Originally published as Three Keys to Successfully Approaching New Clients Through Email, November, 22, 2016 in Restoration & Remediation Magazine (R&R).
By Jon Isaacson
All businesses need new clients, restoration most certainly included. Even the most basic research allows you to identify potentially valuable future customers, and draft a list of prospects. If the prospects are of as much value as anticipated, then the team must understand, appreciate and honor the etiquette of good business approaches and the gatekeeper to those clients. Paul Buccheit, the creator and lead developer of Gmail, expresses the sanctity of email, “Only my phone number and email are private because I don't want random people calling me. But I like the ability to share everything.”
Who is the gatekeeper? In the modern economy the gatekeeper, or first line of defense, for clients of value is their email. Approaching a potential client through email can either be perceived as an invasion of privacy or a respectful approach that honors business boundaries, depending on how the content is composed. The drafting of an email will either allow admittance into the outer courtyard or expel you into the moat of oblivion. Thankfully, the keys to honoring the modern gatekeeper when approaching new clients are rather simple.
1) Subject Line
"People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line," business coach Barbara Pachter says. "Choose one that lets readers know you are addressing their concerns or business issues." (Smith, 2016)
The subject line should be concise and answer the question whether there is value for the targeted client to open this email or pass this failed attempt at communication through to junk mail (the moat). Junk mail is the default setting for most email from unknown sources, as well as emails that are clearly a solicitation. So, if you are approaching people through email, you must recognize that email is the invitation, not the drawn-out conversation. Your subject line is the extending of your hand and your body language transmitted through however many characters you utilize in this important electronic transmission. An effective posture when composing a subject line will be respectful of time by providing a brief value proposition without being kitschy. The goal of the subject line introduction is to get the email opened.
2) First Paragraph
“It’s better to say nothing than spend 1000 words or an hour speech saying nothing. Get to the point – fast.” Richard Branson
If the email is opened, congratulations, the careful efforts have made it through the first line of defense and the relationship is past the initial cyber handshake in approaching a potential client. Any day that emails are not added to the hundreds of efforts banished to junk/block is a good day. If emails to prospects are introductions and the introduction is received, it is appropriate to follow up. Don’t ruin the good favor that the well thought subject line has created by now backing a dump truck of information upon the prospect. Remember the current advancement is only into the outer courtyard, not yet within the castle walls.
Continue with the theme of the subject line and maintain respect for time, be brief and expound on the value proposition to the client, then ask for the opportunity to discuss further. This is the elevator pitch as the client has opened the outer gate but will discontinue the interaction just as quickly if there is an inability to connect.
3) Follow Up
Director of Marketing for The Muse, Elliot Bell encourages, “Remember: If someone does ask you to stop following up, stop following up. But until you hear that, it’s your responsibility to keep trying.”
Research, care and respect have advanced the efforts to this point and now it’s time for appropriate follow up with respect to the correct etiquette. This email is meant to ensure the client received the original email and determine whether they would like to discuss the content further. A follow up call or email should be brief and respectful, with a personalized addendum to the value proposition from prior email.
When a call is made, there is an inherent request to venture further into personal space as well as asking for additional time, so the same principles applied in previous stages are as essential. The purpose of follow up is to answer for both parties whether there is value in moving forward with this potential business interaction.
All clients have value and in the modern economy email serves as a gatekeeper when approaching prospects. Being brief, concise and respectful when composing a value proposition will enable greater success in introducing oneself through email. As noted in a previous article entitled Marketing Step One, good business practitioners are always looking to create opportunities to show potential clients how their organization can serve specific needs. Each step in the process of meeting new clients is about breaking down barriers rather than storming the gates in one fell swoop. All individuals are unique so it is important to listen through the process and learn from successful as well as unsuccessful approaches to new clients.
For a personal example of how the author was able to initiate and build a networking resource for local clients in an underserved market, read How To Network With Local Facility Management Peers posted on FacilityExecutive.com. Many of the invitations that lead to ongoing business relationships that built Local Facilities Manager’s Connection (LFMC) were initiated through emails using the principles outlined in the source article above.
Smith, Jacquelyn (2016, February 1) 15 email-etiquette rules every professional should know.Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/email-etiquette-rules-every-professional-needs-to-know-2016-1/#1-include-a-clear-direct-subject-line-1
Bell, Elliot. Pleasantly persistent: 5 rules for effectively following up.The Muse. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/pleasantly-persistent-5-rules-for-effectively-following-up
Originally published as Peeling Back the Five Layers of in a Restoration Business
June 22, 2016 in Restoration & Remediation Magazine (R&R)
By Jon Isaacson
How many times a day does the phone ring and it's a customer calling wondering when your organization is going to get the work done, when the crew is going to arrive or what the schedule is?
Is it more often than it should be?
Who holds the responsibility in the organization to communicate these details to your customers? Before we start to point fingers, let's follow the sequence of information.
Organization Layer 1
Our customer called the office because they have not been communicated with, the last person at the job was an employee who was there over 48 hours ago. We ask, why didn't that employee tell the customer what the next sequence of work was going to be?
At the conclusion of our investigation into Layer 1, we are ready for a heated discussion with our lead technician assigned to the project. We say our organization values our customers, but we are not demonstrating this with clear and consistent communication.
Organization Layer 2
We track down the responsible employee who was last at our under-informed customer's home and it turns out that employee didn't communicate scheduling details with the customer because that employee was not provided with sufficient information to intelligently pass along to our customer. While we were prepared to discipline this employee as the source of miscommunication, we discover that there are additional parties involved with this malady - there are more layers to investigate. In addition to this discovery, our employee brings to our attention that they regularly don't know what they are doing for the day when they show up for work.
As an organization we would say we value our customers, we also would say that we value our employees, we may even have these values posted on our walls, and yet we are not communicating with clarity or consistency to either party.
Organization Layer 3
As a manager, the frustration is turning is now bordering on anger. We march forward to discuss these disturbing findings from the previous two layers with our employee's supervisor. Rather than uncovering the head of the snake, we reveal that our production supervisor hasn't been clearly or consistently communicating scheduling or work details because they haven't been receiving them from their supervisor (in most restoration companies we are now at the estimator level/layer of the org chart).
Our production team hasn't been communicating in the manner we would expect with customers or employees because they are flying by the seat of their pants with the work being handed down to them. We are uncovering that our issues are as much with systems as they are with persons.
Organization Layer 4
Each layer has revealed an additional layer, managers who are willing to investigate may now be fearful of encountering additional worm holes within the system. Not us, we continue our investigation and gather the estimators into the conference room for the final tongue lashings.
As a related side note, everyone serving in the 24/7 emergency response industry knows that work comes in at all times, in all sizes and has no mercy with regards to holidays or special occasions, yet just because we service emergencies does not mean that we shouldn't have as clear a process that we can develop.
Our management team unravels the layers of investigation stemming from the call received by our confused customer, the estimators relate their challenges in working with how the work flow is initiated. Work flow with relationship to how assignments are handed out, especially when our organization is serving the needs of clients who are all in various degrees of distress, is essential to setting our teams up for success. We are faced with a reality that our response process may be broken or at least damaged and needs some TLC in order for our team as a whole to be successful. If we value our customers and we value our employees, we need a system that communicates with clarity and consistency.
Organization Layer 5
The investigation goes full circle and we have determined that there are issues related to a lack clarity and consistency in the work flow process which is affecting us at every level. In order to fix this, we will need to address the system from top to bottom and will need every layer of our organization to be invested in the restoration of our process.
Communication is our organization showing our customers that we value them.
Clarity and consistency is our organization showing our employees that we value them.
Scheduling is the result of a commitment to preparation for success and a successful scheduling system enables everyone on our team to communicate with clarity as well as consistency. Our efforts to create a system of clear and consistent communication from start (receiving a request for service) to completion (creating a happy customer) will require intentional efforts as a workable schedule will not create itself.
The reason we spent all these words (all this time) just to establish the problem, is that while scheduling should be the foundation for any service organization, the commitment to clarity and consistency is rather uncommon. Often we get so wrapped up in the emergency nature of our business, that we forget to build around our values. When a customer calls with a valid complaint, this is an opportunity for some honest organizational evaluation as well as a wake up call for action.
What Must We Do?
Property restoration as an industry requires multiple aspects of technical knowledge in our fields of multiple service offerings as well as communication of multiple work details across multiple data entry points to keep multiple parties involved with a given loss updated on work progress.
Clarity At The Point Of Work Intake
Do we have a consistent process for gathering as much information as we can when a call for service comes in? Regardless of who answers the phone, we should have a clear and consistent process for acquiring the details necessary to set our teams up for success. When we answer the phone, we communicate to our customers that we care by getting the details right and we communicate to our service employees that we care by providing them with the details they need to start a project off with good information.
Clarity At The Point of Work Initiation
The reality In emergency response to disasters, work comes in at all hours of the day as pipes break, fires occur or a host of other scenarios play out for homes and businesses in our area. Because of these contingencies, our schedules can never be fixed to the point that they cannot change at a moments notice. As such we always have to build into our schedules a certain amount of flexibility. Our production managers have to be aware that they cannot send all of our resources to the furthest reaches of our service territory and still be able to reallocate personnel to respond in the middle of the day to a customer that is in need of emergency services. We have to be honest with our customers about what we can and cannot do as we have to fulfill our prior commitments while evaluating our abilities to service new ones. Being busy is a good problem for any organization, this usually means we are growing, but being chaotic is unhealthy and will lead to failure.
Clarity Within The Organization
Establishing a visible joint schedule for our organization is an essential means of assisting all of our teams to prepare for the day ahead while enabling us to update our customers with our strategy for keeping their project moving forward (read our previous article about visible schedules HERE). Our people deserve to know, as best as management is able to communicate, what their assignment will be for the following 24 hour period so that they can mentally prepare and ready their teams to respond to our customers needs. Our customers deserve to have consistent communication of job progress and to know when strangers are going to be in their home. Find the medium that works for your team, but make the schedule accessible and visible by all in the organization as this creates great accountability through transparency. When the concerned customer calls to ask about their job, the person answering the phone should be able to say, "Let me pull up the schedule. Yes, I can see we are scheduled to be at your home between 11am and 12pm today, would you like me to get ahold of the technician who will be responding or the project manager assigned to your loss?"
Clarity Within Your Work Communication
For our team, we inherited a system of carbon copies for printed work orders (or field scopes). Carbon copies served a purpose at some point in time...a point in time right around when the dinosaurs became extinct. We were able to adapt our hand printed work orders (penmanship is a barrier to clarity) into a Microsoft Excel format so that they could be typed - allowing us to ensure they were readable and savable which allows us to track and reference these forms.
The first order of the work order is that in order to be effective the work order must be legible, must have sufficient details and must be executable by the team members assigned to the tasks. Notes on a piece of paper are useless unless those composing the document have been intentional to be clear with those who will be touching the project.
As our system for work orders evolved we wanted our system to be easier to input and more readily shareable by our entire organization. We needed a medium that would allow team leaders to communicate effectively with team members the details of work scopes and resource allocation. We looked into mobile and desktop applications as well as cloud based systems, most of the ones that were the most appealing were also fairly expensive. We experimented with free versions of popular systems but found many of them to be a time consuming venture that did not have the return that we needed, especially with our shorter term projects.
Our schedule needed to show management where our fleet would be assigned, which personnel would be responding to an assignment and what production tools would accompany that crew to complete their tasks. We found that some of the best resource were those that we were already utilizing (see a fun video we made introducing our simple systems HERE). Google calendar is an effective means of creating a shared calendar that could be viewed by anyone in the organization at any time with features such as assigning a color to individuals to enhance the ease of visual review. (We gladly borrowed this aspect from a local plumbing company who showed us their production system). Through the shared calendar, each technician had an email that would show up in their email as well as their calendar with details such as the job address (which assists with OSHA compliance), the job number, contact information for the customer and a detailed scope of work written out for each day in the body of the calendar notes. Team members that wanted printed copies for their folders could have those in their hands and those that were savvy with their mobile devices always had records for reference.
Each organization is unique, for us the values we are building around are:
1. Our schedule should be visible - anyone in our organization should be able to see where our resources are assigned at any given time (to the best of our ability)
2. We want to show our customers that we value them by being clear with our communication
3. We want to show our team members that we value them by being clear and consistent with our scheduling
Clarity and consistency in communication requires the commitment of everyone in the organization, top to bottom - from the point of receiving a call for service to the completion of a project. We have to be intentional about improving our systems as the systems (good or bad) do not create themselves. Our systems may never be perfect, but we will reap what we sow.
If the phone rings more often than it should with confused or upset customers, follow the layers to yourself and get to work on fixing the problems with the system.
We need to be intentional about the messages that you share – it’s not as though everyone waits in the wings for the eloquent words to spill from your lips before they move on with their personal or professional lives, but when you speak as a person in a position of leadership people are listening (even if reluctantly). There is a difference between hearing and understanding, much like there is a distinction between people hearing the content you are delivering and comprehending fully the intent of what you are attempting to communicate (read more about this phenomenon HERE).
Content and tone are important when communicating as we always want to present a clear vision of how we can collaborate so that we can conquer. If you have to share some negative information there are means to deliver that message without being negative. For example, if sales are down, there is a difference between, “We are failing and corporate is going to fire us all if we don’t get it right in 30 days!” While this may be true, the likelihood that this inspires anyone to stay on the ship and bail water with you is low. “We have made some positive growth in areas X and Y, where we can be more effective would be to focus our efforts in area Z. I believe by doing so we can improve our numbers for the health of our office and make a positive impression on corporate.” No example is perfect but the role of a person in a position of leadership is to communicate information in a manner to helps the team to grasp the vision and see a clear path to what they can do to help the team improve. Often the tone of delivery is as important as the message.
Leaders should not shy away from tough conversations, truth is essential to building trust and accountability in the team. Leaders are looking for ways to inform and inspire their teams at the individual level as well as for the group. Understanding when to pull someone aside to speak to them as an individual and when to address the team as a whole is important, as choosing incorrectly can have consequences. As a general rule, the toughest conversations are best to have in private. Choosing our words includes checking our messages for clarity and consistency with our values. Choosing our tone requires taking a moment to ensure we are presenting pathways to success rather than just focusing on our obstacles. Being honest about where we are is important, but in leading we want to uncover the actions that will bring us to where we need to be.
Clarity requires follow up. When the content of a meeting or a message veers into potentially negative territory or the tone could be perceived by some as negative, it is important to follow up with individuals to ensure all parties understand the intent of what was being communicated. Every team member is an individual and even in good teams messages can get mixed or confused. A good leader will both make a habit of following up with individuals as well as have a sense for which messages may be taken differently than intended by others. A great follow up question is to ask, “What are you hearing me say?” or, “From what we have discussed, what are you thinking we should do with that information?” Collaboration from the top down to the bottom up is a sign of health within a team and will go a long way to ensuring everyone is empowered to move the vision forward.
If you as a person in a position of leadership are not intentional about the messages you deliver, no matter how small they may seem, you are setting yourself up for trouble (read more an this HERE). Whether you believe a meeting or conversation went well or not, the habit of following up with team members on an individual level will go a long way to building clarity as well as accountability within the team. We want our messages to be clear, but the simple fact remains that not everyone hears or processes information the same way, so the next best thing is to follow up.
A few quick questions to keep our messaging on point:
Is there any value in texting with regards to recruitment? Yes. If you doubt this then take a minute to think about what you can learn as well as what you can eliminate through a few key texts. If we use a rough analogy of fishing with relationship to acquiring talent, we want as many lines in the water as possible in our quest for individuals who can add value to our team. Texting provides us a tool that can expedite the communication process so that we can be clear, consistent and expedient in our initial screening.
1) Text enables us to reach out to a potential candidate to gauge their interest and responsiveness - "Saw your posting on Craigslist, are you still looking for employment?" If there is no response you have just reduced your follow up list. If there is a response then you have a fish nibbling at the bait.
As a sidenote, understand that many candidates have not been mentored on how to professionally respond to texts, don't be surprised if you get responses which include some variation of, "How much do you pay?" If you remember that the text gives us a quick means of screening applicants, then I would encourage you to respond either with, "What salary range are you looking for?" or be specific, "Depending on experience the range is typically between $x - $X." If a respondent seems rude you can choose to discontinue the process but you may want to dig a bit deeper to ensure both parties have a complete picture of each other. Texting does not always provide the richest context for discerning a persons character.
2) Text enables us to provide a concise outline of what the duties of your open position(s) are to further determine if the responsive candidate would be interested in the opportunities your organization is offering. "We have an open position for X, the duties include [fill in the blank - BRIEFLY]." If there is no response, our work with this individual is likely complete. If there is a response then we want to draw them in closer to the boat.
3) Through text we have determined that we have a candidate who is indeed interested in work and is open to the opportunities that our organization can offer, now we get into specifics such as company requirements. "Our company requires the following [fill in the blank with a BRIEF list] to qualify for employment." If there is no response, there may be a good reason this candidate cannot find work. If there is a response then we want to get a look at what we have on the line.
Our texting has revealed that we have a responsive and interested candidate, that this individual is open to the opportunities that we have available and they can meet the basic requirements for employment that our organization has set as a foundation. What do we do next? Time for a phone call. So, we text them, "When would be a good time to set up a phone interview?" If at all possible this should be conducted as soon as possible. You potentially have what you have been looking for so do not lose what you have on the line by waiting too long. If you have successfully made contact with a potential candidate you will need to be prepared to expediently move your process with that individual into determining the quality of that potential hire. Depending on how wide you have cast your net, you will need to be prepared to think outside of the box with regards to a candidates direct experience with your industry versus their potential to adapt their character and relevant work experience into the responsibilities you are assessing them for (You can read more on this topic in our prior article on Attracting Talent).
Texting is a great tool to enable a recruiter to expediently get fish on the line as well as determine which ones are catch-and-release. Connecting with recruits requires a significant commitment of time, of those candidates we are able to make contact with many will be unable to be hired or they will not the best fit for the team needs. We want as many lines in the water as possible because we are always fishing for good talent to add to our team. In our recruitment process we need to be efficient so that we can communicate clearly and respond quickly when we have attracted someone who can add value to our mission.
You can stand at the banks and curse the water for the lack of fish or you can start casting.
Thoughts on personal and professional development.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a contractor, author, and host of The DYOJO Podcast. The goal of The DYOJO is to help growth-minded restoration professionals shorten their DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. You can watch The DYOJO Podcast on YouTube on Thursdays or listen on your favorite podcast platform.