Jeff Blackman is a hall of fame speaker, best selling author, success coach, broadcast personality and lawyer. As you can see, he has a lot going on, and he still made time to talk to me about a topic that a lot of us are all just dying to know more about: growing your business.

Jeff’s clients call him a “business-growth specialist.” He heads Blackman & Associates, a results-producing business-growth firm in the Chicagoland area. Jeff’s work is devoted to helping clients have a more powerful, persuasive and profitable business. Jeff is one of less than 13% of professional speakers worldwide to receive the Certified Speaking Professional designation (CSP) from the National Speaker’s Association. He’s been in the game since 1982, sharing his message with Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurial driven organizations, solo practitioners and association audiences throughout the world.

I know Jeff as a man who is always prepared with questions and answers. He asks questions that make you think, and then as you’re thinking, he hands you a useful acronym that’s directly applicable to your train of thought. In this interview, Jeff and I talk about how to ask the right questions to refocus your business on who your client is and what they are needing. How are you making choices in your business? Are your choices focused on you, or the real decision-maker?

“Most people, in any business, are terrible at asking really good questions.

– Jeff Blackman

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Transcript of Our Interview:

I want to start by asking: what factors do you see typically holding a business back from growth?

It’s a great question and a great place to begin Jess. Here’s one of the difficulties, whether it’s an entrepreneur, whether it’s someone who’s a seasoned vet, they have a tendency to do data dumps. They have a tendency, as my buddy Jeffrey Gitomer says, to show up and throw up, meaning they focus on them. They do not focus on their decision-maker. And I tell folks, if you choose to do that, you have just made a financial fopa, a business blunder, it’s just plain goofy because folks do not care about you until they first discover the impact you are going to have upon them.

Here are classic examples, and I literally will share this with people when I’m speaking all over the country in a keynote seminar, workshop, whatever it might be. I’ll even say to folks who I’ve looked at their websites, I’ll go, hey, out of curiosity, do you ever take a look at a website and you’ll see two words, the words are about, and they fill in the blank with, what’s that second word, Jess? Us, right, about us. So what you just told either that prospect or that potential customer or client is you click here it’s got absolutely nothing to do with you, it’s about us. Or you’ll see a link who we are.

I was speaking in Pennsylvania earlier this week, so folks said, well, okay, big shot, what do you suggest we say? I said, well, what would the impact be if it said something like, about you? What would the impact be if it said your success, how we impact your results? So the focus is on them and I stress the people. It’s not about your product, it’s not about your service, it’s not about your solution. Because people do not care about that. That is an is, what they care about is the does. And that does has got to focus on a result, a benefit, an advantage, or an outcome.

Let me repeat that, it’s about the result. It’s about the benefit. It’s about the advantage. It’s about the outcome. It’s not what something is. It’s what it does. And if it’s cool, I can share with you, and I know you’ve got lots of listeners who are in all different types of businesses, but I’m going to give you the commonality right now, Jess, there are only two driving motivators that influence every decision, no matter what business somebody is in. Are you ready? Here’s the first one. The only thing that folks want is for you to improve their condition. That’s the present. Hey, I got a problem. I’ve got an issue. For example, in your business, one of your taglines is, “life just got a little easier.” People love for things to become easy. So first you have to improve their condition. That’s right now, that’s the present moment. But we now have to move beyond that. So I tell folks, you also have to help others attain a more favorable future. Improve their condition, now, help them attain a more favorable future. That’s obviously the future. If you do those things continually, it will drive growth. It will drive success. It’ll drive profitability because you are focused on what’s in the best interest of a customer, a client, a prospect, a decision-maker. That’s what really drives results.

I love that. That’s really great advice because I’ve watched so many people start a business and they get very excited about their idea or their product that they’ve come up with, which is great. You need the passion and you need the excitement for what you’re putting out there, but then you need to refocus on the other side and who you are actually giving it to. Yeah, I love that. That’s great. So I feel like you’re already touching on this. So my next question kind of leading into it is easy business growth strategies that we can put into place in our businesses to see immediate growth, and then what should we also be considering for long term growth?

Got it. So first let me stress that if you really want to be successful in business, it is seldom easy. It will take hard work. It will take preparation, it will take persistence, it will take the ability to realize, Whoa, I’m dealing with rejection. And I always tell people it’s not personal rejection, it’s business rejection. And especially if someone is listening now, as an entrepreneur, if you cannot get past the fact that some people will tell you no, you’d better quickly find something else to do. Let somebody else write your paycheck because you are going to be brooding at the end of every day or every week because someone offended you and they said no. So here’s a strategy from one of my books, Stop Whining! Start Selling! I tell people to go goimo, which is G O I M O, get over it, move on. And you’ve got to do that to be able to continually move forward.

Now, then give me a simple principle that will work for anybody in any business. And the principal is, you’ve got to drive relationships. However, I want to stress what I call relationship power, Jess, from two perspectives because everybody says, “Oh, our business is a relationship-driven business”. Well, of course, that’s true, but it’s really superficial. So we’re going to dig deeper right now. When I talk about relationship power, I’m talking about two aspects. First, you have the little R and then you’ve got the bigger R, well, what’s the difference? Little R’s about one’s humanity, their sincerity, their dignity, their courtesy, their ability to be a good person. Simply being a good person. It’s important, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to have what I call the big R, and the big R is all about the ability to be a business growth specialist, or a life growth specialist, so you help others maximize gain, or minimize loss, or improve performance, productivity, profitability, peace of mind, sales, comfort, whatever it might be. You’ve got to have both.

So people will say to me, “Hey, you’re a really nice guy and you’ve also challenged us in terms of how you’re able to help us, Jeff, grow our business.” People will literally say to me, “you need to make us uncomfortable.” And they depend upon me to give them insights and strategies that they had not considered before. Because if somebody is simply a nice person, that will not drive results, you’ve got to be a great human being who’s got the ability to make an impact upon somebody else’s life or their business. And I can give you now a simple strategy, but you gotta execute to it, that will work for any business. Are you ready?

Yeah, so what I wanted to really set it up for is to talk about power probes. So one of the things that’s crucial in any business, it is a simple strategy, but it does require hard work and execution. And that’s the ability to ask really good questions. And most people Jess, in any business, they are terrible at asking really good questions. And I call these questions Power Probes.  A power probe is an open-ended lead development question. It begins with a who, a what, a when, a where, a why, a which, a how, or a tell me more about. What questions like that do is that those questions have got the ability to then discover both the logic as well as the emotion as to why somebody wants to do something.

Remember? We focused on improve their condition and help them attain a more favorable future. So people will say to me, “Whoa, hang on. Are you saying I only ask open-ended questions?” And I go, “No”. There are two times when it’s cool to ask a closed-ended question. One is for qualification purposes and two is for a decision.  Because you need to qualify,  you need to know is this person a prospect or are they a suspect, are they a pretender or are they a player? There’s only one way that you know, you’ve got to qualify there you can ask a close-ended question and when it’s time to get a decision, yay or nay, how will we work together? That’s cool too to ask a closed-ended question. But prior to that you need to ask the open-ended question starting with the who, the what, the when, the where, the why, the which, the how, or the tell me more about it, and here’s why.

There are three key things you try to discover with the power probe. One, is do you have a problem that I can help you solve? Two, do you have a need I can help you fill? Or three, do you have a dream or goal I can help you get? Problem solve, need filled, dream or goal to get, and if one of those three does not exist, you’re going to waste your time with that individual. So you are still going to be a good human being, little R, but it’s time to move on to pursue other opportunities, and you can still request a referral from this person if you like. I’ll give you and everybody else an acronym a little bit later. They will never forget to ask for referrals.

Now here’s the suggestion I’m going to recommend to anybody listening is that they create their dynamic dozen, and their dynamic dozen is 12 open-ended lead development questions again, who, what, when, where, why, which, how, tell me more about, explain to me how, describe for me, et cetera. Write them down. Put them down on paper. Rehearse them, practice them. Get really good at it. Most people wing it Jess, they are not well prepared.

Clients say to me, “Blackman, you were always incredibly well-prepared.” I can wing it, but I don’t. I prepare for every single thing that I do. Just for you and I to chat today, I prepare it. I considered what are some of the possibilities. What are key strategies or tactics that I’d like to share with you and your listeners, and I do the same thing, whether it’s a current or prospective client. I make a list of questions. Now I may not get to all the questions and that’s fine, but I’m able to bob and weave and adjust appropriately.

My late dad, dad passed away in February, 2019, he had a very simple phrase that is that life is a series of adjustments. Because when you’re incredibly well-prepared, then you can adjust. It’s the equivalent in football. So in football now we often hear about a quarterback doing an RPO that’s a run or a pass, option. So I’ve taken those same three letters and created the acronym of RPO, meaning results, possibilities, opportunities, and you can only pursue that if you’re incredibly well prepared. Most folks aren’t. And once again, that will not just hinder growth or diminish growth. It could literally cease growth. So people have got to be incredibly well prepared.

If you want your own jump start to creating a list of a Dynamic Dozen, Jeff has offered to send his “Sweet 16 of Potential Power Probes” for free. If you’d like a copy, email with the subject line “Jess Rocks #16” and he will send it over.

So I wanted to recap because that was a lot of great information. The big strategy that I got out of that for business growth and putting things into action is to really be prepared and know who you are and who you’re engaging with and what you’re asking for, and what you’re asking in general. And then two, to be focused on the relationship, both the little R relationship and the big R relationship with your clients. And that’s where you’ll see growth knowing what you’re doing and, and focusing on who you’re doing it with to get the growth in your business that you’re looking for. Does that sound right?

Absolutely true. Because the key is the customer’s perception or the client’s perception. Let me share with you another strategy related to that because all of this is designed to literally help folks peak their profits. And as you know, the title of the most recent book, the fifth edition, is Peak Your Profits. So everything we’ve focused on today is to help folks peak their respective profits. Someone asked me a question yesterday and I had a meeting on the telephone with a COO of a company that recently heard me speak along with the VP of sales and marketing. And they’re talking to me about a coaching and alerting system for their team. And so the question that was posed by the VP of sales and marketing was, “Jeff, what value do you bring to our company for us to potentially work together?” It’s a terrific question.

Most people would answer, Oh, let me tell you. And they would start to do this data dump. And I had said to him, “it’s a terrific question, but my perspective doesn’t matter. What’s most important is how our clients over the decades and C suite leaders like you have been able to benefit, like…” and I share with them some results and benefits, advantages and outcomes. But then I immediately posed a question that I call a trial close, which seeks an opinion or reaction, a feeling or an attitude.  I asked them,  “And how would that benefit you in your team?” So this is all designed to create engagement and a connection and trust. Here’s the key point Jess. When trust is high, fear is low. And repeat that. When trust is high, fear is low, and you do not create trust if you only talk about yourself. You only create trust when you discover what’s important to somebody else.

So here’s an immediate takeaway for anyone listening. If someone says, well, what makes you special? What makes you different? What makes you unique? Why should I work with you? In the future, they should no longer answer that question from their perspective. It is a mistake. But if the answer from the perspective of, here’s what ecstatic customers tell us, or folks with, insert the title of whomever they’re serving, appreciate how we’re able to, or especially value the ways that totally different impact because, now what you’re sharing is the gospel. Somebody else said it. You are just the messenger of that important value message and it’s from their perspective, not from your perspective.

Right. So, as we’re bringing in all these strategies and tips, we’re implementing these and we see growth in our business. This is an area that can also be a tough spot to be in that I wanted to be sure to touch on, when we’re getting the growth that we’re looking for in our business. How do we make sure that we avoid overwhelm? We maintain our time management and we also care for the health of our business and our current clients, while bringing in new clients. Can you touch on that a little bit?

There is a boatload of possibility just based upon that multi-part question. Let’s touch on a boatload of possibilities. First. If you really know your business and who you want to serve, that means you’ve got to identify the criteria for who is for you, an ideal customer. So all too often, especially in early startup businesses, and sometimes even a little bit later, folks will say yes to a customer or client, why they need to pay their bills. They got to pay for overhead, and they go, “Hmm, this person’s really going to be difficult to work with, but you know what? It represents X amount of dollars. All right, I’ll do it.” So they already regret the decision before they ever started. So I always tell a client, decision-makers are vetting you, how are you going to vet them? They go, “what do you mean?” Well, if you’re asking me what do I mean, we now need to work on this. So we literally work on with clients, here’s the criteria in terms of who your ideal client is, and if they don’t meet your criteria, it’s okay to say no.

No is a very powerful word, and let me stress that “No” can be a complete sentence. Again, you’re a good human being, so you’re polite, your articulate, you’re friendly, but it’s okay to politely pass. Why? You’re in business to generate a profit, and if that can’t be done with somebody, you can politely let them know, “I’m probably not the best person to be able to help you.” So that means you need to know your numbers as well, and need to have the infrastructure in place. Because all too often people focus only on acquisition.

There are three key elements to being able to grow the business. One is acquisition, the second is satisfaction, and the third is retention. Because if you are always replacing customers or clients, that’s really tough. The goal is to maintain and then dig deeper in terms of how you can help them. And when you deliver incredible value, you no longer have to look for a new customer or a client because customer acquisition cost is significant.

Brings up another point that we touched on, but we’ve been earlier and that’s referrals. People will often say to me, “help us with cold calls.” And I go, “Hey, I live in Chicago, in 2019 in January we had something called a polar vortex. It was minus 22 degrees actual temperature. Real feel was minus 49. I don’t want to add any more cold to my life.” I don’t make cold calls and I haven’t now in about 25 years, everything that we do is referral driven. And I’ll often ask folks, do you have customers? Yeah. Do you have clients? Yeah. Do they know you? Do they like you? Do they trust you? Remember, trust is high, fear is low. Do they even love you? Oh yeah. Have you asked them for introductions to others you might be able to help. Oh boy, I can do that. Of course you can do that. They know you. They like you, they love you, they trust you and they proved it. They paid you.

So the reason that our research and my experience and for decades has discovered is that the reason people don’t ask for referrals, it’s not just a training issue. It’s not just I’m scared or I’m reluctant. It’s they do not remember. Jess this drove me nuts. This just drove me crazy. So I came up with an acronym and the acronym was remember R. E. M. E. M. B. E. R. And it means referrals every moment, every month, bring excellent results. And someone said, “Hey, can I also add the last er to mean extra revenue?” I go, yep, that will work too. Because there is literally zero bupkis, nada, nothing in terms of acquisition costs when it comes to referral. So everything that we do is referral based. I never pick up the telephone to introduce myself to someone that I don’t have a relationship with based upon somebody else. So we’re starting warm and sometimes we’re even starting, huh? And everybody can do it. But again, it’s a skill and it’s a skill that needs to be learned. It’s a skill that needs to be adapted. And that’s really one of the things, whether it’s in any one of my previous books or peak your profits or whatever it might be. I want to give folks both strategy and tactic and it’s always from three key points. It’s gotta be value driven, it’s gotta be integrity based, and it’s gotta be non-manipulative.  Value-driven, integrity based, non-manipulative, in my world those are non-negotiables. And I get some people who say to me, Oh, come on, you’re kidding. Right? That’s ridiculous. If you really want to persuade and influence, you got to manipulate people. I go, well, okay, if that works for you, that’s your choice. It does not work for me. So if it works for you, that’s cool, that’s your choice, and business is about choice. But I will not work with someone who I feel I can’t trust. Everything we do is from a value’s base, and integrity’s base, and the ability to be non-manipulative as well. That’s actually crucial for long term growth and success.

I believe that people can feel when you’re being genuine and you’re being authentic in everything you do, a social media post, you know, the way that you interact with them in email. There’s a difference between interacting with someone in a way that is authentic in what they’re doing, and I think that really comes through.

It’s a great point, and here’s something that drives me nuts. I’ll admit this is my personal bias. This is my own prejudice, but when I talk to a client and they sneak in the words, “Hey, Jeff, let me be honest”, or honestly, I politely listen and then I called them on it. I go, “let me make sure I understand. If you don’t say it, does that mean that you’re not honest?” They go, Oh gosh, yeah, that is a bad habit. I don’t work on that. They go, yeah, every time I say it, will you remind me? Because what happens is I have always found, and I’ve been in business for a long time, and I chose not to practice law, I’m a lawyer, been a lawyer since 1982, but chose not to practice law. So for four decades now, I have heard people say to me, let me be honest or to be honest, and I go, at some point, they’re going to fib. At some point, they’re just going to do something that’s going to be duplicitous, and unfortunately, it’s a simple litmus test, but its always proven true. I go, yep, right on schedule. And with clients, I know for many of them it’s not necessarily that they’re going to be duplicitous, but instead it’s literally like a verbal tick, until I call them on it and they go, man, thank you so much. Really appreciate that. If I do that again, let me know. Or every time I do it I’m going to pop five bucks into a pot and then donate it to charity.

So a lot of business is about the ability to consider the possibilities, and I always tell people anything that I share with you, it’s up to you in terms of what you choose to do with it. Same thing can be true of anybody listening today. They can either ignore it and I’m fine with that. They can adapt it, or they can use it as is. This stuff works. That’s why at our website we literally have got a no risk assurance. If a client is unhappy, we’ll give them every dollar back. We’ve never lost the bet. Never lost the bet! But I will put my butt on the line every time I do anything to be able to help somebody else grow their business, improve their condition, and help them attain a more favorable future.

You’ve given so much great advice in this short interview. I want to kind of wrap up by a summary maybe and some kind of key small steps that people should be taking now to kind of launch them into all of this. Can you give us some advice to end on there?

So a couple of things that are absolutely crucial, and when we work with a client, they’ll often say to me, Whoa, that’s a great idea. I am going to do that. And as soon as they say that they know what’s going to happen, I politely say to them, excellent, I’m glad you found value in that. So tell me exactly what you intend to do and by when will you do it? They go, Oh gosh, Oh yeah, that accountability thing. So I always ask folks, what’s the behavior and what’s the date? Give me the what and give me the win. Because people say to me, keep me accountable, keep my feet to the fire. And I never berate them, I never abuse them, I never beat him up, but they’ve asked me to keep them accountable. That’s one of the things that I do. And I do the same thing with leaders. I’m not talking just about a salesperson. I’m talking about presidents and CEOs and business owners. They asked me to keep them accountable. So one is you need to focus on what are your priorities, what do you really want to accomplish?

So with clients, we work on a focus five, what are the five specific measurable, actionable things that you are going to do to drive growth and results. Write it down, write it down. If you don’t write it down, guess what ain’t going to happen. Because what this does that it takes, the rhetoric converts its reality, takes the fantasy it converts it to fact. Now you can stare at it and now you can look at it and you can adjust, life is a series of adjustments, so could adjust, but it’s really crucial to make that commitment and that’s for self-accountability. And then realize that time’s precious and we all have the same amount of time, 1,440 minutes. That’s all we get every day. So no one has been blessed with more time. We get the same amount, 1440 each day, and I tell folks there is no such thing as time management. It is absurd. The only thing that exists is self-management. What self-management means is you get to make a choice. Will I do this, because if I do this, I might not be able to do that. So self-management is about choice, also once again, in terms of what you say no to. It’s okay to say no, because it allows you to take a step closer to whatever your goals are. And that’s applicable not just to business but also to life. Because you should have goals that are tied to things that are financial, spiritual or recreational, health, obviously family-oriented. So in my hierarchy, family always comes first, and then its business and the number three is the Chicago Cubs baseball team. I suffered a long time, 2016 was pretty good, but now we’re suffering once again, but those are my three priorities.

So I think all of us have got to identify our priorities. Nobody else’s but ours. And then you’re able to live a far more happier life because you’re doing what’s important to you. And that’s really where it starts. I’ll often ask people, who’s the most important person in your life? And they think its a trick question. I go, no, it’s not a trick question. You have gotta be the most important person in your life. And it’s not selfish because if you want to take care of others, you’ve got to first take care of yourself and they go, okay, now I get it. I’m not talking from a position of being selfish. It’s really about being selfless, but first you’ve got to take great care of yourself and then be in the best position to serve others

Or to serve your business, or to serve anything. Yeah, you have to take care of yourself first. Absolutely. All right. That’s great. I’m going to go write down my goals. Thank you so much for sharing all of this and talking with me today.

Pleasure is mine. Thanks a whole bunch.