Networking Not Working? Try These 4 Strategies to Make the Right Connections

Business networking meetings can be a superb way to exchange leads and meet potential customers, and many business people have struck gold while networking. Lasting human connections can be made.

On the other hand, some people perceive networking in a negative light, as a waste of time and resources, like trying to pick up corn after a bunch of chickens.

It doesn’t have to be if you pick the right groups, are strategic, and If you have thought about attending networking events, here are four suggestions for selecting and effectively utilizing networking to open personal and professional doors.

 1. How to Select a Business Network to Join

Networks are different. Some create casual social contacts, some are more formal and some are service-oriented. Seeking new clients for financial advisement is very different from soliciting businesses to contribute to a breast cancer run. What kind of group is it? Is it heavy on financial planners? Are services replicated within that one group?

Certain industries and professions are over-represented within network groups, thus some must be under-represented too, and this can be your opening. Additionally, get answers to some specific questions about the group. How long has it been in existence? How many members are there? What professional affiliations, domestic and international, does it have? How are meetings structured? How is an agenda created? What is the cost of membership? What do members say? Getting testimonials is important. Visit as many as you can and get answers.

 2. What to Do While At Networking Events

Almost all network gatherings will have an informal social time prior to a presentation, or some kind of icebreaker like elevator pitches that you should prepare for. To make the most of this “meet and greet,” scan the guest list where possible. Look for people you know and also anyone you’d like to meet.

When conversing, it is urgent to show interest in what’s going on in the other person’s business. This is the only way to gain clients, by getting to know their businesses and the specific problems they face on a daily basis. How else can you design solutions without an intimate knowledge of what they need?

3. Don’t Try to Talk to Everyone, But Make a Positive Impression

Even if you don’t anticipate a particular person becoming a client, or vice versa, you never know when someone may be asked for a referral. If you only talk about yourself and show no interest in being of value to other people, they probably will be unlikely to refer you to their friends and colleagues who may be good prospects for you.

It is also best to minimize conversations about family and health problems. While these are huge components of our lives, these conversations could eat up the time you are there. Your goal is to go home with a few business cards, not to work the room and collect cards like poker chips. Ideally, you will meet at least one person who you will want to get to know better for a “one-to one” at a later time. Come up with a system for dealing with the cards you receive. There are a variety of smartphone apps that allow you to photograph business cards, which are then stored in a searchable archive. No more stacks of cards to sift through!

4. Maximizing the One-to-One

At or after networking meetings, try to arrange meetings with others you are interested in. Within ten days is best. The local coffee shop is a safe and pleasant setting, but you may prefer other venues. This one-to-one is where you build trust with the person and share and receive more information about your businesses.

Think of the process as “know, like and trust.” Let them tell their story first so that you can look at their style. Again, search out common ground upon which you share business problems and potential solutions. Similarly avoid long discussions of children, spouses and health problems. This is best left to other settings other than this valuable one-to-one time. If the other person delves into these areas, gently steer the conversation back to the common ground of your businesses. You do not have to make something happen during this meeting, but if you sense the other person is interested in learning more, you can move to the next step. More about this in our next post.

 Networking can be supremely rewarding and lucrative when done with the right insights and preparation. We’d love to network with you. To arrange a one-to-one with CHB Associates, please call Claude at 732-995-3242.

Make Trust the Lifeblood of Your Business

In September 2015, Volkswagen was exposed as having systematically cheating on emissions testing. It tanked its own stock, boosted competitors’ sales and opened the company to a flood of lawsuits, all of which weaken it in the long run. Not to mention being skewered by late-night comics.

Trust takes a lifetime to build, as they say, but only a fleeting moment to destroy.

Examples of corporate breaches of trust are plentiful:

  • The collapse of Enron
  • The British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico
  • The aforementioned Volkswagen fraud

When a business puts short-term profits over long-term market integrity, the results are always disastrous.

Surveys have confirmed that when a customer believes that a business is hiding something, she will minimize the business relationship or end it. The core question is: Does my customer truly believe that I am working in her or his interests?

A customer simply must believe you are trustworthy for your business to succeed. Does the customer believe that you are hiding the truth, or anything, from him? The costs of hiding truth are far greater than any form of transparency.

Trust Is the Path to Not Just Sales, But to Loyalty

Transparency makes the most business sense, as we have demonstrated here before.

Think of how nervous many of us are when approaching a used car dealer. We fear the Lot Lizard salesperson that will say anything, do anything, conceal anything, to move a car off the lot and get your money, only to disappear on you later.

How many of us are uncomfortable signing or clicking “I accept” when confronted with a maze of technical language in a service agreement? We fear being exploited later, so we may balk at the last minute and refuse the transaction. The trust isn’t there. Customers want a company that will talk straight and do right by them.

Trust is the lifeblood of your business. Trust between you and your customer is the cornerstone of loyalty. Your customers must see you as dependable, credible, responsive, open and respectful.

But these values must be lived, not just declared; otherwise they are just noble intentions at best and false advertising at worst.

Regaining Customer Trust

Rebuilding your firm’s good name will take time but it can be done.

Understand the dynamics of your position. Fears, whether justified or not, are lethal to your brand. Fear trumps facts. Emotions run rapidly to wild conclusions. Does my daughter’s Bubble Yum have spider eggs in it? A reputation can be maimed by mere rumor. Unfair, but true. Mark Twain noted that lies run all the way around the world before truth can get its shoes on.

  1. The first thing you can do is apologize. While this isn’t strictly legal advice, it can be sound. Often people just want to know that someone is sorry for what happened to them. The usual response is “deny and defend,” but apologies can defuse the emotions that fuel lawsuits. But apologies can go a long way to avoiding costly disputes and rebuilding reputation. When confronted by revelation of misconduct, rationalizing, minimizing and justifying just deepens mistrust.
  2. A second step is to reassure. A wrong-doer in your entire industry can ruin your reputation. If tainted by scandal in your industry, get out in front of the issue by explaining on your website why your organization is different. Use social media to do this as well. Try to do this quickly. Recognize the speed at which grievance travels in the electronic world and don’t delay, or you may appear unconcerned, another nail in the coffin of trust. Explain in detail your steps to correct the problem, if there is one. What procedures or guidelines will be enacted and enforced to prevent a repeat of the misdeed?
  3. The last step is to educate your customers. Create an FAQ on your firm’s website.
    Devote prime space on your Facebook page or company site to explaining your steps of resolution. Not every mistake need be a PR fiasco if you apply these corrective steps.

Remember: if you create trust for your customer, your customer will return that trust with loyalty in the form of a consistent cash flow. And beyond any profits, real service to your customer means creating something that can’t be measured: sincerity. The first chapter of a book on business advice would have to be about honesty.

CHB Associates has expertly coached many businesses through understanding how to maintain and nurture trust. Call us today for a free consultation.

5 Elements of a Good Elevator Pitch: How to Stop Winging It

You are at a networking event with 40 people and are asked to “introduce yourself to the group.”

You stand up, say your name and notice how many faces are all looking at you. Here’s your chance to impress. But you can’t remember what you were going to say! You fear failure, so this fear builds on itself and then very nearly paralyzes you. You mutter some sentences just to get it over with, and then sit down.

Or maybe you want to avoid forgetting something, so you start rambling. Others are glancing at their phones, and some are even thumb stabbing now, but you can’t seem to find the right closing line, so onward you plod.

Both of these can be avoided by some careful preparation.

What matters is establishing eye contact with listeners, speak slowly, not droning in monotone, speaking with vocal inflection, memorize rather than winging it, and don’t fidget.

Here are the elements of a successful elevator pitch.

  1. Give your name, the company name and location, and quick statement of what you do. Brief–not a list of everything. A poignant opening quote can be effective here and can create a fun moment for the group.
  2. Tell a story of what makes your company different. Ask a “hooking” question like, “Are any of these important problems for your business…?” Continue with, We help companies that are (struggling with), (concerned about), (looking to), (worried about), etc. What pains is the business facing? How do you present a solution that both saves time and makes money for the client? Share a story of a recent or specific example of your business solving a pressing problem.
  3. Describe your ideal client or referral. “A good referral for us would is…” A short description of your ideal client may resonate with anyone there, and someone who matches up well will likely approach you later. The goal of good networking is to make introductions.
  4. Ask for business. Here is what lawyers call The Ask. Say something like, “So if you see, hear of or know someone who has questions we can answer, won’t you please give them my card?” Do this, and there is a distinct chance that your phone will ring with a potential new client just a few days later.
  5. Finish with a memory hook. “We work with clients who need help…” Remind them of your name and company. A concluding joke or moment of levity is superb here. People remember the first and last things they hear when listening, so give them something to hang on to. Close with a tagline that’s pithy, memorable and relevant, “building a smarter planet, just do it, don’t leave home without it.”

These ideas and the five elements will help you design an effective pitch for networking. Remember, you have to design it only once. After that, it gets only better with repeated deliveries.

How To Defeat Sales Objections

Anyone who owns or operates a business is in sales.

Sales objections are unavoidable. In fact, regardless of our profession, we all deal with objections in life with co-workers, business partners, spouses, and family.

The good news is that there are ways to get around those objections. All it takes is a little preparation.

The first consideration is that when you sell, whatever you sell, you should never be surprised by objections. In fact, every objection is an opportunity. It is an indication of what your prospect has in mind. Thinking of it this way makes it a positive.

Objections Can Teach You A Lot

When an objection is presented, listen carefully completely; pause, and make sure you understand the situation. When you respond, the most effective responses are generally framed as a question.

  • Objection: “Your price is too high”
     Reply: “I understand your concern, what were you planning to spend?”
  • Objection: “I want to think about it.”
     Reply: “That’s a fair statement, so what are the specific items you want to think about?’

Dig deeper. You want your prospective buyer to open up and tell you more about what is keeping them from making a decision. During this exchange, be real, be sincere, be understanding and be positive. Honest, heartfelt questions will normally get prospects to open up. And, you must answer the objection to the satisfaction of your client, before moving forward in your process.

Never argue or debate with your prospective client: nothing stalls or even kills a negotiation faster. Never speak poorly of your competition. If an objection forces you to compare your product or service against a competitor, use factual information only. Hearsay and rumors do not lead to long-term success.

What’s The Silver Bullet to Eliminate Objections?

Objections are part of the selling process and they will never totally be eliminated. However, they can be greatly reduced.

How? By spending more time qualifying your prospect and finding out his or her needs and expectations are before you do your presentation. You need to ask a lot of questions. And then, listen to the answers. You can defuse many objections by clarifying the expectations before you start your presentation.

Example: At the end of a perfect presentation the potential buyer announces they need to consult with another person before they can make a decision. How could this objection be avoided? Ask up front if all decision makers are present and make sure that everyone who needed to be there would in fact be there for the presentation. If not, abort and reschedule. This issue could have been prevented completely by simply asking the right question up front.

Try this short exercise to improve your handling of objections:

Write your top five most common objections on one side of a piece of paper. On the other side, for each objections list 2-4 clear responses (framed as questions) that will address the objection and keep you engaging with your prospect.

Your top priority in the discussion is to truly understand the needs of your prospect. His or her objections will help you figure those out. Review your list regularly and get comfortable with the concept that every objection is an opportunity.

Remember that every objection is an opportunity.

8 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hanging Up Your Shingle

It surprises me to realize, that often when I begin working with a new client, he or she has never thought about the following things:

  1. What are your core values?
  2. What is your core focus?
  3. What is your 10-year target?
  4. What is your marketing strategy?
  5. What is your three-year picture?
  6. What is your one-year plan?
  7. What are your quarterly short time goals?
  8. What are your issues?

If you are going to succeed in business, you must have a plan and a strategy that includes goals and targets. And your values, I believe, are the most important thing because they are what will keep you on track when you are tempted to go in a different direction.

I offer coaching and business development consulting for all size businesses. If you think you could benefit from a free consultation, give me a call today.

Do You Have Time? 10 Time Management Tips to Maximize your Effectiveness

Have you heard the following adage: “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”?

It is hard to improve if we do not establish performance metrics.

This is particularly true when speaking about time management improvement. Time seems to escape us and there is never enough time to do everything there is to do. Yet we have no less time than Einstein, Mother Teresa or Steve Job.

So, what is going on?

If you’re like many people, the answer to is…”I don’t know…!”

Could you prioritize and increase productivity? How much time do you spend marketing, selling, producing, servicing your customers? Are you using your time productively?

The ten following tips, if applied systematically, could add a week to your life every year:

  1. Log in all your activities for a week. This will help you understand how much you can get done during the course of a day and where time is going. You will see how much of your time is actually spent productively and how much time is wasted.
  2. The 80/20 rule applies also to time management. You produce 80 percent of your results in 20 percent of your time. Once you have identified those most productive activities, focus on spending at least 50 percent of your time engaged in those activities.
  3. All activities that are important to your success must have a time assigned to them. If, for instance, you need to make so many sales calls per day, assign a time and write it down in your schedule. Schedule and write down the time to meet with your staff. And do not forget to set up an agenda… Every important activity must be set up as an appointment and even if they are appointments with yourself, have the discipline to keep these appointments.
  4. When something hits your in-box, decides on the spot if you need to do it, delegate it, defer it or drop it and act on it accordingly. Do not let things accumulate in your in-box.
  5. Take the first 10 minutes of every day to huddle (standing) with yourself and/or your staff to plan your day. This is the most important time of your day.
  6. Assess before every call and task what results you want to attain. Visualize success. Examine after each call and activity if your desired result was achieved. Every call and activity will result in being a success or a lesson.
  7. Close your door and put up a “Do not disturb” sign when you absolutely have to get work done.
  8. Do not answer the phone just because it’s ringing or respond to e-mails just because they show up. Give your instant attention to people only if it is absolutely critical to your business (911 responder). Schedule a time to answer email and return phone calls.
  9. Social media has become a key marketing tool for many businesses. When using social media, schedule blocks of time and do not let distractions take you adrift. Set up clear goals and objectives and monitor that you are achieving them.
  10. Remember that it is impossible to get everything done. Work effectively, get the most important things done and be ok with it. “This constant, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy,” says Kerry Gleeson.

So, ultimately, it is not about managing time: time manages itself. It is a matter of managing our actions and making the right choice about what to do at any point in time.

Do Not Sell Yourself Short: Pricing Strategies

As we end the year, let’s assess the profitability of your business. Many new (and existing) business owners price their services below market to bring in business. As operating costs increase, however, you find yourself with a growing business–but not growing profits. What should be done? Should you raise prices?

Your current clients who made your success possible have put a value on your services – the value that you initially set for them. So, if you raise your prices by 20 to 40 percent, at par with your competitor’s rates, your customers may think, “Wow, that’s expensive!” But if you don’t raise prices, you may regret it. Here’s why.

Low prices are a problem

When you price yourself considerably lower than your competitors, your services are viewed as being “cheap,” regardless of their true value. This leads to three significant problems:

  1. Customers often equate a discounted service with low quality.
  2. Your ability to invest money in your business to allow you to provide new services and more value to your customers is limited.
  3. You are missing out on high profit clients.

Can low prices drive clients away? If you need surgery, would you look for the cheapest surgeon? Probably not. To get the best level of service, you pay the high-end of the range. In a professional service business, you are sought after because of your knowledge or talent in a certain area. Your prices should, and must, reflect that talent at the outset of every relationship with each client.

Here are some things to consider when setting your prices, be it now or from the beginning.

  1. Do your research. Check out your competition, especially those who are most successful. What do they charge and why are you different? Be prepared to answer that question for your customers and potential customers.
  2. Know your costs. You need to set prices in such a way that you make the profit you want and need. Proper pricing can help you ensure the long-term health of your business.
  3. Do not discount. If the value of your services is $5,000, why would you offer it for $4,000? Is it less valuable to this client than it is to others? If so, let’s find more of those clients who find it more valuable. After all, you’re a professional, not a discount shop.
  4. As a general rule do not bill by the hour. There are few professions in which hours provide a good measure of value. Additionally, with hourly billing the more experienced you become, the more efficient you are, the less money you make! The client doesn’t care if it took you 50 hours or 50 minutes to design their marketing piece. As long as they receive a terrific design, it holds the same value to them.

How to raise prices

At first, leave your current clients alone. Instead, resolve not to accept any new business below your newly established higher price. Publish new contracts, price sheets or rate cards and stick to them. Once you start receiving business at your new price level, you will feel your service is worth the higher value that these new clients have assigned to it.

Once you establish the new pricing with your new clients, then return to your old clients. Have a face-to-face meeting with them, preferably, and review with them the value of the services you deliver. Let them know that you have researched your competitors and found that you are offering more value for less money. Also, let them know you are billing new clients at the higher price level. Then, raise their prices with an effective date two to four months in the future. This gives you a chance to finish current projects or services at the present price while allowing them time to adjust their expectations and budgeting for future projects or services. If it’s worthwhile to you offer them the chance to pre-pay now for future projects or services at their current low rate. This gives you the certainty of their future business as well as cash in your pocket today!

Setting your services at market value will secure client loyalty and respect, allow you to invest in and grow your business, and improve your profit margins. If you, as the business owner, do not value your own products or services, you cannot expect your clients to value them either. Do not settle for less than you’re worth!

What Are Your Marketing Options?

Questions you should think about before starting a marketing program:

On a Limited Budget You Must Prioritize.

Marketing today offers entrepreneurs an amazing spectrum of attractive tools. But can they be all tested within limited resources?

Answer: Only pursue the ones that align most closely with your strategic marketing plan. If you don’t have a plan, you will blow a lot of valuable cash on awesome ideas that promise much and deliver little — not because they are bad ideas, but because they are bad ideas for your company.

These are three rules to evaluate your marketing options.

Build on Your Existing Base

You should aim your marketing first of all at your typical customer. If that sounds obvious to you, plenty of small businesses run aground seeking any customers they can find while never establishing a reputation with one loyal group. Targeting is the difference between marketing as expense and marketing as investment.

This strategy applies also when marketing to other businesses. For example, do you define decision makers versus order-takers within each target company? Both are useful to cultivate, but they require different approaches if you want to get the highest return on each marketing dollar.

Do Not Over-reach and Stick to What You Can Manage

It is not necessary to embrace all the latest marketing fads. While the internet offers powerful marketing tools, they are such only in the measure in which you use them properly.

Let’s take blogging, for example. Blogs are cheap to set up, but they take huge effort to update on a consistent basis. If you manage your blog poorly, you will disappoint your customers. If you are in the business of offering advice (say, on insurance, financial planning or accounting), a blog makes sense and could be your main marketing tool. 

Social networks are another increasingly popular tool. But these, too, require a fair amount of administration. Would those hours and dollars actually boost awareness and, ultimately, revenues? For many small companies, the answer is no.

In making these calculations, remember that you also have to allot enough resources to spruce up your outgoing electronic communication. All prospects expect to interact with sellers and advisers online these days.

Whatever Marketing Gurus are Selling, Buyers Beware

There are innumerable marketing agencies out there that make all kinds of claims. Ask to see case studies of what they have accomplished for other clients like you. Concentrate on what you need, not what they are selling.

A good plan must be action driven, with goals and strategies that will lead to specific outcomes in specific time frames. The strategies will dictate the solution i.e. the tactics you use.

Focusing on Customer Retention in a Slow Economy

In today’s struggling economy, consumers aren’t the only ones tightening their belts. With shoppers spending less on non-essential items and socking more into savings, businesses across the country are feeling the effects of the widespread penny pinching. The good news? As a business owner, you can do more than just sit by and watch profits dwindle.

Although this may not be the ideal time to acquire new customers, you can help compensate for sagging sales by shifting your focus to customer retention. By catering to your loyal base of existing customers, you can help increase average order size and repeat business, eliminating the need to slash the prices of your product or serving offerings.

Below are some time-tested, cost-effective tips for retaining customers in a recessed economy:

Make strategic use of cross-sells. Offering related products at low to moderate price points is an excellent way to encourage impulse purchases and increase order totals. It also helps to educate the customer on the diversity of your inventory.

Offer a special promotion. In these tight economic times, customers are much more likely to complete the sale if they feel like they’re getting a great value. A VIP customer discount not only boosts revenue, it also makes your loyal patrons feel appreciated, a surefire strategy for ensuring repeat purchases.

Maintain “non-salesy” communications. Even if you’re not offering a discount or promo, staying in contact with customers via newsletters, product tips, and holiday well wishes goes a long way toward instilling a sense of camaraderie and loyalty. Businesses that function as service and solution providers as well as sellers gain more trust and credibility in the eyes of consumers.

Offer relevant tips. Within a few days of your customer’s purchase, send a follow-up email with care and maintenance suggestions for their product. You can also pepper the correspondence with suggestions for related accessories.

Request feedback. Give customers the opportunity to put in their two cents by sending a brief survey, offering a discount or gift certificate to compensate for their time. Not only will you reap the rewards of valuable market knowledge, you can include tasteful up-sells to encourage sales.

Create a community. Provide your loyal customers with an exclusive, members-only forum for sharing product feedback, questions, and suggestions. The interactive dialogue will foster repeat visits, increasing the chances of repeat orders.

Offer prepackaged gift sets. By bundling best-selling items into collections, you can provide customers with an easier shopping experience while boosting average order value.While a struggling economy is never good for business, it does provide a unique opportunity to forge more profitable relationships with existing customers. By showing your appreciation for their loyalty, you could very well earn lifelong customers who will stick with you through thick, thin, and recession.