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Are You Still Relevant? Become a Trusted Advisor

By Ross Shafer

Are you still relevant enough to keep growing your market share? I’m not talking about your new web store and your client back office “dashboards. I’m talking about how you do business with the humans who give you money for your goods and services.

Consider this: Leaving voice mails, sending email, and blasting off a zillion text messages is fast, rejection safe, and killing your business. Worse, pedestrian electronic messaging “to stay in touch” reduces you and your company to a commodity. You’ve become a vendor. You’re a resource. You’re a supplier. Most of all you are vulnerable to allowing trusted advisers to steal your business. Unless you become a trusted advisor before your competition.

How do you do that? By creating an emotional, face-to-face relationship. Some executives get it. Ramani Ayer, CEO of The Hartford, told me, “We have built outstanding electronic tools to help our brokers manage a clients’ account but I want our people to initiate 60% more actual face-time. It’s the way we’ll grow our market share.”

He’s nailing it. As powerful as technology can be, electronic communications cause a disconnect of humanity from the transaction. Now, that’s Ok if you happen to be an ATM or a self-actuating kiosk. But, if you want to grow your market share – (translation: take more of your competitors business) in a highly competitive economy, you need to be physically present and friendly to your customers and clients.

The Consequences Are Horrifying: I met a stockbroker at a major financial conference who told me about one of his biggest client blunders.

 “I had this client, a quiet sort of guy who owned a print shop in town. His portfolio with me was about $700,000; which was nice but not one of my bigger fish. One day I hear from a mutual friend that he sold his print shop to a major chain for $16 million. I had no idea his little shop was worth that kind of money. So I call the guy to make an appointment about investing. He says, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. It’s almost Christmas and I may splurge and buy something fun for myself.’ So, I backed off. In January, I call again and find out from his wife that the man died just after Christmas. I explained to his wife that I was their stockbroker. She interrupts me to say, ‘I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. You’ve never been to our house. I’m going to let our son handle our finances.’”

Oops. This broker readily admits that he really blew it. He should have valued the account enough to create a genuinely emotional relationship with the man and his family. He focused on volume and servicing the portfolio when he could have become the family’s trusted advisor. In the banking world the axiom is “when people love you they give you more of their wallet.” Well, if he had adopted that philosophy, he would have been perfectly positioned to maintain and grow the account; post mortem. He might even have been enough of a trusted advisor to be referred to the widow’s friends. Instead, he was shut down - and out - because he didn’t see the value in knowing his client beyond the account balance.

Women Have The Advantage: It’s quite likely a woman would not have made that mistake. Women have long had the reputation of being better relationship builders and networkers. In fact, because women speak over 20,000 words a day (compared to barely 6,000 words for men) you could say that women were the first “viral”marketeers. Women talk; especially to other women. So, to be relevant, we really need to cater to the female demographics. Check that.

We should primarily focus the majority of our marketing efforts toward women. Not only due women account for 83% of all consumer purchasing, they have all the money. Ken Dycktwald, author of The Power Years, says that 70% of women will change financial advisors if they lose their spouse. Delia Passi, author of Winning The Toughest Customer says that by 2015, 15 trillion dollars will land in the hands of baby boomer women.

Women know that emotions bind a relationship in ways electronic media cannot. To women, business is personal and personal is business. They don’t differentiate a business relationship from a personal relationship. And since the only proven factor for repeat business is a strong emotional connection between people, women are more likely to create ongoing loyalty than their male counterparts.

Let’s Drink To That! Bob Walsh, creator of college basketball’s March Madness, learned a savvy lesson about selling and culture when he and media mogul Ted Turner wanted to create The Goodwill Games – an Olympic level athletic competition designed to heal the cold war wounds between the Soviet Union and the United States. The 1979 invasion of Afghanistan caused the USA and other Western countries to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, an act reciprocated when the Soviet and other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Although Bob and Ted wanted to sell the Russians on the idea of a jointly sponsored world event, he quickly learned that “selling” had nothing to do with the equation. It was all about trust. Naturally, all selling is about trust but it’s critical to know how to achieve that trust; especially in a wildly different culture. In Russia, trust is won through the consumption of vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. Vodka is the social and business lubricant that bonds people in those countries. So, any business meeting started with passing the bottle, laughing, sharing stories, and maybe some business. However, the business usually took place days or weeks after the drinking. If Bob had sat down and tried to hammer out a deal before getting sloshed, he would have been thrown out of the country. The old saying, “When in Rome,” also applied to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). As a result, the Russians never thought of Bob as a salesman. He was a comrade. And because they had so much trust in Bob, they offered him real estate development deals, pharmaceutical company partnerships, and even a wine distributorship.

But Is That Tactic Relevant For 2007? Fair question.  After all, the entire world has become tech-connected since Bob Walsh’s exploits of l984. You’ll like this.

Last week, the same Bob Walsh emailed me to say that he was staying in a very remote Ger (a tent) in Northern Mongolia. He was on a humanitarian mission when he “got wind” that a world famous Sumo wrestler named Asashoryu (world champion) Akinori was nearby in a heavily guarded compound. He was heavily guarded because the Japanese paparazzi were hiding behind camels and yaks to snap a shot of the controversial “crazy” wrestler. Bob passed the word along that he was a “big time” sports promoter and wanted to meet the wrestler. He was told that in no way could he meet Asashoryu. “The Asasahoryu sees no one,” was the official retort. Here is Bob’s account of what happened next:

“About two hours later a four wheel motorcycle approaches our camp. A huge man was driving. My translator went nuts, ‘It’s him! It’s him! The Asashoryu!!!’  He dismounted and we talked. We hit if off and he invited me to his Ger for dinner at 9pm. To call it a tent is ridiculous. It’s really a multi-million dollar resort. After 57 vodkas, 20 champagnes, and 100 laughs later (it’s now 4am) I walk away as the western agent for a Sumo wrestling champion. Naturally, I had to wrestle him. At 5’4” and 120 pounds, he had a slight advantage.”

While I’m in no way suggesting you have to drink your way into the good graces of your clients, I am touting the powers of laughter, honest talk, and “hitting it off” with your clients. Bob is a natural practitioner of empathy and emotional bonding. Not just for business reasons, but because he has a natural love and curiosity for people. He has learned, as a by-product, that the best sales tactic is not to “sell” but rather to become a trusted advisor.

Human relationships are always a relevant way to grow your business.

Read other articles and learn more about Ross Shafer.

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