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Business Networking Tips: The Big Difference Is YOU!

How many different accountants do you know?

What about laywers? Insurance brokers? Graphic designers?

Many I’ll bet.

It gets worse if you do any sort of networking. You probably have several of each in your contact list or in your shoebox of business cards.

Do you remember anything about them?

You might have a vague memory of most of them, but a few did leave a most lasting impression, didn’t they? Why? What was it that made you remember them? Do you do business with them? What about the other 4, 5 or 10 others of the same type? Was there any hope for them to break into your “consideration set”, the people who you’d consider purchasing from if you needed their service?

It begs the question, then: In high-touch service industries like these how does someone set themselves apart?

In the world of professional services, there are accountants, lawyers, roofers, plumbers, hairdressers, coaches, consultants, and advisors and many, many others of all stripes and colours.

After you meet several of one type, don’t they all blend in after a while?

I don’t know about you, but at every networking event that I attend, I meet *yet* another real estate agent, insurance broker, graphic designer or accountant – who’s working the room and making contacts. Hey, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that – networking is a great strategy if done correctly. But most of the time their approaches aren’t anything to write home about. Naturally, as a marketer this drives me bananas. And of course sooner or later, I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer.

(And sooner or later, I’m probably going to get into trouble and have it shut FOR me – but that’s for another post.)

One evening, in a less-than-forgiving mood, fueled perhaps by particularly horrible canapes, I was subjected to a particularly bland and extremely typical elevator speech by a young financial services advisor. Randy seemed like a nice enough guy who wouldn’t punch me in the face, so I risked it and asked:

“Randy, let me ask you something. I’ve got 5 financial advisors in my Rolodex, one of whom is my current advisor, and another who is my client. Aside from them, I probably have a few dozen in a shoebox with hundreds of other cards. Tell me exactly why I should add your card into my Rolodex?”

Why should I add your card to my Rolodex?

Randy was somewhat taken aback (not exactly the question you’d expect back in that situation!) And to be fair, there is no easy answer to this question on the spot like that. He took his best stab at it and I’ve compiled them below with my own comments (no, I didn’t share them with him, that would be too cruel, c’mon!)

He mentioned:

  • That he’s professional and that he cares about his clients. (Yep. They all are and they all do. Or say they do, anyway.)
  • That he works with a reputable firm that been around for many years so there are stable and secure. (They all are. If it matters anymore. Hello, Lehman Brothers)
  • That they manage  a portfolio of gabagillions (They all do. As of a few weeks ago, perhaps several fewer gabagillions.)
  • That they offer many investment options so I’m able to get the best fit for my needs (They all have the same options.)
  • That he’s invested in my success (They all say they are).

Check, check, and check. It’s all stuff that’s the same for any financial advisor or stuff that I won’t be able to verify until I’ve become a client to see for myself whether he walks his talk.

The challenge of all service professions?

It seems that as long as you are dealing with a competent (that’s the key word) professional, you can expect to enjoy similar attributes and features between them. So if that’s the case, then what makes someone choose one service professional over another? How the heck do you stand out if you are a financial advisor? Or any service provider for that matter?

(Sure, some service professionals never return your call, don’t deliver, etc. etc. They don’t count, they’re not competent. But we don’t know about this until after we buy, right? What’s that? Check references you say? Yes, it should be done and it’s not done enough, but even the lousiest professional has couple of people willing to serve a reference)

So where does that leave us? After all, none from this laundry list of features and benefits are going to tip the scale. It’s all the same. We need something different.

The ONLY thing that will tip the scale towards a purchase decision…

There is only one thing that will tip the scale. There is only one variable in this equation that always results in a differentiated service.

You.

Yes, you.

You are the only variable that cannot be replicated. Your competitors can have the same hours, offer the same products, get certified from the same place, offer the same result, same, same, all the same as you, but they can never be you.

Think of all the service providers you deal with. The reason you deal with them probably has something to do what what they *uniquely* bring to the table. Which is very much linked to them as a person. The values and attributes that you appreciate and… like! They’ve inspired you to do business with them.

And therein lies the secret. “Like” and “inspire”. In order for us to like you and be inspired to do business with you Mr. and Ms. Service Pro, we need to connect with you on a personal level.  You’ve got to let us in so we can see who you are. We’ve got to fit together (and we should – after all, I should be your ONE person).

How do I connect at a personal level?

To achieve this you’ve got to bust through your financial services/ accountant / consultant / coach / uniform and let the world see the authentic you.

How are you, when you are your authentic YOU? Are you happy-go-lucky, trustworthy and nurturing? Are your steadfast, reliable and exact? Creative, passionate and visionary? These are the qualities and attributes that have to come through. These are the components of a powerful BRAND IDENTITY that gives permission for people to be inspired and want to connect with you and like you. Forget donning the persona of what the world “expects” from your profession. Everyone else is doing the same thing, so the best you can hope for is your sliver of the pie.

But if you have the COURAGE to let the authentic you come forth, then you will inspire.

Won’t some people be turned off? Won’t you appeal to a more narrow market that with your “one-size-fits-all” brand identity?Yes, and this terrifies some business owners. They feel like they have lost opportunity. And that is what prevents them from adopting this sort of approach.

But it’s exactly what you want. You will inspire fewer people, but those who you do will be passionate and loyal and will not be able to imagine doing business with anyone else but you

A current client who works for a large financial services company told me all the other “gurus” who have come in though their doors told them to do the same old rote stuff. To be the “robotron” of a financial advisor. I’m the first one to tell her to be authentic. Her authentic identity – and the message that goes with it – is going to inspire her ONE person so powerfully it’s most certainly going to create a passionate and raving fan. (Keep an eye out for her, she is going to go break into the scene with a bang when we’re done with her.)

Is a facade masking the authentic you? How much are you watering down your natural, God-given brand identity by acting the way you’re “expected” to act?

Apart from YOU, services are pretty much the same. There are not other business networking tips that can distinguish you from the rest. Therefore your authentic you has to show up in every interaction and throughout your marketing.

Am I overblowing this “like” and “authentic” stuff? Does it really matter or do people want their accountants to fit the stereotypical mold? Let us know in the comments below.

About Peter Vogopoulos

Peter Vogopoulos is a marketing and business coach, university lecturer and co-founder of Firepole Marketing.

20 thoughts on “Business Networking Tips: The Big Difference Is YOU!

  1. Nicely done, Sir! I was JUST having this exact conversation with my Test Kitchen students yesterday and will now share your post with all of them as additional info on the topic. It’s funny to me how many folks are afraid to share their secret sauce with the world.

    • Nice to hear and thank you, Tea. 

      Encourage your students to be authentic! Not only will it be easier for them to sustain (try pretending to be something you are not for any period of time), but they will rise above the other me-toos in their industry. 

      They have to be bold, but if they can stomach stepping away from the safety that comes with “going the crowd” and “blending in”, they will be very, very successful.

      Thanks for commenting!
      Peter

    • Yes, Tea…this was perfect huh…I am already a fan of  Firepole but I had not read this yet.  It was in perfect alignment with you excellent advice yesterday! You rock!

  2. Very excellent and timely post.  I offer a discounted rate for the 1st month we work together so that my new client can get to know ME and I can get to know them.  Especially if we are in this for the long run…its the perfect time to be authentic. I firmly believe from that initial phone call you BOTH know if this works or not.  I believe in total honestly so that I attract what’s real…my client needs to be just as authentic for this new relationship to work!  Love ya Danny!

    • Great idea, Michelle. It’s a smart way to lay down the foundation for a good working relationship, and approaching it from the perspective of authenticity, as you are doing, just ensures that it’s sustainable for the long term. Good going!

  3. This morning the nagging question of what is my USP woke me up. After 10 years of being an entrepreneur, I’m still trying to answer this question.  Every response I came up with I’m not the only one who can offer the same thing.  So, I started praying and asking God to reveal it to me. I just got my revelation. There is no other Rita Jo. I have a lot to offer as being me. I love me and people do too. (Most people!)

    This is a very timely post. Thank you very much!

  4. Danny,  This is hilarious – you just gave me a flashback to my days as an insurance broker (20 years worth).  The producer sold the business, but what he was really selling was ME – I’m the one who took over after the sale.  I was not going to golf with them or look cute leaning over the desk. So, I was not for everyone.  However, for those who wanted what I offered (figuring out exactly what they wanted, how they wanted it, how often, and Being There every step of the way), I never lost a client.

    • Excellent example of the concept, Julie. In the end, what’s on the letterhead matters less than who’s sitting across the desk. Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  5. I was just reading a post from Jeff Goins on Modern Networking being Broken (http://goinswriter.com/broken-networking/). He was suggesting to connect on a personal level, going beyond the regular networking and making friends by helping them, caring about them,…

    You guys know me pretty well, and I come across as very outgoing and social. I connect everyone I know or have just met. I ask about what they’re looking for and I follow-up properly afterwards. Interestingly, I do turn off a few people, but most people appreciate my energy and approach. 

    So I agree with what you’re saying, and I seem to have found my authentic voice. And my business stands out by itself, which helps setting me appart. 

    So that being said, I think besides being authentic you need your services to have an edge, to be somewhat (or very) unique.

    • Hi Matt, 

      Thanks for commenting! I wonder if the uniqueness and/or edge you are referring to is something that, at the root of it all, comes from *you* to begin with. 

      You know what I’m sayin’?

      Peter

      • I see what you’re saying. I’d say that yes, at the root of it all, it comes from me. There have obviously been a lot of external influences, but the decisions I made reflected my vision for my services.
        What i was saying in my comment, in other words, is that we should apply our personality and uniquess all the way into our products and services, not just when we’re interacting with others. I think we’re saying the same thing in a way 🙂
        Matt

  6. Hi Peter, great post! Just a couple comments:
     
    1. I think it’s important to note that the personality/individuality factor isn’t just about friendliness and rapport – it’s also about the person’s willingness/ability to think independently about your specific situation, and apply their expertise in ways that help you specifically.

    2. All things being equal in terms of the person’s ability, I completely agree with you. However, I just wish it really was that easy to find a competent professional! I’ve been through a lot of accountants and lawyers, and haven’t found a single one who understands the reporting and tax requirements for my (fairly standard) situation better than I do. At this point I’d rather hire a total jerk who knows what they’re doing, rather than someone who is genuine but whose work I can’t trust.

  7. I like businesses that know exactly who they are, what they stand for and who they want to work for.   Businesses that aren’t afraid to tell you that you’re not a fit for them…are companies I remember. Maybe Randy would have had a better shot had he said he only works with clients who want to eventually move over seas to developing nations or he only works with Freelance web developers. Sure he wouldn’t be a fit for 99% of the people out there, but he would stick in your mind and be a much better resource for the 1% who are his ideal customers. Probably wouldn’t get your business, but if you knew anyone that could use him…I bet you’ld be far more likely to recommend him. 

    • That’s really well put, Steve, and you’re exactly right – this works best when you stay away from going after the whole wide world, and are really focused on your target market instead… but of course, that’s the best way to do marketing. 😉

  8. Pingback: Unique Selling Proposition | RJ's Internet Marketing Blog

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