The Iceman Leave-ith

Here in New England we like to complain, especially about the weather.

Too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, too damn dark at night. We don’t much care what’s wrong, frankly, just as long as something is.

This morning while buying my bagel and coffee, I actually overheard the guy in front of me complain about hypothetical weather: “Oh yeah, it’s nice now, but they say we’re due for some horrible stuff by the end of the weekend.” Linguistically, this is what’s known as a “future perfect” weather complaint, reserved for those times when there is nothing sufficiently miserable to point to at the moment.

Personally, I don’t get involved in these discussions. I kind of like the unpredictability of weather (even in middle age, nothing quite compares to the thrill of a school snow day), and I enjoy the fact that after 25 years of living here, I’ve learned a thing or two about winter survival.

For example: Don’t chip the ice off of a cold car.

Instead, start the car, turn on the defrost full blast, go inside and make a cup of coffee. When you return 10 minutes later, your car will be sweating like a pig on a treadmill (or whatever) and the ice will magically fall away.

Simple stuff, I know. And yet year after year, I see a fair number of my fellow citizens walk out into the cold and just start scraping.

Fools? Hardly. Just people who are working a lot harder than necessary. Instead of giving the warmth of the car a few minutes to melt the ice, they’re impatiently chipping away.

I mention this today, because I also see a fair number of my fellow professional service providers (WARNING: abuse of “winter metaphor” coming) chipping away at the frozen exterior of unwarmed client prospects, rather than giving the cozy warmth of relationship marketing a chance to melt the glacial frost of frigid… ah, whatever.

You know what I mean: Selling to cold prospects is a lot harder than selling to warm ones.

But it’s a new year. And the economy is in bad shape. And you need clients now. So you and your colleagues get together and agree to “stop all activities that don’t directly contribute to sales.”

To which I say, not so fast there, my mitten-wearing friend.

Because while it may seem all survival-mode-lean-and-mean-savvy to abandon all but the scraping – I mean selling – when times are tough, if you shut off the activities that keep your prospects nice and warm, you’ll be out there in the snow, chipping away, a lot longer than necessary. They don’t call them “cold calls” for nothing.

And so, to help the ice fall away easily this winter, I’ve got three suggestions.

  1. Stay in touch with your friends.

    For many businesspeople, slow times lead to ignoring friends and colleagues. We cut back on networking meetings, we stop attending industry events, we forget to return phone calls, we give up on casual lunches. All in the name of “staying focused.”

    If you ask me, this is exactly the wrong time to become invisible. We need to be out there more than ever, and our long-time, existing relationships are the place to start.

  1. Stay accessible to strangers.

    I’ve never met a professional service provider who didn’t like visibility: Seeing your name in the paper, having your whitepaper downloaded and shared across the Internet, getting invited to speak at an industry event. And yet I’ve met plenty of professional service providers who, when that same visibility leads to inbound phone calls and e-mails from nonprospects, can’t be bothered to respond to them.

    I’ve got a better idea. The next time a stranger calls with a quick question in your area of expertise, or sends a comment related to your newsletter, or offers to buy you lunch in exchange for some career advice, make time for them – particularly if they have nothing of value (at the moment) to give you in return.

    Believe me, it’s the people who you help precisely at the time that they can’t help you back who will remember you the longest. Treat them decently and they’ll be out there keeping your car warm (i.e. spreading the word) for years to come.

  1. Keep publishing your E-Newsletter. (You knew I’d get to this.)

    Your newsletter is like a big, warm, stay-in-touch hotplate – going out into the world month after month and keeping your relationships toasty. Shutting it down or putting it off so that you can focus on chipping more ice just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Here’s the bottom line: You don’t need 25 years of New England winters under your belt to know that when it comes to removing ice, the heat of the car matters at least as much as the tools you use and the effort you apply. Spend more time on relationship temperature and less time on ice breaking tactics and cold selling skills, and make 2009 the best year you’ve ever had.

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