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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are You Too Busy For Success?

Blogging From The Desk of Alicia Lagarde-Craig

Are you too busy for success?

If your best clients think highly of you, why aren’t they referring business your way? Your unconscious actions could be the impediment. Many of us telegraph our importance by talking about how busy we are. We speak quickly, pass off clients’ routine questions to someone else, take cell phone calls during meetings, or leave a caller on hold for more than a few seconds.

There’s nothing wrong with being busy. But looking busy can be a problem. Your clients may feel the need to protect their relationship with you by not adding to your workload. Worse still, you may be setting up your best clients to be poached. If they’re concerned about imposing on you, they’ll be relieved to find someone—anyone—who’s willing to take the time to answer their questions.

Keeping established clients is essential to finding new ones. These 10 ideas, many from Max Dixon, a Seattle-based communication coach, will help you make others feel important—and encourage them to refer friends and family your way.

1. Create a ritual. Between points, great tennis players will often adjust their racket’s strings. Their strings don’t need adjusting. These players have just trained themselves to perform a ritual so that they can maintain their concentration, regardless of what’s happening in the match.Before an appointment, stop what you’re doing and sit or stand silently for a full 10 seconds. Take a deep breath. This lets you collect your thoughts and increases your oxygen intake, which has a calming effect. The calmer you are, the more attentive you can be to clients.

2. Perform a slow behavior. This can be as simple as walking over to the client and shaking hands while making eye contact. The key is to do it slowly and deliberately. Spending even two extra seconds on this gesture will send the message that you consider this person important.

3. Enunciate your vowels. People who are in a hurry tend to emphasize their consonants, making their language sound unemotional and clipped. By sounding out vowels when you speak, you express yourself with compassion. You and your client will be more emotionally involved in the conversation and feel more connected. In addition, your word speed will slow, giving the conversation more impact.

4. Carry out important conversations away from your desk. At the office, meet with clients in a conference room. Moving out of your position of authority demonstrates that the person is important enough to meet on an equal basis.

5. Listen to people. I’m often asked for advice. For years I’d get a rough idea of the problem then launch into possible solutions. In one typical encounter, after I’d talked myself out, the person said, “Well, I was thinking about doing such and such. What do you think?” She already had the answer and just wanted my confirmation.Now when someone asks for advice, I ask, “What do you think you should do?” Then I listen. This shows respect and sends the message that you believe the person is smart enough to have the answer.

6. Stay with people a beat beyond. Do your conversations have an air of “let’s get this over with”? One of the symptoms is responding before the other person finishes. To counteract that impulse, do what Dixon recommends: Wait at least two full seconds after the other person stops speaking before responding. This ensures the person is finished and gives you time to consider your response.One good friend puts his telephone on mute during conference calls so that he can concentrate on what others are saying. If a question is directed to him, he must release the mute button before he can speak. This gives him a moment to collect his thoughts before he speaks.

7. When clients leave your office, walk them to the door. It’ll demonstrate your respect and give you the chance to emphasize, with a handshake or another gesture, the connection you’ve created.

8. Read a life-management book, such as What Matters Most from Franklin/Covey. People who are critical of themselves or irritated by where they are in life tend to be irritated with everyone around them. When people know their values—for instance, that financial stability ranks below family life—they tend to be more at peace.

9. Write a description of your ideal client and jettison those who are farthest from that ideal. Most professionals are afraid to give up clients. But there’s an important reason to do so: Parkinson’s Law. It means a job expands to fill the time allotted. So if you have 200 clients, you’ll fill your days taking care of those 200 clients; if you have 100 clients, you’ll fill your time servicing 100. With fewer, you’ll be able to develop a closer, more trusting relationship with each client.

10. Create a system that lets your clients know, when they least expect it, that they’re important to you. Have you ever received a letter of appreciation or a gift that you kept for a long time? I’m not talking about sending flyers or calendars—I’m talking about sending personalized letters and gifts that your clients or prospects don’t expect. By mailing one appreciation card a day, you send a powerful message to clients that they’re worth your time. Isn’t feeling special something all of us want?