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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.

 

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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

WIIFM: What’s in it for me?

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“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.” ~~Clifford Stoll

This week we consider some fundamental communications skill in sales. That is, understanding and stating the difference between features and benefits. Features are simply facts. They neither engage nor inspire. They do not impel action or transfer an emotional connection. Features are a list of what that never considers why or, as the title notes, “What is in it for me?” Your prospect wonders, “Why should I care?”

Dr. Ivan Misner includes a good example of this in the 29% Solution, by listing the features of a car.

“V-6 engine, dual exhaust, front-wheel drive, sunroof…heated seats, heated glass.”

As you can see, this is a list of features you may or may not entirely understand or appreciate.

What are some of the benefits of these features?

  • The V-6 engine helps you pull out into traffic quickly. It may impress your friends.
  • Dual exhaust improves fuel efficiency, provides more power when starting out, and adds a “throaty” sound to the engine (which may also impress your friends.)
  • Front-wheel drive provides more legroom, since the driveshaft tunnel is not needed.
  • The sunroof provides the open road feel of a convertible while retaining the added structural security of a hard-body sedan.
  • Heated seats provide a warmer environment on chilly mornings and better comfort on long road trips.
  • Heated glass allows the convenience of clearing the windows in winter without manually scraping them clean.

These benefits put the prospect “in the driver’s seat.” Some of those benefits appealed to you while others did not. The professional is aware of the benefits and can align them to the prospect. If the person you are talking to is most interested in fuel efficiency then you can recommend a good automotive choice and highlight the features that support fuel efficiency. In fact, the same vehicle may appeal to two very different buyers as long as the emphasis is on the areas of interest to them.

How does this apply to networking? Since we are meeting other business owners and sales representatives many networkers do not consider the benefits and only list features. Feature lists are certainly more precise and, when shared with a colleague, can be very effective. Network administrators, for instance, can share industrial terms with each other and successfully impress with their technical grasp and currency of knowledge. However, all that jargon leaves the rest of us out. In fact, it disenfranchises us from any ability to refer them or connect them to someone they could help since we are so clueless in that arena.

If instead they spoke in terms of response speed, data security, recovery time, and reliability we could recommend them to others with confidence.

My litmus test is to imagine sharing what I do, what my product or service does, and how this can help you by imagining I am explaining it to a twelve year old. I don’t want to wear out your attention span or go over your head.

Your action this week is to highlight the benefits you provide. Consider some of your favorite customers and remember what problems you solved for them. A simple (and highly effective) shortcut is to ask them. You have been meaning to call and say hello anyway. Here’s a good excuse.

Find out the main reason they chose to spend money with you? They sought a benefit, not a feature.

The second action is to list all the features of your product or service and identify as many benefits as possible for each one. I highly recommend that you complete this portion before proceeding to next week’s blog entry.

 

© 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 23, 2017 at 8:49 am

The host with the most

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“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” ~~Brian Tracy

Last week we considered the benefits of sponsoring events. This week we look at the other side of that coin and consider hosting events.

I am not referring to simple get-togethers—although they are also important—but talking about events tied to a purpose or reason.

These fall into two large categories—singular events and regular events. Singular events happen once and are usually tied to a specific situation. These may be grand openings, award ceremonies, and so on. Although you may hold annual (or more frequent) award ceremonies this particular one is special and should be treated as such. There is usually a theme and purpose.

Regular events are usually more casual social networking designed around a recurring pattern. The theme is usually tied to food and drink or specific entertainment.

Consider a grand opening. This is a wonderful time to showcase a new location or new product line or some similar watershed event. Usually these are invitation only and align with the business. An example might be a new music shop. It is great to include musicians and this enhances the celebratory party-like atmosphere. Another example may be a clothing store which could showcase new fashions on the runway, too.

In these events, consider some of the benefits to the host. Start with the event itself and consider the purpose and how it aligns with your business goals. Who will be invited and how will that happen? Knowing that, who in my network would benefit from meeting these people? How can this event maximize those introductions? What kind of expenses can you anticipate? Who in my network is looking for a way to help me? What can I offer my sponsors?

Thoughtful preparation is the key to a successful event and some business people are very adept at making this event memorable and productive. Consider some of the people who would benefit from meeting the guests. They might be financial planners, estate planning attorneys, or bankers. A caterer may also benefit and welcome the chance to showcase their ability. A promotional items professional may engage a photographer in order to further their relationship. The possibilities are varied.

If you are hosting an event engage sponsors for signage, invitations, and so on. Commit to review the guest list with your sponsors and make personal introductions to the appropriate parties.

There is a lot of work involved in these singular events and attention to detail helps make them memorable.

One way to leverage the same effort is to host regular events. They can simply be based around a common interest—such as cheering for a team—or as simple as a midweek wine-tasting. Golf outings are an excellent venue. By carving out a regular recurring event you can build relationships and provide a forum for connecting people in a friendly way. In fact, this is an excellent way to deepen the roots of those significant relationships.

Your action this week is to consider some creative ways you can introduce your network to one another and celebrate an event by hosting a purposeful gathering.

 

© 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 9, 2017 at 4:13 am

Posted in events, HowTo, planning

Team up

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“If you support the community, they will support you.” ~~Jerry Greenfield

Promotion is a key component in expanding a company’s or organization’s reach. Sponsorship of local events is an accessible method to consider.

Let’s look at the bigger model. If you look at any NASCAR vehicle (or driver’s uniform, for that matter,) you can see that every inch sports a sponsor’s logo. An attorney I know started his business by sponsoring a local race team. Certainly, his objectives were to have the car go around the track and never get a dent. The driver was more interested in winning the race anyway possible. The lawyer knew, though, that some of these people would get speeding tickets on the way home and wanted them to call him immediately.

In fact, the sports world exemplifies big business sponsorship to the point that Super Bowl ads have become more important in many circles than the game itself.

This applies well at the local level, too. There are a number of benefits to consider in sponsoring events:

  • Promotion of your brand. This is enhanced when you line up your business with the proper demographic.

  • An opportunity to showcase your products and services.

  • A chance to meet and greet potential prospects and strategic alliances.

  • An occasion to deepen an alliance partner relationship.

  • A way to make a difference in your community.

On the other hand you must evaluate each sponsorship situation carefully. There are more opportunities than you could possibly support and more are being created all the time. Not every one of them is a fit. Here are some questions to consider first:

  • What is the target market for this event?

  • Do I get direct access to this audience?

  • How does this align with my networking goals?

  • What kind of exposure do I get for my investment?

  • Does it make sense to be there?

  • Can I get this exposure without this type of investment?

  • How does this enhance my credibility with the person I am helping?

  • Are there any competitors as other sponsors?

  • Are there any other alliance partners as sponsors?

  • Why should I do it?

  • Why should I not do this?

 

Action for this week is to consider those in your network that are holding events—a conference, an open house, a fund-raiser—that can use your support. In order to strengthen your relationship offer as much help as your business can provide and realize it may not all be financial.

 

© 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 2, 2017 at 6:55 am

Breaking (and Making) Bread Together

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“Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.” ~~Albert Einstein

One of the most valuable times in every networker’s week is meal time. This is a wonderful part of every day when we can relax with someone over food and really get deeper into a relationship or strategy. If you stop and think about how many meals we enjoy every year, the opportunity to maximize this is incredible.

Let’s look at the numbers.

We eat three meals a day every day for 365 days each year. That is more than 1,000. Let’s back that down to weekdays only (5 days per week and go with 50 weeks for simplicity’s sake) leaving 750. I recommend cutting that into thirds where one third is for your family, one third for yourself and non-business friends, and one-third for purposeful food encounters. Let’s simplify the math once more and convert 250 to 20 per month. That is basically one meal per working day. These can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I personally prefer one dinner per week and four breakfasts and lunches. That is, four dinners and sixteen others mixed. Some months it is twelve breakfasts and four lunches. Some months it is the reverse.

What is a purposeful food encounter? It is a planned event with just a few select people. They typically include 2-4 people and fall into one of these patterns: one-to-one, one-to-two, or two-to-two.

One-to-one sessions are level one gatherings with one other person to set strategy and further existing relationships. I find it most powerful to select a single target market or single aspect of your business offer and focus on just that. Talk about the problems your target prospects experience, what phrases or comments would indicate their experience with these issues, what solutions you can provide, what common objections they might have, and how to move the introduction along. You should also discuss strategic alliances, good and bad referrals, and the typical cycle you encounter in this arena. In the beginning of the process, this may be the only type of session you do and twenty or even forty of these purposeful meetings carry strong results. As well as setting the stage for the next level up.

Level two meetings are when the actual introductions are done. These are usually three or four people together and put either the strategic alliance partners together or the problem holders and problem solvers. This is to establish a new relationship by bridging the gap between these two parties using an existing relationship to introduce a new one.

Think of this as a triangle. Let’s set the stage. We have Matt Plastic who represents a credit card company that works very well with the restaurant industry. As you may recall we considered that in Week Three Find the Perfect Customer. Matt has a very good friend named Mary Shields, who is a Commercial Insurance Agent. Mary’s friend, Wolf Davis, runs a restaurant and is a client. Matt and Mary got together in an earlier meal meeting and Matt talked about how he helped restaurant owners. Mary looked through her client list and arranged a meeting with Wolf.

As you can see, this can become a very productive meal meeting. The parties that already know each other (Matt-Mary and Mary-Wolf) strengthen their relationships regardless of whether or not Matt-Wolf clicks or not.

Your action item this week is to start having these powerful meal sessions.

  • Look over your schedule and carve out twenty slots
  • Create a short list of potential partners
  • Rank by most valuable
  • Start inviting, start meeting

 

© 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

June 4, 2017 at 4:57 am