Can clients find you? And what image do you portray once they do?

My friend Jennifer is moving her home from one state to another in the next several weeks. She visualized her way to the quick sale of her current house and now she and her husband need to find a new house right away. HouseSearchImageSince she doesn’t know any real estate agents in her new area, and she’s belonged to a BNI (Business Network International) chapter in her current town, she figured she’d start out asking for referrals from the regional BNI leader there. Her contact was reluctant to recommend anyone in particular, for fear of playing favorites. Okay, but if you had to choose one over another, which one would that be, she pushed.

Finally the person gave her an answer. Like most of you reading this article, Jen then Googled the person to find out more about him. Nothing came up. In fact, none of the local BNI Realtors had an online presence. Okay, wait, some did have something, but then the links to their sites weren’t good or the information on their sites hadn’t been updated in years. Seriously, she told me one woman’s last blog post was in 2007.

With an impending trip to the new state coming up next weekend, she was under pressure to find someone who could show her houses in the town she wants to live in – someone great, a real expert, because when you’re making such a huge, life altering decision, who’s okay with just mediocre representation?!

She sSearch_Imagetarted Googling for general information about Realtors in the town she was targeting. One woman kept coming up. This person had a great website, lots of testimonials from different people, a professionally done head shot, and up-to-date information and resources. Jennifer found this woman mentioned favorably in several places. Plus, she has lived in this same town for years, she has kids around the same ages as Jen’s, and clearly she knows how to present herself as an authority in her area and industry.

They’ve spoken, set up their search schedule and the woman’s follow through has been impressively consistent with the expectations she set in her online presence. Here’s to the intention that Jen finds the perfect house for her family.

What’s the lesson for you in regards to generating new business and building strong relationships with clients? If you want customers who take you seriously, who are willing to pay you what you’re worth and work with you the way you like, you absolutely must present a professional image everywhere you go! From the design of your website (and yes, in this day and age, you must have one!) to the pictures you post there and in your professional materials, to your business cards, to your blog, to your social media presence, to what you look like and how you act at networking events and in public. Whether you think it’s fair or not, potential clients are watching and judging your professionalism and competency.

Make no mistake though, professional does not mean boring or plain. Somewhere long ago, in a far away place, a rumor started that in order to present as a professional, you must wear dark formal dress and scrub all distinguishing characteristics from your business world.

Not true! There is plenty of room for your personality and it’s actually imperative you add that component so you really connect with your market. People want to know they are dealing with another Highlightersperson, making a human connection. Somewhere in the information Jennifer saw about this real estate woman was something about her family and because she and Jen have kids around the same ages, Jen realized a common connection. On top of the professionalism, this commonality helps build trust.

And it’s okay if who you are doesn’t resonate with everyone. You’re not looking to serve everyone; you’re looking to connect and build relationships with only the right people for you.

Do More Than You Think Necessary

With Ruth Sherman at her Charisma Event

Ruth Sherman came to the DC area last week to present her “Cash in on Charisma” program. Here are three points she shared that really resonated with me and could be of value to you.

One of the big reasons why video works so well for disseminating your message and building relationships is that humans are wired to connect face to face. I’ve been saying this for a while. All this electronic technology is great, no question, but at the end of the day, people need to connect on a more human level. They need to see each other, shake hands, reach out on a physical level. That human need is why sending thank you cards and gifts to customers is so powerful. It is a tactile form of communication.

Next, Ruth implored that when preparing for live presentations, YOU’VE GOT TO PRACTICE much more than you think you do. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of not doing that enough. I know my subject matter and can deliver well, but I know I could do much better if I spent more time practicing. When I took piano lessons as a child, I hated practicing. I must have had some natural talent because I remember playing pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de lune, Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Joplin’s The Entertainer in recitals. But I hated practicing and after a couple of years I convinced my mom to let me quit.

Public speaking ranks at the top of the list of things people are scared to death to do. But I absolutely love it! So here and now, I commit to spending more time practicing my stories and material, because I realize the people in my audience are giving me their time and attention and in return, my goal is to deliver great value for them.

The lesson for you – whether or not we’re talking about practicing presentations – is you need to do and give more than you think necessary. Start thinking what you consider good enough is probably the bare minimum you can get away with. To really build those client relationships, you need to step up the game. Communicate more. Reach out to customers and potential customers more. Engage them in conversation! If they don’t want to hear from you, they’ll tell you. In the meantime, deliver more value more consistently.

Lastly, your communications don’t need to be long. Who has the attention span anymore? While there are still places for sharing in-depth explanations and details, most of your videos (or other regular communiqués) need only be a minute or two. Just pop-in, share quickly, and step out. That means they won’t take you long to put together either. Hmmm. Now you have no excuse to not do more.

The Hard Part is Getting Started

The hardest part of any project is probably not what you think. In fact, what you are thinking is part of the problem. You’re thinking about all the steps, and time, and effort it’s going to take to do it. And then you’re not doing it. I’ll start it tomorrow, you say. What’s that saying – tomorrow never comes? Because it’s always today. Ha ha.

Humans are amazing in terms of how many excuses or reasons we can create to keep ourselves stationary. So it appears that the most difficult piece of your project is the start. Once you start, you may run into barriers along the way, but the momentum is already there and you just keep going. Building the momentum to push off the blocks is the real challenge.

Start Button

Start Me Up

How do you start? You just start. How do you roll a ball down a hill? You push it and it goes. You start by writing up as specific and detailed a plan as you can of what you will do – make this phone call, send that email, write the first paragraph, etc. And then schedule the time in your calendar to do it. Easy enough to say, perhaps harder to make yourself do.

Are you super excited about getting the results that undertaking this project and implementing this action will deliver? If that answer is a flat out no, then you might want to reevaluate why you’re doing it. More likely it’s YES, but it’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain. Or YES, but I don’t know all the steps. That’s okay and it’s not good enough reason to not start. Make a list of all the potential roadblocks. What are the typical things that have tripped you up in the past? You know there will be some, so prepare a plan to face and overcome them now.

I’m reading a book called “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” It’s fascinating to learn how the brain works in regards to creating habits. A lot of studies have been done on how to change habits and many have found that habits are linked to will power. In fact, will power itself is a habit. Beyond that, the ability to change habits is linked to identifying the distractions, and creating a plan to overcome those distractions.

Here’s an example. You know you should create a customer appreciation program because you believe it will help you strengthen your client relationships and increase customer retention. You have ideas in your head of what you want to do. And yet you keep putting on the back burner. Come up with all the reasons you haven’t done it yet – too busy to manage, not sure how to segment, don’t have the money, etc. Recognize that these are excuses that may not even be real obstacles. (What if you don’t have to personally manage the program. Or it ends up helping you keep a client who otherwise would have left, so now you’ve saved more than it cost you to implement.) Now quickly jot down how you’re going to overcome those blocks – get more information or simply set aside 10 minutes a month on your calendar, for example. Don’t spend a lot of time and over planning on this.

Now get started. The people who are most successful in starting have figured out how to combine throwing caution to the wind and going for it with having a carefully designed strategy for managing the obstacles.

Respect for Time

Doctors appointments are one of those things that you just can’t delegate to someone else. Today was my third visit to Dr. H and the first time I didn’t have to wait more than 25 minutes to see him. So not only does he get to inflict pain, as there’s some physical therapy involved, I have to wait around for it.

When I show up on time, I expect him to do the same. And while I get sometimes there are emergencies that can throw off the schedule, it would be nice to have notice if that is indeed the case. How about a text message to say they’re running 30 minutes behind, or at least a heads up when I arrive.

Everyone’s time is valuable and in my book, it’s a matter of respect to honor someone’s time by not wasting it. Updates are equally important when it comes to serving your customers. Companies such as Amazon and Zappos have set the bar for delivery expectations pretty high. Stories of deliveries made less than 24 hours after order placement create a belief that every company can, should and will be able to do the same.

Fair or not, it is what it is and it’s your job to set the proper expectations for what your business can and will deliver so you still look good. You will boost client retention by letting them know ahead of time what to expect from doing business with you. Can you pledge to return phone calls within two hours? Keep them waiting no longer than five minutes? Ship packages within 24 hours? Whatever it is that you do, give your clients the guidelines of how you do it so they know what to expect and aren’t disillusioned or disappointed. Now they have an increased level of comfort, which makes them more likely to come back again, and share their experience and recommendation with others.

PS: Today I didn’t have to wait because I learned if I make my appointment for 2:00, I’ll be the first one after lunch, so no one ahead of me to mess up the schedule!

I would never do that

Incongruent: containing disparate or discordant elements or parts. Synonyms include conflicting, contradictory, contrary, incompatible, inconsistent. None of these are words you would want associated with your marketing. Yet the word incongruent is what came to mind when I was thinking about my recent car-buying experience.

2012 Genesis Coupe

My new car, a 2012 Genesis Coupe

I’d submitted an online form expressing my interest in a particular car. That prompted a barrage of emails and phone calls from several area dealerships. Not to bash car dealers; I think they get enough of that, but from a marketing standpoint, wow, I saw some room for simple improvement. Sure, you might think “I would never do that!” Still, there are lessons here for you no matter what your business.

First point of contact

The first email or phone call sets the tone for the rest of our relationship. One guy called me and was very friendly. He engaged me in a conversation and I had a good feeling about him until he said something to the effect of “girls don’t usually like the manual transmission” or something like that. I called him on it and he backpedaled. The damage was done. In a later conversation he told me there were no cars in the model I wanted with a manual transmission in a 400-mile radius. He had checked for me. Apparently he didn’t do a very good job of checking because I found one to test drive 30 miles away. If you’ve already guessed I didn’t buy from him, bonus points to you! The one thing I will give this guy is that he, more than most of them, was persistent in his follow up.

Other sales people called me and started out with “I saw you’re interested in this car. When do you want to come in?” Hey guys (all but one was a guy), a little foreplay might be to your advantage. How about asking for more details about what specifically I want and why.

Then, after a conversation, I’d get an email. Clearly I’d been entered into a database and sent a generic email. Several of them from different dealerships said, “I haven’t been able to reach you by phone…” Wha???

Or I got emails from three different people at the same dealership with, “my name is… I got your inquiry and am eager to help you.” And a couple of, “I’m the manager and so and so is the sales person with whom you can speak…” and the person the sales manager or GM put in his email is not the same as the one who sent me an email two hours ago. Incongruent marketing!

Make sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Get everyone in your business on the same page so you don’t look foolish and give the impression no one there knows what they’re doing.

Provide requested info
When I was finally ready to buy, (from submitting that online form to purchase was 44 days), I sent out an email to about 10 area dealerships clearly outlining what I wanted and asking for their best price. Only half of them answered and one of those tried selling me something different. The salesperson where I’d test-driven the car didn’t ever respond. In fact, he never even followed up with me after I walked out his door. I’d told him I loved the car, but that particular one wasn’t the right color. Major missed opportunity for him.

If someone is asking you for information, it usually means they want to buy. Answer their questions and the probability you will make a sale, get a client and start a long-term relationship goes up tremendously!

Make me want it more
How can you create an eagerness to buy now or help your client see herself owning or using whatever it is you’re providing? One of the things the sales person from whom I bought the car did that I thought was brilliant was he took a couple of pictures of “my” car in his lot and texted them to me with the message line “your car.” This was smart for two reasons. One, he was cementing ownership of this vehicle in my mind. Two, he was confirming to me that he actually had the car in the color I wanted (because most of the other dealerships did not have it on their lot). And three, he was building the relationship, creating a higher level of comfort, since we hadn’t met in person yet. I asked him about this tactic and he says he uses it especially when he’s doing internet transactions because people need visuals.

Give your customers the ability to see and feel and get comfortable with all the qualities of your product or service. Help them imagine what it’s like to use and own or implement what you’re selling. Give them the ability to “own” it before they actually buy and your job of selling is done.

Some Customers Are More Equal Than Others

A friend recommended I speak with his college roommate, Sam*, about how Sam’s company handles customer appreciation. By all outside perceptions, Sam’s company fell exactly within the demographics of an ideal Zen Rabbit client.

But after just a couple of minutes on the phone, it was clear that Sam is currently working in contraction and fear mode, you know, because of the economy. Futhermore, Sam didn’t seem to understand the lifetime value of his clients.

I pointed out to him that even though he said he has thousands of clients, he’s likely getting 80% of his business from 20% of them. He agreed. Then I mentioned that he should be focusing his efforts on keeping those 20% really happy. That’s where he got a little fuzzy. Even though he “knows that,” he still wants to keep ALL his clients happy and not play favorites.

Hey, I can understand wanting to keep everyone happy, but like in the classic book “Animal Farm,” some customers are more equal than others. That’s just how it is. Some clients are more valuable than others. And you would do well to focus on and cater more to those 20% who bring you the most valuable business.

Sam admitted that he does not have a plan for consistently showing appreciation for his best customers. But he doesn’t quite believe that it would be worth the effort. I got the impression that he prefers to “fly by the seat of his pants” in that regard. It depends on whether there is money left over for it at the end of the month. It’s an afterthought.

But what if Sam DID believe in the power of saying thank you to his clients? What could his business look like then? I know for sure that his company would be a lot stronger, that he wouldn’t be so afraid of what’s going on in “the economy.” That he wouldn’t have to compete on price. Too bad Sam’s not ready for that message yet. Are you?

*names have been changed to protect friendships.

The Power of Authenticity

The guest column in Jeffrey Gitomer’s ezine this week was written by Andrew Corbus and Bill Guertin. Their main point was that consumers are tired of hype and empty promises. What’s working in marketing now is authenticity. Of course authenticity in terms of keeping promises and delivering what you say you will has always been essential to business success. But these guys are talking about sharing your “story” with your audience and communicating on a more personal level. It’s your story that differentiates you from everyone else.

In the article, they say, “When you become Authentic, you and your business become more interesting. You get much better at starting conversations. You learn how to bridge your personal experiences with your sales message. You stay focused on the attributes of the brand that meet your customers’ needs. And you become more successful at whatever it is you do.”

I believe this is true. It’s a matter of communicating with your clients in a way that benefits them. Give them useful information and stay in touch regularly. The only way to have an authentic relationship, whether business or personal, is to communicate consistently. When you do that, you will no doubt see all kinds of success.