Meeting With One Guru Has the Potential To Change Your Life.
Life Lesson: How Lori Montag Changed My Life.
**This article was written by the U.S. SBA Entrepreneur of the Year, Clay Clark. Clay is a Las Vegas Motivational Speaker, Author and Workshop leader. He owns several businesses throughout the country. For more information visit the “ABOUT US” segment of our website.
I honestly don’t remember what day I went to meet with Lori, and I don’t even remember the approximate season. I just remember having a meeting with Lori Montag at her 71st and Mingo (Tulsa-based) Montag Photography studio that changed my life. Lori had always been my mentor since that first summer I stayed with her after we moved to Minnesota, but I had never truly tapped in to her huge knowledge storehouse. I had listened to her, I had talked with her, and I had been inspired by her; but I had never asked her detailed information about how to market to ladies and how to create a service that is profitable, memorable, and the best in town (like her photography service is).
When I sat down to meet with Lori, I informed her of my new full-time status as the owner of DJ Connection, and then I just started bombarding her with questions. And, man, did I get answers. Lori explained to me the ins and outs of the wedding industry. She explained to me that I was not marketing to men. She told me, “Ninety percent of the people booking weddings are women.” She explained to me the importance of price-point flexibility. She told me how to build rapport with clients before selling. She brought the knowledge to me, and I was listening. I honestly believe that this meeting with her was one of the turning points in my business career. Before meeting with her, my packages sounded like the offerings of a wholesale precious metals’ dealer. After meeting with her, the DJ packages sounded like they were made for the brides-to-be who were looking to schedule a quality entertainer to make their night special.
When I met with Lori, I knew that although I was making some positive progress in the industry, my opinion was not valid because my closing percentage was weak. I was only closing 50 percent of my inbound calls, and Lori was closing 80 to 90 percent of her inbound calls. As a reader, I am not sure if this means much to you, but look at it this way: every time we go in to Walmarttm, most of us leave with a product in our hands. We might spend only two or three dollars, but we spend something. In my opinion, this is the same thing that should be happening with each and every person that you talk to about your current or future business (especially when customers ARE CALLING YOU). Potential customers are screaming, “I HAVE A NEED! CAN YOU FILL IT?” And sadly, many businesses answer,
“Well, you know, we really don’t have what you are looking for, but if you want to go down the street, our competitor has what you are looking for.”
As a service provider, you are paying for the infrastructure and the phone bill every time a customer walks in the door or calls you on your phone. Thus, I am a firm believer that your target closing percentage should be 100 percent. I have never bought in to the philosophy of, “Oh, they just aren’t our type of customers.”
As Lori gave me tip after tip, I was taking notes in my man book at a feverish pace. I honestly had to ask her to slow down because I could not write and take in everything that she was saying. To Lori, these sales concepts on marketing to brides were common sense, but to me they were profound thoughts from a guru. I was receptive to Lori’s ideas and criticisms because I knew that she knew what she was talking about.
**AN UNBIASED VOICE OF SANITY – Lori Montag
(My mentors & 2nd mom during my high school summers spent in Oklahoma, the founder of Montag Photography and the founder of the $60,000,000 selling products known as Zany Bandz & Slap Watches my mentor,
One of the things I tried to teach Clay when he was starting out in business is that every challenge creates an opportunity if you will only look for it. It was fun to watch him experience it firsthand. As a newcomer to the bridal industry, Clay wanted very much to be in what was then the biggest bridal show in Oklahoma. He was told he could not participate because there were too many DJs already in the show and that it could be years before one dropped out. He was quite upset, so I told him “Let’s just think of a way around it.”
We decided to host our own wedding show (and the Tulsa Bridal Association was basically created right there at that moment). We worked so hard because we knew we were up against a long-standing show. We selected the beautiful new Renaissance hotel and immediately started promoting the show like we were experts. When it was all said and done, we had the largest attendance of any bridal show in Tulsa. They even had to call out the fire department because the crowd was so tremendous. I remember when the show was over that night, we both looked at one another and said, “Well, we did it.” I have since seen that same lesson played out several times in Clay’s business. I hope he always looks at every challenge that same way and always finds the hidden opportunity in it.
Albert Einstein said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” And in this case I was the “mediocre mind,” and she was the “great spirit.” I believe that this is one of my best strengths actually. I generally recognize that I have a mediocre mind when I am in the presence of greatness, so I generally shut my face and listen to the great minds when they speak; however, I usually don’t spend any time listening to the baseless opinions of people who have no credibility. You know like when your broke uncle or your seventh-year undergraduate-degree-pursuing neighbor, or that random jobless guy at the church coffee bar says, “You know, I don’t think that is a good idea. I think that you should focus your investment dollars on mutual funds to diversify yourself from the risk posed by your business.” I tune them out completely, and I rebuke the negative doubting waves that their brains emit into the ether.
However, as a business owner, the customer’s opinion is always valid (99 percent of the time, unless the customer is an idiot, which most are not). And thus, you have to view your market share as if you were running for political office and as if your customers’ dollars stood for votes. If you are not getting a lot of votes, it is because the customer is not voting for you; it is nothing personal; they just don’t like your product and the way that you are marketing it.
As an owner of a new business, you have to be humble enough to ask the people saying no to you why they are saying no. You have to be ambitious enough to be humble when listening to criticism coming from customers who are turning you down. You have to be crazy enough to seek tirelessly to be perfect because the reality of it is this: customers are not going to tell you that you did a poor job unless you did a horrible job, in which case they will call and complain.
Most customers would rather just not use your service again than to have that potential confrontation with you. Potential buyers will just tell you, “Well, we decided that we just didn’t have the money to afford you,” or “I’ll have to get back to you” because they don’t have a vested interest in your business. They aren’t going to tell you what you need to hear. They aren’t going to say, “You know, you guys always called me back late. You were difficult as hell to work with, and I really just don’t like your website or your overall presentation.” People will not be candid with you unless you sincerely let it be known that you are a striving for perfection, and you must know what you can improve upon. I honestly feel as though DJ Connection is the best DJ service out there, but we are not perfect; and we aren’t even in the same league as QuikTriptm or Southwesttm airlines in terms of the quality and quantity of service rendered. But we can be if we just keep seeking criticism from our customers in a sincere way. And although we enjoy tremendous success today, the moment we stop learning from customers and attempting to improve our product is the moment that we are no longer relevant. Think about Kmarttm; those fools used to dominate the “big box” retailer industry; now those dudes are just relics of a profitable business that once was.
Back to the DJ story . . . when I left Montag Photography that day, I was a changed marketing man. I was on fire, and I was feeling it. I knew what I had to do. I knew that changes that had to be made, and I was prepared to make them that day. I was going to implement this laundry list of improvements immediately because I have always been a big believer that PROCRASTINATION KILLS MOTIVATION AND WILL LEAD TO PERPETUAL FRUSTRATION. When I returned home I immediately began drastically changing my marketing materials, my company image, the clothes I was wearing, and everything that I was doing that was communicating a message to the customer that I was not trying to send. Being that I naturally think like a cheap hillbilly, I am always making myself aware of what my marketing materials are indirectly saying.
After implementing these changes, my sales went through the roof, and I started consistently booking nearly all of the inbound calls that I was receiving. I honestly did not get turned down on an inbound sales call for months at a time. Through the endless marketing and cultivating of the image of DJ Connection, and the calling, and the calling, and more calling I began to develop relationships with the local Tulsa wedding vendors for the first time. I was now on the warpath to develop what Napoleon Hill refers to as the “mastermind group.”
To do this, I would call wedding vendors up, go speak with them, and then I would work tirelessly to refer them as much business as I could. I knew that mutually beneficial relationships are the only sustainable ones. This was not always easy to do because I only had a very limited client base from which to refer, and it was never easy to do because many wedding vendors are about as professional as a typical carny (a carnival worker). It was so frustrating. I can remember spending countless hours attempting to call bridal lists for the sole purpose of referring vendors only to hear the bride call me back within two hours to say that all of the vendors I had referred would not answer the phone or would not return her call.
Having spent nearly ten years owning and operating wedding-related businesses (a disk jockey and mobile entertainment service, a wedding videography service, a wedding photography service, a party rental company, and a chocolate fountain company), I have come to the conclusion that the wedding industry is one of the most unregulated and un-standardized industries that there is. It is truly unbelievable the supreme lengths to which some high-quality wedding vendors have taken their wedding businesses. Conversely, however, I am truly astonished at the extreme levels of depravity that exist from the carp of the wedding industry. During the planning of a wedding, you might find the ideal wedding dress is only available at a huge wedding chain store like a David’s Bridal (one of the only nationally standardized wedding-related businesses). You might also discover that the best gourmet raspberry-filled wedding cake can only be found in Midtown at a small hole-in-wall bakery that only keeps regular business hours Tuesdays and Wednesdays from noon to 5:00 p.m. And although their gourmet raspberry-filled wedding cake is to die for, you may find yourself a little hesitant and shocked when you discover that this locally famous wedding cake shop keeps track of all of their reservations using Post-Ittm notes tacked on a cork board that occasionally gets knocked down resulting in them routinely missing weddings.
With all that being said, I have also discovered some incredible wedding vendors over the years who were happy to answer their phones, happy to book clients, and happy to reciprocate referring business to me as well.
It was during this time of my endless referring that I became friends with Lori and I-Ning at Montag Photography; Jill and Sarah at Bridal Warehouse (now closed down, sorry, ladies); Rochelle, Juanita, and Nanette at the Holiday Inn Select; and a handful of other businesses in town. The more I referred them; the more they referred me. It was boomerang referral mania, baby! We still enjoy the fellowship and friendship of many of those early contacts, and I can honestly say it is because I have worked to ALWAYS take care of our customers and to take care of the relationships with vendors.
Have I messed up and not checked my voicemail until the end of the day resulting in a frustrated customer? Yes. But have I since invested in the building of a huge customer-service center designed to nearly eliminate voicemails, on-hold time, and any waiting for our potential customers? Yes.
I am sure that some people who read this book will disagree with me on the point above. But I have lived it, and I know that at DJ Connection we have always worked to book things with integrity and sincere enthusiasm. The following chapter will describe what a normal day was like in my life during 2001 and 2002. It was intense.
“Knowledge without application is meaningless.” – Thomas Edison
Help ensure that this chapter will not be as empty as Ms. America’s stated plan to “heal the world” by answering the following self-exploring questions:
Who is a guru that you know and must interview to gain their business insight today?
When will you call this guru today and set up an appointment to meet with him or her?
Make a list today of ten customers, or extremely candid friends, whom you can consult with to determine ways that your product or service can be improved to better meet the needs of your customers.