Monday, February 25, 2008

To Gain More Clients Learn to Provide Greater Feeling and Less Information

I saw this study, the "Blissful Ignorance Effect" mentioned at and I was immediately reminded of a Time Warner Cable commercial running in Southern California.

In the commercial a business owner is calling an anonymous internet service provider and getting slammed with incredible amounts of technical jargon. The voiceover laments, "I just want my business internet to work!", or something like that. Enter the friendly Time Warner sales woman that talks in plain language, provides services that feel right and the business owner is saved.

All of this launches so many thoughts -- but first and foremost, at least in the world of professional services -- if our potential clients knew as much as we did they would most likely do it for themselves. Think about this for a minute before reading any further.

Pause for thought. . . .

Continuing -- We often get trapped thinking that features and benefits are the best way to present our professional service capabilities. Offer lots of facts, service expertise, examples of accomplishments and plenty of jargon to prove our excellence. In fact, I have found that the less said creates the greatest gains.

Most of our universe of potential clients actually know very little of what exactly lawyers and accountants (and other services professionals) do. What they want is to believe in is a result. Building trust in a result comes from eliciting an emotional connection to you.

Here is a quick exercise that might help you focus on eliciting an emotional connection:
  • Go to your website and select three to five regularly visited pages (and definitely include your landing page).
  • Create a two-column list. Name the first column "Facts" and name the second column "Emotional"
  • Read each sentence on each page and for every sentence make a check-mark in the column most appropriate for what is stated. Does the sentence state mostly fact or does it emote an emotional appeal.
If your list leans toward "fact" it may be time to hire a new writer like Elizabeth Cockle to help your words to really connect with potential clients. If your words lean toward "emotional" I congratulate you!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Do You Want to Create Great Business Relationships? Host a Poker Party

I was invited and attended a poker party tonight at the home of Mark Breneman of Barney & Barney. He, and Karl Hardesty of Tatum LLC, invited nine influential business executives and professional services partners to a miniature poker tournament at Mark's home. We started at 6:00PM and where done by 10:30PM.

My goodness-- it was fun! Some of the people that came had never played Texas Hold-em, but everyone had a great time. At the end of one hand of play one player was astonished that three pairs did not beat a full house! We laughed and were engaged the entire evening -- it was incredible fun!

The key to creating great relationships for me has always been to orchestrate unique and fun experiences. Tonight's poker party ranks as one of the best. Just about everyone at the table was connected in business purpose and each of us could benefit from knowing each other. After tonight I have a meaningful connection to people I'd like to know better. AND, everyone wanted to make it a regular thing!

So, I did not do so well in the game... I was busted and out somewhere about the middle of the evening. But I had a GREAT time and I think this worked for me much further than just losing a few dollars. I am looking forward to our next gathering and going further in the relationships that were created.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Managing a Full Bucket of Business Relationships

My close network of business relationships includes a professionals from commercial banks, executive search, law, accounting, venture capital and private equity. Having a solid referral network is a good thing but I can only manage a limited circle. Now, too often I hear from new professionals wishing to get inside my circle of close relationships -- but my bandwidth is not there or it might conflict with taking care of an existing relationship.

At some point a few years ago I arrived at "too many". With so many close to me it became impossible to have a viable, reciprocating relationship with every professional wanting to be inside my network. Yet I cannot just check out or close my door. That is bad form. So I have arrived at a baseline for dealing with a full relationship bucket.
  • I continually evaluate the value of my close circle. Even though I never keep score I can sense when someone is simply "taking", not giving -- out they go to make room.
  • I am completely open with new professionals that I will not be able to be a referral resource at this time. However, if they bring meat to the table I will reciprocate. That's fair right?
  • I make the effort to refer them to someone still building their referral circle.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I Must Find New Work -- I Keep Putting it Off

It is uncanny all of the ways we can keep ourselves busy to delay doing a challenging and uncomfortable task. Such a challenge for many, and me, is to connect with new people in the business community on a regular basis.

I go to networking events just like you, meet new people, collect business cards, and in the moment know I need to reconnect with at least one of them because he/she could really be a great connection. A day later I am procrastinating and not following up to take the potential relationship further. We/I fuss and delay because beginning any new relationship is an emotional experience -- it opens the door for someone new to judge us worthy or unworthy. Who wants that hassle! Not I.

Yet I must -- I need to find little steps to get me to where I know I could go. Here are a few things I do to help me overcome my procrastination:
  • One-a-Week: Rather than overwhelm myself in believing I have to connect with everyone I meet as soon as possible I select just one or two people each week to focus on. That's seven days to work through all of the ways I get in my own way so I can accomplish what only takes a few moments -- make a call to set up a lunch.
  • Create Accountability: I do better when I know that I am being watched. Not in a negative way or like I am being forced into anything, but like, to do better with someone beside me who cares and encourages me to accomplish what I state I will do. Being accountable is a good motivator for all of us.
  • Put an Appointment on My Calendar: Schedule you uncomfortable moment manage it as a real to-do. Being on-task has its own comfort.
  • Put Your Hardest Tasks Earliest in the Day: Being fresh and ready provides great energy and courage.
  • Record the Results of Your Calls: Keeping a simple list of whom you called and whether they scheduled an appointment with you is a great tool. What I have witnessed over the years is that most of the calls I make result in a yes. Being able to see that provides incredible encouragement for more, positive action.
  • Exchange the Responsibility with a Colleague: There is certainly someone else at your firm in a similar situation. Volunteer to be their "agent" if they will volunteer to be yours. So, they meet someone and you make the call to set up an appointment which both of you attend -- knowing that you enabling a relationship, not the focus. Hopefully they are going to do the same for you. This works because two people working for each other will travel faster than one person working for themselves (in most cases).
In truth, all of the ways to overcome our reluctance to do what we know we need to do is to volunteer to create some process that holds us to our desire -- even when it means traveling outside our comfort zone. I have spent too many years on that edge to mention -- and it works, with fun result.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Story Telling from the Podium

I attended a great speaker event this evening hosted by the Orange County Chapter of the Association of Corporate Growth featuring renowned football coach and ABC sports analyst Terry Bowden. This gentleman knows how to tell a story to reinforce a bullet point. Granted, he has led an extraordinary life so far and has a deep well to pull from, and yet he reinforces the ideal that great presentations are based on entertaining an audience.

Terry can state the bullet point, "Be a team player", then tell a story about being the rear partner in a cow costume with his brother trapped in a pasture with a amorous bull, and make it fun and relevant to the audience (you'll have hear Terry first hand to get the rest of that story).

The lesson is that if you are putting together a presentation about any topic to instruct people about choices they could make, most slides point to one outcome -- "You should or this could or might happen." The "you should" part is easy -- state the fact, or rule, or hard point you need to make. It is the "or this could or will happen" part that is tougher and where you have the opportunity to entertain.

Take the time to convert your dry presentations of facts and data into relevant and engaging stories and you will leap forward in popularity.

And there is something else to consider. In professional services we make presentations as part of promoting ourselves to current and potential clients. Entertainment as a priority objective in your presentation will go much further in strengthening your personal brand than any fact filled dissertation of data and expertise.

Think like Terry. Entertain, entertain, entertain.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In a Down Market the Best Strategy is to Bolster Your Marketing

I am not an economist but I am hearing from so many people in the professional services realm that the economy is in the tank -- at least according to them.

Many of us have been through these down cycles (perceived or real) and know that what goes down must come up (or something like that). What is troubling to me is how quickly firms determine that the best way to survive is to cut back any cost not directly associated with billable support -- most of all "marketing".

To me the whole idea of hunkering down when the "enemy" is weak goes against all principles of successful warfare. Could there be a better time to take risks and attack the market?

While your competition is waiting and hoping you have the opportunity to be a loud voice in a silent field -- you will stand virtually alone and be remembered. What business is to be had will be yours. What messages that will be remembered are yours. Potential clients will be drawn to you because you are the only voice speaking up! And in the aftermath of a cyclical market you will emerge as THE front runner of go-to firms.

I encourage you to think twice and never cut back on marketing effort. More than that, I encourage you to increase every marketing effort you have in force. Your return on ROI will be exponential.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Art of Helping a Prospect to Catch Themselves

Fly fishing is all about putting the right fly in the water near a fish in such a way that it looks natural -- and it looks and acts like what they eat. Sounds a bit like marketing doesn't it? It gets better....

The reason that fly fisherman wear a vest with 20 pockets filled to overflowing is that on any day the fisherman may have to try a lot of different fly patterns before they figure out what the fish will want. Sounds a little bit more like marketing and trying to target prospects, doesn't it?

In truth a fly fisherman never really catches a fish -- the fish catches itself. In the natural order of things the fish is really volunteering to jump on the hook just by responding instinctually within its own environment. That's marketing!

Marketing to me is to create, consider, experiment and keep placing messages in front of a target market until they volunteer to bite. No one message is going to work everyday or ever at all. I need to be open to changing my message or how it is delivered.

During the boom we were trying to attract more transactional work from early-stage incubator companies. We tried promoting our qualifications (which were stellar), we held seminars, we sponsored cool events, did a direct mail campaign, and even opened our Rolodex of finance community contacts. Nothing seemed to have much impact. Then, we raised our (billable) price to industry highs. Suddenly the prospects where calling us like we were the only answer to all of their prayers. Go figure.

At that time, in that market, the fly that worked was the perceived quality of the firm charging the highest price. I always try to remember that failure is only certain when I stop trying different ways to reach an audience.

Getting a prospect to volunteer to become a client is not always easy but very, very rewarding.

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