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I Don’t See Why We Have To Meet For Lunch

April 14, 2014

I Don’t See Why We Have To Meet For Lunch

For a long time, if someone showed even the slightest interest in my wealth management practice, Washington Financial Group (or just seemed like a potential client), I would ask them if they wanted to grab lunch so we could learn more about each other. I always thought it made sense. There was no better way to spend my time than meeting face-to-face with a potential client or strategic partner, right?

As cadre has picked up steam, we have been extremely fortunate to receive more introductions to prospective members than we could keep up with. This is obviously a great problem to have, but we literally could not keep up. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking “Cry me a river!”, but I’m not here to brag about how many referrals we’re getting. Rather, I’d like to tell you about the time management challenges we faced, and what we did about them. (This is a broad topic, so for the purpose of this blog, I’m limiting it to meeting with people who think they might be interested in your business, but don’t know much about you.)

The problem we had was that most of the folks who were referred to us, by default, wanted to meet for lunch. This has become THE way for a lot of us to learn more about a business or service, and cadre was no exception. They would say something like, “Hey, John told me about you guys and it sounds pretty cool. Want to grab lunch to tell me more about it?” That seemed reasonable enough. I had been suggesting this for years, and I’m sure most of you do (or have done) the same. The problem was there simply was not enough time in my day. And now, with all of the ways we have to communicate, I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time, or yours.

As with any business, a good portion of the referrals we received were not likely to result in our doing business together (or in the case of cadre, becoming a member). I also knew we had a great description of our model on our website, and that we had intentionally used language to help weed out our prospects. So we told anyone who was interested in joining cadre to read the details on our website prior to our call. This way they would have a good overview of our business and we could have a productive call.

Shockingly, not everyone complied. I had three or four calls a day – intended to be 15-minute discussions – that were turning into hour-long conversations because the prospective member knew nothing about our model. I was being asked the most basic questions, which our website (had they read it) already answered.

One day, I had 45-minute conversation with a person that was going great until they asked how much we charge. They thought it was too much, and the conversation ended. That was it. Something had to change! If I had required this person to review our content prior to the call, there never would have been one (which is fine when you’re meeting enough people who think what you charge is a bargain).

So that’s exactly what we did: We started telling prospective members to take 10 minutes to learn about our business, and if it resonated with them, we would set up a 15-minute phone call to answer any specific questions they had. This has worked very well. Several referrals have not bothered to get back to us, which means less time wasted for me. Those who do schedule a call are extremely interested and almost always become members.

I was recently turned on to Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Six Pixels of Separation. Marcus was struggling to keep his pool installation business afloat in 2008, and was spending a lot of time meeting potential customers at their homes to discuss his services. He kept getting the same questions over and over, and as we experienced with cadre, many of these prospects did not end up being candidates for his business. He was spending too much time traveling to, and meeting with, people who could have been ruled out as customers in five minutes, had there been a way for their questions to be answered ahead of time.

Marcus wised up. He created a blog for his business, and many of his articles provide ready answers to frequently asked questions. When someone thought they wanted to buy a pool, he began directing them to his website, where he provides a ton of useful information. Any general questions people have are answered there, and his website serves as a great qualifier of potential customers. (Incidentally, it has since become the most visited pool website in the world!) In his excellent blog post titled “Assignment Selling,” Marcus shares how he now assigns prospective customers homework before agreeing to meet with them. During the aforementioned podcast, Marcus said that he now tells people that if he’s coming to their house, it’s to sell them a pool. He admits that this sounds audacious, but the point he makes is meritorious: Businesses with great content have rights that other businesses do not.

The next time you’re thinking about meeting a potential client and neither of you knows much about the other, I encourage you to consider the alternatives. If you have a great website, an eBook, or have authored articles, send your prospect there before having a meeting. If you don’t have the content, consider scheduling a Skype call so you can at least save yourself the travel time. Still, I hope you’ll consider the time investment of developing some strong content, so that prospective clients can easily learn more about your business without having to take up so much of your time.

I can only speak from my own experience, but making this shift has freed up a lot of my time, and made me much more productive and efficient. Do you typically suggest meeting someone in person before learning more about their business? Do you agree to meet others when they make this request of you?

 


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Do you offer to help…or help to offer?

April 14, 2014

I have come across a number of professionals recently who complain that their efforts to help others have not been “paying off” – that, despite their willingness to help, those on the receiving end do not seem appreciative.

Upon learning more, it appears their idea of “help” is to give a prospective client free advice or a referral, for example, in the hopes that said prospect will hire them as a result. This is not help. It’s a sales strategy.

I’m not saying that giving free advice for the purpose of business development is a bad idea. It can be effective when done properly. If your real goal is to generate business, you should set clear expectations upfront. Let the potential client know that you will help them address part of their problem, and discuss how your help might be mutually beneficial, rather than making any assumptions. My good friend Ian Altman of Grow My Revenue touches on this here.

My point is that there is an important difference between offering to help as a business strategy and helping out of pure altruism. You truly help someone, whether by offering feedback or making a mutually beneficial connection, when you provide assistance that is intended to further that person’s professional or personal advancement (and likely someone else’s) – without expecting anything in return. A “payoff” is not the primary motivation.

Acting out of generosity should result in a more positive and/or productive outcome for the recipient than if you had not acted. People who approach helping in this way tend to attract one another, and almost always see their generosity repaid, even though this is not their intent.

When you help someone with the expectation of getting something in return, you may not see a return on your investment for a variety of reasons. The recipient might realize that your offer comes with strings attached and simply be put off. However, I believe the main reason for a lack of reciprocity in these situations is that people who expect something in return when they give are, ironically, not really open to reciprocity. They are naturally skeptical when someone offers to help them, assuming that accepting a favor will put them in debt to this person (since this is what they expect when they are “helping”).

Being in a position to truly help people is a great spot to be in, and your ability to deliver is invaluable. I just hope that anyone out there who thinks they’re helping and not getting the results they’re hoping for does not give up on helping altogether. Anytime you want to offer help, think about the true definition of this word, and make sure your approach – and your expectations – are in line with it.

What are your thoughts on this?

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The biggest networking time-waster

April 14, 2014

timewasterIf you’re anything like me, you’ve wasted more time attending networking events than you care to acknowledge. You show up, and after conversations with the animated hand gesture guy who forgets he’s holding wine spills it on you, and the woman who clearly doesn’t attend many of these rambles on about her business without ever asking you about yours, you never want to attend another networking event as long as you live.

But we keep going, because every once in a while, we meet someone who seems like they are there for the same reasons as us. They have a long-term outlook and are looking to authentically connect with other top professionals. Unfortunately, while encounters like this initially seem to justify venturing out to an event, they typically end up being the biggest time-wasters of all. Let me explain.

Say you go to a networking event and really hit it off with someone. The conversation is great and you think you could really help each other out. So you schedule a follow-up lunch. This either goes well, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then from a time perspective you wasted at least one additional hour and would have been better off meeting Mr. Happy Hands and calling it a night. But let’s assume the lunch goes well. In most cases, these meetings do not produce immediate opportunities. (That’s not why you went though, right?) Most often they end with a mutual “This was great and I’ll keep you in mind for potential opportunities!” and you walk away hoping the time investment will bear fruit at some point in the future.

My question is do you have a plan or process in place for staying top of mind with all of the professionals you meet? If not, you’re wasting more time attending follow-up meetings than you would by striking out at the initial event.

Even if you’re good at staying in touch, it’s unlikely your fellow networkers are as organized as you are. After you’ve spent time with someone, will that person remember you six months from now when an opportunity presents itself? If so, will they know where to find your contact info? If not, why go to networking events and follow-up meetings at all?

I always used a manual process that combined my email and CRM software, and took a lot of time to set up. Recently, however, I discovered a phenomenal service called Contactually (affiliate link). It’s an email integration tool that allows you to create various buckets for contacts based on how often you should be in touch with them.

To give you an example of how this works, let’s say you want to check in with prospective clients every 90 days. Contactually cross-checks your email correspondence with other platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and sends a reminder email if you do not contact them within this timeframe. The team functionality, which tracks correspondence between your clients and employees, is outstanding. I encourage you to try the 30-day free trial. There is no software to download and it works with all the major email providers.

Now that you know about Contactually, you’ll do a great job of keeping in touch with your contacts. Perhaps you’re already great at this. Either way, if you don’t have an effective process for staying top of mind, you’re probably better off going to an event and not meeting anyone worthy of a follow-up – or skipping the event altogether. Worst case, it’s one hour of your time down the drain versus three.

Do you already have an effective process for staying in touch with professionals you meet at networking events? If so, I’d love to hear about it.