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Ask. The World Turns

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“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ~~Robert Frost

The most effective method to grow your business is by word of mouth marketing—specifically, by referral.  When surveying business owners about this all claim to use this.  Once probed further, though, we generally find that they have abandoned the process as unsuccessful.  See if the typical experience lines up with yours.  They usually ask a few key people and keep the request vague (“open” is their term.)  “I am looking for anyone that needs my services.”  That might be a new transmission, their deck rebuilt, to sell their house, a new bank account, etc.  After receiving a few polite promises to “keep that in mind” with no tangible results, they stop asking.

Who do you know that is looking for a new bank account?

That is not an easy sort, is it?  For those of you that truly want to help, here is the process.  You need to stop whatever you are otherwise thinking about, mentally scroll through everyone you know, consider whether or not they are looking for a bank account…wait a second…I have no idea who’s looking for a bank account.  Let’s think about the last conversation with a specific person (trust me, few referral partners ever get this far) and replay that conversation in memory.  “We spoke about the football team, their golf game, their new car, their trip to Florida next month, their job, their in-laws…No; I don’t think they need a bank account.”  Seriously, how many of the 250 people you know on a first-name basis do you want to perform this exercise on?  Can you expect your business partner—who isn’t even in your business—to do more than that?

If your referral partner even considers one this fully they are hard-pressed to consider many more.  The person asked gives up quickly and unless the person asking is totally oblivious, they stop asking for more, as well.

This is all very counterintuitive, since we do not take the time to examine what we are asking people to do.  Please stay with me here.  It is important.

Who do you know who needs a bank account?  How would you possibly know that?  Heck, you might even need a new bank account and not even realize it.

I grew up in upstate New York and snow was a common driving environment.  In fact, one of my earliest driving pleasures was taking the VW bug out to the department store parking lots on Sundays to “do doughnuts,” which is sending the little rear-engine vehicle into an intentional spin, like my own personal tilt-a-whirl.  It was great fun.

As winter drivers we learned to regain control in a skid by turning the wheel into it.  I boldfaced that since snow season is upon us and a reminder is always a good thing.  Although that is the more effective driving technique it is totally counterintuitive.

The same is true in asking for referrals.  I fully realize that anyone walking into your bank branch office that wants to open an account you can help.  It doesn’t matter if they are married, single, young, old, Christian, Muslim, straight, gay.  I guess the only qualification is that they need to be breathing.

Asking for living people keeps it open (my term is “vague”) and sends your referral partners into the “We’ll call you” corner.

How can you be more specific?  Who needs to open an account?  Too vague.  Why do they need a new bank account?  Knowing that, it is far easier to recognize them.

Consider what your bank has to offer new account holders.  Who would find that appealing?

Answering a few of these questions up front will be more useful.  Mark Sheer, author of the book Referrals, recommends a simple two step statement and question that is very effective.  In fact, he recommends that you never change a word.

Here it is: “I’m expanding my business.  Who do you know who…?”

Let’s try that for our banker.

“I’m expanding my business.  Who do you know who has a child in college locally?”  In order to be more helpful, I would name a few local schools, as well.

“I’m expanding my business.  Who do you know who is a Real Estate Attorney?”

“I’m expanding my business.  Who do you know who manages a church or community fund?”

Let’s take one of these and expand the mental process for your referral partner as an example.  “Do you know anyone with kids at UNC or Duke?  Do you know anyone with students at NC State or Meredith?”

Now, with this little bit of focus the person can run through their mind and pull out anyone with college-aged kids, sorting from the 250 they know down to 75 that qualify.  Some may be in school, some may be out, and some may not be going to college at all.  Along the way they will find they know people in the alumni associations, university professors, and season ticket holders who can also be good entry points into the college student market.

When you asked for anybody you got nobody.  When you asked for a specific population you find a number of candidates.

I took a look at Wikipedia and found that there are more than 5,000 universities in the United Sates, an average of 115 per state, with 14 million students (4.75% of the US population.)  Our banker wants to add 40 new accounts per month.  Would it trouble her in any way if every new account was an NC State student?  The answer is clearly no.  Is it possible to find 40 new accounts per month from that population?  The answer is clearly yes.  Commit to that population, market heavily, and make it easy for new student account holders to bring their friends in as referrals.  Could you run a contest among fraternities and sororities and offer playoff tickets to the winner and a pizza party to second place finishers?  My guess is that your client that runs a pizza shop would probably donate the prize, as well.

By focusing on NC State students you may be conceding attorneys and church secretaries, but that is just temporary.  Once the student program is running itself then you can turn your attention to another group, such as that.

Your action item this week is to internalize these concepts and select a single specific market.  If you need help in this area return to week 3 Picture the Perfect Customer (https://bniguy.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/picture-the-perfect-customer/) and week 31 Elementary My Dear Watson (https://bniguy.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/elementary/.)   Write three specific “who do you know?” questions and send those, via email, to every client you have.  If you belong to a networking group bring these three specific questions to the group and use them as the basis for your weekly presentation.  Commit to stay with these three questions until you master them.

© 2011 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

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Written by bniguy

November 13, 2011 at 2:17 am

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