Archive for the 'Phone Calls' Category

Five Top Ways to Reconnect with an Old – - old – - – old Client

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

After you “tweet”, “friend”, “link”, email, or mass mail to gently ease into reconnecting with an old client having some canned conversation initiators can make Step 2 – “The Call” much easier.  Here are five tried and true approaches that have worked for the reluctant caller.  When it’s time to pick up the phone and talk to your contact try these words.  Don’t fake it, find one that’s true to you. 

 

1.        “I was pleased to reconnect with you via LinkedIn; it made me realize that we haven’t talked in a while.  How are you?”  (My earlier blog post titled “Bag LinkedIn. . .” may have been a bit harsh because it certainly has a place like here to break the ice with old contacts!) – - if they accepted your invitation to join your network, they are now anticipating your call.  Don’t let them down!

 

2.        “I just reconnected with (person’s name that you both know) and realized that we haven’t talked in a while.  How are things going for you? “– this is a great reason to call lots of contacts from a past client organization who all worked together at one time!

 

3.       “I just read an article on your firm in (publication) and thought of you.  (Elaborate a bit on the article). . . Just wanted to touch base to say hello and see how you were doing.”if you read the business press, you know you have thought about individuals from your past when you read articles about their companies, so it’s something you’ve kept to yourself but now you can share!

 

4.       “I’m going to the (organization) conference in May and was wondering if you planned on attending.  I thought it might be nice to reconnect with you there for dinner.  Do you plan on going?”- This is one of the best because you are being considerate, thoughtful and may end up with an excuse to avoid the rubber chicken dinner! 

 

5.       “I’m considering writing an article on (topic) and thought of you because I knew you would be a great person to give me a valuable perspective on it.  Could I trouble you to arrange a call to get your point of view on (topic)?” For those of you who have thought about publishing an article, this approach is gold because people are flattered that you think of them to give you advice.  You can collect your research, get valuable market insights and reconnect with an old client!

Bag LinkedIn as a tool for business development – and just pick up the phone!

Monday, March 29th, 2010

In these trying economic times most professionals have had to increase their number of prospects to win a piece of business.  This means digging deeper into your contact lists and calling more people that you haven’t talked to in a while such as old clients and past prospects.  The thought of calling someone just to reconnect with the hopes of generating an opportunity gives angst to many.  The phone handset begins to feel like a 100 pound elephant.  But all is not lost with the new social media.  We have things like LinkedIn that facilitates this act for us.  All we have to do is initiate a standard note and wait to see if they accept our request to join our LinkedIn network!  We ponder if receipt of our LinkedIn request will prompt our old acquaintances to call us if they have a business need. 

 

It arrives!  Your contact has accepted your LinkedIn request!  Time passes and they still haven’t called you.  After a few months go by with lightning speed you feel like you are right back where you started with the angst of calling to reconnect.  In this example LinkedIn served the same purpose as the introduction cover letter so many professionals use as a crutch to help them warm up a call.  In the end, you still have to make the call.  Similar to the intro cover letter, if you wait too long to follow up with a personal call, any benefit you may have received from the “link” diminishes.  An easy example to illustrate how this plays out in human nature is in dating.  If you meet someone, connect and get their number, what is the likelihood of forming a long term relationship if you wait to call that person for six months after you met them? 

 

Most contacts will tell you that if they agree to join your LinkedIn network, they would be pleased to hear from you from time to time.  So if you find yourself feeling good about the number of contacts who agreed to join your LinkedIn network, but feeling frustrated by the lack of leads received from your initiated effort, consider following up the contact acceptance more promptly with a personal call or simply bag the LinkedIn intro note and just pick up the phone. 

 

A Speaker Who Knows How to Work It. Part 1 of 3 – A Speaker’s Pre-Conference Planning

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

As Spring approaches and more promotional materials for upcoming conferences begin arriving in the mail, I’ve heard many clients are assessing if conference attendance is worth the cost – - which today can be significant.  We are a big advocate of preplanning to get the most bang for your buck.  If you are a speaker at the conference you have lots of relationship development opportunities with both clients and prospects that don’t even occur at the conference!   

  1. You can call clients or prospects for their advice and input on your presentation topic. 
  2. You can invite contacts to be panel members for your presentation.
  3. You can personally invite clients and prospects to your presentation, preferably by phone to continue a conversation flow. 
  4. You can ask your contacts if there are other individuals in their organization who would benefit from attending your presentation and invite them too. 

These pre-conference conversations can result in the following benefits:   

It’s a great reason to call lots of your contacts to touch base and up your visibility in the marketplace.

You reinforce your credibility and industry expertise based on the presentation content. 

It reminds people of you and your services oftentimes prompting statements such as, “I’m so glad you called. . . we were thinking about  . . .”

-  Contacts are flattered that you seek their advice and feel good about giving it to you. (nurturing a relationship)

You can prepare a better presentation for your audience with greater knowledge as to leading industry challenges.

The conversation can validate your presentation conclusions leading to increased confidence in your offering.

You expand your network by client referrals to invite others within their organization. 

You may learn more about your client’s or prospect’s specific corporate challenges by asking the age-old question at the end of your conversation, “So how are things with you?” and listening.   

 

 

All of the activities described in this three part series on “A Speaker Who Knows How to Work It” occur outside of the actual conference.  The conference becomes a means to an end, not the end. 

 

Rain Making Problem #28: Are Phone Calls Obsolete?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Twice in recent weeks I have been told that no one makes phone calls anymore.  One person, who I will call Lenore, put it this way:

No one uses the phone just to stay in touch with old clients and maintain relationships anymore.  The phone is too intrusive, and clients prefer emails, which are more convenient for them.  They’re too busy to take calls.  Today, the phone is just for when you have something specific and important to talk about.

Is Lenore right in saying that the phone shall nevermore be used for staying in touch, schmoozing and developing relationships when selling professional services?  Or is this  just the latest in an endless list of excuses to mask call avoidance?

Five Ways to Avoid Making Phone Calls

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Rain making requires building a referral network by maintaining contact with people over the years.  That’s how most rainmakers sell accounting, actuarial, architectural, engineering, legal, consulting and other professional services.  Much of this work is done by phone, because phone calls cost less in time and money than do face-to-face meetings and because they allow conversation to flow to productive subjects in a way that email doesn’t.

But, something there is that does not love a call . . . namely me.  Left to my inclinations, I would use the phone only in emergencies and for ordering pizza.  I am, in fact, an expert at avoiding making phone calls.

Here are some things you can do to avoid even the most essential calls:

  • Tell yourself that the probability of anything good coming out of the call rounds to zero and give up immediately.  The statement of probability is true, which is why the tactic works so well.  Of course, if you make enough calls to enough people, the cumulative probability of something good happening gets quite high, but let’s not think about that.
  • Take a quick look at your email in-box before calling.  This highly recommended tactic almost always works, because you immediately surrender control of your day to responding to urgent, if not always important, matters.  By the time you are done, you must move on to something else and can put off calling until tomorrow, when you can repeat the process.
  • Tell yourself that your calls will be unwelcome and you will become a pest.  Years of personal experience and experience with hundreds of professionals show me that this statement is untrue, as long as you handle yourself properly, focusing on the other person’s needs rather than pushing a sale. Still, imaging myself being rejected for being pesky feeds my personal insecurities so effectively that it stops all effort cold.
  • Treat calling as if it is something you must squeeze in on top of everything else you must do.  That way it is the first thing that gets squeezed out.  For this to work you must never acknowledge that calling is equally or even more important to the firm and to yourself than the other things you are responsible for.
  • Repeat to yourself over and over that bringing in business isn’t really your responsibility or, at least, shouldn’t be.  Of course, this can be career limiting, but a dedicated call avoider won’t let that stop him.

There are other trivial techniques for avoiding the phone—sharpening a pencil, going to the bathroom, getting coffee; I have tried them all—but the five I have listed are the best for busy professionals.  Just recognize that when time comes around for promotions (or layoffs, for that matter) and your business development contribution is reviewed, these excuses won’t help you.

Teaching Narrow Specialists How to Address a Broad Issue, Part 2

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Professionals who have developed skill at selling work in their areas of expertise, often find it hard to sell a broad solution to a problem that extends into areas about which they know relatively little.  Yet, rainmakers do this all of the time.  In an earlier post, I described a change in mindset needed to become an adviser on broad sets of issues.  Clearly, a change in mindset is not sufficient.  The professional must learn to conduct a discussion about a broad business issue.  Used to having command of a subject, they often say that they don’t know what to say and ask about issues where they have limited expertise.  It is a legitimate concern.

When talking with a client in their areas of specialty, professionals ask relatively narrow questions.  Borrowing from Chomskian linguistics, I will call these surface questions.  The surface questions used to learn about a client’s desire to redesign her company’s pension program differ greatly from those required to learn about her need for a new headquarters or her need to make a merger or for any other specific problem.

However, regardless of the issue, surface questions in all specialties gather information in the same categories, such as information about the nature of the client’s issue, its source, its size, its complexity, its urgency, its risks and opportunities, and so forth.  With that understanding, it is relatively easy to construct questions, which I will refer to as deep questions, that are more generic in nature and that will allow a professional to converse with the client in areas that go beyond the professional’s area of detailed knowledge.

Here is a comparison of some surface questions with some deep ones.  For the surface questions I will assume that a location consultant is interviewing a client about moving its corporate headquarters.  The deep questions, of course, can handle a much broader set of issues.  Note that these are just sample questions, not a definitive list.  Also, keep in mind that the same question can be worded many ways.  For example, Why would that be a problem for you?  is essentially the same question as I can think of several reason why that would be a problem.  Which ones stand out to you?  I have chosen brief versions of most questions to make a point.  If you don’t like the specific words shown, see if you can reword the questions to make them more palatable.

To determine the nature of the problem:

  • Surface Questions:  Why are you thinking of moving your corporate headquarters?  What kinds of talent are difficult to recruit at this location?  Why is being in a peripheral location problematic?
  • Deep Questions:  What is it that you wanted to talk about?  What seems to be the issue?

To establish cause:

  • Surface Question:  Why are you thinking of moving now?
  • Deep Question:  How did the problem arise/develop?

To establish urgency:

  • Surface Questions:  How soon does your lease expire?  If you continue to fall short in the number of researchers you recruit, how soon do you end up in competitive difficulties?
  • Deep Questions:  What kind of time pressure are you under?  Why the rush?

To establish goals:

  • Surface Question:  What do you want to accomplish from a move?
  • Deep Question:  What does success look like?

Top establish size:

  • Surface Questions:  How many people are based at the headquarters?  How do they break down by job type?  How many would you expect to move?  How many square feet do you occupy?  Do you expect space requirements to go up or down?
  • Deep Questions:  How big is this issue?  How many people does it affect?

To establish scope:

  • Surface Questions:  Is the current location under consideration or are you definitely going to move?  Would you consider a long distance or only a local move?  Are there certain other locations that must be considered?
  • Deep Questions: What are its parameters?  What areas will be affected?  How broad a set of solutions are you willing to consider?

To establish risks:

  • Surface Question:  What happens if word of the move leaks out prematurely?  What if insufficient members of the research team choose to transfer to the new location?  Are you subject to political pressures in making this choice?
  • Deep Questions:  What are the risks?   What could go wrong?

To establish opportunities:

  • Surface Questions:  If you move to a new location and your recruiting problem goes away, what difference will it make?  How would easier access to your customers help the business?
  • Deep Questions:  What are the benefits of making the change?  How much would you gain from the change.

To establish barriers:

  • Surface Questions:  Why are you considering staying put?  Why not explore alternatives directly with economic development authorities instead of working through a consultant?
  • Deep Questions: What stands in your way?  Why are you considering doing this with external resources, rather than in house?

I could go on, but suspect the point is made.  Professionals who are used to showing off expertise in the questions they ask, sometimes fear deep questions are too general and so highlight their lack of content knowledge.  But clients almost always answer deep questions without hesitation.  When they are focused on talking about their problem, information that draws attention to the professional can be a distraction, even if that information is posed as a question.

Two Simple Ways to Foster Cross Selling

Monday, November 16th, 2009

In an earlier post I posited that anyone who wants to cross selling his services in a professional services firm had best treat his colleagues like any other market.  Selling them is the first step in selling to their clients. You must meet with your colleagues, learn about their needs and their clients’ needs, help them understand how you can help meet these needs and then provide fantastic service to them, so demonstrating how attentive you will be to their clients.  In this context, returning a colleagues phone call promptly is every bit as important as returning one from a prospective client.

This, I think sound advice, but it isn’t a one-way street.  All members of a firm have responsibility for finding opportunities at their accounts for their colleagues.  Firm management must find ways to make everyone accountable for cross selling.  There are many tools for this, most noticeably compensating people for helping their colleagues win work.  But, in our experience, some of the simplest ways are often overlooked.

Take, for example, teaching the firm’s partners about the capabilities of practices they might introduce to their clients.  Typically, this is done by giving the practice head a podium to describe what his team can do.  In the worst cases, this is done over hours at an off-site meeting, with one presentation following another in mind-numbing monotony, and the listeners soon find their minds wandering.

Here are two alternatives to make the process more effective:

  • Structure the session as an interview, rather than a presentation. Announce to the participants that they won’t learn anything about the featured practice, unless they ask about it.  Then, don’t allow the person seeking to cross sell his service to say anything, except in response to his colleagues questions.  If his colleagues aren’t interested or intelligent enough to ask good questions about the service, he is probably wasting his time anyway.  This puts the responsibility on the listeners to extract the information they need, keeping them engaged in the conversation.   You may want to provide a few sample questions to get the interview started.
  • Try speed dating.  Start your monthly firm or office meeting by paring up partners from different practices to have a half-hour conversation about how they can help each other sell their services.  At the next meeting shuffle the pares, so that everyone spends time with someone new at each meeting.  Among other things, trust is more easily built in one-on-one conversations than in a presentation.

Cross selling, like selling professional services, requires lots of little acts like these on the way to landing the big assignment.

Revenue Implosion from Market Failure

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The most common reason for revenue collapses during the past two years has been market failure.  Clients reduced or stopped buying specific professional services.  As is typical during a recession for reasons I have described elsewhere, this happened suddenly.  One month a firm had more work than it could handle and numerous prospective assignments moving their way towards a sale.  The next, clients were cancelling projects and prospective assignments evaporated.
Now that the worst seems behind us, we would be wise to take lessons from this downturn to reduce the impact of the next one.  Prior to downturns, some professionals feel immune to revenue collapses for three reasons that prove to be unfounded:

  1. My market is different:   In the late 1990s professionals selling services to the telecommunications industry argued that with the rate of increase in data communications, demand for their services would keep increasing for the foreseeable future.   They failed to realize that short term imbalances in supply and demand can create a short-term bust in a generally upward market.  Firms selling heavily to the healthcare industry, which had come through earlier recessions unscathed, took a beating in this one, when many hospitals cut their spending.
  2. My client is really many clients:   All markets go up and down.  The classic way to reduce the impact of such swings is through diversification.  But we must be wary of false diversification.  Over the years I have heard professionals who were dependent on one client for most of their revenue claim that the client was so big and they were working in so many parts of it that it was the same as having many clients.  When several big financial institutions failed over the past two years, some professionals learned how untrue this was.
  3. My firm already has a diverse client base:  Sometimes professionals believe they serve diverse markets, when they don’t.  A dot com consulting firm, whose three biggest clients were an airline, a credit card company and a hotel chain, went belly up after September 11, 2001, when travel nosedived, and all three clients canceled projects.  Management of another firm convinced themselves that their top three clients; a credit card company, an insurance company and a bank; were so different that the firm was effectively diversified.  In this downturn, they learned that a credit crunch crunches all lenders.

Always be skeptical of it-can’t-happen-to-us statements.

Avoiding the Hard Work of Generating Leads #3: They Will Think I am Just Calling to Sell them Something

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

(For over 15 years Harding & Company has helped hundreds of professionals make the transition from doing and managing client worked selling it.  Among our duties is helping the people we work with recognize it when they are avoiding the hard work on developing relationships and generating leads.  This is the third of a series of posts on the most popular avoidance tactics.)

Many people feel awkward about calling former clients and other business contacts.  They imagine getting a negative response, and this imaginary image becomes so strong that they accept it as if we were real.  These people say things, like “ he’ll think I am just calling to sell them something” or “ she’ll be annoyed with me.”  These people fall into the trap of believing that they can read other people’s minds.

If you find that you say such things to yourself and that it deters you are making calls, remember the following:

  1. People generally accept without question your stated reason for calling them.  Even if they suspect that you may be calling to sell them something in your first call, they will quickly learn that that is not your primary motivation, if you focus on providing value to them in each conversation.  This value can include recognizing them as people and friends, providing some information that might help them, offering an introduction, and the like.  The more you call people and provide such help, the less they are likely to ascribe to you a mercenary motivation.
  2. Even if they do suspect that a hope for new business is one motivation for your call, few will be offended.  After all, most are in business, themselves, and in business everyone must live by selling something.

Rainmaking Problem #22: How often should you call?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I frequently get asked how often one should call a former client or other valuable business contact.  Professionals are deeply concerned that calling too often will annoy the contact.  Some err on the side of caution by not calling contacts at all, except they need to talk about specific business at hand.  Others call more frequently.

Like most people, professionals have contacts whom they can call at any time.  However, virtually all of us want to avoid bothering a busy client or contact with a drifting catchup conversation.  Some contacts are likely to drop you, if you abuse the friendship with too many pointless calls or calls transparently for the purpose of asking for more work.

How frequently to call someone is a highly personal decision, and heavily situational.  Still, I think that most of  us have some  rules we apply to making that choice.  What are yours?

(This is another of our Rainmaking Problems, which I post from time to time, because I am not totally satisfied with the answers I give, when questioned on the subject. In other cases, readers send me questions that they would like to get answers to from people with different perspectives.  If you have such a question, please send it to me at fharding@HardingCo.com.)