Sunday, November 7, 2010

10 Tips to Determine if a Professional Group is Right for You

A professional association or group provides a great opportunity to attract new business via interaction with the community. An effective groups helps you expand your network, efficiently meet with professionals and prospects, and gain new ideas and market intelligence. How do you know which groups are right for you? Take a look at these 10 tips for evaluating a professional association or group for business development purposes:
  1. Can the membership committee provide stats? Start with the facts. Ask about the composition of the group, how many new members join annually and/or renew, how many attend meetings, and so on.
  2. Does the group include clients of your firm? This is a great way to stay in front of your clients and learn about their challenges and latest initiatives.
  3. Does the group include prospects? If so, will the group under consideration provide you with a stage to demonstrate your leadership and value proposition?
  4. Do high-quality referral sources belong? If the group is populated with great referral sources, this is an open door to new opportunities.
  5. Are community leaders present? Community leaders can smooth the path for your key initiatives (and those of your clients) and make helpful introductions that can lead to new business.
  6. Are your competitors members of the group? This may indicate a membership that is ideal for doing business with your firm. In addition, interacting with competitors provides you with market intelligence you may not otherwise receive.
  7. Does the group focus on your industry or service niches? You may pick up exciting ideas and introductions in groups that are dedicated to your focus areas.
  8. Do you see advisors and key thinkers in the group? These advisors can positively influence your personal professional development as well as the success of your firm.
  9. Are the meeting locations convenient to your work or home? Convenience is a key factor in determining whether you will attend meetings on a regular basis.
  10. Does the group have multiple locations or chapters? If you travel, a multi-location group can provide a helpful network, new opportunities, and great meeting spots.

Keep in mind that associations and groups, like businesses, have vibrancy life cycles. Ask those in your professional network which groups are working for them. Finally, remember that membership quality is crucial: a group does not have to be large to be effective.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Top 10 Outcomes to Expect from Referral Sources

A results-oriented service provider recently asked, "What is the fastest and easiest way to have referral sources send me prospects on a regular basis?" That's the fun of working with first-year service providers: they have yet to discover that relationships need to be in place before opportunities present themselves.

In the best of all possible worlds, we would spend our free time sharing prospective clients with our referral sources. In reality, the relationship with referral sources is more nuanced. You get much more from a referral source than the transactional exchange of prospects. What can you expect from the relationship with a referral source? Here are my "Top 10 Outcomes" for the results-oriented service provider:

Under the category of information, ideas and friendship:
  1. Market intelligence: Don't walk away from a single meeting without having gained useful information from those in the field. If your meeting with a referral source results in information that helps you make smarter decisions, it was a good use of your time.
  2. Advice and guidance: You're not in this alone. Lean on your referral sources to provide you with the information, introductions and advice you need to succeed.
  3. New talent and resources. Your firm needs unfair advantage in terms of talent and resources. Turn to your referral sources for ideas and introductions.
  4. Brainstorming and problem-solving: Sometimes we get caught up in thinking the same old way. Engage your referral sources to brainstorm with you on ways to approach the market and gain new business or to solve a sticky situation.
  5. Inspiration and fun: Look, if you have a referral source who does nothing but inspire you to pursue new ideas and ventures, that relationship is GOLD. And why not have fun while creating and nurturing quality referral relationships?

Under the category of new business:

  1. Referrals to prospective clients: Okay, here's the goldmine--new clients. Need I say more?
  2. Introductions to new referral sources: Do not leave a single meeting without exchanging promises to make helpful introductions. Every quality service provider is a potential source of new business opportunities--as is their network.
  3. New opportunities: What do you think about an all-expenses-paid week in Melbourne for a speaking engagement--after spending a free week in Sydney? Do you, after speaking, want to dodge crocks in Miami Beach and sand traps at Torrey Pines looking to make par? Do you want to appear live at Caesars Palace in Vegas (again, speaking engagement)? These are true stories of opportunities I have enjoyed thanks to the generosity of referral sources. The Caesars Palace speaking engagement lead to a client opportunity in the Oregon wine country. Did I mention my free trip to Loch Lomond, where I took my first golf lesson and discovered the architecture of Charles Macintosh? Don't get me started . . .
  4. A passport to new communities: Each time you meet with referral sources, ask them about the groups and associations they find most fruitful. Your referral sources are an open door to exciting new relationships and experiences.
  5. Creative marketing and strategic alliances: Clients and prospects will be excited when you bring solutions to the table that extend beyond your firm's capabilities. Engage your referral sources to create solutions that add value and opportunities to the marketplace.

You get the idea: relationships with your friends/referral sources are limited only by your imagination. The referral source relationship is not a transaction--it is a lifelong friendship leading to opportunities yet to be determined. Put the relationships into place today to enjoy the riches tomorrow.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

7 Ways to Win a Client Before the First Meeting

You have been referred by a friend for a plum assignment, but you know that two or three other professional service providers are also talking to the prospective client. How do you ace your competitors and secure the work? Follow these seven steps to win over the prospect before your first meeting:
  1. Respond swiftly. Send an email and follow up with a phone call to request a meeting. Some people prefer to respond by email or by phone--the double-tagging makes it easy. If you are lucky enough to connect live with the prospect, listen carefully to that person's story, situation and needs--take notes. Prospects tell me, from time to time, that a service provider is unclear about the basic facts of an assignment at the first meeting.
  2. Secure an in-person meeting. You would be surprised by the number of service providers who are too lazy to meet personally with prospects! Make every effort to meet personally with a potential client--this is your best opportunity to establish rapport and secure an advantage over competitors who have scheduled a phone interview. Select your location carefully to ensure you will have the prospect's complete attention in a relaxed environment.

  3. Promote a strong brand. What's the first thing the prospect will do when a friend refers you? That's right--the prospect will look at your firm's website. As a service provider, you have few opportunities to differentiate yourself--your service promise is invisible--prospects can't look under the hood. Instill confidence and share your firm's culture, technical acumen and personal style with an effective brand. If the prospect is given the names of three service providers but makes time to meet with only one or two, your website can give you a place at the table or all the time you want at the golf course.

  4. Look for relationships in common. Discover, by asking or with research, as much as you can about the prospect's relationships with service providers, business leaders, and others in the community. Ask those you know in common to reach out to the prospect to recommend you or to provide you with advice and information that will help you demonstrate value.

  5. Understand the problem from the prospect's point of view. As a service provider, you may have ideas about what the prospect needs to solve his/her problems. However, you will win or lose the job based on the prospect's perceptions and emotional needs. Ask the prospect, What are your goals, both for this assignment and for your business as a whole? How do you feel about this situation? What will make this entire process/project easier for you? Provide information prior to the meeting to establish your credibility and to generously share knowledge. I often hear the real reason why one service provider is selected over another, and the reason is often emotional or based on perception rather than cold hard facts.

  6. Brainstorm on new ideas and strategic alliances. Invest creative time in developing new ways to provide more value than the prospect is expecting. Does this mean showing up with ideas that capture the imagination of the prospect? Can you offer scenarios with solutions that reach far beyond the assignment at hand? Can you include additional professional service firms or other organizations--strategic alliances--to take the solution to a higher level?

  7. Check in to confirm the meeting. This is no time for slip ups or misunderstandings. Confirm the meeting date, time and location one week prior and the day prior. Providing leadership on the date, time, participants and location of the meeting, when appropriate, makes the experience of working with you easy.

While these steps appear to be common sense, you would be surprised by the number of service providers who fail to follow through on one or all seven tips. Top service providers follow best practices in every aspect of business, from financial matters to securing new clients. Add these seven tips to your prospecting approach to ace your competitors and win clients--before they get the pleasure of meeting you personally.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Fastest Way to Help the Professionals in Your Network

WavePlay is asked, on a regular basis, to solve the problems of executives--that's our business model. In many cases, we know exactly which professional service providers can help the execs either solve a problem or meet a goal. When we reach out to our network for additional resources/ideas/providers, here's what we experience:

  1. An overwhelming response from professional service providers, recommending those who are expert in delivering the requested service. The providers typically share insights in working directly with those they recommend. It's nothing short of amazing to see how many providers in the WavePlay network are anxious to help connect resources to execs in need.
  2. A broad range in response time. How many execs do you know who are hoping for a solution to their problem right now? Execs who tap into WavePlay are no different--they want and need help right away. Service providers who offer solutions/resources within 24 hours are much more likely to make a meaningful impact. Late responders, take solace: we enter all referrals into the WavePlay database, carefully noting the referring party and their experience with those they recommend in anticipation of future requests.

Here's a toast to the generous spirit of professional service providers, helping those in their network get connected with execs looking for a solution. And to hoping that those who recommend you are tuned in and communicating.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

10 Tips to Raise Your Visibility with Social Networks

Are you making the most of social networking to accomplish business goals, secure exciting assignments and create new opportunities for yourself and your firm? Many of your peers actively participate in social networking to build their personal brand.

You are likely a member of one or several social networks such as LinkedIn ( and Facebook ( But are you receiving full value from these networks? Why not use the power of social networking to raise visibility, project a vibrant image, become aware of new opportunities and interact with the marketplace? To do, so, consider the following 10 tips featuring the basics of social networking and enjoy the competitive advantages of a vibrant network.

Tip #1: Join Several Networks. What works for one person may or may not work for another. Many service providers view LinkedIn as the gateway to professional social networks. Others move on to industry-specific networks or those focused on specific executive positions such as CFOZone ( for CFOs. Increasingly, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter ( are used to enhance relationships among professionals. Be open to joining various networks--and stick with those that provide the most satisfaction.

Tip #2: Get a Great Headshot. There are practical reasons to invest in a great photo. Prior to a meeting, many executives do a quick search to evaluate a professional service firm and its consultants--and displaying a great headshot is akin to dressing properly for the meeting. Work with your firm's marketing department or public relations agency to secure the right photographer.

Tip #3: Create a Compelling Message. Social networks provide a stage for sharing your qualifications, interests and background. Tailor your message to fit in with the mission of a specific social network. Ask your firm's marketing department or public relations agency to create an effective profile to feature you and your firm. Add your firm's website, your professional blogs, and other relevant information to your profile.

Tip #4: Make Invitations a Habit. Develop a process for populating your social networks with professionals and friends. If you are overwhelmed at the idea of sending invitations to your network, take advantage of the many networking sites that allow you to download and select your contacts from existing databases, such as Microsoft Outlook or Gmail ( When you meet someone worthy, invite them to join your network.

Tip #5: Join Special Interest Groups. Many social networking sites offer the opportunity to join special interest groups, such as Financial Executives International (FEI) Group on LinkedIn or Facebook. Many networks offer access to college and employer alumni groups. Your participation will open doors to new resources, news, opportunities and participants around the globe.

Tip #6: Update Your Profile Regularly. Your public profile on a social network is like a brand--you must nurture it to keep it fresh. Visit your profile on a regular basis and enhance it with updates and additional information. Promote your public profile when interacting with clients and colleagues--mention your participation at meetings or when sending an email.

Tip #7: Share Knowledge. Social networks provide the opportunity to help others while showcasing your knowledge and demonstrating leadership in your areas of expertise. Answer questions, send helpful comments and inform your network of breaking developments. If you have a blog, include a link.

Tip #8: Use Your Network as a Resource. Networks provide a fast, easy way to reach out quickly for help. For instance, if you need a speaker for an upcoming event or help from other professional service providers on a project, turn to your social networks for help. You will save time and get ideas at the grassroots level.

Tip #9: Stay Alert to Opportunities. Just as you would ask your network for help in identifying reliable resources for your needs, stay on the alert for requests from others. Requests to a network often result in multiple responses--if you are not paying attention, you may lose an opportunity.

Tip #10: Engage! Stay in touch with your social networks on a regular basis. One of the most appealing aspects of joining a social network is becoming a member of a community. Many service providers dedicate 10 to 20 minutes at the top of each day to check in with their networks.

Did you know that search engines place more weight on social networking interaction than touches on a typical business website? This means that active social networkers often show up higher on a search engine list than individuals who do not participate in social networks.

So make the most of social networking--it's good for you and good for your firm.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What Do You Do?

The head of a firm asked me the other day to review his "elevator speech." Here's the advice I shared:

Create your elevator pitch as though you will be sharing it between swings on a golf course (okay, or on an elevator). You have only a few seconds to share what you do; share the information with the assumption that the listener has three other things on his/her mind. In other words, the listener is not paying full attention but has some curiosity. The best way to create an effective elevator pitch is to share it again and again with others verbally until you are satisfied that each listener “gets it” based on the response you receive. Expect the process of sharing and refining to take two to three weeks.

Here’s how to enhance your elevator speech:

· Simplify your message. Do you really feel comfortable delivering your pitch to a person who is only casually interested? Can you go with a shorter, simpler message that will cause the listener to either ask a follow-up question or share back to you what they heard?

· Slow down your delivery. Speak up and slowly enough that the listener will absorb your message—make eye contact. Fewer words said with meaning will make a greater impact. The idea is not to tell them everything in your opening sentence—just the essence of what you do in a teaser fashion to heighten their interest and cause them to respond.

· Take note of the response you receive. Evaluate each response and reshape your elevator pitch until:

o You are comfortable getting the words out in the most natural fashion possible (fewer words, more impact, a solid idea communicated).

o The listener’s response and follow-up questions satisfy you.

Here's what I tell fellow golfers between swings: "I help executives solve problems via introductions to professional service providers." Then I answer their burning questions.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Storytelling as a Business Development Tool

How does storytelling help the professional service provider?

Highly successful professional salespeople have vastly different styles and approaches. The one thing they have in common: the ability to tell a good story. Storytelling has three core advantages for salespeople—and for professional service providers:

1) The listener immediately reverts to “cookies and storytelling” relaxation—he/she really hears what you have to say as you entertain. The listener is more likely to absorb your message.

2) You demonstrate your value—the listener can visualize, empathize and get emotionally involved in the situation you describe. The listener is more likely to remember your story.

3) Your relationship with the listener graduates from a cold selling environment to one of warmth and sharing. Therefore, you set the stage for friendship.

5 keys to storytelling success

As a professional service provider, you have numerous opportunities to share a story with a prospect. Storytelling informs others about what you do and builds your credibility. Here’s how:

1) Remember to tell the story! Avoid the tendency to start the meeting with shameless bragging about what you can do for the prospect and why you are better than everyone else. Start the conversation by asking the prospect to share the situation and how he/she feels about it.

2) Tailor your story to the needs of the prospect. Share how you solved a similar problem for a client in the past (no need to give names if confidentiality is an issue).

3) Show, don’t tell. No need to brag—let the listener draw conclusions about your problem-solving abilities based on the sequence of events and the outcome.

4) Be brief. Keep your story short or risk boring the prospect.

5) Have fun telling the story. Share the problem, how you solved it, and the outcome in a manner that shows you are passionate about helping clients. Your goal: a prospect who is excited to work with you to solve a problem and get results.

After hearing the prospect’s need and telling a story, offer to follow up with an engagement letter or schedule the next meeting. When you meet with professional service providers who can send work your way, ask about their client base and share stories about successes with similar clients. Tell stories to old friends, existing clients—even the colleagues under your roof. A subtle reminder of what you do and how you solve problems helps others to understand and appreciate your personal and professional talents—including your ability to entertain.