Thursday, April 16, 2009

Selling Through Education

The role that I play here at Pinnacle is truly unique. Every day I get to speak with top advisors from around the country on the topic of exit planning. This is particularly exciting as we all recognize how new this industry is and what great opportunities there are to provide leadership in local markets and with business owner clients.

One of the most interesting topics that I find myself discussing is the concept of 'selling through education'. Aside from the general comments above about the changing marketplace that we all are in, the fact remains that 'exit planning' is a relatively new concept as the industry is still emerging. Accordingly, I see many advisors and institutions promoting 'exit planning' without a true awareness of what 'exit planning' really is. Moreover, I am left with the steady awareness that most business owners do not know, exactly, why an exit plan is critical to their lives.

It is each advisor's individual responsibility to educate this marketplace on this topic and to do so in a way that serves the business owner's best interests, while also building revenue and profitability for that advisor.

How then, in this changing marketplace, can this new service be explained and delivered?

We begin by recognizing that nowadays - no matter what product or service we are selling - our potential (or existing) clients and customers are very busy. This economy has the best of business people questioning their every decision and considering each purchase they make with the perceived and immediate importance of it in their lives today. From a practice management perspective, this makes our lives more challenging, but, at the same time, creates an amazing opportunity if you have the ability to educate your client as part of your marketing and sales process.

Almost every coaching student that I work with is redefining their message to the market. I strongly encourage each advisor to write a Special Report - or a short White Paper - that describes who they are, what they do, the market that they serve, and the reason why the work that they do is so important to their clients.

Why is this so key?

Because consumers are more discriminating than ever before and we need to reach out to them to tell them our story. In addition, because everyone appears to be so busy, it is important to put information in front of them that they can review, on their own schedule, to learn more about you, what you are offering, and why it is relevant/essential to their lives right now.

The greatest extension of this practice, for me, has been the Exiting Your Business book that I wrote last year. As more and more business owners and advisors read through the book, they are drawn to the message in this book. This, in turn, draws them to Pinnacle's business. And, the key point here is that when they do contact Pinnacle's office, they already know what we do, why we do it, and the immediate importance that it has in their lives. This really helps with the sales process, i.e. selling through education and attracting customers and clients (in our case, Members) who are 'prequalified' with their interest in our services.

POINT: People that you want to do business with will actually read what you have to say and will evaluate their buying decision without you 'selling' them - you are educating them on the relevant and immediate importance of what you do so that they can apply it to their lives today. These potential customers and clients can understand your view of the world before you meet them in person or over the phone. So, when you do meet with them you are not trying to explain your value proposition in a time-compressed manner. Rather, the meeting becomes a process of verification of what you do instead of a discussion about discovering what it is that you do. Again, people / business owners are short on time today - so, we adjust our process to meet the marketplace.

This process of increased communication therefore begs a logical question that every advisor needs to ask themselves in this market. Namely 'what VALUE am I bringing to the client / prospect that I am currently talking to?'

On a recent call with an advisor interested in Pinnacle's process I asked the following questions -

'when you talk business owners, what value do you feel you are brining to the conversation?' and

'what differentiates your practice in their eyes and why should they do business with you?'

Ironically, even though I asked a direct question, I got an odd answer - she simply said 'You're right'.

The 'you're right' answer was an admission that there was no value in the conversation with the business owner. In this world of increasing commoditization of services, this advisor admitted - to herself - that there was no value. Therefore, why would the business owner do business with her?

Seems crazy. But so is the world that we are living in.

Once you understand the value of what you offer - i.e. what you truly have to give to this client and the relationship, the work is far from over. You then need to educate your prospect / client on why this value is relevant to their current situation. Again, that process is 'selling through education'.

When you are more focused on what you have to give to this client than what you can get from the relationship, things really begin to take shape. And that is the primary conversation that I have with each of my coaching students as we navigate this fast-changing world. And, as this emerging exit planning industry takes shape faster and faster, it is beholden upon each exit planner to understand and communicate exactly what exit planning is and why it will change the business owner's life.

In summary, today's consumer needs to be educated on your services and you need to understand the value of what you are offering. When you combine your message with the intention to find clients who value your service and will listen to your message, then you begin to attract to your practice those clients who are not only willing to pay you for your service, but are also much more enjoyable to do business with.

We need to change with this changing world. Selling through education is the first best step towards securing new clients in this highly opportunistic environment.

Specializing in Business Exit Strategies, John M. Leonetti, Esq., M.S. Finance, CM&AA founded Pinnacle Equity Solutions to provide exit strategy planning services to business owners as well as education and training programs for professional advisors. To learn more about John's Exit Strategy Services and his recently published book, "Exiting Your Business, Protecting Your Wealth", visit

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Coming to Their Own Conclusion

“You can’t impose a mind-set on people. It emerges from a learning process in which they become persuaded that an objective is worthwhile and then apply their talents at realizing it.”

- Brian Pitman, from an article entitled
“Leading for Value” found in the Harvard
Business Review April 2003 edition.

The above quote summarizes quite nicely a part of the answer to the most common question asked by our Pinnacle Members, "Have you 'cracked the code' for prospecting business owners and winning exit planning engagements?"

Coming off the successful 2-day Workshop in Las Vegas, I am reminded of this critical observation - one which we devoted a majority of Day 1 to addressing, "How should business owners be approached in order to win engagements?" The short answer is to allow the owners a question and answer process - to 'create a space' - that enables these owners to come to their own conclusion that they really need to begin planning the exit from their privately-held business.

You see, as professional advisors, we spend a lot of time wanting to answer our client's questions. We hold onto the idea that our clients should come to us for answers, not for us to ask them more questions. But the process of engaging a business owner for an exit plan does not include the advisor telling the business owner what the answer is. The process includes asking the right questions, in the right way, so that the owner can struggle enough with the answers to realize that they have no idea how they are going to exit their business and protect their wealth.

This process is important to understand in order to get consistent results with your exit planning engagements. This is a 'learning process' as the quote above indicates. The owner persuades themselves that an exit plan is a worthwhile objective for them to pursue. When we try to impose this mindset on the owners that we work with, we make a convincing, but not a compelling presentation. The owner hears the information and consciously is in agreement with what should be done.

However, at a deeper level, the owner has not accepted this information and the exit planning process as critical to their success. They are not motivated to take action because they are only being influenced on an intellectual level, not an emotional level.

By contrast, when an owner goes through a questioning process that includes them realizing that the majority of their wealth is tied to their businesses, that they have no successor or exit plan, that the transition out of the business will take longer (and be more difficult) than they ever thought it could be, only then does that owner become motivated to begin to apply their talents to designing and implementing their business exit.

Spend some time thinking about this process. Understand that engaging a business owner in this way is a highly personal and sensitive topic. Every conversation with an owner is critically important to their lives. Treat the process accordingly and listen to the answers that the owners give. Review our updated questionnaire (Modules #1-#3 on the Membership site) to determine if you are asking the questions the right way.

And realize that the process of asking questions in this way is the key to success in this area. If you are still trying to 'impose a mindset' upon these owners, you are fighting the tide and that is likely the reason for the engagements that fall short. Review your process, know that this service is in high demand, and begin a new approach to your owners that recognizes the sensitivity and importance of this unique message and capability that you carry.

In the meantime, remember to contact our office with any questions as we are anxious to assist you in your continued success.

© John M. Leonetti

Specializing in Business Exit Strategies, John M. Leonetti, Esq., M.S. Finance, CM&AA founded Pinnacle Equity Solutions to provide exit strategy planning services to business owners as well as education and training programs for professional advisors. To learn more about John's Exit Strategy Services and his recently published book, "Exiting Your Business, Protecting Your Wealth", visit