I’m Not a Salesman … Or Am I?: 10 Tips for Maintaining Your Professional Image

As a thoracic (chest) surgeon, Aaron was used to working on hearts and lungs.

He’s a gifted surgeon, with a wonderful bedside manner, impeccable skills, and true caring for his patients’ lives and families. But the truth was, his case volume was down, and so too was his income. What to do?

Aaron was surprised to realize that he had a sales problem.

In the medical community that deals with the worldwide epidemic of heart disease, the cardiologist is king. When surgery is indicated, the cardiologist recommends a surgeon, and most patients, firmly bonded to the cardiologist, accept those recommendations. Aaron needed better relationships with cardiologists who could appreciate his skills and special talents. And a program of targeting specific cardiologists, and systematically and methodically building relationships with them, improved his income.

So what about you? You may not cut open people’s chests for a living … but if you’re a consultant, or an accountant, or an attorney, or a banker, or any of a variety of professions that rely on referrals, could you benefit from a sales approach like Aaron’s? Here are 10 tips to help you improve referrals without damaging your professional image:

1. Know who you’d like to have sending business your way. A Prospect List is not a list of organizations; it’s a list of human beings who could send clients to you, but are not currently doing so. Do you have such a list? There is data saying that writing up a list of those with whom you would like to be doing business, and reading the list daily, increases the likelihood that you will actually establish those relationships!

2. Work your Prospect List. Don’t let a single week go by without completing a minimum of two activities related to your Prospect List. Sometimes you can attend a meeting that is likely to put you face-to-face with targeted prospects; failing that, you may have to send an article of interest, and suggest an in-person meeting to discuss matters of mutual concern. Aaron chose to suggest coffee with the cardiologists he encountered when doing his rounds at the hospital with which he was affiliated.

3. When you speak with your prospects, use the word “you” often, and the word “I” (or “we”) seldom. Making the conversation more about your prospect and less about you will make conversations longer – perhaps long enough for trust to develop.

4. Begin every conversation with a prospect by adopting a “Clean Heart Position” – a sincere desire to see your prospects get what they want, whether or not they get it from you. Try to understand their practices/businesses, and what they’re trying to accomplish; ask questions about that rather than turning the discussion to the fact that you want them to refer people to you. Once you feel you understand their objectives for their practices/businesses, restate their objectives, and be sure that the prospect agrees that you understand. If they do agree, then you can introduce the notion that you may be able to assist them in achieving those objectives, if you legitimately feel that you can.

5. At all stages of the process of cultivating referrals, be sure you are focused on the prospect, rather than on your objectives, your message, or your agenda. The way to make meaningful connections is to understand what your prospect is trying to achieve, and the extent to which he or she has PAIN that you may be able to alleviate. For example, if you are an accountant seeking referrals from attorneys, you would want to focus a great deal on an attorney sharing with you that she has just had a bad experience referring one of her valued clients to an accountant who failed to return phone calls, thus angering the attorney’s client. If that’s the PAIN, then talk about that: “Oh no! The accountant you referred your client to didn’t even bother to return your client’s calls? Unbelievable!” Let the prospect know that you HEARD rather than talking about yourself and saying something like, “Well, I always return MY calls before sundown.” Of course, if you are asked your own protocol for returning calls, answer the question.

6. Keep your voice at the same volume level, and speak at the same pace as your prospect does, to build rapport. Research from Dr. Genie Laborde suggests that these may be the most powerful things you can do to help others to like you, quickly!

7. Express continued interest in your prospect. As Brian Tracy has said, listen as if he could speak for the next eight years, and you would still be here, listening attentively – rather than trying to make your point.

8. When speaking with prospects, make an effort to avoid using words that are rooted in the word “no”, such as not, won’t, can’t, don’t or aren’t. There’s evidence that such negativity will drive prospects away from you.

9. If the conversation gets to the possibility of working together, express enthusiasm for that, without going overboard or losing your professional demeanor.

10. Don’t forget the people who ARE currently sending you referrals. In addition to conveying your thanks after every referral, have a regular program of base-touching with them, and put it into your scheduling program so you’re reminded when to make the calls monthly, quarterly, or, at minimum, twice a year. And be sure to send business to them whenever you can – the best referral relationships are two-way!

Developing relationships with those who can refer others to you is possible, but it requires thought about whom you’d like to serve as referral sources – and action to cultivate these relationships. Follow these principles, and develop the referral sources who will support your firm’s growth for years to come!

About the author

Lenann Gardner is an internationally known sales consultant and author of Got Sales? The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services. A Harvard MBA, Lenann was the #1 sales rep worldwide at a unit of Xerox Corporation in her first year selling. She is a winner of the American Marketing Association’s Professional Services “Marketer of the Year” award for the work she has done in growing the businesses of accountants, consultants, attorneys, bankers, research scientists and other professional services providers. For more information, visit www.YouCanSell.com.


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