Three Cups of Tea


The Balti Theory of Relationships

I’m a coffee drinker.  This is a story involving tea but that shouldn’t matter.

I’m not a fan of a lot of fancy coffees.  Just straight up brewed coffee from a pot or Keurig machine is all I need.  If I am going to splurge on something exotic, I go for a strong espresso or café americano, nothing too foamy or overly sweet.  I always drink my coffee black, mostly because I am lactose intolerant but since I discovered that, I have found I prefer the fuller taste that milk or cream can tend to dull.

I used to do a lot of business networking in coffee shops.  Until recently there was no better place to have an informal, meet and greet with a new or perspective client.  Of course, COVID19 has changed all of that.  Now all my meetings, regardless of purpose have gone virtual.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it saves a lot of time, no more driving across town, paying for coffee, looking for a table etc.  Even though I do miss the atmosphere of a good coffee shop and I feel for the entrepreneurs that run them I can’t say I’ve really missed a beat by moving my meetings online.

Regardless of where our networking occurs, one thing has not changed.  It’s still all about personal relationships.

I learned what I call The Balti Three Cups of Tea Theory of Relationships from educational activist Greg Mortenson.  He learned it while building schools in the mountains of Pakistan.

Mortenson’s story was first published in the 2006 book, “Three Cups of Tea”.  In a nutshell, back in 1993, while climbing K2 he got separated from his party, ended up injured and stranded in a remote, underserved region of Pakistan.  There he discovered a Balti village tribe where the children had to walk several miles, over treacherous mountain trails to the nearest school.  In winter, the trail would be impassible, leaving the children without access to basic education for several months at a time.

After spending weeks among the Balti people, recovering from his injuries, he promised to repay their hospitality and build them a school.  Over the next decade Mortenson would return to Northern Pakistan several times and oversee the construction of over 50 schools across the region.

Since the publication of Mortenson’s story, the details and results have been called into question.  It seems when one person sets out the change the world there are no shortage of others who want to tear him down, but that’s a different post.  The point of this post is how Mortenson learned to build relationships across a religious and cultural divide, not to mention a significant language barrier.

The Balti people do business over tea.  According to one of the village elders that Mortenson worked with, the first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger, the second time you are an honored guest, and the third time you are family.

I’ve been in business for nearly 30 years, the last 10 of which have been in my current capacity.  Before COVID I used to joke that I’ve met with clients and prospects in every coffee shop from here to Deep River, (about 200 kms away) and I have found the Balti theory to be remarkably accurate.  It takes an average of 3 meetings before enough trust has been built to get anything done.  I have also found that each meeting must be approached in its own unique way to maximize your effectiveness and move the relationship forward.  Poor execution at one meeting can seriously damage your chances of getting the to next one and ultimately to the sale.

Here are some of the things I have learned moving relationships forward.  While we can’t meet in coffee shops right now these tips and tricks for execution are still incredibly useful and tend to work just as well in a virtual environment.

The First Cup

“The first time you take tea with the Bakti you are a stranger.”

Likewise, the first time you meet with a prospective client.  It has been my experience that no real business ever gets done in the first meeting.  People don’t do business with strangers.  The purpose of the first meeting is for the prospective client to get to know you.  Start by asking a lot of open-ended questions about their business, their personal life, how they got started, and what their hopes and dreams and plans are.

By asking those questions and letting the prospect talk as much as they want you will gain a ton of information without being aggressive or sounding like a salesperson.  When they start to run out of steam ask a few follow up questions about what they have done to achieve their goals, who they have worked with in the past and most importantly, what their experience has been with individuals similar to you.

That last one is too often overlooked, and it is key in moving out of the stranger pool.  Everyone has a bias or preconceived notion about you and what you offer, even if they won’t admit it.  By asking point blank what their experience and impression has been with people like you, you immediately uncover what that bias is.  Once you know that you can tailor your offering to address their specific needs and concerns.

Now it’s your turn to talk.  Don’t forget, at this point you are still a stranger so don’t be aggressive or say anything that could make the prospect feel uncomfortable.  Repeat back some of the things they have said, affirm their goals and dreams, congratulate them for their accomplishments and acknowledge their concerns.  Then make it clear that you do business differently and that you have a unique approach that can make a significant impact on their goals.

After I have determined the prospect’s main goals and biases, I finish off with one last question that sets the stage for the next meeting.  “If I could show you a way to achieve x without y, would that be a conversation worth having?”  That answer is almost always yes, at that point it’s time to wrap it up and book the next meeting.

It’s important at this point not to pitch a product.  You are still a stranger, by piquing their interest you are on the verge of becoming a welcome guest the next time but you haven’t gained enough trust to ask for a sale.  That comes later.  Go away leaving them wanting more and looking forward to your next meeting.

The Second Cup

“The second time you share tea with a Balti you are an esteemed guest.”

If you did your job in the first meeting, the prospect will want to hear from you again.  When I arrive at the appointed time and place of this second meeting, I sometimes visualize a grand welcome like how you would expect a visiting dignitary or celebrity to be greeted.  I rarely get the literal red-carpet-treatment but it helps to build up my confidence and put me in the right frame of mind, remember, the prospect wants you here, you are an esteemed guest.

In the previous meeting you not only listened to their goals and dreams, you affirmed them.  And then you heard their concerns and gave them hope.  You’ve gone from stranger to welcome guest.  You aren’t yet family, but you potentially hold the keys to a better tomorrow and for that you will be honored.  The stakes are exponentially higher in the second meeting, now you must deliver value.

At the end of the last meeting we left the prospect wanting more by leaving the open question; “If I could show you a way to x without y, would that be a conversation worth having?”   But you haven’t gathered enough details about their unique situation yet so this time I like to bring a full proposal that answers a similar question but is based on a completely different client’s set of details.  I use this as an example to show the kind of work I do for people with similar concerns as the prospect.

By using a different set of details, I accomplish three things in a non-threatening manner:

  1. I show the prospect that they are not alone in their concerns, alleviating any doubts they may have that their issue is, or isn’t a big deal.
  2. I show deep expertise in the subject matter at hand.
  3. I show them that there is a solution.

After walking the prospect through the solution that I used with another client I can then ask for the exact details of their situation.  If I’ve done my job to this point, the prospect will almost always give me everything I need to build a proposal for them.

Once I’ve gathered all the personal details I need, I set a time to come back a third time with their unique proposal.

The Third Cup

“The third time you share tea with a Balti, you are family.”

If you’ve made it this far in the relationship you know a lot of personal details about the prospect, you’ve been invited in and are now family.  In fact, you probably have a more intimate knowledge of certain aspects of their life than some actual family members do.  The trust you have been given is sacred and the care with which you present your solutions must rival that of a doctor laying out a treatment plan or a priest counselling them through a major life event.

Forget about the red-carpet this time.  When I arrive at this meeting I like to visualize standing on holy ground and presenting the prospect with the tools to embark on a sacred journey.  Again, I am rarely treated like Gandalf or some other mystical guru, but the mental exercise helps set my mind on the monumental importance of what I am about to share.   I present the solution with a level of reverence and respect that shines through to the prospect and helps cement my position as the one who holds the key to unlocking their goals and dreams.

It might take a fourth meeting to fill out an application and collect a cheque but if I’ve done my job to this point, validated their goals and dreams, affirmed their concerns and presented appropriate solutions, the sale is all but assured.

 

I’ve presented this process as three neatly planned meetings.  The reality is that it there can often be several months of telephone, email, and other discussions between each of these meetings.  It takes time to build relationships but given enough time, Gandalf always wins.

 

Gentle Offence


Three Keys of Selling Post COVID19

We are now just over a month into the physically distanced world of COVID19.  Having been ordered by public health officials to stay at least 6 feet apart has fundamentally changed the way society operates.  Chances are, we are not going back to the old handshake and cocktail party ways of selling any time soon.

As stock markets around the world reeled, non-essential businesses closed and upwards of a million people lost their jobs in Canada alone (hopefully only temporarily), the entire world went on defence.  We were told to stay home as much as possible, only go out for essential items and stop the spread so that health care workers could have a fighting chance at containing the virus.  Government stepped in with billions of dollars in financial relief for laid off workers and shuttered businesses while essential businesses like grocery stores increased wages and went on a hiring binge to meet demand.

Now, one month in, the tide is slowly starting to turn.  The rate of new infections is slowing, although not yet decreasing.  More and more people are recovering and we’re starting to get the hang of this physical distancing thing.  But there is a dark side too.  Homo Sapiens is a social animal and with governments telling us to expect the reopening of the economy to be a long and drawn out process, people are getting restless.  We aren’t there yet, a pick-up game of basketball, a round of golf or just rollerblading with your family in an abandoned parking lot will still get you a $750 (plus tax) fine.  Opening a non-essential business could cost you $10,000 per day in fines and up to a year in jail.

But the economy will re-open and we have to be ready for a very different world when it does.

This past week, during our weekly virtual team meeting one of the top salespeople in our organization used the term “Gentle Offence” to describe the way in which we will have to pivot our sales approach as a result of this pandemic.  I don’t know if he coined the phrase or had heard it somewhere else, but I thought it was brilliant as it perfectly articulates he way I think sales needs to evolve in the new world.

The way I see it Gentle Offence is just the compassionate and emotionally intelligent approach that people are going to need to hear from salespeople as we all recover from the mentally draining, and emotionally traumatic events of this pandemic.

Gentle Offence consists of three key elements.

1 – Know Your Moment

Now is not the time for a hard sell.  I would argue that there was never a good time for a hard sell but that’s just me.  But this is definitely not the time.

One major car company has been really good at this so far, pivoting their advertising to focus on saying thank you to health care and essential service workers and not mentioning any of their vehicles at all.  Some fast food restaurants have done the same.  You do not want to be the brand that was tone deaf to the cultural moment and continued pitching your non-essential product while people suffer.  Marie Antoinette did that, and it didn’t end well for her, don’t be like Marie Antoinette.

It is enough right now to express gratitude and offer support but do not pitch products.  People have long memories when it comes to how you make them feel.  In a sense we are in a collective state of worry and mourning, be a source of comfort and compassion not additional pressure to consume and perform, people will remember that and reward you for it later.

2 – Let The Client Lead

A good psychotherapist never tells a patient what to think, rather they help the patient interpret their thoughts and adjust their behaviours for a more consistent outcome.  In the post COVID world salespeople are going to need to become a bit more like psychotherapists helping their clients interpret and express their needs and find ways to better fulfill them.  If that means guiding potential clients away from your product or service, so be it, you can’t be all things for all people.  The job of the salesperson is to fulfill a need, not manufacture one.

Advertising was invented to create dissatisfaction with the status quo and manufacture desire.  This has led society in an unhealthy pursuit of materialism and created a world of interpersonal comparison termed “keeping up with the Joneses”.  COVID19 has reminded us that the Joneses are just as vulnerable as the rest of us and what we want and what we need are two very different things.

Letting the client lead means helping the client flesh out their needs and desires and providing solutions to their problems.  It takes patience, kindness, compassion and deep knowledge of the issues and potential solutions.

3 – Bring Your ‘A’ Game

If the new world is going to be all about compassion, empathy and sensitivity then closing the deal is going to require a lot more knowledge of both product and application.  The salesperson is going to need to be better prepared than ever before, know more about their product and understand more about how it addresses the client’s specific need.  It’s no longer going to be enough to pitch a product by focusing on features and benefits, you are going to have to paint a picture of life after the purchase that jives with the picture the client painted for you previously.  And you are going to have to do it better than anyone else.

 

So, there you have it.  I believe playing Gentle Offence is going to be the new way of selling post COVID19 and in many sectors it has already started.  It’s about compassion, empathy, wisdom, and situational understanding.  How do you think sales will change in the new world?  Send me your interpretation in the comments below.

The People Behind The Numbers


Keeping Customers Front and Centre in All You Do

It’s happened to all of us.

You call your bank, internet service provider, electric company or any number of companies you do business with.  You have a simple request, maybe something a bit out of the ordinary but nothing that should require executive level approval.  Maybe you have a question about your bill or would like to make a minor change to your account settings.

You are greeted by a pre-recorded message, press one for English, two for French, three of Spanish, four for Pig Latin.  Please enter your account number, if you are calling about X,Y or Z press 1,2 or 3, etc.  This can go on for several minutes.  Eventually you get placed in a queue to speak with a representative.

The Muzak starts.

5-10-15-20 minutes pass.  Finally, when you start to think that if you hear one more saxophone rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump” you will literally vomit, someone picks up the phone.

There ensues a game of 20 questions, most of which you have already entered in the automated system; name, address, account number, dog’s name, what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday.  Then the operative question; “How can I help you today?”

You make your request.  There is a pause.  You think you hear some clicking noises as the representative types away and points their mouse at things.  Another pause.  “I’m sorry Mr. So and So (pronounced wrong, even though you’ve told them your name at least three times) it appears as though I’m not authorized to make that change today.”

Confused you make your request again, “But I just need you to…”  “Yes, I understand but for that I need to transfer you to another department, please hold.”

More Muzak.

That damn saxophone again!  You begin to feel queasy and hang up.

Sound familiar?

At various points throughout my adult life I have been on both sides of that call.  To be fair, call center workers are among the lowest wage, least appreciated and powerless employees at any organization.  This is a shame as they tend also to be the only people who interact directly with customers.  They are the literal face, or voice, of the company and yet they have no power.  If the company could replace all their call center people with automated systems they would, that’s what the “press 1 for X” labyrinth that precedes the call is all about.  It’s there to weed out the simplest requests and save their expensive people for the hard stuff, that they usually aren’t authorized to do anyway, so they take notes and kick your request up the chain to a higher paid representative for a decision.

Good customer service costs money.  First and foremost, it requires training and a level of trust and empowerment at the call center level that few companies are willing to give.  Instead they put in policies and procedures that take decision making power away from people and service the lowest common denominator.  Try to go outside the lines and you get shut down.

But when dealing with the public there is no common denominator.  Every customer is unique, and every situation requires good judgement and finesse. Training staff for these things isn’t easy but it is worth it.

People are not account numbers.  They are a complicated set of needs, emotions, histories, plans and goals.  Treat people as such and you engender good vibes, loyalty and respect that will pay dividends for years.  Shunt them into endless queues and sort them into ever smaller boxes of set parameters and watch them run for the nearest exit.

Next time you get caught in call center hell remember two things.  First, if you get a person at all, they probably can’t help you, just let them take their notes and have them push your request up the chain.  Second, remember that as much as you want to be treated like a real person, so do they, don’t be a dick about it.

What’s Next?


If you have ever read about training for U.S. Navy SEALs or other elite military units, you are probably familiar with the advice that is given to those entering basic training: “Don’t look ahead: simply focus on the task at hand.” Sounds like process, right? – Matt Dixon; The Well-Built Triathlete, Turning Potential into Performance

At this point in the New Year everyone is still talking about New Year’s Resolutions and making goal setting a priority. But somewhere in the hustle and bustle of everyday life a huge percentage of people are going to fail at their goals and simply give up. You might be doing great so far but once the kids go back to school and life goes back to “normal” those changes you promised to make to your eating and spending habits are going to start getting harder.

According to the Huffington Post only 8% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions with most falling off the wagon within the first 3 weeks. People who set both short and longer-term goals at other times throughout the year tend not to fair much better.

The problem seems lie in the area of planning and the prevalence of an all or nothing attitude. Personally, I want to try and cut down on the carbohydrates and sugar in my diet, but it was my neighbor’s birthday yesterday and he insisted that I eat a piece of his double chocolate birthday cake. Well, there goes the New Year’s Resolution, I may as well forget it!

A better approach is to take the advice of the Navy SEALs, just focus on the task at hand, or look at the famous 12 step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and take it one day at a time. Hardly anybody hits a home run in their first at bat, loses 20lbs in a week or wins an Oscar the first time they step in front of a camera. Life is a process and incremental change is far more sustainable than going for the big splash all or nothing game changer.

To say that 2018 was a challenging year for my business would be an understatement. One of my stated goals was to increase sales 20%. Sales decreased, and I missed my goal by a whopping 37%. There were lots of things that went wrong last year that contributed to this huge miss but at the end of the day a lot of it had to do with my inability to hit the smaller, day to day markers that would have led to a better chance of success. I lost focus on the task at hand.

Goal setting is not the problem. Stephen Covey famously told us to begin with the end in mind, that’s goal setting but he also told us to put first things first, break-down each task to a series of simple steps and just keep doing the next thing.

So, before you give up on your New Year’s Resolutions or say that your goals are unrealistic or just too hard, take a breath. Achieving your goals is a process, break it down and ask yourself – what’s next?

Branding 101


5 Steps to Cultivating and Promoting Your Personal Brand

“We are all CEOs of our own companies:  Me Inc.  To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” – Tom Peters

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal branding.  In today’s business world, with so much happening on-line, effective communication of our brand is the only thing we take with us into every meeting and send out into the world ahead of us through our advertising and on-line presence.

When I transitioned from the music business into the world of personal finance I started to hear a lot about personal branding.  Having cut my teeth in the early 90s and developed a brand and processes in the old world of rolodexes and face to face networking, I didn’t quite get it at first.  I thought branding was just another word for marketing, I thought it was all logo design and catchy slogans.  That is until I heard Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos give his definition of branding:

“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It’s the impression you leave on people.  The first thing they think about when they hear your name.  It’s the trail of bread crumbs you leave behind in every interaction that either resonates with people, or it doesn’t.  Most importantly, it’s the reputation that both follows and proceeds you everywhere you go.

In today’s business world, so profoundly driven by social media, your brand is your life.  Cultivate a good one and your success is all but assured before you even enter the room.  Neglect your brand or let it get tarnished and you’ll be fighting an up-hill battle against unseen forces and opinions that you can’t control.

So here are the five steps I’ve discovered to cultivating and promoting your personal brand.

Step One –  Pick a compelling word or short phrase that you want people to remember about you after you leave the room.

Like Jeff Bezos says, what people say about you when you aren’t there is your brand. While you can’t control what people think you can plant seeds through your words and actions that will help people come to the desired conclusions about you that will form your brand.

For me, that phrase is Next Level Customer Service.  Everything I do and say is carefully considered in terms of how it will reflect my commitment to serve my customers.  I know that there are people in my business who are smarter than me, have better pricing that I do and have better systems that are easier to use than mine.  My goal therefore, in every interaction is to convince you that no one will service your needs better than I will.

Step Two – Develop a brand statement.

When I first started in business everyone talked about the need to have a “30 second commercial” or “Elevator Pitch”.  This is a description of who you are and how you service customers that can be delivered in 30 seconds or less, or in the time it takes to ride up a couple of floors in an elevator.  In the old world of face to face networking that’s what worked.  But in today’s world, you don’t have 30 seconds.

Now-a-days your brand statement needs to be tweetable, even hashtagable.  Something that you can drop into a conversation, a text message or facebook comment in 140 characters or less.  And it needs to be fluid, so that you can adapt it to each unique situation.

My current brand statement goes something like this: I am committed to providing “Next Level” Customer Service to help my clients achieve their financial goals and dreams.  If I have room I might add a hashtag or two, #nextlevel, #customerservice, #levelup.

The brand statement needs to say three things; who you are, what you do, and who you serve.  Who am I?  I am committed, and a person who is defined by this commitment.  What do I do?  I provide extreme customer service beyond anything you’ve ever experienced from a financial advisor before.  Who do I serve?  I serve my clients who are probably just like you, trying to achieve some financial goal.

Step Three – Super charge your brand with a great story (or several).

Think of a few stories that tell who you are, where you came from and how you came to be this way.

Depending on the context I tell stories that describe how much I hate bad service, like the time I walked out of a jewellery store after being ignored by two clerks that seemed more interested in catching up on each other’s weekend plans than helping me buy a watch battery.  Or I’ll tell stories about how hard I work to serve my clients, like the time I drove clear across town, in rush hour, to meet an injured client who couldn’t make it to our meeting.

To really drive the point home though I will then ask people to tell me stories of their customer service frustrations and relate stories back to them of how I have handled similar situations differently.  By doing this I make it real and help them see what Next Level Customer Service could look like for them.

Step Four –  Distribute your brand.

Repeat your statement and tell your stories every chance you get.  Make it part of your LinkedIn headline, your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram bios.  Comment on other people’s social media feeds in the context of your brand.  Blog about it like I’m doing now.

Be constantly talking about the things that matter to your brand to the people who need hear it (your target audience).  As my friend Tim Day once said, you need to become a one note song.  If you aren’t talking about your brand people will talk about something else and that something else will become your brand.

Step Five – Reinforce your brand.

You’ve got to live it.  Imagine yourself as a walking billboard for your brand.  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you are your brand.  If you let people form a different opinion about you that will become your brand in their minds so even when you aren’t “working” you are still branding.

I think constantly about how Next Level Customer Service projects itself in every situation.  How I dress, how I walk into a room, how I speak to people, even how I walk through the grocery store on a Saturday morning.  Next Level Customer Service dresses neatly, but not flashy, holds the door open for others, speaks with respect and helps little old ladies get things off the top shelf, because that’s my brand – twenty-four hours a day.

 

So, there you have it, five steps to cultivating and promoting your personal brand.  Robert Kiyosaki, the author and founder of The Rich Dad Company, says it this way:

If you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity.

Nobody wants to be a commodity.  Commodities are bottom feeders that can only compete on price.  Being a commodity is a race to the bottom.  Next Level Customer Service is not the cheapest option, but if you care about customer service, it’s the only option.

Do you have a personal brand?  (Trick question, you already know that you do.)  The real question is, did you cultivate it, or did you just let it happen?  Tell me about it in the comments below and if you feel comfortable doing so, send me your personal branding statement, I’d love to read it.

The Day I Realize, I’m Dumb!


We left off last time talking about the 5 Whys process for turning failure into success.  As we get close to the end of the year I’ve started using the 5 Whys to analyze my past successes and failures and make plans for 2018.

I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion.

When I look at some of my biggest failures from this past year.  The lost deals, the solid prospects that the just didn’t convert, the opportunities that withered on the vine and the clients that just outright left, the answer to the 5th why is a variation of the same thing.

“I was dumb!”

That sounds trite, but it’s accurate.

More to the point, I was Emotionally Unintelligent.

In every instance of failure that I analyzed I came to the same conclusion.  I one way or another I was out of sync with my client or prospect and failed to recognize what truly mattered to them.  I made the sales process all about product and forgot about the client’s underlying emotional needs.  And what’s worse, as the prospect pulled away I made their failure to move forward all about me and my failure to communicate the benefits of the product.  As deals started to spin away from me I doubled down on a strategy that wasn’t working and further alienated the prospect.

Emotional Intelligence has been defined by Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of the best selling “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” as,

your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

The chart to the right is a typical four quadrant diagram that is popular with psychologists in analyzing behavior.  In this diagram we see the four core skills of Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management aligned with perception; what I see and reaction; what I do.  These skills are further aligned with personal and social competency.

In my failures I tend to be severely lacking in the perception side of the diagram, I don’t see how people are reacting to what I am doing and therefore am unable to adjust my behavior in a way that makes people comfortable moving forward in relationship with me.  If I were to place myself as a dot on the diagram I would be in the top right corner, very strong in Self-Management, I work hard and am disciplined.  I’m very task oriented, my mantra could be that the best kind of To-Do List is a Done List.  But I am extremely lacking in Social Awareness.   In my desire to get things done I tend to push people aside.

My greatest failure of 2017 was with a fast-growing company that I had the opportunity to work with on setting up a Group Benefits program.  I am met with the prospect and immediately hit it off with one of the co-owners.  We were having a great time, talking about business, telling jokes and swapping stories about our past business successes and failures.

Everything was going great.

Then my prospect took me into his partner’s office to say hello.  His partner was in another meeting, but we interrupted because we thought what we had was more important.  To be fair – I didn’t interrupt the meeting, my prospect did and that’s not what I believe caused the problem.

I was introduced around the room as “The Group Benefits Guy”, and while there were other people in the room I immediately forgot their names and laser focused my attention on the business partner.  Looking back at it now I realize that in that moment I went from the fun-loving Group Benefits Guy who was going to help this company move it’s HR process to the next level to that jerky salesman who only cares about people who are in a position of power.  It took a few more weeks but I truly believe that the opportunity was lost in that moment.

A few weeks later the prospect told me that they were pretty much ready to go with the Group Benefits plan, all we had to do was confirm with the partner.  I never heard from the company again.  My follow up messages went unanswered and within a few more months I found out that they had signed up with a competitor.

In doing my 5 Why’s analysis of that failure I concluded that at the critical moment, when I needed to show that I was in tune with the culture of the organization and took their people’s best interests seriously, I failed.  I was emotionally dumb.  To this day I still don’t remember the names of the other people in the room.  For a time, I even forgot the partner’s name and just referred to him in an email as “your partner”.

Why am telling you all this?

Studies have shown that people of average intelligence out-perform those with higher intelligence nearly 70% of the time.  The difference isn’t in classic measures of intelligence.  It’s in how we interact with each other.  Top performers have a higher emotional intelligence and can align their Personal Competencies with their Social Competencies and their perception with their actions.  The closer to the center of that four quadrant diagram you can hang out, the more successful you will be.

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions.  I prefer to make course corrections as I become aware of a need and this one is huge.  If I were to make a New Year’s Resolution for 2018 it would be this – To become more Emotionally Intelligent, get better at truly seeing people and working to aligning my actions with their needs.

“Just Like You…”


Continuing where I left off last week in discussing my Elevator Pitch for new prospects.  Once I’ve successfully converted a prospect to a client or decided that there is no real opportunity there the next step is to ask for referrals.  I’m always on the lookout for new clients and where better to find them than through the endorsement of people I have already worked for and who are presumably happy with the service I provide?

I start by saying something like this;

“As you know I’m actively working to expand my practice.  Now that you know first-hand the way I work perhaps you can help me find more clients just like you who recognize the importance of protecting their loved ones and know the value of professional advice.  Who do you know that I should be talking to?”

The exact wording of what I say, when and how I say it during my conversations varies but there are three elements (highlighted) that never change.

Just Like You…

Gratitude and a little bit of flattery never hurts especially when you are asking for something.  By telling a client that I want to work with people just like them I am expressing thanks and giving them an ego boost at the same time.  I am saying that you fit the profile of my ideal client, you are special, I wish I could clone you and spend the rest of my life working only for you.  But alas that’s not possible so who else do you know that you would be proud to bring in to our exclusive little club?

One of Dale Carnegie’s famous tips from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is to start with a complement.  Telling a client that I want to work with more people like them certainly fits that formula.

Protect Their Loved Ones…

One of the reasons why Life Insurance and Investment products can be so hard to sell is that at the end of the day, they aren’t really for you.  At best, in the case of a retirement plan they are for a future version of you and in the case of Life Insurance they are for the people closest to you but they are never truly for you in the here and now.

Legendary Life Insurance agent George Sigurdson of London Life and author of the book, “In Search of Friends; A Guide to Prospecting” says –

                “Life Insurance is a product bought with love and paid for with healthy choices.”

By telling clients I’m looking for people who want to protect their loved ones I’m reinforcing the flattery of the first statement by saying I see that in you and helping them fill in the picture in their mind of who else would be a good fit for me.  Another way of saying it is that I want to work with people who love their families enough to sacrifice a little bit of their cashflow to make sure they are going to be okay.

My friend Bruce told me a story once about driving on the Autobahn in Germany.  The first time he got behind the wheel he was excited to see just how fast he could drive but after a few minutes his wife leaned over and whispered to him, “Remember – you love your family.”  Suddenly it was no longer about how fast he could drive, it became more about safely getting to their destination with his is wife and their three young girls in the back seat.  He sacrificed his selfish desire to drive fast for the safety and security of the people he loves the most.

At the end of the day that’s what Life Insurance and Investing are all about.  I want to work with people who get that.

The Value of Professional Advice

Admittedly this last point can back fire if I haven’t laid the ground work for it in the previous two statements.  It basically says – “You are not the professional, I am.”

I’m poking at your ego a bit.  But by know you’re either already a client or I’ve determined that you aren’t likely to become one in the short term.  A little dig can serve to either snap you back into the conversation or further enhance the warm and fuzzy feelings I’ve evoked by reminding you how great you are for buying Life Insurance or starting an Investment plan.

The Investment Funds Institute of Canada (IFIC) has determined through numerous studies that people who work with a financial security advisor, on average, have up to four times more investable assets than those don’t.  Professional advice is clearly valuable to those who care to seek it out.  Similar studies have shown that the main reason people don’t seek out professional advice is a perception that it is too expensive or too complicated and that they are not sophisticated enough to benefit from it.  Lastly, many people don’t adhere to the need for professional advice because they have an unrealistic perception of their own ability to go it alone.

By telling people that I want to work with those who value professional advice I’m reinforcing the previous points, you’re great, you get this, congratulations on your good decision-making ability.  While at the same time reminding you that this is not too expensive or complicated.  I’m also drawing a line in the sand and making it clear the type of person I don’t want to work with.  If you think you can go it alone, without the help of a professional, good luck with that.

The world’s greatest philosopher Jesus of Nazareth said it best:

                “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Luke 5:31

In other words, if you think you’re okay, I’m not here for you.

So that’s my referral pitch.  It is designed to help reinforce in my clients and prospects a sense of their own worth to me and my practice and frame in their mind a specific picture of the people in their lives that I think I can help.  When I finally ask the question “who do know that I should be talking to?” a specific someone immediately pops to mind.

Who just popped into your mind?  Let me know – I’d be happy to meet them.

Lauren C Sheil is a Serial Entrepreneur and Financial Security Advisor.  He helps people live life to the fullest along the way teaching them to Eliminate Debt, Build Wealth and Leave a Legacy.  Write to themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com 

 

You’re doing it wrong!


Living Life and Growing Your Business on Your Terms

Have you ever received unsolicited advice?

You know the kind I’m talking about. One of your “friends” takes it upon themselves to tell you how you’re screwing up your life. And if you would just make one or two “minor” changes you would be so much better off.

This advice is usually sincere. Your friends are probably genuinely worried about you. When they look at your life they likely see the struggles you go through, how hard you work for seemingly little return, the heartache, the sleepless nights, you name it. Your friends see all the stress and they are genuinely worried about you.

If you’d just give up on your dream and take a job with a steady paycheque. Or maybe just slow it down a bit and relegate your business aspirations to weekends and evenings, maybe you’d be better off. You’d have more money, less stress and live longer.

Or so they think.

But make no mistake it’s never really about you.

It’s about how they feel when they are around you. Maybe they feel sorry for you – but that’s not about you, it’s about them. Maybe they feel guilty for their own success in the face of your seeming failure – but that’s not about you either, it’s still all about them. And maybe they feel envy and jealousy because they see the huge potential for your success and wish they had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. But you guessed it, that’s not about you either.

The fact is, no one can give you advice on what you need to do to be successful. Sure there are some general principles but they are ultimately the same whether you work for a boss or not. At the end of the day nobody knows better than you what it will take for you to be successful. Nobody knows your business better than you. Nobody works harder than you. Nobody cares more than you.

So stop listening to everyone else. That’s what you’re doing wrong.

Entrepreneurship is lonely. And for the most part the pay sucks. Work your ass off for 5, maybe 10 years or even more and maybe, just maybe you’ll become so successful you’ll forget about the years of struggle that led up it.

Maybe not.

You have to be prepared to live like no one else, so that later you can live like no one else.

That’s my best unsolicited advice.  Take it or leave it.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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3 Lessons From the Hallway – Advisor Summit 2015


hallwaycrowdI just spent the last 3 days at a conference for Financial Advisors from all across the country. The content taught from the dais during various sessions was great but it paled in comparison to the wisdom gleaned just by rubbing shoulders with men and women who have been in the business for decades. I’m a relative newbie to the whole world of financial planning, just 4 years in but as one fellow newbie put it, “this room is full of legends”. After the first day I decided that attending conference sessions was merely a secondary distraction, something to do between the all important networking that happened in the halls outside.

So I started to approach these legends, introduce myself and ask them one question. “When I get back to the office on Monday morning, what do I need to start doing immediately that will ensure that I am back here not only next year but in 20, 30 or even 50 years from now?”

The following are 3 of my favourite responses.

1 – Know your purpose and demonstrate your value, (from 33 years in the business).  

This came from a regional manager who has not only developed a loyal client base but has been involved in training and developing financial advisors for most of his career. I’m a big believer in the importance of mission statements and that closely mirrors the idea of knowing your purpose. But demonstrating value is a bit harder. What that comes down to, according to this legend isn’t about you, it’s about showing your client what you can do for them. Rick Warren, in the first line of the Purpose Driven Life said it best; “It’s not about you.” It’s about what you can do for others.

2 – Ask good questions and let the answers lead you where the client needs to go, (from 53 years in the business).

The man who told me this started in the financial services business at 34 and is still working today at the age of 87! Oh how I would love to be as vibrant, healthy and engaging as he is at that age. His response came after he asked me a series of increasingly personal questions. How old are you? Are you married? Do you have kids? What did you do before you started in this business? Are your parents still living? What did your Dad do? Finally leading me to a discussion of what kind of insurance I currently hold and why I bought it. He then got a sly smile on his face and asked me why I had answered all of those personal questions that under normal circumstances would seem a bit off putting?  I laughed and said I see what you’re doing, you seem genuinely interested and sincere, and he was, oh that’s GOLD!

3 – Do What’s Right for the Client, (from 31 years in the business).

After making one of his first sales over 30 years ago this person’s manager noticed that as he drove away from the client’s home he was very quiet and appeared to be working something out in his mind. The Manager looked at him as said, “stop doing that.” Doing what? “You’re mentally calculating how much commission you just made aren’t you?” This goes back to the first one, it’s not about you.  If you concentrate on doing the things that are solely in the best interest of the client the commission will take care of itself, even if you don’t say anything, clients can tell when you’re in it for yourself and not them.  Stay focused on the client and you will develop loyalty for life.

After 23 years in business myself, the last 4 in this capacity, I know all of these lessons to be true. I’ve seen them play out time and time again across all lines of business.  It’s about humility, respect and genuine honesty. Those are the traits that make great salespeople and business leaders. You don’t have to be an extrovert or an introvert you just have to be true to your purpose, ask great questions and do what’s right.

For more information on The Meekonomics Project and our mission (purpose) to help people manage money better write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

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