In 1999, Michael J. Maher began a career as a real estate agent. Within three years, he was one of the most successful agents in the United States, thanks to a unique system that generated massive amounts of referrals. Agents, as well as other business professionals, contacted him daily to learn more about his system.
It led to Maher writing a book – (7L) The Seven Levels of Communication: Go from Relationships to Referrals – before launching REFERCO to help companies and professionals breed loyal clients and attract referrals. He refers to his supporters and clients as “The Generosity Generation”.
STARTING THE BUSINESS
What makes your company so unique to the industry?
We provide a done-for-you solution to communicating with your database in a way that breeds loyalty and attracts referrals. Our flagship product is CRM, which is a person, not a software. We have professional customer service representatives – we call them Community Referral Managers – who are outsourced by our clients to communicate with their database, build relationships, and manage referrals.
What was the toughest challenge you faced when first starting out?
(This type of business) had never been done before, so we had to create the system and we had to figure out, from scratch, the ideal way to onboard and train CRMs and onboard clients.
What do you wish you’d known when starting out that you had to learn the hard way?
(I) wish I’d had a mentor or coach who could have asked powerful and insightful questions to allow me to think and talk through the strategy of our process and vision. I had to be logical and emotional at the same time, which is impossible. You don’t paint a vision from logic. You do it from emotion. Once the vision is crystallised, then the logical and logistical process can be built.
Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Many entrepreneurs, myself included, start with a simple idea. It’s an idea about a solution that will make a difference in the lives of their audience, in the lives of the people they care about. That idea needs to be assuaged, massaged, and developed. This happens fastest when someone asks questions. The more and better questions someone asks, the more ‘real’ the castle becomes. Once the castle is developed, the foundations can be built: the hiring, the training, the reporting, the measuring, the documentation, the legal. Everything else is just stuff. I wish I had someone earlier, at the very beginning, to get curious and inquisitive enough to ask me the hard questions. Now, I find that person faster, and my team is geared to schedule time to grill me on next phases, so the future is very exciting.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
What do you find is most important in remaining at the top of your industry?
Simply, the desire to remain at the top of your industry. Stay hungry, my friends. If you goal is monetary or a certain lifestyle, you will plateau. If your goal is to make a difference in the lives of people, then you will continue to grow because there is always someone to help.
How do you see your industry changing over the next 5 – 10 years?
My opinion on this may differ from the popular. Many companies, professionals, and salespeople were hoping that the Internet, social media, or CRM software was going to solve all their customer service issues. But what we are finding is that while digital solutions are great for efficiency and productivity, they are not appropriate for people. People want personalised, customised communication. People want relationships – even if they can’t verbalise it or realise it. The attraction of Facebook isn’t photos or videos or likes. The attraction is human interaction. In the next 5 – 10 years the industry – sales, selling, – will see an increase in human interaction and connection with such things as phone calls, events, and one-on-ones supported by artificial intelligence, enhanced retargeting, and virtual reality. People still want to work with and relate with people.
How will you adapt to this change?
We’re leading it. We are the change we wish to see.
What is your vision of ultimate success?
There is no such thing as success or failure; only growth. Those who don’t learn and grow from the wins are missing an opportunity and those who fail or lose, need to only see those disappointments as lessons. Success is growth. Failure is growth. Life is growth. You are either green and growing, or red and ripe. The vision of a successful person to me has nothing to do with planes, boats, cars, houses, or dollars, but more so someone who is 100% completely and utterly present. Wherever you are, be there. 100%. There is so much power in being present.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Step around the poop!
There is a poem by Portia Nelson that goes like this.
“Chapter 1: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost… I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2: I walk down the same street.There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.I pretend I don’t see it.I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter 3: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in…it’s a habit My eyes are open; I know where I am; It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter 4: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter 5: I walk down another street.”
I would only tweak Portia’s story for myself with “Chapter 5: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fill it”. That, in my opinion, is what an entrepreneur is all about. We identify a problem and rather than simply avoiding or denying, we take it head on and look at it as an opportunity. We seek the solution. Seek solutions to big problems. The rest will take care of itself.