Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What’s the ultimate competitive advantage in business and in life? It’s your ability to learn and (just as importantly) to quickly put what you have learned into action.

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” -Jim Rohn

The first key is to understand that education is a lifelong process. Formal education may be finite and time-based, but self-education is ongoing and perpetual.

“Hard work spotlights the character of people; some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” -Sam Ewing

The second key is to become a voracious student in your field. Mastering your field requires an investment of time in study and continual practice toward perfection. All the masters and top earners in any field have this attitude toward learning. Having this attitude allows you to thrive in situations where your knowledge gives you the competitive advantage over your competitors. You must be passionate enough about your profession that committing to mastery is a natural step.

“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in.” -Abraham Lincoln

Mastery can come from attending conferences, reading books, or working with advisers, coaches, and mentors. There is no shortage of knowledge sources. Training, development, and continuous education are the highest return investments you and your business can make. Top businesses and top industry professionals make learning a priority. No matter how busy they are, they make time for it.

Brian Tracy, noted author and speaker, stated that the highest paid people in America read an average of 2-3 hours per day. Developing a habit of learning and an appetite for information, both within your field and also outside your area of expertise, are the keys to a life of passion, purpose, and profits.

Citing a recent study of successful companies, syndicated columnist Verne Harnish wrote that training and development “out-return[ed] any other investment a business could make — more than R&D, hard, or capital investment.” According to Harnish, such investments resulted in:

  • 24% higher profit margins
  • 218% higher income per employee
  • 86% higher company value
  • 21% increase in productivity
  • 300% reduction in employee turnover
  • A return per dollar invested of $6.72

(Source: The Growth Guy)

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” -John D. Rockefeller

Seek out the knowledge you need to be worthy of being a “trust agent” — someone who is viewed as a trusted adviser, rather than simply a supplier of services and goods. Make the investment and commit to continuous learning. You can’t win if you rely solely on keeping up with the status quo. Being a leader in your field means staying ahead by learning and becoming the known expert.

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Your VIP Clients

Even if you’ve already heard these statistics before or intuitively know them to be true based on your own experience, it may still be a bit startling to see them here again:

  • It can cost up to 7 times more to acquire one new customer than to keep a current one.
  • The likelihood of a prospect buying from you is between 5 and 20%. The likelihood of an existing customer buying from you again is between 60 and 70%.

Based on these numbers, it’s clear that nurturing and cultivating your existing client relationships can go a long way toward improving the health of your company’s bottom line. However, many companies devote most of their marketing budgets to new customer acquisition, rather than trying to keep existing customers coming back. New leads and customers are important, but your existing customers should also hold a very high place on your list of marketing priorities.

How can you keep customers coming back?

Sending simple thank you cards to show your appreciation is one idea. A monthly printed newsletter that informs, educates, and entertains is another. Picking up the phone and having a real conversation is perhaps the least expensive, yet most powerful way to retain existing clients.

There are many ways to show your appreciation, but timing is essential if you want to maximize the effect. The first 30 to 90 days after your new customer comes on board is the most important time to begin showing them your appreciation. If you haven’t done so already, create a blueprint for your remarkable customer experience plan that must be followed throughout your organization. Place one or two key people in charge of overseeing this plan to make sure it is implemented and followed through with every new customer.

This plan should have tasks and due dates attached for each activity. For example, your plan might call for a thank you card to be sent the day after a new customer comes on board. Gifts, lunches, coffee, phone calls, newsletters, and personal visits can all be part of the plan, as well. Make your customers feel like VIPs. Listen to their needs and respond quickly. What’s critical here is that you have a plan, that you have someone who is accountable for implementing the plan, and that you include due dates for each task in the plan.

Creating a remarkable customer experience can be as simple or as complex as you would like it to be. The more remarkable and unique you can make it, the more memorable the experience will be. The key is to have a plan and to always remember that it is much less expensive and profitable to keep an existing customer happy than it is to acquire a brand new customer.

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5 Keys to Getting Past the Gatekeeper

In business, the term “gatekeeper” refers to the person who has the authority to control access to the decision maker in the company. The gatekeeper guards and monitors traffic to the person in charge. In most companies, getting an appointment with the decision maker requires getting past the gatekeeper.

Selling to the decision maker requires learning the art and skill of gracefully getting past the gatekeeper. Here are five keys to help you get started:

Key #1: Speak with authority.
Whether you’re the CEO of your company or not, you need to speak with confidence. You want to be perceived as a person of authority making the call. Speak with authority, assurance, and self-confidence. Gatekeepers are trained to keep salespeople out but are much more likely to let an authority figure through.

Key #2: The gatekeeper is your friend.
The gatekeeper can be your ally if you treat them with the utmost respect and courtesy. Remember that they have a job to do and that they may even have the power to make decisions on whether or not to buy. It’s vital to recognize from your first contact that dealing with a gatekeeper can be a make or break proposition.

Key #3: Ask for help.
Everyone likes to feel useful and helpful. People like to help others, but few like to help a salesman. Put yourself in the position of a person needing help instead of a pushy salesperson. You can quickly disarm a gatekeeper by asking questions to help both of you. You want to speak with the correct person, and they don’t want anyone wasting the time of the person they are protecting.

You can accomplish this by asking a simple question right at the beginning. For example, “I provide (your services) and believe that (decision maker’s name) is the person that I should be speaking with. Is that correct?”

By asking for help in this way, you have gotten to the point quickly and have empowered the gatekeeper to either begin the conversation by asking you to set an appointment or by directing you to the right person.

Key #4: Referrals are a big help.
Obviously, having a name to use as a referral to the decision maker can help pave the way in getting past the gatekeeper. Another, less used referral method occurs when you make an initial call to a company and someone informs you that you should be speaking with someone else (and gives you that person’s name). Using the name of the person you spoke with as a point of reference when calling the person they referred you to can help to break the ice and move you past the gatekeeper.

Key #5: Make it fun.
Very few people will admit that they actually enjoy making a cold call. You can help take the drudgery out of it by setting goals for yourself and building momentum from there. Begin by setting up a variety success metrics, such as finding the right decision maker’s name, determining the best times to call, leaving your name and number for a call back, and making a small connection or bonding with the gatekeeper. Success can mean more than getting through to the decision maker and setting up an appointment. Celebrate the smaller victories along the way.

There’s truth in the adage that cold calling is a numbers game. The more calls you can make, the more chances you’ll have of getting appointments and closing sales. Likewise, the more positive contacts you can make with a gatekeeper, the better your odds of turning that person into an ally who will let you through to the decision maker you’re hoping to reach.

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