THE BLOG

Bait and Switch Business Relationships

08/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Don McNay Best selling lottery and structured settlement expert


All of this, all of this, all of this looks so easy.
But all of this, all of this, all of this ain't so easy.
-Saliva

Entrepreneur coach Dan Sullivan spoke at the Million Dollar Round Table International meeting a few weeks ago. Sullivan said that entrepreneurs often neglected people who were their best clients.

He compared it to marriage. He said that when people are in a courtship, no one is ever "too busy." Once they get married, the spouse is often secondary to factors like work, family and other interests.

Sullivan said that many spouses could be accused of "bait and switch." They were sold one type of relationship and got another.

The same hold true for many business clients.

Sullivan, "The Strategic Coach," is one of the most important influences in my life. I spent a year traveling to Toronto to take his classes and the experience was life changing. I thought I knew everything he had to say, but when he used the "bait and switch" line, it was like a punch to the gut.

It made me realize what many of us do, in business and life. We overlook the people who are closest to us.

My structured settlement firm was built by attorneys and claims people referring clients to me. Business doesn't come from any other source. Most have been sending clients for over 20 years and are intensely loyal. When they quit referring me and start using a competitor, it hurts. It really hurts. It is like losing a family member.

It doesn't happen often but it happens. When I find out why, it is almost universally the same answer:

Someone else took the time to build a closer relationship.

It is never about competence or job performance, it is always about relationship. Sometimes the competitor has a geographic or family connection but more often than not, it is because the referral source has not seen me in a long time.

Sullivan has you list your top 20 clients. When you go down the list and note the last time you have seen them in person, it can be an eye opening experience.

Email, texting and sending a monthly newsletter doesn't count. To keep a relationship, you have to spend time with them.

Dan Sullivan noted that the "bait and switch" trait was one that many entrepreneurs shared, especially those who experienced rapid growth and success. The business owner is so focused on a higher goal that they forget about the people who help get them there.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an outstanding book called The Tipping Point that discussed people called "connectors." Connectors go out of their way to refer people to other people. I'm that kind of guy. If I like a service, person, or product, I tell everyone about it. I have a wide social network and plenty of life experiences.

If you want a left handed bricklayer in Cincinnati, I can find you one. (In fact, I know two of them.) About 20 years ago, one of Al Gore's close friends needed a dentist for his daughter at midnight. I found the right person within 15 minutes.

I give more restaurant reviews than Zagat. We just eat in a different style of restaurant.
I may be good but I have friends who are better. In our little network, we can find experts at everything.

How and why a person refers tells a lot about character. Often times, people will use a referral question as a way to find employment for an idiot brother-in-law. They aren't interested in helping a person solve a problem, they are trying to steer income to a buddy.

When I find a person like that, they are never going to get a referral from me. I ultimately can't trust their judgment or motives.

I want my referer to send the best person for a job, not a person who needs a job the most.
When people get to the top and dominate their profession, they assume that potential customers will come to them because they are the best. Thus, they leave themselves vulnerable to someone who is developing relationships at other levels.

Mark McCormick, who founded the IMG sports marketing empire, gave a great example in his book, What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School. McCormick's first three clients were Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, the three greatest golfers of that generation.

He naturally assumed that all other golfers would come to him and his lack of a "courtship" allowed competitors to spring up and pick off business.

McCormick and IMG figured out their mistake. Tiger Woods is one of IMG's current clients. They started their courtship of Tiger early on and I am sure of one thing: you will never hear Tiger complaining about IMG giving him a "bait and switch" relationship.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is one of the world's leading authorities in helping injured people and lottery winners deal with complex financial issues. McNay is also an award-winning financial columnist. McNay founded McNay Settlement Group Inc., a structured settlement and financial consulting firm, in 1983. The company's home office is in Richmond, Kentucky. McNay has Master's Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni. McNay has written two books. Most recent is Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You When The Lottery. You can write to Don at don@donmcnay.com or read his column at www.donmcnay.com. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/donmcnay and on Twitter at twitter.com/Donmcnay. McNay is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.