Master These Skills or You'll Wind Up in the Business Boneyard
"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." Mohandas Ghandi
Want to know the scoop on what it takes to survive in the marketplace? I hope I don’t sound morbid here, but let's take a look at the "business mortality rate" if you will. The Small Business Administration estimates that 50% of new business will go under within 5 years. In a personal service business, like being a Financial Advisor, I suspect that figure is much higher. If you're new in the game, look at the person in the office next to you -- odds are that in a half-decade or less one of you will be gone.
What is the cause of this high mortality rate? Business rookies, and even veterans who are struggling may have the necessary technical ability to deliver results for clients but typically lack the necessary marketing and sales skills to keep their heads above water. Even if they are part of a prestigious organization, they are basically handed a phone book and told, "Go call somebody." Since 1992 I've been coaching small business owners, entrepreneurs and sales professionals on growing their clientele. I make sure they work on the following three "killer" business skills that will insure they not only stay in business, but thrive. The ones who don't master these will be doomed to going "six feet under" in the marketplace.
Networking with Business Owners -- The majority of business people I meet really don't know what networking is. They think they're doing it by going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting, schmoozing with the people at their table over breakfast about their local sports teams and passing out business cards. Then they complain, "I never get any business from the Chamber -- it must not be a very good one," and stop going. That's NOT networking, that's coffee-klatching -- good for gossip, terminal for new business.
Real networking consists of one-on-one interactions between business owners to determine their ideal prospects and centers of influence, then subsequently providing introductions (either in person or via email/telephone) that generate new business opportunities for each other. I don't want to suggest you avoid networking events like Chamber meetings; I am suggesting you attend them to make contacts, then set up one-on-one meetings to do the above.
Asking for Referrals from Satisfied Clients -- How often do you get unsolicited referrals from your clients? If you do, great. If you are like most providers this is a rare occurrence. It's not that these people you serve don't value the effort you make on their behalf -- they do. It's just that once you've delivered they want to quickly move on to the next challenge in their busy day. Only by making a point of discussing referrals do you significantly increase your chances of getting them.
You are responsible for initiating this discussion by adding it as an agenda item when you meet, which can take place during a review, or even informally over lunch. Begin by helping the client clearly understand the value you've provided by working together. Assuming the client acknowledges this you would then bring up the subject of referrals by asking, "If you were to introduce someone to me and I provided the same quality experience for them that you've gotten, tell me -- what would be in it for YOU?" This taps into your client's self-interest: It's now about how they'd feel helping someone they know, not about you growing your business. With that identified, you can begin the process of drilling down on who your client might know that they could introduce you to: Family members, friends, business associates, co-workers, professional peers, charitable allies, etc. This conversation greatly increases the probability that you'll get well qualified introductions.
Professional Selling Skills -- One of my great mentors, Brian Tracy, stated, "When you evaluate failure in business it all boils down to one thing: Not enough sales." This may be the #1 killer skill. It appears that people who are most likely to make it on their own have some sort of sales background – they know that if you can’t close the deal, you’ll close the coffin on your business. Let’s say you’ve gotten in front of a prospect – do you know what to do? If you begin by talking about yourself, your firm, your company’s products and services, features and benefits, doing a presentation on the latest high tech gear, guess what? That’s not selling, that’s “show biz.” And you’ll typically wind up with the prospect saying, “Thanks for the information. I’d like to think it over.” Which translates to, “Hasta la vista, baby!” You'll probably never even get that prospect on the phone again -- the opportunity for a sale is dead, and you'll never even know why.
Smart business owners invest in their success, especially in sales training if they don’t have experience managing the sales process. There is more science to this than floundering entrepreneurs think, a methodology that will maximize your potential to bring on new clients. This involves a series of steps in which you begin by doing NO presenting initially. Your role is to use a systematic series of questions (which I call a “Consultative Interview”) to have your prospects define their needs, budget and decision making process. Only then would you present your solutions to their problems. Unfortunately, many business owners “wing it,” hoping that if they just throw enough spaghetti against the wall that some of it will stick. And then they wonder why their business is on life support, and a priest has been called in to deliver Last Rites.
The bottom line? These three killer skills are essential for your success if you have any type of business, especially a personal service firm. Do yourself a favor and get some help in these areas -- I don't want to read about you in the "Business Obituary" column!