Keeping up with the evolving mind-set and practices of your current and prospective clients has long been a challenge for Freelance consultants and continues to be so in the “new economy.” Signing a good client is not easy, what with the penchant for not spending money being all the rage. We Freelancers can prosper only by staying one step ahead of the client, always positioned to neutralize the temptation to keep a project in-house or let it languish and eventually die. Knowledge is power and we need strategies that will turn on the spigot and pour out billable hours. Here are trends that B2B products and services purchasers are following now.
They do research
A recent survey of employees who make B2B purchases for their organizations was conducted by the global consulting firm Accenture and showed that 94% of purchasers (that is, your clients and prospects) research possible solutions for business needs in advance, to learn about the options, availability and pricing of solutions and to save time and money. By the time Freelance consultants and other vendors are approached, the hoped-for client has done most of the upfont legwork. S/he already has a good idea of what might be provided by service professionals like you and your competitors and maybe even knows what a reasonable ballpark figure for your services might be.
The entrepreneur and marketing expert Danny Wong, co-founder of the online men’s apparel company Blank Label, recommends that Freelancers acknowledge the elephant in the room and simply ask your prospect about research that may have been done and what you might be able to verify or clarify. Don’t ignore the tsunami of information. Ride the wave and earn respect for your candor and knowledge of client behavior.
Unfortunately, some sales “professionals” and unsavory Freelancers have been known to misrepresent that which they sell. As a result, many B2B purchasers prefer to buy online and bypass you and me. The practice was confirmed recently by Forrester Research, in a survey that found that nearly 60% of B2B purchasers preferred to buy independently, without the assistance of a salesperson.
Wong points out that demonstrating expertise, as well as an appreciation and respect for the prospect’s goals and situation, confers to you credibility and helps you to earn their trust, an essential process when competing for assignments and sales. They won’t do the deal if they don’t trust you and why should they?
No matter how desperate you are for billable hours, don’t rush the deal. Take the time to understand what is needed and how your products and services can help or for that matter, if they can’t help. Avoid being perceived as an aggressive salesperson. Do present yourself as a trustworthy adviser who wants to make the prospect look smart to his/her superiors and other colleagues.
They’re in no hurry
No, it’s not your imagination that closing a deal is taking longer than it used to. Another study showed that the length of the average B2B sales cycle has increased by 22% over the past five years. While the prospect is working the worry beads, Mr. Wong recommends that you do what you can to stay at top of mind and try to keep the project from falling into oblivion. A Freelancer’s main competitor is not one of our rivals, it’s the client’s inertia.
Send information that can support (and speed up) the decision-making, but don’t overwhelm—curate. Inquire about a timeline and deadline for the project and suggest what might be a reasonable starting time.
They trust the advice of anonymous “peers”
So do you and that’s why you research hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor and Yelp and search for a contractor on Angie’s List. Accenture reports that almost 25% of B2B purchasers make their decisions based almost entirely on information gleaned from online “social” rating sites.
If your Freelancing skill is one that would send prospects to Angie’s List or a neighborhood blog, attempt to establish a presence on those sites and build credibility that will help you get hired. LinkedIn and Facebook could be helpful once a trusted source has referred a prospective client to you and then your online presence is researched before you get the call. Nevertheless, create a good profile on your chosen social media sites and make yourself look knowledgeable and trustworthy.
They appreciate relevant content marketing
The longer buying cycle gives the advantage to Freelancers who produce long form content—a monthly newsletter, a weekly blog, case studies and other white papers that appear on your website, videos, infographics, or podcasts—that may grab the attention of prospects. A FAQs page added to your website that details how to do business with you could be helpful. Impartial and instructive content is what content marketing is all about. Produce your own and position yourself as an expert who is qualified to get the job done.
Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukkah,