Margaret needs help for her aging father who lives 600 miles away from her. She wants to find someone to accompany him to doctors appointments, someone who can review and organize his medical bills as they arrive, and someone who can discuss his medical needs on a three-way phone call (Dad, Margaret and an advocate) once each week. Dad is happy with the idea and is willing to pay for the service.
The “perfect” client, right?
Here’s how I know Margaret’s story: She sent an email to our “info” email address at AdvoConnection, asking for the best way to find an advocate. We sent our automatic reply that explains how to use the patient’s zip code, and the services needed to find the right person in the AdvoConnection Directory.
Margaret replied that she had already done that, and had called the only advocate listed in her father’s location. However <quote> “All she did was babble on about herself and her own medical problems. She dissed a couple of doctors in ____ (the name of the town) including Dad’s doctor who is a family friend! I don’t want to work with her. I need someone else.”<unquote>
So I picked myself up off the floor, replied to her email, and asked if we could chat by phone so I could better understand her experience since that is is how we can improve service provided by all advocates. She agreed, and so we did. She elaborated on the story I’ve just told you, but bottom line, that babbling advocate did herself no favors. In addition, her poor behavior did ALL advocates damage.
Margaret did say she was sure the advocate she talked to didn’t mean to come across the way she did. She admitted the advocate was very friendly. She just felt as if the call was more about the advocate trying to prove something than it was about helping her or her father. That wasn’t acceptable to her. Here’s how she phrased it, “I want someone who behaves like a professional, attending to the needs of her customer. Not someone who feels the need to share her own medical history or prove she is on the inside of the gossip track. Dad doesn’t need that. He needs someone to help HIM.”
When you talk to potential clients on the phone, how do YOU come across?
Ironically, this exchange took place about a week after our August Expert Call-in about how to handle calls with potential clients to get them to sign a contract. The concept of a babble-free call wasn’t a part of that presentation, but it certainly could have been. So since it wasn’t, here are some general conversation guidelines that are less about signing a contract and more about best practices:
During the first part of any call, let the caller be ‘in charge’.
- Remember, when someone calls you to inquire about your services, they aren’t calling to talk about YOU. They are calling to talk about THEM and THEIR needs. If sharing your story is part of your discussion, keep it very brief – more like a fact than a story – unless they ask for more details. Even then, remember that they are looking for solutions for themselves, not expecting to be lectured by you. Ask questions about their situation and needs, and guide that conversation in a direction that’s helpful to you.
- Of course, you do need an opportunity to talk about your credentials if it seems the caller isn’t already familiar with them. (Remember, they may have already read your AdvoConnection listing, or have seen your website, so you may not need to wax poetic on your great skill set!) You can test their need to know with a simple question like, “Is there anything in particular you would like to know about my experience or credentials?” If they have a need to know, then they’ll respond to your question. Prepare ahead of time with 1-2 sentences that sum up your experience and education. If they want to know more, they will ask. If they don’t, then you don’t have to bother with it. Again, remember – this call is about them and their needs, not about you and your needs.
- Professionals never make negative comments about other individuals, including providers. Even if your prospective client makes a negative comment first, you can respond with something neutral like, “I’m sorry you’ve had that experience” or “That sounds so difficult!” or if it’s true, “I’ve heard that complaint before.” But keep your negative opinions to yourself.
- There will always come a pause in a sales call (because yes, that’s what these calls with potential clients are – they are sales calls) when you’ll know the caller is thinking about where to go with the call. Let the pause happen, then quietly ask, “Would you like to work together? We can get started right away. I would love to help you with this.” That’s asking for the business – and it’s a crucial part of your conversation.
That question will signal the shift to the second part of the call – when you take it over. Guide it carefully from here toward a contract if that is what you think should happen based on the earlier part of the call.
Of course, there is much more information in the podcast of the August Expert Call-in. Members can listen to hear the one critical part of a potential client call we DID discuss – the one almost every new advocate violates over and over again.
The key here is that you are the professional. You represent yourself as you work to acquire new clients. However, especially in our new advocacy profession where the world is just beginning to learn who we are and what we do, you also represent all advocates and their professionalism, too.
Please, represent us well. Don’t give the Margarets of this world the wrong impression.
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