Let's face the facts: Desirable prospects are extremely busy and deluged with offers from your competitors. If you can't get their interest in the first minute, they'll be gone in 60 seconds.

The No. 1 question that people want answered before they begin a business relationship is this: "Why should I do business with you instead of your competitor?"

Think about your last major purchase. Did you shop around first? If you did, I'll bet it was because you wanted the answer to that same question about your purchase.

Successful people have a low tolerance for beating around the bush. If you think you can answer that question with a quick "we give great service" and expect a sale, you are sadly mistaken. What do you think your competitors say—that they give bad service?

The first key to constructing your answer is that it must be measurable. Next, it must focus on some aspect of your business that your market needs and wants. Finally, it should differentiate you from competitors. For example, compare this answer, "I help people meet their financial goals," with this one, "I help my clients replace their paychecks in retirement and make sure they never run out of money once they retire, by offering both wealth management and financial planning."

If someone wants either to replace her paycheck in retirement or to make sure she won't run out of money, she has learned in the first 60 seconds that you are the person to talk to. These short statements are often called "value propositions," "unique selling propositions" or "elevator pitches." Some of my clients have successfully built value propositions by focusing on one niche or even by working with employees of only one company.

Now, you may have more than one target market. For example, you may work with both retirees and younger business owners. I would recommend having a different statement for each type of prospect centered on their interests rather than your interests. Do you think you want to position yourself as a high risk/high reward expert who can help clients get access to exciting new companies through your firm's investment banking relationships? Maybe your ideal prospect is looking for high-growth opportunities. Maybe you want to position yourself as an expert on finding stable income-producing investments for people who are retired. If you want to customize a value proposition for each type of client, create more than one value proposition.

Okay, you have managed to get the "fish" on the hook and create interest by using a carefully crafted introduction. Now what? How do you move this relationship along? Well, it might be nice to ask this person a question. Not the typical lame, "How are you?" which guarantees the equally lame reply, "Fine." How about something like, "What is the best thing going on with you and your family lately?" Or if you know what he does for a living, ask him what he likes best about his profession.

These types of questions typically produce a positive answer, shifting the conversation to a positive tone. For example, you have a client refer someone to you and you are calling him to set up an appointment:

"Hi, Mr. Johnson, this is Bob Jones from ABC Securities. Mark Ross asked me to give you a call, and I promised him I would. I help people replace their paycheck in retirement and, once retired, help clients make sure they don't run out of money through my wealth management services. We work exclusively by referral, and you were referred by Mark. Mark mentioned you are planning for retirement. Is that right? (Yes) Great, what are you looking forward to most in retirement?"

Once he starts answering, you will begin generating the type of interest needed to justify setting up an appointment.

Here is another example with someone you met at a party or networking event: "Do you know how some people want to retire, but find they have to work longer than expected because of changes in the economy? (Yes) Well, what I do is help people replace their paycheck in retirement. Once they are retired, I also help them make sure they don't run out of money through my wealth management services. Tell me, what type of work do you do? What do you like best about that?"

Once they answer, ask for their card and promise to follow up. Finally, once you have a "hook" that generates interest, make it the foundation of all of your marketing. Leave it as a footer on your e-mail and stationery. Leave it on your voice mail. Use it in the beginning of the meeting when you meet with prospects. It is easier for clients to describe what you do to their friends if they know your "hook."

You can use the "hook" as a foundation for all of your marketing. If you would like a link to a free video that reveals a template to help you create your own "hook," send me an e-mail at this address.


Todd Colbeck is principal and founder of the Colbeck Coaching Group,
a subsidiary of General Business Center, Inc. You can reach him at this email address.

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