce you to them. In exchange, maybe you can do the same for me when you see the opportunity.”

I asked him about his philosophy of exchanging referrals, and he said, “To borrow from Yiddish, there are two types of people: those who are mensches, or nice, and those who are not. I like doing business with mensches and thing that in the long run, nice guys and gals do finish first.”

He went on to tell me about a colleague of his who always wants a referral fee, and how tiresome it is to work with him as a result.

“So I just try to help people succeed, and usually it pays off — often in unexpected ways.”

Who can resist this approach? What better way to get someone on your side than to make the first move and really help them succeed? It is a great way to build trust and show that you are committed to the other person’s success.

By the end of our conversation, I wanted to open my entire contact list to him, and we have since brainstormed about how to work together! Meanwhile, I haven’t called the first colleague back.

Nice professionals finish first. Are you a “mensch”?

How to gracefully fire a client

November 2, 2006

Many members of the Trust-Based System to Attract Clients ask what may seem like a strange question: “How do you fire a client?”

Top professionals come to realize that some clients are no longer a good fit. Either they demand too much from the professional compared to the value they bring (in terms of revenue, referrals, attitude, or the overall satisfaction of working with them), or the professional’s practice has evolved beyond a client’s needs.

Every professional should periodically review his or her client list and determine whether some clients are no longer a good fit. (Of course, the inverse is also true: It is equally important to determine which clients are worth an additional investment in building the relationship and demonstrating value; but that is for another blog entry).

For those clients that are no longer a good fit, here is how to handle them:

If your practice has evolved:

1. Let them know that your practice is evolving and that you can no longer serve them effectively.

2. Refer them to a few firms that can help them (so that you don’t leave them hanging).

3. Thank them for their business.

If the client is what might be called a “nuisance” client who takes up too much of your time for too little reward:

1. Have an honest discussion with the client and let him or her know that you’ve reviewed your capacity and can no longer offer service.

2. Determine ahead of time whether there is any fee structure at which you would be pleased to continue working this client and, if there is, propose the new structure.

3. If the client balks, refer them to another firm and thank them for their business.

Remember: In all things in business and in life, you get what you tolerate!

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.

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.