Three ways to use the proper power of persuasion

shutterstock_224224045

“I don’t need to persuade anyone.  The quality of what I do is self-evident”

So runs the mantra for a number of professional specialists we have met. Somehow, the world (which includes clients and prospects who may not be able to experience the intangibility of what they offer) will see the light. Of course, most often they don’t.

Either this, or they associate persuasion with a stereotypical vision of the “pushy” sales man or woman – and may then try to “sell” by talking endlessly about themselves or their firm. Neither attitude works or is representative of the proper power of persuasion. This is an art that can be learnt, and which has some underlying basic principles: here are three of them.

Give before you get  A tough one this, in that it involves unravelling years of conditioning for those who have had it drummed into them that hours and minutes are ALWAYS TO BE CHARGED FOR. Most people want to return a favour, so if you give them something they will usually want to give something back. We have heard many variations on this theme when trying to attract new clients. “For the trial piece of work, deliberately, we gave them more than we were paid for; they recognised it, liked our attitude, and they are now a significant and very profitable client 10 years on!”.

Three more Ps  This is about Positive Peer Pressure. Those who do business with the public sector see the power of this one. Some people (in fact, many professionals) are better convinced to do something if others are seen doing it. The more local authorities that you work or have worked for, the more powerful appears your case. And in the private sector, if the firm’s name is associated with successful industry authorities (e.g. market leaders), then you can get a double whammy.

Seek out common ground  People do more business with those they feel they like. A large part of such liking is about the amount of common ground that is established between them. Successful professionals know this: which is why golf, cricket, rugby, football etc. are such common pursuits. Sadly, many do not venture outside of these, their own obvious likes. Successful networkers know that it is possible to establish common ground with just about anyone. But it needs this realisation and then practice to achieve.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

Three tips to make your sector plans work better

shutterstock_230282092

Most professional firms have a marketing and BD approach focused on business sectors – but are they getting the best out of them? Here are three things that could help.

Business sectors are ‘de rigueur’ with firms proclaiming their expertise in and focus on clients or prospects who inhabit them. Plans are written, budgets committed, time allocated and money expended in furthering the collective ambition to serve and grow. If this is not done well, much can be (and is) wasted. From experience of being asked to take a long hard look at whether value is being delivered, these are the ‘basics’ to get right.

Define properly  If your firm has a proliferation of sector groups to serve, this is probably not happening. With a dozen or more such groups it is extremely unlikely that real benefit will be delivered. For example, having ‘groups’ that comprise only a few organisations is daft from so many viewpoints – not least the time wasted in bringing so many (expensive) people together to meet regularly. Control sector proliferation so that effort and budgets focus and concentrate for maximum impact.

Analyse rigorously: inside and out  The right sector strategy stands or falls on the quality of data and interpretation of what is happening in each market vs. the firm’s true competitive position. Both insights are achieved via thorough research and intelligent analysis. In truth, most professionals (and some marketeers) are not highly experienced in doing this. So you can end up with sector plans that are either free of any real examination (resulting in a schedule of unjustified and wasteful activity). Or they are so stuffed with reams of unfiltered, uncritiqued data that they provide an equal lack of perception and direction……but do make good door-stops.

Organise sensibly  Choose sound, properly representative sector teams and leaders so that the right people make their contributions. If you don’t, the groups end up being inefficiently run, sometimes as mouthpieces for a few “influential” individuals or stuffed with representatives of one department or practice area.

James Newberry runs People Scope, a consultancy, training and coaching firm working with lawyers, accountants and other technical specialists to help them operate successfully outside of their comfort zones. http://www.peoplescope.com.

 

Three rules for networking excellence

shutterstock_210974194

If there is one subject guaranteed to get the business development discussion juices flowing, then that is networking. Given that much of a typical firm’s promotional focus can be devoted to this activity, we are not surprised. Unfortunately, it remains a source of frustration to many. If only they could do it better, then we might gain more new clients. If only the professionals wouldn’t see it as a peripheral activity not worthy of much effort. If only, we could even get them all to turn up on time!  Here are three simple questions to ask/things to remember that can help develop your excellence.

Why am I here?  An existential question related to networking. Sadly, many professionals we come across never feel any of its angst – and that’s the problem. If they did, they might think harder about the time they waste at expensively-staged seminars catching up on office gossip or just looking vacant or lost. Good networkers know why they are there (nine times out of 10 to make contact with prospective clients or contacts) and act upon it; good networking firms drum this into their professionals, train them, and give them measurable aims to achieve.

Do they know about us?  One of the biggest barriers to excellence in a room full of people you don’t know is your knowledge – or rather the lack of it – about your own organisation!  As firms get more and more specialised, so diminishes the ability of their people to talk (and show an interest in things) outside of their own specialist box. So choose two types for your front-line networking teams: those with a broad enough knowledge of what you do to talk credibly (without being an in-depth expert), and/or those with enough knowledge of “the man or woman who can” to allow them easily to refer a prospect.

Trust me, I’m an…..accountant, lawyer, surveyor, consultant, attorney, engineer whatever. And we wonder why no-one finds us interesting!  The best networkers that we have met put real thought into how they are going to make a vital first impression, before they get in the room. They make what they do sound interesting, even intriguing, because they know that they have only a few seconds in which to make an impact.

James Newberry is a coach and trainer who helps professionals do more business.  Have a look at http://www.peoplescope.com to know more.

Three “becauses” that stifle selling

shutterstock_215168539

“We’ve got all these services…why can’t we sell more of them?”

This continues to be the ‘cri de coeur’ of many senior partners or directors in professional firms (and indeed much more widely).  Instead of being a revenue and profit multiplier, the inability of their professionals to spot and capitalise on opportunities to gain more work for colleagues – even from satisfied existing clients – has ruined the reasonable pretensions of many a good business plan.

Why?  Well, it comes down to some fundamental ‘becauses’ that can win the day if not addressed.  Here are three of the big ones and some food for thought and action if they are to be overcome successfully.

Because they don’t ask  This is a classic manifestation at networking events.  Professionals talk to (or rather at) prospects or contacts, seemingly unable to move outside their own narrow specialism – because they don’t feel confident or equipped to ask the right questions.

To get them client-curious usually requires a three-pillared approach: “upknowledging” so that they understand enough about what other departments do; “upskilling” to give them the selling tools to engage contacts without boring or being a put-off; and “upmotivating” to provide the encouragement and stimulus that helps overcome reticence: which leads us directly to…

Because they aren’t rewarded  “It was my contact, I had done all the ground work, but the partner just muscled in at the end, took it over…..and claimed it!”

Yes, this sort of thing should not happen….but it does and is corrosive because it stifles exploitation of the huge contact base and pool of work available to firms from the managers, associates and others who operate below senior level.

Fundamentally, it’s a leadership issue for partners and directors who have to accept that their job is to facilitate the growth of their business through others as much as themselves: no egos or personal fiefdoms.  That means encouraging and publicly praising the selling efforts and achievements of the people they manage.  It is also a firm-wide issue to ensure that the reward systems for cross selling at all levels are in place, work effectively for everyone, and are not exploited detrimentally: which leads us in turn to……

Because it’s not on the agenda ….systemic issues.  Cross selling success (or the lack of it) is one of the best measures of how open your firm’s culture really is.  It requires trust in colleagues and more leadership at all levels of seniority – both to support best practice and be uncompromising when it comes to addressing negative or self-seeking behaviours.

Without such bravery, the “becauses” will be victorious.  Do they succeed in your firm?

How to stand out in an “all the same” world

shutterstock_217491616

“There is absolutely no differentiation in the market at all – you all look the same”*
(*Christopher Digby-Bell, quoted in Legal Week, June 1 2015)

Post-2008, competition in most branches of the professions has never been hotter.  There is no shortage of other providers vying for your clients’ business: it can be difficult to choose from the service offerings and claims made.  You have got to be stand-out to win.  Unfortunately not enough are it seems.  So time for three things to consider that can help you to be singular and make the most positive impact.

Point of Difference…what’s yours?

“I’m a tax adviser….corporate lawyer…..architect….engineer etc.”   A lot of professionals we meet are PoD-free zones.  They find it almost impossible to articulate what their Point of Difference is…what makes them beneficially and attractively different to those who share their basic nomenclature.  So they all tend to look and sound the same to clients.

Why?  For some it’s about “not blowing your own trumpet” as they perceive it; for others it’s the “better mouse trap” syndrome (surely the world will naturally beat a path to the door of my expertise?) or an inability to recognise what they do that is of real value to others.

Almost everyone we have ever met has a PoD in them somewhere.  They just need help in thinking/talking it through, and expressing it punchily in ways that are most relevant to those they seek to attract.

You gotta tell AND show

“You have got to be more business savvy.  When you say you know and understand my business what I want to hear is not only do you understand it but you have real experience of it” (ibid.)

Claims are everywhere – but what clients most often want is EVIDENCE of experience.  Despite their professed focus on the E word (lawyers especially), many professionals are singularly averse when it comes to providing it to clients (“what if I get it wrong/breach confidentiality” etc. etc.).    All it takes is a relevant story told confidently and convincingly (What did they need?  What did you do?  What was achieved? How did you make a difference?).

It’s simple.  Just ditch the excuses and do it.  You will stand out.

 The one where the talk was actually walked…

This is a true story about making a difference and the positive impact gained from not being the same.

Two firms were involved in a pitch to a potential client.  Their Points of Parity (service attributes shared with each other) were equal in number and type.  Both promised outstanding client service and speed of response.  Both produced attractive documents and convincing presentations with real examples of their experience.  During the presentation dialogues, some interesting and unresolved issues were raised by the prospect with both firms.

So who won the day?  Back at their offices, the partners of one firm breathed a collective sigh of relief for their considerable efforts, reviewed their performance and waited for a decision – which they lost.  The other, equally-taxed firm went away and, within two hours, had emailed their advice on the unresolved issues to the client – and they won.

By being the values they claimed to espouse, they were different…and victorious.

Don’t whimper! How to make the right impact

shutterstock_200737037

“This is the way the pitch starts…This is the way the speech ends…Not with a bang but a whimper” (apologies to T. S Eliot)

We get to watch a lot of presenters in action.   And a lot of whimpering.  Presentations that limp into life and stagger along, only to fizzle out leaving no impression behind apart from relief all round.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Here are three tips to give yourself some bang when you’re next asked to step up.

ENERGISE!  No-one gets to go anywhere in ‘Star Trek’ without the transporter.  Every presenter needs their own transporter.  It starts not with a piece of kit but a realisation.  You are responsible for generating all the energy in the room.  Not the audience.  Not the elegance of your content or the splendour of your Powerpoint slides.  You.  This means that a presentation is not a conversation.  Many wish and believe that it should be a cosy chat, act accordingly…and then are surprised when they lack impact.

To perform well, you need to be BIGGER in voice and body to provide that room-filling energy boost.  If it works, the audience will start to contribute their own energy.

If you are someone who is not comfortable “being bigger”, then learn how to do it from an expert.  It can be done and will be worth the investment.

Start (with a bang)…. “This morning ladies and gentlemen I am going to tell you about…” No!  Stop!  The start of a speech or presentation is a vital point – not to be wasted.  You have to get your audience’s attention.  Pull their thoughts away from wherever they are as they sit there.  So make it special.  Tell them a relevant story or anecdote – make it personal if you can.  Give them an ear-catching factoid or opinion.  Give them YOU, not just bland words and phrases, and they will listen.

Finish (with a bang)…. “and so that finishes my look at making widgets.  There is more coffee and tea…”  No! Stop!  Don’t waste the end.  It should be the culmination, the high mark, the pinnacle of your pitch or argument.  Make it so.  They will remember it more than anything else so be challenging, controversial, personal or funny (that doesn’t mean joke-telling).  Keep it simple and give them a ‘call to action’.

All delivered with energy.

Business Development Resolutions Part 2

Last time it was about getting the picture, a mentor or a buddy. There are three more resolutions that will build on this good work to help create a tide of success for you or your professionals’ business development efforts over the coming months. These are not complicated things but, if they are missing, the firm’s individual/collective success and achievement can be oh-too-easily compromised.

Get proactive
“I have a good reputation with the clients/partners who have the gift of work. They know where I am”
This is the better mousetrap fallacy as applied by some practitioners. In this mind-set, believing that they have a better professional gizmo than their neighbours is sufficient for the world to beat a path to their door. Except it won’t be and it doesn’t – as some have found to their cost particularly in the leaner times of the past five years.

Part of this problem is about conditioning. Lawyers, accountants, and other experts can grow up in their firms only ever being fed work and then measured on how well they complete it. By the time they are deemed to be mature, it’s a big ask to then overlay the bit that says “I must now go and win my own”. (NB This is often the point at which the mentors or coaches mentioned in Part 1 can become useful). So early exposure to the skills, practice of, and responsibility for work-winning is vital.

But ultimately, it comes down to a simple realisation for everyone. Assume nothing about what your clients are thinking or about the self-perceived excellence of your mousetrap. Proactivity in finding and delivering ongoing ways to engage with them is the key, particularly with the proliferation of communication media now available to all of us. Plan it and then do it.

Build momentum
So for a number of professionals, BD is not perceptibly a primary business function. If it is treated as a ‘nice to do’, the consequences for achievement and results are usually serious. Witness the plans and activity being happily implemented from Tip 1 by Practitioner A that are dropped the moment a new significant piece of work comes in, only to be taken up again perhaps months later, if at all.

Disappearing off the grid thus, it becomes extremely difficult to build any sort of momentum with clients and contacts that will deliver a stream of new future work opportunities. The solution is partly a management one: that means supervising partners or department heads delivering on their leadership remit by setting specific agendas for Practitioner A and other individuals for whom they are responsible, reviewing progress regularly against what was agreed, and providing guidance, encouragement, or sanctions as appropriate. But it is also about individuals themselves recognising their overweening deal focus (often not easy so more guidance required here) and then applying coping strategies to deal with it…

Take it bite-size
The boom/bust nature of business development implementation described in Tip 2 requires an adjustment. Instead of working flat out just on fee earning punctuated by infrequently large and indigestible ‘chunks’ of business development, allocate a small amount of time each day to BD/marketing (say 15 or 30 minutes) and stick to it. If, as often, this is about communicating with people, the beginning and the end of the day are timely periods that minimally impact on work flow and that offer the best chances of success.

Of course, there will also be BD tasks that require more time to complete but this is a good baseline to establish.