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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.

© 2017 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 12, 2017 at 9:17 am

Follow Your Dollars

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“If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us.” ~~Jim Rohn

My parents used to joke when I was a kid that we built our dentist’s new office. Braces were expensive, after all. Seriously, though, I am sure you have some businesses you support on a regular basis—veterinarian, auto repair, eyeglasses, lawn care, and so forth. When was the last time they returned the favor and sent you any business?

This is actually easier than you might imagine but is not without some effort on your part.

The first thing to do is actually assess the scope of the opportunity available to you. Rather than trust to memory I highly recommend you get your checkbook(s) and credit card statements and start working through them. Take the last six months as a representative sampling. You can add older, bigger ticket items later.

For each vendor (especially the personal local ones although grocery stores and power companies are worth considering, as well) fill out the following details:

  1. Name (business/contact)
  2. Frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc)
  3. Monthly amount
  4. Annual amount
  5. Five year amount

A monthly hair stylist at $40 per visit is $480 per year. How long have you been going? Five years? That is $2400.

You can see that this will add up quickly so do this for every business you work with. Armed with this you can move to the next step.

Many of these businesses would be willing to work with you; they just do not have a system or viable method. This is where you must be creative and find that solution for them.

Again, this is easier than it might appear. Look through your list and tackle those you do the most with and have the best rapport with.

Here are a few examples to get you started. Certainly, post any other ideas you have, too, to help others.

Let’s start with a Financial Planner that regularly uses the hairstylist (and looks successfully well-groomed as a result, by the way.) How can these two work together? As a customer, what does the Financial Planner do when in the chair? Read, watch TV, chat. Here is an opportunity—if you can see it. I recommend that the Planner meet with the Stylist away from the salon where they can talk. It might be good to actually buy them coffee (or lunch) and recap the relationship before pitching the idea. Here is a possible scenario.

Dawn: Thank you for joining me. I wanted us to get away from the salon to talk business. I have enjoyed being a client for the past five years and was very glad to refer some of my clients to you, too. I wanted to ask if you would be willing to help support my business, as well.

Carol: I very much appreciate your business and the referrals. What do you have in mind?

Dawn: As a client I receive your quarterly newsletter and see that you have local businesses advertising in there. Would you give me space for a year?

Carol: Gladly, Dawn. The annual rate is $500.

Dawn: Actually, Carol, I was hoping you would do that at no charge in return for the referrals and loyalty over the years.

Carol: I have never thought about that before, but it makes sense. I am glad to give you the space. Is there anything else you would like me to do?

Dawn: As a matter of fact there is. Could I leave one of my newsletters in your waiting area?

Carol: Please do.

Smart business people can appreciate that reciprocity works both ways. If your Stylist (in this example) is reluctant you might want to reconsider a different service provider.

What could a veterinarian do for a carpet cleaner? The carpet cleaner brings her pets to the vet and many of the vet’s other clients have animals that make a mess in their homes. The carpet cleaner could regularly clean the vet’s lobby. The veterinarian could include an occasional (or even regular) article on carpet care in his newsletter—written by the cleaner. The carpet cleaner could leave brochures and business cards in the lobby. The vet could sponsor a fundraiser or other event. They could share a business expo booth together. The possibilities are endless.

Your action step this week includes two components. First, do the analysis of where you are spending your money. This is great for budgeting, anyway. Then, brainstorm all the ways you can work with your biggest vendors and commit to approaching three over the next week. This is a strategy with a lot of upside potential.

© 2017 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.

 

Written by bniguy

October 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

How am I doing?

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“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ~~ Ken Blanchard

The winds of change are always blowing. Most business owners are too busy delivering products and services to take much notice. Ignore it long enough, though, and you won’t know what hit you until it is too late.

It is essential to develop a system that solicits and deals with feedback on a regular basis. There are five main reasons that most small business owners do not engage in this arena.

The biggest reason is a fear of negative feedback. Humans are wired for approval and have a huge fear of rejection. It may be hard to believe but all feedback is valuable and constructive. Often there are side benefits of our service we didn’t expect and do not appreciate without the positive feedback that identifies it. Once known, we can strengthen and systematize it for greater effect. The same is true of negative feedback.

Your customers can identify new strategies and products that enhance your current offer, if you ask and listen. They may have developed workarounds that are unnecessary with training or are worth addressing with redesign.

It is important to listen completely. You should not ask for comment unless you are willing to accept negative responses.

Another set of reluctance reasons revolve around who to ask, when to ask, how to ask, and so on. Human resource professionals often employ a 360-degree review that includes supervisors, peers, cross-staff, customers, support personnel, and so on. As a business owner, consider asking everyone. That would include customers (of course) as well as vendors, staff, business advisors, and the like.

When to ask is initially tied to touch points in the process. After initial delivery, for instance, or upon project completion.

It is always advisable to build the feedback loop into your delivery process. Cleaning companies will often checklist what they accomplished and encourage feedback. Ideally, the same format is used with every visit. You can solicit feedback on portions of your process as they occur. How easy was it to place an order? How helpful was our sales rep?

One last reservation that holds business owners back is a concern that they do not want to waste anyone’s time. I submit that this is a cop-out. If you solicit feedback every time you won’t see 100% response. Adults will choose to respond or ignore it if they truly are too busy. Silence is not golden, though, and you should always work for a high response rate. Simplify the questions, incentivize the response, and value the feedback to raise the rate.

Your action this week is to take three specific actions. First, examine your sales process and identify feedback points you can use. Once marked, develop a simple tool (survey, perhaps) and begin to gather and track results. Finally, seek out 360-degree systems in place with your business partners and model their effort as possible.

The underlying key is to incorporate this into daily activity.

© 2017 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.

 

Written by bniguy

October 15, 2017 at 4:59 am

Posted in HowTo, planning, results

Let me please introduce myself

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“Although it is generally known, I think it’s about time to announce that I was born at a very early age.” ~~ Douglas Horton

Networking is all about connections and connections begin with introductions. Since introductions are the gateway to networks, paying attention to them is an essential, and often overlooked, component.

Introductions take place in formal settings and informal. Both are valuable and opportunities to take care of. This week’s topic is brief and yet so profound that it actually spans two weeks.

Let’s set the stage for effective introductions by considering how many misconceptions they can clarify. A complete introduction includes all the elements of a good news story, answering who you are, what you are about, and why it should matter to the person you are meeting.

Who you are should be self-explanatory but too many of us simply refer to our business or profession as though it was our identity. If you want to remain anonymous, this is an excellent strategy. If, however, you want to be more memorable (trust me, that is the goal) then this is not enough. Emphasize what makes you different. A short tag line is an effective tool. “I am the entrepreneur’s CPA” says much more than just another number-cruncher. “We specialize in helping golfers shave strokes off their game” moves you into a class of your own. As you can see, these short introductions convey all three elements and actually begin to facilitate the next introduction, as well.

A more formal introduction takes place when you are speaking at an event. Writing that will simplify the process of the informal introduction, as well.

Your action this week is to develop a formal introduction. Here is a simple framework to consider:

  • Name and business
  • What you offer
  • Credential and major accomplishments
  • Mission statement and purpose
  • Recent story about how you helped someone (include a happy ending and facts)

Bear in mind that this introduction should be tweaked and adjusted for each situation. When providing a written introduction please type it (not handwritten) in a large, clear font and keep words short and simple. Eliminate jargon. Do this today and next week we will expand on your results.

 

© 2017 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.

 

Written by bniguy

October 1, 2017 at 10:26 am

The Rubber Meets the Road

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“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”~~Herbert Simon

Testimonials influence us in many subtle ways and range from professional to personal. Advertisers appreciate this and pay for celebrity endorsements, despite a healthy skepticism from consumers. At a subconscious level, though, people that admire Michael Jordan might reason that, “If it’s good enough for him its good enough for me.” Pressed to consider this point, most would deny the influence and yet advertisers that study cause and effect can measure the influence regardless of how independent we think we are.

The next level of professional endorsements that influence buying decisions come from reviewers. These include movie reviewers, restaurant critics, product advisors, and so on. At a simple level we might check a movie review when deciding whether or not to see it although we can appreciate that the reviewer doesn’t know or perhaps even share our taste exactly. We can get a more convincing endorsement from a friend who has seen the film and knows our likes and dislikes. These personal endorsements (or warnings) are much more powerful, although less frequently sought.

A third category emerges, sandwiched between the professional and personal and that is the testimonial provided by non-professionals.

This is the focus of this week’s topic.

Testimonials from other customers can be powerful in moving us to take action. Many customers offer them in an informal, unsolicited manner. One way to encourage this behavior, by the way, is to give away an item with your logo on it. People like to help one another, generally, and will recommend a proven solution and include a personal story of the benefit received. Most satisfied customers will provide more formal testimonials, if asked.

Often, however, when willing they get hung up on exactly what to say and by providing guidance you can resolve that, too.

There is more of an art than a science as to determining when to ask. Once you start to recognize this, opportunities will present themselves regularly. Let’s consider this scenario. One month before completion of a long-term project you ask your client how they are enjoying the process, so far. If they announce that you have made a huge difference in their operations and saved them a lot of time and expense, ask if they would be willing to share that with other customers by writing that on their company letterhead. Coach them on pertinent issues such as why they chose to work with you, what benefits have they experienced that they did not expect, and so on. This conversation will make it easier for them to complete this favor. Negotiate a delivery date.

Once you have these testimonials in hand then consider placement. Some companies print them and leave them in the lobby for waiting room clients to see. Others have a page on their website or sprinkle them in various places throughout the website. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever model you use, be certain to revisit these testimonials regularly to cull those that are out-of-date and request more current entries.

Your action items this week are to ask for three written testimonials. Make it easy for the author by specifying what should be emphasized. Negotiate a delivery date and decide how you will deploy the information once received. Finally, develop a strategy to regularly ask for and review these comments. It goes without saying that you must earn these and seeking them regularly is an effective method to place your customer service level on a constantly improving plane.

 

© 2017 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.

 

Written by bniguy

September 17, 2017 at 6:02 am

Speak Softly and Leave the Stick at Home

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“Before I speak, I have something important to say.” ~~Groucho Marx

Presenting your product or service to one person at a time is valuable and rewarding. Presenting the same information to a crowd is that much more significant. However, people don’t line up (generally) to hear your sales pitch. They are tuned to the “What’s in it for me?” frequency. Therefore, you should consider what you have to offer as a subject matter expert adding value to them.

Successful speakers talk more about Benefits than Features. There are many areas of interest in your profession if you look for them. A Realtor might talk about the current market conditions, what home improvements increase the value of a property, how to downsize effectively, and so on. A web developer might talk about being found on the Internet or using video on your website. There are as many valuable topics as features and you can craft each one from the benefits side of the equation.

Once you find a topic and develop an interesting presentation then you can seek out audiences. The topic itself helps identify these groups. You might consider employees, stay at home moms, independent insurance agents, baseball coaches, etc. Again, this is a wide-range of potential people. Many of these groups have regular get-togethers and are often looking for value-added speakers.

Once you find the target groups then you simply need an introduction. Here is where you can employ your network. I advise writing a short introductory letter and including some testimonials from others. One page is plenty.

Finally, look into your network of contacts and find out who can introduce you. Ask if they will deliver your introductory letter.

Once you secure an engagement, invite other decision-makers to attend and continue the cycle. Your profile will rise and your calendar will fill up.

Your action this week is to follow the recipe above. That is:

  • Define your topic(s) from a benefits perspective
  • Craft a short presentation on the topic. This should be custom-fit from fifteen minutes to one hour.
  • Determine your audience.
  • Craft an introductory letter.
  • Find contact points, people you know who can deliver your introduction effectively.
  • Rinse-lather-and repeat.

© 2017 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.

 

Written by bniguy

August 20, 2017 at 5:37 am

Elementary, my dear Watson

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“Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.” ~~John Buchan

Continuing with the importance of communication think of yourself as a detective. Questions are your best resource. Listen much more than you talk. My friend, Marty Clarke, wrote an excellent book entitled Communication Landmines which goes into this in much more depth.

In this post I simply want to point out three main communications errors we all make and often experience. Master these and your networking skills will soar.

The first major problem is talking too much. We’ve all experienced this from the receiving end and felt trapped. Once you got locked in how much listening did you do after that? Most likely your attention was turned to finding an exit or trying to figure out how they are breathing or just focusing on the pattern their spittle makes. When the other person talks too much it is a horrible experience. That said, we are also guilty of the same mistake at least once in our life. As a detective turn your attention to assessing when the other person is starting to experience these symptoms. They start to avoid eye contact, begin stepping backwards, look over their (and your) shoulder, yawn, glance (or stare) at their watch. As soon as you see any of these reactions immediately turn the conversation to them and ask a question.

More importantly how do you avoid this landmine? Practice and preparation are the best tools you have. There are a few questions you often get at networking events and you should be prepared to answer them quickly and completely. When I am on the phone I count my words and always try to get to the point in 25 or less. Try that the next time you are in a conversation over the phone (tick your fingers up one-through-ten and then back down ten-through-one and finally once more one-through-five. Stop and consider, “What was the point of the last twenty-five words?” If you are just getting to it—accept the fact that you are taking the long way home. Find the shortcuts and tighten up your conversation.)

The second common communication error is reliance on jargon. We talked about that in more depth last week so I won’t elaborate. However, this week’s action steps meet each of these head on and we’ll examine it more in that section.

The third common communication error is vagueness. Many of these posts address that, as focus and clarity are keys to your success. When you ask a Realtor who they would like to meet and get the answer, “Anyone looking to buy or sell a home” who did you think of? Is that the result you want when someone asks you the same helpful type of question? If the Realtor is more specific we can be of more help. “I specialize in empty-nesters. This is a great time to move into a home more suited to their lifestyle without kids.” About twenty words and I imagine you actually thought of someone. If you are an engaged listener you may ask for more clarification of the term empty-nesters. “Their kids have moved out or are in college.” The more specific you are the wider the listener’s mind opens. In fact, if you know exactly who you want to meet this is an excellent shortcut, very appropriate for business-to-business clients or strategic alliances for any provider. A business banker may have a competitive rate to offer and knows of an automotive company looking to expand. She asks for Woody Toe, the owner of a local auto body shop noting that, “Our bank understands automotive equipment leasing and we work well with repair shops like Woody’s”

This week’s action involves meeting each area directly. First, develop a one-minute or less response to the following questions (from two weeks ago—repeated here.)

  • Who is your target market?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • What is your most popular product (or service?)
  • What is new in your business?
  • Why did you choose to go into your profession?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Where are you located? Why there? If you could choose a perfect location, what would it be?
  • How do you generate most of your business?

Second, eliminate jargon. Create two columns and list every term you use (trust me; your company literature is rife with it.) Look for terms like full-service, turnkey, small business, and so on. Develop layperson language and simplify it so a twelve year old could understand it.

Third, write out a complete referral request identifying the person you want to meet—listing their company, department, title, and industry. I recommend doing as many of these as you have target markets. Once written, then practicing asking from the specific to the general, just as the banker example above.

© 2017 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.

 

Written by bniguy

July 30, 2017 at 5:37 am