Best Sales Tool for Experts: Killer Questions!

You have to be a great listener to ask great questions

My friend, Don (@DonCooper) recently posted this tweet:

Tip: Every time you ask a question, you get a point. Every time you ask a question your prospect can’t answer, you get ten points.

YES, that’s such a great way of framing the power of an effective prospecting conversation (Mark LeBlanc calls it a “meaningful conversation”). You’ve heard me talk in other posts about how important it is to know your customer and connect powerfully with them. We do this by *listening well.*


The Art of Listening Well

I don’t know that you can really “teach” someone to listen if they don’t naturally have this predisposition. Listening well, frankly, comes from a holy place: your heart. We listen because we’re interested, we care; we want to make a difference. What we *can* teach each other, or more aptly, remind each other, is that when you’re prospecting or networking, you don’t need to focus or “worry” with pitching people on your services. You just need to listen, really feel into your prospect’s situation, empathize.  And asking good questions is key.

The Art of Asking Good Questions

Okay, when Don posted this, I first was gonna tweet some tips, but I felt shackled by the 140-character limit. There is a lot to the art of asking good questions. Tony Robbins is the pro on this one . . . I highly recommend his weekend event, Unleash the Power Within. Ultimately, good questions inspire your prospects to look at something they hadn’t considered before, or to view their problem in a different way. Tony says to ask yourself, What else could this mean?

Stumping the prospect by asking a really powerful question is definitely powerful. And so is asking questions that really make your prospects dig and think about their situation differently right there, in the moment.

Good Questions Can Help a Client Reframe a Problem

I often reframe a problem my client is experiencing with their breakthrough in mind: your problem means you’re doing XXX right, you’re on the path to XXX; the next level requires you to figure this out–this is a good problem to have! Many times, our challenges are calling to the hero within us, showing us where we need to step up in our lives (remember the powerful question: Who must I become to complete this quest?) Reminding who you’re talking to that their “problems” are gateways to bringing out the best in them can be a really powerful reframe. What if this were God, the Universe, or the  Spirit’s way of calling to your courage so you could break through?  What if this didn’t mean you were failing, but you were on the brink of a breakthrough?

So, for example asking, Have you considered . . . ? or How does believing XXXX serve you? can bring an unconscious pattern to conscious thought. Similarly, asking, What if you tried XXXX? can awaken a perspective in your prospects that has lain dormant. Applying your expertise to their specific challenges and asking questions to help them realize how they are stuck (rather than you telling them, which they are likely to resist) is also a really powerful way to help your clients.

Question:  What questions do you ask your prospects to help them see that they need your help?

Referrals: A 5-year strategy to grow your business

Grow your business through referrals I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen in a few years at a networking meeting recently, and when I asked him how his business was doing, I was really happy to hear that in spite of the downturn in the economy, his business was doing really well.  He described his business as growing steadily year-after-year, and said that his #1 way of getting new clients now was from referrals.


Let your great work speak for itself through great referrals

I remember conversations we had years ago about his business, and he told me how hard it was to sell what he offered because it was “unconventional.”  When people needed it most, they typically didn’t have the money.  He seemed really frustrated, but he stuck it out. For the last 5 years, he’s been consistent about going to networking groups, making friends, and doing great work for the clients that he was able to get. Over time, people noticed:  his colleagues heard from their colleagues about the great work he was doing. They noticed his consistency, and trusted that since he’d been around for a while with a smile on his face, he must do good work.  As they learned about what he did for his customers, and they kept seeing him “all over town,” they began to think of him when someone they knew might benefit from what he offered.  His tenacity filled his pipeline with leads that now come to him almost effortlessly: a referral-driven business is hands-down the easiest business to leverage and grow.

There’s real value in your reputation

I often hear people talk about “strategies” for getting others to refer you.  Some of them work, and work well.  But there is nothing like being buoyed by your reputation alone:  it is effortless, fun, synergistic, and financially-lucrative.

Get out there and network

Today is a great day for you to start prioritizing a solid networking strategy:  Identify the groups and/or associations around town where your ideal client is a member and make sure you make an appearance.  Don’t obsess about your business cards and having an “elevator pitch.”  Just go.  Be nice, make friends, engage in good conversations, be supportive of other members, and as opportunities come up for you tell people what you do, go ahead and share.  But don’t over-share. Keep focused on them and be encouraging.

Next month, when the group gets together, show up. Talk to the members.  Ask so-and-so how their project is doing. I can almost guarantee you that they’re going to ask, “How’s business?” Tell them. If you’re clicking, invite them to coffee.  Build the relationship.

If they tell you that a big “day” is coming for them, make a note on your calendar and email them on the big day, tell them you’re thinking of them and wish them luck.

BE FRIENDLY. Be supportive.  Come from your heart.

And most importantly, BE CONSISTENT.  Attend 60-80% of the meetings.  You will likely start to see a trickle of referrals after 3-6 months.  By 18 months, you should be getting a few referrals a month. Four to five years in, there is a good chance your business will be THRIVING with referrals-only.

Be genuine and avoid kickbacks

Throw away the gimmicks.  Don’t ask people for referrals.  If they ask you if you can help a friend, be enthusiastic, tell them you’ll do a free call or whatever-it-is they can give their friend that is helpful and doesn’t require anything from the other party monetarily.

I quit offering a “kickback” to colleagues years ago … it doesn’t work.  If they like you, they’re going to refer you.  If they’re only referring you for money, it’s not a good referral to start with.  I even had a very successful friend and colleague chastise me when I *first* started my business because he did NOT want me offering kickbacks. If I started doing that, he said, he’d never refer me.  When he sent someone my way, he was putting his reputation on the line.  He didn’t ever want people to think that he sent them to me because he had something monetarily to gain.

And he’s right.

In my opinion, the only time you commission your services is when it’s another complementary business that’s bringing you in under the guise of partnership.  That’s ethical, common, and fair.

If you’re good and take care of your clients, if you consistently show up and work for the highest good, you will grow a referral-driven business that you can ride to the moon.

Question:  How much of your business is referral-based?  What do you do to nurture your collegial relationships in the marketplace?

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Find More Prospects Through Industry Associations

Find more prospects through industry assocationsFor many independent professionals, knowing where to “fish” for good prospects is a crucial step in putting together a solid marketing plan.  Once you know where your most promising prospects gather, you can begin to identify opportunities to connect with, serve, and support them.


Key questions for finding the best prospects

There are a few key questions that can help you profile your customer and hone in on fantastic opportunities for serving them.

Ask yourself:

  1. Who have I enjoyed serving most? Who has given me a particularly profound sense of joy, contribution and fulfillment?
  2. Is there a group or industry that seems drawn to my work?
  3. Who is giving me the most referrals? Why?
  4. Do I have professional and/or corporate experience in a field or industry that would benefit from the ways I want to make a difference?

While there is no fool-proof road map to uncovering your ideal customer, there are some things you can do to begin identifying where in the marketplace a pool of great prospects exists for your work. I’ve offered several key research strategies for finding customers in my article, “How do I find good customers.”  Tops on the list is uncovering which associations provide a gathering-place for people whose needs, frustrations, goals, hopes and dreams are aligned with what you offer.

Network with clients through associations

Associations are basically professional affinity groups, and there is an association for every kind of profession and professional imaginable. When you’re contemplating a certain customer profile, sometimes it can be helpful to learn what associations are acting as a hub for these people; then, you can find out what opportunities might exist for you to network and showcase within them through local meetings, national events, trade shows and industry publications, etc.

There are three resources that might help you find the association(s) you’re looking for:

  1. American Society of Association Executives and the Center for Association Leadership Directory of Associations. This resource is easy-to-use and updated daily. We recommend using the “Association Name Contains” search feature. This resource will show you the associations, but not their email or web address. You will have to search the web with the association name to find the right URL.
  2. Weddles Association Directory. This list is broken down by subject or industry, and will link you directly to the corresponding website. There isn’t a feature that allows you to do a search of the entire database. You will need to select from their industry categories.
  3. Concept Marketing Group’s Directory of Associations. This is a subscription-based service, with a 48-hour free trial.


Question: What resources have you found to be good sources of information for tapping into your market?

5 Strategies for Attracting High-Quality Prospects

IStock 000007929178XSmallWhen was the last time you had a bad experience with a pushy telemarketer, or a clueless store associate, or an intimidating car salesman?

These experiences have an interesting affect on us as business owners … they can trick us into thinking that we have to develop aggressive “sales” skills for “overcoming objections” and “getting to “Yes,” and they simultaneously scare us into thinking we have to become these pushy people we detest if we want to get clients and become successful.

What’s the trick to finding new clients?

Finding clients is really much simpler than this. To attract customers, we have to first sell ourselves on what we offer. We do this by understanding who we serve and what they need, and packaging ourselves to solve their problems in a way that they want to buy. When we believe in what we offer, we have a confidence in the marketplace that can’t be faked, and it’s very important to our success! So SELL YOURSELF FIRST.

The next step in the process comes up as a challenge for people almost every time I speak, and on many Strategy Sessions: What if my customer doesn’t even know they need these skills? or What if they don’t know they’re missing something?

Many times, that is the case: Our customers don’t know what they don’t know. Trying to convince them to hire us when they don’t even know they need us…that’s an uphill battle, and seems to require some really aggressive selling.

Build marketing through good rapport

When this question came up at a recent presentation, I asked, “How many of you have ever attended a workshop or conference where they talked about the basics of building rapport?” Hands go up all over the room. Good, I thought. “So what are they?”

“Ask questions about people. Learn about their background.”

“Active listening. Pay attention to them when they talk.”

“Match their words.”

“Appreciate them for what they’ve experienced and accomplished.”

“Smile and nod with them.”

“All right,” I replied. “And that is how you connect with people in your marketing. Understand them. Listen to them. Relate to their frustrations. Connect with what they’re experiencing emotionally that they don’t share with most people. Use their language, not yours. Make the exchange all about them.” I looked around the room at the wide-eyed faces. There were “A-ha!” lightbulbs going off everywhere. They’re really getting it! I thought, and I smiled, too.

Marketing isn’t smoke-and-mirrors (though understandably, this is often its reputation), it’s Human Behavior 101, and you achieve success by aligning with how people naturally understand their own problems.

Building rapport and becoming the person that others enjoy doing business with is our most important work in the marketplace. To achieve this goal, understand your customers well:

  • Learn what’s frustrating to them, where they get stuck, what they want to change.
  • Understand and empathize with the challenges they face in the office, at home, even from their in-laws.
  • What is overwhelming about being stuck?
  • How is “being stuck” keeping them from achieving their goals personally or professionally?
  • How is it affecting their sense of contribution, of value, of self-worth?

With these distinctions, you can begin to craft a marketing message that connects with their point of need – their pain and frustrations. Use their words, highlight their dilemmas, empathize with the frustrations they have and let them see that you really understand them. People want to know that you GET THEM.

Oftentimes, people are struggling with things they’re not talking about with their peers. These struggles can be a very internal, private experience for them, so when you begin connecting with that pain and frustration, and empathizing with the places they’re stuck, your light begins to shine. You don’t need to connect solely with the pain and frustration—connect with their desires and dreams as well! Understand what they want to achieve, attain or become. And believe in their potential to actualize it!

You won’t even have to tell people what you offer—they can FEEL that you must offer something fabulous because you really get them. You even get the stuff that no one else seems to understand. They’ll ask you how you can help—a refreshing change-of-pace!

Build rapport through meaningful connections

We want to connect in a meaningful way with the people we serve, using their words and their experiences to build rapport.

In Tom Richard’s article, 5 ways to build rapport with a complete stranger, he reveals that, “Your prospects think that THEY are the most important person in the world, and they expect to be treated as such. To build rapport quickly, you must learn to put that customer and their needs first. Curb the talk about how your company is the biggest and the best, and skip the part about how your product is superior to all other products in the market. The prospect needs to come to that realization independently, and the only way for that to happen is for you to remain humble.”

Here are 5 simple rapport-builders that you can leverage through networking, speaking, and marketing:

  1. Connect wholeheartedly with your customer’s pain, frustration, and/or desire. Show your customers that you “get” them. You can do this in marketing copy by leading with bullets or a “typical scenario.” When talking with your prospects, ask them questions that show you understand the struggles they’re dealing with or the desires they have. Understand their struggle, and give them permission to dream for something different.
  2. Use your customer’s words and colloquialisms. Many times, our expertise on a subject features its own vernacular, and it’s quite likely that your prospects, who often don’t even know that they need you, will be completely unfamiliar with the words that you use to talk about your expertise. This will interrupt rapport. In the beginning, instead of talking about your processes or the solutions you provide and the way you provide them, talk about THEIR processes, their common work experiences and scenarios, and use their words when relating to them.
  3. Dress the part—as your customers define it. The market you target is going to expect an “expert,” or someone from whom they’d accept help, to look a certain way. Make sure you understand what your market expects, and look the part—especially in your headshots and while on stage. For some, this means wearing a suit. For others, this means NOT wearing a suit. This doesn’t apply solely to your physical appearance—this applies to anything aesthetic related to your business that can make a first impression: website, one sheet, brochures, books, and more. Your customers are making a judgment about your quality and trust-ability based on their first impressions—don’t confuse them about how great you are by putting something out there that doesn’t represent you well.
  4. Shut up and listen. We love what we know, and we love to share it. We’re passionate about it; we get so excited to talk about these fabulous distinctions we’ve learned. We think the whole world is gonna be so moved by what we say, because it’s moved us! The truth is … no one cares. They really don’t. They are more excited or preoccupied with what they have to say, and if you can give them the opportunity to say it, and really connect with them when they do by listening and empathizing, you will become the hero. The respect and affection will be reciprocated—they will realize how fabulous you are and how useful you might be to helping them find a breakthrough.
  5. Pace yourself. Every customer has a different “speed” they track to process how you can help and to make a buying decision. Don’t rush them; mirror them. Learn to read the clues that reveal where they’re at, what information they need, and give them the time they need to figure out what is right for them. This doesn’t mean you don’t follow up—it means you don’t rush them or leave them waiting when they’re ready to say, “GO!”

You don’t have to learn how to overcome objections when you align with people in a way that keeps you from getting objections in the first place. And when you take the time up front to build trust and rapport, your customers will reach out to you to work together, no manipulating or conniving or “aggressive sales tactics” needed.

Can I help you find your breakthrough? Request a complimentary Strategy Session.

Question:  What are some strategies you use in the marketplace to connect powerfully to your prospects?


How do I explain to prospects what I do?

In my last blog post, I told you about my advice to one of my clients who struggled to find a way to explain to his clients what he does: No one cares about what you do, so why bother trying to explain it?

When my coaching colleagues get together to talk about how to get business, this question often comes up frequently as: How can I educate people about coaching and why they should have a coach?

I often chime in to these conversations. I understand why my colleagues say this, and I get that they’re frustrated because it seems the marketplace might not “get” who they are or why they’re valuable. The challenge with this thinking, though, is it focuses your attention on the wrong thing: you.

Focus on your potential clients, not on yourself

Here’s the truth: few people really care to learn about your business if they don’t see that it’s valuable to them.  Rather than focusing on talking about your business, focus instead on listening to them talk about their business, their situation, their needs, frustrations, hopes and dreams.

  • Empathize with them, show them that you understand their situation.
  • Ask good questions that shift their paradigm and help them realize another way of looking at things.
  • Offer resources that might be useful to them (have you thought about checking out XXXX?).
  • Share stories of clients who’ve found themselves in similar situations to your prospect and if they seem open, let them know how you helped.

Naturally, they will begin to “pick up” on the fact that you have something really valuable to offer, and they’ll begin to ask you questions about what they should do.

Be valuable in the moment

And when they ask questions, answer what you can in the moment. Don’t “withhold” because they aren’t paying you. Be valuable. If they ask questions that can’t be answered in the moment, tell them so, and let them know that you have programs or resources that could help them when the time is right. But don’t just say You can hire me to help you. TURNOFF. Truly be helpful in the moment … if they’re truly a prospect, they need your expertise beyond that question. The goodwill and credibility you build in the moment is far more valuable to you than the opinion you have that you might be tempted to withhold.

If you’re resonating with them, and if they’ve got sufficient leverage to make a change and create a different result in their circumstance, if you’re connecting and making sense, it won’t matter what title you give yourself; what will matter to them is that you obviously can help them.

Create an opportunity for a meaningful conversation, not to make a pitch

When it comes to getting business, it’s far more important that you understand who your customers are, what their pain / frustrations are, what they’re striving for, how they’re getting stuck, what outcomes they’re seeking, what dreams they have that are tied to realizing their goal, what conversations they’re having with others or themselves to try to resolve their dilemma, where they’re having conversations and what resources (however inept) they’re tapping to help them resolve their dilemma. Your ability to connect with them and create opportunities to have meaningful conversations is far more useful than a pithy line or “positioning statement.”

Don’t get me wrong … each of my clients has a succinct way they position themselves and a “statement” we develop they can use. But I don’t guide them to “focus” on figuring that out—instead, we focus on figuring their clients out, and looking for opportunities to connect with their needs in the marketplace.

Listen, Learn and Grow Your Business

To help you with this process, download the Emotional Triggers/Pleasure States tables. Spend some time answering questions from the How Should I Market Myself? worksheet. When you’re networking this week, look for opportunities to have conversations with your prospects where you learn about them—really LISTEN—and ask good questions, offer support, look for opportunities to be of service. LEARN. These are the kinds of opportunities you must master creating to fill your pipeline and grow your business.

Need help? Request a complimentary Strategy Session and let’s put our heads together!