When Negotiating A Project Fee

There are ways to strong-arm a highly competent Freelance professional who is ready to give a client his/her best work into accepting less than that Freelancer’s proposed project fee.  So many desperadoes are willing to work for pennies and that can make it difficult for those whose work quite simply is more valuable because s/he brings expertise and work ethic that ensure the project work will be flawless and client expectations will be met.  Those qualities should justify almost any project fee.  But sometimes, clients like to low-ball.

What do you do when s/he who would be your client tells you that you charge rather more than others for the same work? Remember that the best defense is a good offense and start justifying your pricing strategy from your initial contact with the prospect. Continuously model professionalism and expertise that separate you from the hoi polloi.

Remember also that Rule Number One in the consultant’s bible is to never cut your price. Not-for-profit organizations can receive a 10%- 25% discounted rate, but under no circumstances do you lower your hourly or project fee for any client.

Instead, add in a modest service upgrade at no charge, to make the price more palatable.  You can also scale back the work and that would be associated with a fee reduction, but one does not do the originally requested work for less money.  If the client becomes adamant about receiving the original project specs at less than your proposed fee, then find the courage to walk away.

I know that billable hours may not be falling out of trees, but you cannot participate in a race to the bottom.  Do not get sucked into competing with online Freelance service mills.  Read on and learn to create your rebuttal.

Exhibit your expertise

Clients get what they pay for and pay for what they get! Let prospective clients know that when you are hired, a task can be completely handed over to you and you will own it. Furthermore, you are willing to use your expertise to make suggestions that might improve the quality of the project deliverables.  You are a first-rate service provider who is dependable, responsive, talented and trustworthy.  Your work is done correctly the first time and there will be no need for either micromanaging or do-overs.  The client’s role in completing the project will be much lighter and that adds up to value.  These practices and competencies are reflected in your project fee and hourly rate.

Reveal your responsiveness

Especially when an important deadline looms, reassure your prospect that you are prepared to work hard and ensure that project milestones and the deadline are met.  You understand that sometimes, late nights, weekends and holidays must be at least partly devoted to work.  Your admirable work ethic is reflected in your project fee and clients who are in a hurry find your fee structure reasonable.  Your project fee includes timely communications, responding to feedback, generating ideas and more.

Demonstrate your dependability

Clients can be confident and relax when you are on the job because they know and trust your work, attention to detail and diligence.  You make life easier and allow the client to attend to other duties while you manage the project.  Project work is reliably completed as requested and within budget.  Your clients look good to their superiors, peers and direct reports.  No one winds up with egg on their face when they hire you.

Trot out your testimonials

In addition to your LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements, you no doubt will be able to supply client testimonials from one or two satisfied customers who will speak on the record with a prospective client.  If you have one or two client success stories on your web site so muh the better, as these are case studies that detail the client journey and spell out the wonderful work you can do.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Mike Tyson (left) by Milo threeoneseven for ESPN (date unknown)

 

 

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Defending Your Prices 2.0

There is a lot to like about the Freelance life, but recurring paycheck anxiety isn’t one of them.  If we’re not waiting to get paid by a client who should have mailed the check 10 days ago, then we’re fretting that the check is rather too small anyway for the amount and quality of work that was done.  But how can one be choosy when the possibility of being replaced is so real? No matter how you earn your living, by 1099 or W2, the employer is in the driver’s seat.

Nevertheless, we Freelance consultants do have some leverage.  While there are thousands of Freelancers willing to accept small hourly rates and project fees, hiring managers in the know realize that the quality of their work is often less than ideal.  As always, you get what you pay for and pay for what you get. Below is a list of selling points that in your next pricing negotiation can help you to justify and defend the premium price I know you are worth:

Expertise

Shopping for B2B services is not like shopping at the old (and sorely missed) Filene’s Basement, where frugal fashionistas could find premier designer label clothing for a fraction of the retail cost.  The caveat was, one had to expect certain shortcomings, like maybe a  missing button or two because one of the infamous button thieves got to the item first (there were apparently several such individuals over the decades).

Inexperienced or less skilled Freelancers may request lower prices for any number of reasons, including perhaps the inability or unwillingness to perform complex assignments.  Some people like to compete on price and there will always be those who respond for whatever reason and that sometimes includes an antipathy toward paying people.  Those who like the low-ball figure should be advised that they are vulnerable to receiving only the bare minimum of work because they’re only paying the bare minimum price.

Make it clear to your prospect that you produce the highest quality work. The prospect can totally hand the project over and trust that you and your team will successfully complete the job as specified, on time and within budget. There will be no need for the client to perform after-the-fact do-overs of your work.  Your base price may be higher, but in the end you save clients time, money and aggravation.  You make them look smart for hiring you.

Dependability

In sum, you will produce what has been asked of you and if there appears to be an obstacle to doing so, you will alert the client as soon as that is recognized and suggest collaborate on making adjustments or creating a Plan B, especially for time-sensitive projects.  You meet deadlines and respect budgets.

Follow-up

One of the biggest mistakes a Freelancer can make when negotiating project or hourly rate pricing is to limit the scope of what you offer solely to the project work as described in the specs.  Make it known to prospects that you are selling an entire service package that includes not only the project spec work, but also includes responsiveness and prompt follow-up; good communication and feedback; efficiency with logistics; and the willingness to ensure that deadlines will be met, even if that means working outside of the 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday to Friday paradigm.

Showcase your value-added services by ensuring that your project proposal answers all of the standard or required questions and is sent to the client on time.  Respond to client follow-up inquiries quickly, efficiently and cheerfully.

Testimonials

While any confidentiality requests must be respected, revealing selected names on your client list, newsletter or blog statistics, links to published articles and webinars hosted and publicity listings for your noteworthy speaking engagements will provide tangible proof of your reputation and expertise and in that way, justify your pricing.  Depending on your specialty, an online or hard copy portfolio of your work to show to prospective clients is yet another effective way to demonstrate the quality and sophistication of your work and help to explain why you do not price your services at the bargain basement level.

Don’t be shy! Prospective clients want to see what you can do, so that an informed decision can be made.  Build your case, present it well and show them what you are worth.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Shoppers at Filene’s Basement  (1974)  Photograph courtesy of Nick DeWolf

 

Why Won’t the Client Call You Back?

You were thrilled to be invited to submit a proposal for a project that will bring in a good amount of billable hours wrapped in a most respectable fee structure.  In the meeting with your prospective client, you asked all the right questions–

  • Confirmation of the decision-maker, s/he who can green-light the project
  • Details of the project timetable and deadline
  • The approximate start date
  • The value of the project outcomes and deliverables to the organization
  • The project  budget

You have every reason to believe that the project is legitimate and that there is organizational money and motive to get it done.  You may have worked previously with this client and you relish the prospect of working with him/her again.  Or, you’ve not worked with this client before and the project represents a step-up for you.  You can’t wait to add this brand enhancing and validating client to your roster and you plan to do whatever it takes to exceed expectations and become a preferred vendor.

Because you met with the project advocate and decision-maker, your comprehensive and professionally presented proposal is essentially a confirmation of what was discussed and agreed upon.  The deliverables and deadline are confirmed.  Your proposed financials are within budget.  You’ve submitted on time.  You were told when the answer would be given.

But uh, oh, that date passed three weeks ago and you are now tense with worry.  Where are they?  You try sending a diplomatically written email, but receive no reply.  A week later you call the project advocate and s/he has stopped answering the phone, regardless of when you call, early or late.  In resignation you leave a voicemail and of course, there’s no reply to that, either.

Why do clients play these passive-aggressive games? What the hell are they made of? Here are some behind-the-scenes reasons that will let you see the other side and I hope, avoid feeling like a failure and a fool.

  1. There’s no answer yet

Just because your prospect told you that s/he is the decision-maker does not mean that s/he is the sole decision-maker.  Group decisions are the norm.  Your prospect is most likely one of three or four “decision-makers,” the one who is assigned to speak with all vendor candidates, or maybe just one or two.  Alternatively, your prospect may be one of several team leaders who at the end of the month (or whenever) sit down and review all pending projects and discuss proposals received.

Depending on what is going on at the organization, the team leaders will agree to move forward on certain projects, delay one or two and put the remaining on hold.  Your prospect may advocate for funding, but a project that is more urgent, or more favored by other team leaders, could overrule your prospect and kill your project.  Your project advocate will speak with you only when a definitive answer can be given to you.

2.  Waiting for a favored vendor

One of the group of decision-makers may have the power to push in a vendor candidate with whom s/he has worked previously (and who may have the inside track).  That vendor candidate might be a late entry and no decision will be made until his/her bid is received and reviewed.  One of the vendors might have a powerful friend on the decision-making team and that friend plans to push his/her preferred vendor candidate into the project (whether or not that vendor is the best qualified, or offers the most competitive price).  Your prospective client is too busy politicking to speak with you.  S/he would like to say yes, but a battle must first be won, s/he hopes.

3.  Your decision-maker advocate has had an unexpected emergency 

Things happen.  An unexpected problem or opportunity may draw your advocate’s attention away from your project, which is no doubt #1 in your life, but is only one of many possibilities that exist in the constantly shifting landscape that is the new economy.  Short-term priorities and putting out fires are the order of the day.  Your prospective client is too busy to speak with you.

4.  An unexpected loss of support

Second-guessing is practically an Olympic sport in organizations today.  I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t take much to pour cold water on a project and reverse a decision that once earned the favor of the decision-making team.  It could be that the heaviest heavyweight on the team, when all is said and done, does not feel that the project ROI is worth the investment of time, staff attention and money.  Your advocate and perhaps others may believe in the project and they’re scrambling to keep it alive and included on this year’s calendar.  Your project advocate is too embarrassed to talk; s/he feels humiliated and powerless.

5.  Project funding may not yet be officially awarded, or has been lost

Your project advocate and prospective client may have spoken too soon about the availability of an adequate budget for the project.  There could have been a last-minute decision to fund another project that is now perceived as more important by one or more of the decision-making team.  Maybe a project that was previously put on hold will now be given the green light?

Your advocate must now 1.) Confirm if there will be available money in this fiscal year, or the next, and 2.) Confirm the amount of money that will be earmarked for your project.  Your prospect is too frustrated to speak with you now; s/he has lost face.

6. Your proposal was used to get pricing info and to create a budget

Sometimes a Freelancer gets no respect and it’s a terrible thing.  Prospects who are not ready to commit may nevertheless wonder how much it would cost to get a certain job done and so they’ll seek out a Freelancer or two and request a proposal.  They ask Freelancers who they don’t know.  Avoid sending a proposal to an unknown “prospect” who mysteriously sends you a Request For a Proposal The Unexpected RFP .

7.  You were not awarded the project

Your proposal was not selected and the prospect who was not meant to be wants to avoid disappointing you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Price Your Way To Profits

Pricing your products and services is a critical element of a well-conceived marketing plan and appropriate pricing is integral to the development of a successful business venture.  The burgeoning field of behavioral economics reveals why certain pricing tactics work and how you can incorporate some of them into your pricing strategy.

Have an anchor baby

Your “anchor baby” can result in a positive outcome for sales and billable hours.  A cognitive bias called anchoring can cause us to perceive a lower-priced item as reasonable when it is viewed after we first see a higher-priced  version of a similar item. A $2000 item is perceived as a relative bargain after one has seen a similar version priced at $5000.  A prospect could be moved to envision him/herself purchasing that “bargain-priced” item.

Therefore, placing premium-priced products and services in proximity to the similar but lower-priced offerings that you hope to sell can potentially lead prospective clients to perceive the lower-priced items as providing real value, once they know that functionally similar items can be much more costly.

Zeros kill sales

In a previous post I discussed why, especially in retail sales, it is standard practice for merchants to list prices that end in .99 (or .98 and .95) and never .oo, because prices that end in zeros are often perceived by customers as being expensive, according to a study that appeared in the journal Quantitative Marketing and Economics in 2003  The Less Than Zero Pricing Tactic.  Yes, we really do think that $5.99 is cheaper than $6.00 and there’s still more downside to zeros— when pricing your services you should not only avoid listing, say, $3000.00, because you’re presenting too may off-putting digits, but you are also recommended to avoid listing your price on a proposal as $2995.00.  Prospective clients will feel better about your price when it’s expressed as $2995, according to the findings of a 2011 study conducted by the Society for Consumer Psychology.

Be a Lexus and more than just a Toyota

A Vanderbilt University study demonstrated that customers are willing to pay more for a Budweiser beer in a fancy hotel bar than they would for that same Budweiser in a dive bar. Why? The economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago explains that the power of perceived prestige allows the luxury set to get away with charging higher prices. Freelance consultants (so much more classy and deserving than a mere Freelancer, no?) are advised to in various ways present cues that make the case for charging premium prices.

Let the value you bring be known to those who matter. Teaching at the college level and speaking at respected business associations showcases you as a thought leader and an authority.  Producing long-form content that appears in a respected print or online publication, monthly newsletters sent to your email marketing list, or weekly blog posts that draw your followers also adds to the perception of your expertise and as well brings your writing skills to the forefront. The design and content that appear on your website should present you and your entity in a way that communicates competence and good taste, as should your business card and client invoice template.

The organizations of which you are a member, the quality of your clothing, where you vacation, the books you read, how you socialize and the boards on which you serve (along with the related committee activity) also enhance your reputation and reflect on your brand.

How to raise your prices

Weber’s Law (1834) indicates that your clients will probably accept a 10% price increase of the products or services purchased from you and some may not even notice the change.  You already know that other factors can impact your ability to raise prices, including supply and demand, the urgency of the need for your product or service, the presence of competitors and the perception of the value of your brand.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

In the Belly of the Beast: Selling to 5 Types of B2B Buyers

Sometimes, decisions are made by committee—groan!—and that means a lot more leg work for a Freelancer who’s trying to sign a contract or a sales professional trying to sell a product or service.  When you must gain the confidence of several staff members, you may never know whose opinion really controls the sale (although you can ask).  All you can do is be prepared by understanding the kind of information that the designated contact person in each department is likely to appreciate and make sure that you deliver it.

Finance

When the Finance Department contributes to buying decisions, you have to know that tangible and intangible value received in exchange for dollars invested is the primary concern. Therefore, present your product or service in language that communicates the expected ROI of the purchase, over the short and long-term, and indicate whether the organization will save or earn money when the product or service is introduced.  A case study to illustrate the financial impact of your product or service on a reasonably comparable organization (in terms of operating revenue or type of business, for example) would be greatly appreciated by the this team.  If Finance does not have confidence in the pricing or ROI of what you’re selling, you will be asked to make monetary concessions or the C-Suite execs will decline the project.

IT

If your product or service will require technical support, this decision contributor will want to be assured that its set-up and maintenance will be easy and compatible with other systems currently in use.  Provide the team with information on how to integrate the online requirements of your product or service with the existing technical infrastructure and software.  Reliability is another IT concern and the fear of system crashes lies just below the surface.  Present data to demonstrate that the online component of the purchase will be dependable and low-maintenance.  Finally, a show-and-tell to illustrate that the system is intuitive and user-friendly, thereby minimizing staff training time or frustration of the end-users.

C-Suite

As you might expect, C-Suite executives, including department heads, are the most important of all those with input into the decision-making process because they have the power to green-light your proposal or kill it outright.  When selling to the higher-ups, it’s important to learn which factors matter most and whose opinions will have the most sway on their opinions (usually the end-users).  If the end-users clue you in to the hot button issues, then discuss them and keep your message simple and clear.  Emphasizing high-level value, as the executive defines it, is probably a useful guideline.  A case study that makes you and your product or service look particularly brilliant, especially regarding the most pressing issues, would be a good selling tool.  Be aware that C-Suite executives are usually too busy to process a complicated sales narrative. Think of soundbites that communicate impactful and tangible benefits.

End users

These team members will use your product or service most often.  Their opinion carries a great deal of weight and their approval of your product or service is a priority of the C-Suite.  Key selling points for this team revolve around the functionality, practicality, ease of use and time-saving potential of your product or service.  Seek feedback from this team as to what they consider the most relevant features and benefits and as well, how you might best promote your sale to the other decision-makers.  You may be able to convince this team of the benefits of certain add-ons and upgrades, which will enhance the user experience and the amount of the sale or billable hours.

Take time to demonstrate and ensure that your product or service will reliably meet or exceed the expectations of the end-users because if it does not, this is the team guaranteed to express concerns that will damage your credibility and the potential for future business and referrals.  Your in-house advocate will be found in this department  (try to cultivate a team member with a title that confers authority) and if you cannot convince the right person to step forward and take on the role of champion, then your sale or contract will most likely suffer diminished prospects for approval by the ultimate judges in the C-Suite.

Thanks for reading. May many billable hours find their way to your door in the New Year!

Kim

How B2B Clients Do Business Now

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.

They’re skeptical

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,

Kim

Smart Questions for the Client Interview

A Freelance consultant’s first project specs meeting with a client or prospect is the time to start building the foundation for a successful working relationship.  A major element of a positive and productive relationship is your understanding of the client’s priorities,  which will allow you to assess what will be required to meet or exceed expectations.

Are you capable of doing the job alone, or must you subcontract some portion to a Freelance colleague ? Can you successfully complete the project within the client’s preferred time frame?  What will be your project fee or hourly rate?

Asking the right questions guarantees that you will receive the information that you’ll need.  As the meeting proceeds,  be sure to ask these three questions.  Your client will be happy that you did.

  1. What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 90 days?

Freelance consultants must hit the ground running. Unlike salaried employees,  there is no training or orientation period.  Often,  there are certain components of a project that organization leaders deem more critical than others. These components could be the most time-sensitive,  or simply the most urgent problems. If there are any front-burner issues,  you want to be prepared to take them on straight away.

     2.  What do you see as driving results for this project?

Getting your arms around these matters can make your project work easier and ensure that you achieve all milestones within the preferred time frame.

      3.  How does this project fit into the organization’s highest priorities?

Seeing the big picture is always helpful.  How important is your project to the company’s long-term strategy and mission-critical goals?  Your pricing will also be impacted by this knowledge. If the project is pivotal,  the smart Freelancer charges a premium.

Within 24 hours after the meeting,  send an email to confirm all major issues and agreements requested by the client and yourself  (think scope of duties,  milestones,  deadlines and your payment schedule). Your email can constitute the project contract and it has legal standing.

If your client would like you to perform additional tasks along the way, confirm that request, including the completion timetable, in writing and specify the additional fee and the payment due date.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

So Why Should They Hire You?

Congratulations! A client with a big budget and a need for your kind of services has called you back for a second talk. You’re excited and a little nervous, too. There’s a lot riding on this interview—maybe this is a prestige client who will help you attract still more prestige clients? Maybe you have bills to pay and this assignment is your ticket to solvency?

Whatever your motive, acing the interview and signing the contract are paramount. Then the client throws this last-ditch, totally common and yet potentially flummoxing question at you–“Why should I hire you for this project?”

Most of us will flap our jaws aimlessly, talking about the value-added we bring, our work ethic, excellent customer service or deep expertise. All of these benefits are positive but in today’s hyper-competitive economy, a Freelancer must make a stronger case. We need to make the client salivate to have us on board.

As luck would have it, there are some good stock answers available and they will make you shine. These templates give the prospect the confidence to open the door and bring you onto the team. You maximize the impact by replying in a relaxed tone, keeping your answer clear and simple and avoiding the use of jargon.

Interview coach and author of Convince Them in 90 Seconds (2010) Nicholas Boothman suggests that you try something like this… “You know how an outside specialist has to be flexible and ready for the unpredictable? Well, I know how to adapt to changes, I have initiative and I can cover a lot of bases, so your team members will be able to concentrate on what they do best and I can take care of the other stuff that needs to get done.”

You might also try something suggested by business journalist Geoffrey James, author of Business Without the Bull (2014)…. ” You know how sometimes you can’t find top talent to bring on when you need them most? Well, I have ( x amount of) years experience in (whatever field) that will let me solve your (problem or need) and get the right solution up and running in a short time frame. When you hire my organization, you won’t have to spin your wheels searching for talent and you’ll avoid the risk of hiring the wrong person.”

Here’s a cool little retort for the Freelancer who has not seen age 35 in a few decades and it works whether one is speaking to a Baby Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial…”You know how sometimes people can get into emotional battles over how to approach a problem? One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is how to bring these kind of conflicts to a quick resolution. If I’m on your team, you’ll not only get an experienced (name the specialty), but also someone with perspective, who can guide a team away from butting heads and toward getting the work done.”

Note that your answer positions you as the solution to the client’s problem or need and that is precisely how you want to be perceived, for that is why you will get hired. You may devise other answers that more closely reflect the circumstances of your field. Anticipate the question in advance of your next client meeting and think of scenarios that will help you answer the “Why should I hire you” question in a way that focuses on the client and how you can make his/her life easier.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

When “No” Is the Best Answer

“No” can be the starting point of the biggest sale of your career. Experienced and successful sales professionals know that “No” should not be confused with “Never”. “No” can mean that this is not the time to ask for the sale. “No” can mean that you are talking to the wrong person. After doing some homework to verify who can impact the sale and give the green light (that could involve more than one person), you may ask to speak with the real decision-maker, who will advocate for you and also re-allocate the budget if necessary, and you will strike it rich.

Rejection is a part of life and it is most certainly part of sales and entrepreneurship. Rejection is a challenge. In Mandarin Chinese, the same character represents crisis and opportunity. Resilient people — and I know that you are resilient, or you would not be a Freelance consultant — use a crisis to:

  • Re-examine the proposed value-added of your product or service
  • Reevaluate the competitive landscape
  • Refine your sales pitch
  • Re-engineer yourself to become more competitive
  • Re-approach that rejecting client and others as well
“No” can make us improve ourselves and become more relevant to prospective clients, now armed with a better message and better value proposition, or perhaps even an upgraded or more specifically tailored service or product. Try these tactics the next time rejection rattles you:
Listen
While it is a natural response to counter prospect objections, one would be advised to listen well. Is that prospect doing you the enormous favor of telling you how to re-shape, re-position or at least better describe your product or service?  Try to curb the reflexive defensiveness that every human has and listen with an open mind. What weaknesses are being pointed out to you?
Objections are not always rooted in misunderstanding or hostility. Learning the ways in which your product or service does not measure up is the most valuable information that can be presented to you.  After giving your perspective on the merits of the offering in question,  honor the client’s perspective as you do yourself  a favor and ask more questions about the preferred outcomes and what changes would perhaps be helpful.
Analyze
The negative feedback that you receive is just one person’s opinion or the report of a single experience.  Nevertheless, listen and do your best to be objective about what has been revealed to you. Some or all of the negative report may be accurate.  Separate the probably relevant aspects from what may be unreasonable or unfixable. Here begins your list of action items.
Adjust
After you’ve heard the complaints, thank your prospect for his/her candor. Hearing the truth is always a good thing, even when it hurts. On the spot, think of improvements or adjustments that can be made quickly and inexpensively (If it appears that might be possible). Has the prospect made suggestions that you can incorporate?
Reassess
After you’ve reviewed what transpired a couple of times, you may decide that revisions need to be made in your services or products; business model; operations process; sales distribution; quality control; or marketing message. Before institution any permanent changes, do speak with other clients and assess their experiences when doing business with you. Are you hearing similar complaints,  or wish-list type of suggestions that clients had not previously revealed to you?
If common themes emerge, then changes are definitely in order. Draw up a list of recommended upgrades or alterations so that you can take the full measure of what needs to change. Which changes be made quickly? Which can be expected to have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction or billable hours?  Create a budget and time-table and then prioritize the tasks and if budget allows, perform first those that will have the greatest potential for positive impact.
Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs and sales professionals will face rejection for the entirety of our careers. In order to withstand the ongoing assault,  we must believe in ourselves, in our abilities and in our products and services. Yet over-confidence is not useful and is not a true indicator of resilience.  The ability to hear and accept occasionally painful truths and the courage to re-vamp, re-group, move on and succeed are the attributes that distinguish the winners among us.
Thanks for reading,
Kim

Prospects and Tire-Kickers

Tire-kickers, those self-absorbed time-wasters who parachute into your life, present themselves as interested buyers, pepper you or your sales staff with questions, raise red-herring objections and then slide away without spending any money. Freelance consultants, business owners and sales professionals regularly contend with “prospects” whose mission in life, it seems, is to squander others’ valuable time. Tire-kickers feel completely entitled to mislead honest working people by feigning interest in products and services that they have no intention of purchasing any time soon.  They also get their jollies by inviting marketing consultants to meet for coffee and discuss projects that have neither official support nor budget.

Tire-kickers are the bane of a Freelancer’s existence.  A method to politely expose and dispose of them is a useful time management skill. Posing questions and raising objections while in the buying process is responsible behavior and all whose livelihoods depend upon making a sale welcome serious prospects, including those who do not buy at that time. How does one tell the difference between a tire-kicker and a prospective customer? It all starts with asking the right questions (but you knew that).

The Zero Pain Hypothesis developed by Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, assumes that a caller has no need for what you sell and it is an effective template to follow. Keep your tone friendly and helpful throughout. You might be able to persuade the tire-kicker to either make a purchase in the near term, or make a referral to a colleague who has money and motive to do business with you now.

1.  Who?

To whom are you speaking? Get the name, title, company, phone number, email and location of the person who makes contact. Get qualifying info up front and begin to make that person commit to the buying process. Questions are cheerfully answered, but this is not a game, it is business. The job title can help you know whether this person is likely to be the decision-maker or key influencer.

2.  What and Why?

What is the product or service that is being investigated and why is it needed? What business imperative is a priority for the caller? If the caller can provide a logical reason for contacting you and/or describe what has been done that is not  working, then you probably have a genuine prospect. The counter-intuitive genius of the Zero Pain Hypothesis recommends that you offer up an inexpensive, maybe DIY alternative to your services. Tire-kickers should back off once told of a cheap and easy path to what they want. As well, tire-kickers will reveal themselves by their vague and evasive answers to your questions.

3.  When?

Assess the urgency. Is there a deadline for completing the project or making the purchase? If things are open-ended, then you are speaking with a tire-kicker. The Zero Pain Hypothesis recommends that if possible,  you recommend a “place-holder” alternative, an inexpensive band-aid that will help out for the short-term, since there is no defined timeline.

4.  Where?

Where is the organization in the buying process — early stage vendor list making, soliciting proposals, or close to finalizing the decision? Is your questioner the decision-maker and who else may need to weigh in? What is the budget? If the caller has a deadline and/or a budget, then you probably have a genuine prospect. If the caller’s budget does not meet your minimum, then refer back to the cheap alternative. Restate what the project or product means to the caller’s business. If something big is on the line, that person might be able to perceive the “pain” point that your qualifying questions encourage him/her to acknowledge and proceed to talk him/herself into increasing the budget and selling him/herself on the value of your services.

Thanks for reading,

Kim