Introducing strangers to your consulting expertise is often a challenge but introducing it to people you already know can be downright painful. Have you ever wondered what opportunities you might be missing because you don’t know how to speak to your friends and family about your professional practice?
If you’ve ever felt like a predator while trying to introduce your firm and its capabilities to a personal friend or family member, you are not alone. Our lives often turn into silos where one doesn’t integrate well with the other. We talk about work with our co-workers, about family with our relatives, and about neighborhoods with our neighbors.
But what if the person that lives next door is an executive with a company just like those that your firm assists? Should you risk the potential awkwardness of mentioning your services to him?
Or what about your kid’s soccer coach, the one with the accounting practice with many clients in your most relevant sector. Can you possibly introduce your expertise to her without making the next ten years of watching soccer an awkward endeavor?
At this point, it is important to establish the difference between an introduction, and a referral. Although they have the same goals (needs discovery, positioning, and qualification) introductions and referrals differ in terms of their source and impact.
An introduction can be offered by anyone that is aware of your position as an expert. It is simply the process of making someone aware that you exist, and are an expert at something. A referral is an endorsement by someone that has direct positive experience working with you on a relevant project.
Usually friends and family can only offer introductions as they have never actually worked with you on a relevant project (building your deck does not count). Technically, if you were to ask them for a referral (a form of endorsement) you would be asking them to lie on your behalf. Do you see where the discomfort starts to sneak in?
Friends, family and neighbors will introduce you to a stranger, mention your name to a colleague, or tell you about a potential opportunity if two things are in place. First, there must be some reward in it for them.
If you immediately thought about an extrinsic reward like money or material gifts I suggest you focus instead on social rewards like praise, recognition, and most importantly status. It is the difference between bribing and encouraging. And here’s where your position as an expert gives you a very tangible advantage.
When family or friends introduce a well-regarded expert, they gain a bit of the expert’s status simply via association. This is a powerful social reward.
Second, there must be no downside.
A consultant that is not an obvious expert is of uncertain value to potential clients – and quite possibly just a poorly-disguised unemployed person. This is a difficult and potentially embarrassing introduction for the introducer to make.
As well, poor sales skills demonstrated by the consultant – those based on persuading or convincing, rather than assisting, can also raise the level o f discomfort for an introducer. Why would they introduce a consultant to their colleagues if they are worried that the consultant will simply hound them for business in an inappropriate manner?
Just like a regular sales call, most potential sources of introduction or referral will never bear fruit – but don’t be discouraged by this. Recognize this as the standard and carry on. It only takes one introduction to make it all worthwhile. It’s just that it takes a lot of introductions to get to that one good one.
To help inspire those that will introduce you, try and show them your expertise instead of telling them about it. For example, a press release or story about one of your prestigious speaking events in the media will get your friends and family telling everyone they know that they are connected to John Doe, the expert consultant.
Another tactic to use is to tell a story to reinforce understanding. When someone outside of your professional community asks you at a family gathering “So exactly what is it that you do?” reply…
“I work for ACME Consulting. We assist American financial services organizations evaluate and train their sales force. So for example a typical project of ours is…”
Let’s go back to our soccer coach example. Here’s how you should handle that one. In a quiet moment, at the end of practice, approach the accountant/coach and say:
“Coach, I know that you are aware that I am little Jimmy’s Dad, but I’m not sure if you know that I am also a management consultant that specializes in assisting financial services firms to assess and optimize their sales force. It is my understanding that your company does a lot of work in that sector. Now I’m not sure if your clients ever face sales challenges but if they do, and they ever look to you for direction, please feel free to call me. I may be able to help them, or else direct them to an appropriate source for assistance. Here’s my card, and would it be alright if I forward you the occasional article that I write on the subject?”
If you cannot briefly, accurately, and confidently communicate your unique position in the marketplace as an expert, you can be certain that your friends, family, acquaintances and neighbors will not either. A wise old sage once told me:
“I make sure my friends and family understand what I do, and for whom I do it. Then, if they decide they want my assistance, I wait for them to come to me.”
You should too.
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"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching