Speeding Up Your Sales Pipeline

How wonderful would it be if your prospective clients would just hurry up and make a decision about if and when they’ll give you a sale? Even if 80% decline, as predicted in Pareto’s 80/20 rule, think of the time and aggravation that you’d be spared.  There’d be no more chasing so-called prospects who either can’t or won’t green-light a sale for you.  Your numbers would probably increase, if for no other reason than you’d stop wasting time on lost causes and look for better possibilities.

Getting a commitment to either fish or cut bait in maybe a week or two is a fantasy, but learning how to get better at qualifying prospects is within reach and here are four tips to help you do just that.  Implement these tactics and you’ll move prospects through your sales pipeline faster than ever before.

1. Sell to the decision-maker

Is the person who you think is the prospect really the prospect? Does this person have the authority to make the decision and approve the budget? If not, there will be no sale until and unless you get in front of the real decision-maker.

Especially in B2B sales, a gatekeeper or other lower-level employee could be enlisted to find out the details and then report back to the actual decision-maker.  Alternatively, the decision could be made by a committee of senior staff members, one of whom may be speaking with you, but s/he alone cannot give the green-light without getting agreement from other committee members.

In either case, you’ll need to get around the stand-in, learn the identity of who has the most influence and focus your attention on addressing that person’s hot buttons, so that the sale can move forward at a faster pace.

Step One in ferreting out the identity of the real decision-maker is noticing the job title of the person with whom you’re speaking.  If s/he ranks lower than Director or Vice President, most likely there’s someone in the background pulling the strings.  Unless you’re selling office supplies, ask the stand-in if s/he is able to directly approve the budget and if there are others who might like to directly ask you questions about your product, service, or project.  Be respectful of feelings, but do encourage the participation in the sales process of the one who can sign the check.

2. Discover what worries your prospect

Get a big-picture understanding of your prospect’s most urgent and top-of-mind challenges and near-term objectives, as they apply to what you can bring to the table in terms of a product or service.  What does your prospect think will happen if the product doesn’t get purchased or the project doesn’t get done?  How will company leaders feel when the problem is resolved and objectives are achieved?

Learn as much as possible about what your prospect wants and how committed s/he is to achieving goals and resolving issues.  Ask “what” and “how” questions to discover these key insights.

3. Confirm that your solution is a fit 

Ultimately, all salespeople want to close deals. But ironically, it’s sometimes better to walk away from a potential sale if the product or service isn’t a good fit for either you or the prospect.  Pushing for a sale that won’t bring about the best outcomes never ends well and it should be avoided, even when you’re desperate to do business.

In these situations, your objective is about getting to “no” faster.  Then you can move on and pursue other prospects who may be better positioned to buy from you.  It’s  preferable to speed inappropriate prospects through the pipeline and devote the time saved to identifying and meeting with qualified prospects who might say “yes.”

To ensure that your product or service can solve the problem or help the prospect meet a goal, ask pointed questions and listen well to determine whether your solution will produce the best results and be cost-effective in the long run.

4. Learn the prospect’s timetable

Is there an urgent need or deadline that compels your prospect to take action and implement a solution quickly? If you know that to be true, you can most likely expedite the sale (and get the price you want, as well).  Ask questions to help yourself evaluate whether the prospect could be ready to do the deal in a week or two, or in months.

One important line of questioning should concern available funding for the proposed sale or project.  In some cases, the prospect would sincerely like to move forward, but there is insufficient political support in the organization for his/her agenda.

The information will allow you to adjust your expectations for the sale and decide if you should continue to pursue, pick up the thread in a few months, or close the book on a pipe dream.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Portrait of Evdokiya Nickolayevna Chesmenskaya (1780) by Jean-Louis Voille (1744 – 1806) courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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Client Acquisition Tips

According to client acquisition coach and best-selling author Brian Hilliard (Networking Like A Pro [2017] with David Alexander and Ivan Misner), the most vital task for B2B service providers is to organize and articulate your company’s services in a way that makes it easy for prospective clients to understand what you do.  As the in-house marketing and sales expert, the Freelancer must create marketing messages and sales pitches that enable prospects to figure out how and when to work with you.

Yet the unfortunate tendency is for Freelancers to present their services as all things to all people, preventing prospects from getting a handle on what you can do for them (and I’ve done this, BTW).  Casting a wide net may seem like a winning strategy, but in reality it often results in a bewildered and frustrated prospect who doesn’t know how to use your expertise—so they don’t. It’s essential to help prospects see solutions in your services if you expect to make sales and build a client list.  Getting specific is the way to do it, Hilliard says:

  • Promote your services to prospects with the motive and money to do business
  • Define your services using terminology and selling points that the prospect will understand
  • Demonstrate that you can deliver requested services and ensure desired outcomes
  • Price at a level that clients accept and also generates a good profit for you

In your next prospect meeting, when you’re asked “Tell me more about what you do?” give an example of how you’d implement the basic option and the premium option of a service that fits with what s/he might need.  Since you will have become specific, you can expect that your prospect will then become comfortable enough to reveal specifics about his/her reason for speaking with you.  When you hear the details, you can then provide  more precisely tailored versions of your basic and premium options.

Next, although it will take both courage and discipline, stop talking and let the prospect ask questions or provide feedback on your proposed solutions. Expect to be asked if you’re able to further customize a solution and of course you’ll gladly do so.  Whatever you can do to add value will increase your chance of getting the sale.

Finally, there will be the price negotiation.  Ask for the amount of the project budget, to increase the chance that you’ll present an acceptable (verbal) estimate for your services.  If it seems to you that in order to provide the requested services your estimate might somewhat exceed the client’s budget, be willing to negotiate.  When you’ve shown the prospect that you can speak to and address what s/he needs, you’ll probably sign a contract and a new client will join your roster.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921, Austro-Hungarian) A Business Secret, 1917      private collection

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

Credible + Capable = Contract

Pitching to prospects is stressful and time-consuming, but there is such a thrill when we meet the right person and get invited to discuss a project. With much anticipation, valuable time and energy are directed to preparing for the meeting and if we are asked to do so, preparing as well a proposal that details how we would achieve the client’s goals.

It is unspeakably frustrating when a proposal is rejected or worse, when we never hear from that prospect again.  It is imperative that Freelancers practice appropriate risk management and take steps to improve our client acquisition rate and minimize negative outcomes.

Client endorsements

Recommendations by satisfied customers are trust-building votes of confidence for you.  A referral made by someone known and respected by the prospective client is the ideal endorsement. Word-of-mouth is always the best advertisement.

LinkedIn recommendations are lukewarm.  Testimonials that appear on your website are more powerful, especially those given by a prestige client.  Better still is to ask a client if s/he would be willing to speak with a prospect to give a reference for you and discuss the project you worked on.

Samples of your work

Create a portfolio of case studies or other samples of your work to provide some show and tell for prospective clients.  They deserve the opportunity to view and evaluate your work, so that they can envision the match-up between the results they must achieve and the solutions that you would deliver.  Curate your portfolio of work samples and case studies well,  by choosing projects that demonstrate your expertise and value.  A good portfolio will also help to justify your (premium) pricing structure.

Online presence

It is the 21st century and prospects expect all professionals to have an online presence.  Before deciding to contact a Freelancer or any other professional that one might hire, an online search is typically conducted.  Prospects want to get a sense of who you are and confirm that you are legitimate.

Overwhelmingly, Freelance consultants have a website, but there are those rare individuals who have been able to build a successful client list without this marketing tool. Whether or not you have a website, further cultivate your online presence through social media or post press releases online to announce  your speaking and teaching engagements, participation in charity events, or any awards you may have received. Writing a newsletter or blog, building a mailing list and sharing on social media platforms is also useful, as is guest blogging. Develop and maintain a positive online presence that is designed to win over prospects.

Communicate value-added

The ultimate reason that clients hire Freelance consultants is that they are convinced that these individuals will bring significant value to the project and will make the hiring manager look smart in front of his/her superiors and peers.  Merely describing your products and services is no longer sufficient to get yourself hired in this hyper-competitive marketplace, where in most cases there are numerous highly qualified professionals who are available and hungry for billable hours.

Communicating your unique value is the only way to get hired and that must be demonstrated in numerous ways.  Like a trial lawyer, layer on examples of the varied aspects of your value and let the preponderance of evidence in your favor pile up.  In clear and concise terms, present the case of how you will make the client’s job easier, save the organization money, position the organization to make money, or ensure that the organization achieves important goals.

Politely persistent

Once a prospect has expressed an interest to meet and  discuss doing business,  or to confirm whether or not you will be awarded a project after you have had a meeting, there are two possible actions:

1). Active pursuit, when you send one or more emails to either encourage setting up a meeting or to learn the outcome of a hiring decision.

2). Passively waiting for the prospect to contact you.

According to experts, neither approach is useful.  I’ll bet your own lived experience speaks to that fact.  Definitely, you don’t want to come across as pushy, since pressure tactics are  a big turn off.  Conversely, you cannot afford to allow assignments to fall through the cracks because you did not follow-up and help to shine a light on the pending project. You need a way to diplomatically keep your proposal on the front burner.

A useful tactic is to telephone or text the prospect three or four days after you’ve sent your proposal, to confirm that it has been received.  You may also ask when s/he would like to begin the project work.  Open the door a little wider and suggest that you would be happy to start work ASAP on some urgent action item, so that the deadline will be comfortably reached.

Freelance consultants have two jobs: finding projects and then completing those projects.  Our ability to survive financially is directly tied to this process.  As organizations continue to shrink  full-time workforces,  the number of Freelance consultants grows every day.  In order to compete successfully, a Freelancer must always be positioned to regularly sign clients and generate adequate revenue.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Negotiating 2.0: Taming Hardball Tactics

Freelance consultants are always the little guy.  We possess agile talent and experience that bring value-added to so many mission-critical projects,  but we never control the process.  We value our savvy and survival skills,  but we are alone and vulnerable, truth be told. We navigate and negotiate our way through work assignments and do whatever we can to obtain billable hours.

As we enter into negotiations in pursuit of contract assignments,  prospective clients will sometimes seek to take advantage of us. Passive aggressive withholding is the usual weapon. Prospects are known to play ugly games,  sometimes to bargain down our already quite reasonable fee,  other times to sneak more work into the agreed-upon scope of  project work (mission creep) without paying a supplement for the extra duties.

Negotiation skills are a crucial defensive mechanism that help us to protect our integrity and our income and maintain good client relations as we do. Deepak Malhotra, author of Negotiating the Impossible (2016) and professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, has a few suggestions that will help us to respond when a prospect or client decides to become an adversary.

Tactic:  “We will never…”

This is an ultimatum. Malhotra recommends that one should simply ignore ultimatums because he’s found that they are usually NOT deal breakers. Ultimatums are frequently issued in the heat of emotion, or as a tactic to intimidate or control.

Avoid acknowledging the ultimatum and you allow the person who put it out there to slide away from it down the road,  because you never started a discussion about it. The other party will not lose face should they contemplate surrendering their tough position.

If ignoring the ultimatum is impossible, then try to reframe the statement in less harsh language that gives the other party an out. “It may be difficult,  I understand…” or “It could be costly (or time consuming or put you into unfamiliar territory)…”.

Tactic “Oh, and we also will want…”

The other party may have a laundry list of add-ons and conditions that delay agreement. Malhotra observes that there are a couple of likely motivations for this behavior. One, they sense that doing the deal is important to you and they aim to exploit that.  Alternatively, the conditions might possibly be meaningful to them in terms of obtaining satisfactory ROI.

Malhotra recommends that you put a cap on the demands by stating that if something is truly important,  you would like to understand why and that you will work with them to accommodate any legitimate concerns or objectives. However, you are not willing to negotiate an individual element so late in the negotiation process.

If adjustments are critical, he says, then tactfully make it known that it will be necessary to propose and discuss concessions that they would be willing to make in exchange. The other party must be willing to give some easement and flexibility on issues of value to you as well.

Tactic “Great– I’ll confirm this with my boss.”

Malhotra advises that first of all, make sure you are negotiating with the person who can really approve and set into motion the terms of the negotiated agreement. Sometimes, unfortunately, the other party will not be transparent.  Negotiations can be handed off to a gatekeeper while the real authority remains behind the scenes.

To head off this possibility,  ask clarifying questions of the other party  before you get too far along into the negotiations.  Inquire about who will need to sign off on or otherwise sanction the deal that is struck. Ask what factors might speed up or slow down the process. Learning the process of the one across the table shows you are someone who respects the organization and allows you to set expectations for the outcome you can achieve. Do you want to invest time talking to these people, or should you walk away and find a potentially better prospect?

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

“Sorry, I Really Don’t Have Time To Meet…”

Although Summer officially ends on September 22 this year,  by custom the season ends on the day after Labor Day and this year we are back to work early on September 2.   If you were a smart and ambitious cookie,   you met with a good prospective client or two during Summer and you have plans in motion that will improve your chances of having a profitable 4th Quarter.  But maybe there are still a couple of people you’d like to connect with?

We all have someone on our prospect list whom we have been unable to reach.  This prospective client is often prestigious and holds the promise of green-lighting a big payday.  It is frustrating when we can’t get added to this person’s calendar.  Yet there are sometimes ways to capture lightning in a bottle and schedule that much-desired prospect meeting.  Good luck and timing will be involved,  but these will be aided by your ingenuity.

If you have not yet met your prospect,  then try to arrange a personal introduction.  Personal introductions are more effective than self-introductions and an introduction made by someone who is trusted by the prospect will be the most effective.  Tap into your LinkedIn connections and scroll through the connections of your connections.  It is a tedious process,  but you may discover a shared connection who could arrange to introduce you to your prospect.

Second,   conduct an internet search to find out what has been written about the prospect.   You may learn that this individual sits on a board where you have a friend who can facilitate an introduction.  You may learn that your prospect will present or moderate at a conference.  If that is the case,  then you should attend,  if possible.  Take notes at the presentation and ask a good question.   After the talk,  follow-up and speak with the prospect.  Your question will make your self-introduction easy to do and your good question will give you credibility.

Once you’ve met your prospect,  you will ask for a meeting.  Your prospect is a C Suite dweller who has many demands on his/her time.   In order to earn a sliver of that person’s time,   you must demonstrate that you will bring value,  that your meeting request is not all about you.   Find out what subjects may resonate with your prospect by searching for news about the prospect’s company;  for articles that your prospect may have authored;  for articles in which he/she was quoted;  and read postings on the company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.  In addition,  visit the company website and find out if any interesting news has been posted.

Information gleaned from your research will be used to devise and present your value.   If you can teach your prospect something that he/she would like to know about,  then you are sharing  knowledge and insight and not just attempting to extract  a favor or a contract.  If you found that the prospect has authored an article or book,  or that he/she has been quoted,  then offer compliments and comment.  Because you will have made it known that there will be something in it for the prospect,  he/she will be more likely to agree to meet with you,  however briefly.

Offer to buy your prospect coffee or a quick breakfast and state what you’d like to discuss.   Additionally,  state that perhaps he/she would appreciate information on the subject that you’ve identified as potentially relevant.   Ask for 30 minutes of time.  If you learn that the prospect is on the way to another meeting,   offer a ride if you have a car and get another chance to not just talk,  but build a relationship.

24 hours after the meeting,  send written thanks.  An email may suffice,  but if the meeting was especially productive,  then send a short hand-written note on your company stationery or in a small note card that appears business-like.  Reconfirm any agreed-up actions and the time-table.  No matter the outcome of the meeting,   use the encounter to build the foundation for a lasting business relationship.

Thanks for reading and happy Labor Day weekend,

Kim

Avoiding Exploitation: How Much Free Advice?

You’ve seen this movie before.  You are excited by an invitation to visit the office of a promising prospect.  There is a great discussion about the business and where your services would fit.  Serious questions are asked and,  anxious to demonstrate your understanding of the your  (almost)  clients’ needs,   you supply straightforward and practical answers.  The prospect seems impressed with your business acumen;  the energy in the room feels good;  you can visualize your first day on the job.  At the meeting’s end,  there is talk of bringing you in to specify the details of a working relationship.

A week slips by and then two.  Your email or phone call is either unanswered,  or the answer you receive is that your prospect is unable to move forward at this time.  Can you call back next month? Ten days into the new month you call and realize,  with much regret,  that the trail has gone cold.  Who you thought would become a new client was just an imposter,  who robbed the stagecoach of your expertise and disappeared.

That scenario is repeated more than one would think at for-profit and not-for-profit institutions alike.  The fact is,  unless a consulting professional works at Bain,  McKinsey,  or some other big consulting group,   rip-off artists may conspire to defraud you of actionable business information without paying you a dime.  I’ve been invited to two or three interviews where in hindsight I came to realize that the  “prospect”  was merely fishing for free ideas that would resolve a dilemma that would be handled in-house.

Certain salaried predators find it very clever to pretend that there is a nice project available,  call in a few Freelance consultants and pepper us with questions that we answer because we neither eat nor pay the rent or mortgage unless we obtain clients.   The schemers take copious notes and laugh as we walk out of the door,  filled with false hope and visions of paid-off credit cards.

The business press occasionally takes this subject on and presents an article that provides strategies that Freelancers might use to protect ourselves,  but I have little faith in the proposed remedies.  Reading them,  I’ve seen almost nothing that I would expect to work in real-time.  The prospective client asks questions about a project.  How do you avoid providing answers and demonstrating your ability to do the job? Giving a wonderful sales presentation only means there will be better quality information to steal from you.  Recommendations to find out who will be in the meeting and searching for common ground that will allow you to connect on a personal level with at least one person on the team  (oh, you grow roses, too?)  means nothing to someone whose agenda is to exploit.  Knowing when to try to close the deal means nothing because there is nothing to close,  except the door in your face.

There are few effective solutions for this troubling occurrence.  To date,  the best I’ve read was contributed by Grant Cardone,  sales guru and best-selling author of Sell to Survive  (2008)  and Sell or Be Sold  (2012): “I would like to work with you on this issue and I have a few ideas on how we might proceed,  but at this time I don’t know your company well enough to give you answers that either of us could trust to be correct”.

The beauty of this response is that it’s true and it can most likely stop the ” client ” from continuing to press for free consulting advice.  Brazen types may threaten to snatch the  “opportunity”  away from you but if that does occur,  take it as a clear sign that there never was an intention to hire you or anyone else.  Graciously and immediately end the meeting.  If by some miracle the client is real,  your statement will be respected and taken as a sign of integrity.  Your candor might even win you the contract.

Good luck and Happy Easter,

Kim

The 5 Minute Sales Call

I am writing on Valentine’s Day and I confess that I believe in love at first sight.  It does not always happen but sometimes,  one or both members of the couple  “know”  that the other is someone special and that the relationship is probably destined to be significant.   Some claim that they knew almost immediately that they would marry a particular person and that in fact the marriage took place  (I know three such couples).

Business relationships can follow the same pattern.  One or both parties may sense very early in preliminary discussions that there is great potential in the relationship or conversely,  that it is likely there will be no future.  Create some good luck for yourself by making a good first impression and making the most of your first five minutes with a prospective client.  Success lies at the intersection of good fortune and preparation.

Minute 1   Grab attention

Create  “verbal packaging”  that portrays your product or service as relevant to prospective clients.  Communicating the relevance of what you sell comes from knowing what clients value about your offerings and deftly articulating those benefits for prospects as you describe why,  where,  when and how to use your product or service.   If you’ve had time to prepare,  then do your homework to get a good sense of that individual’s business and construct a personalized pitch.  Your product/service must solve a problem or create a competitive advantage.

Minute 2   Talk details

If your prospect either admits that what you sell is needed,  or at least continues to listen with interest,  then ask a few questions to find out where you stand.  Is there a specific and immediate problem or goal?  What is the time-table? Float solutions that your product/service will provide.  This stage allows the prospect to visualize the process and outcomes of doing business with you.

Minute 3   Propose solutions

Explain further the solutions that your product/service will provide and persuade the prospect to define the goal or problem if that has not been done so already.

Minute 4   Establish timeline

Lay out a road map for implementing your solution and completing the sale.  Define the operational processes that will be followed to put your product/service in motion.  Now the client will know that he/she must agree,  or decline,  to proceed.

Minute 5   Close sale

Tell the prospect what has to happen to enable the sale.  Confirm that you have a sale   (“Are you ready to move forward with this and when would you like to start? You would like the project to be completed by what date?”).  Offer to send a contract or confirmation email to lay out the steps,  the timeline and project milestones.  Confirm the project budget and negotiate/agree on the project fee  (or hourly rate),  the amount of money that must be paid to you before you begin working and when future payments will become due.   Confirm payment options.   Say thank you and shake hands with your new client!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Plan Now to Make More Money

At last,  Summer is officially here.  Bright sunshine and abundant flowers do wonders for my mood,  yet the season does my wallet no favors.  Clients wrap up projects by June 30 and teaching opportunities grow scarce.  When it comes to paying bills, well…..But rather than grind my teeth,  I’ve learned that it is far more productive to make use of the down time.  Two activities headline my Summer to-do list:

1.  Professional development:  Sign up for a course or webinar,  attend a symposium,  read a business book or two

2.  Position myself to make more money:  Examine my client list,  marketing strategies and pricing structure and figure out which of those factors needs tweaking.  Meet with a prospect I’ve had my eye on over the past few months.

If you’ve been trying to meet up with a certain prospect,  Summer is usually the time to try to get to him/her,  because so many of us are less busy at this time of year.  Do what you can to make contact with that person.  If you have identified this person as a good prospect but you haven’t met,  you may know or surmise where he/she goes for business networking.  Get on the list and get your body in the door.  If possible,  recruit someone who commands respect to make an introduction,  so you will have a good endorsement and look more trustworthy.  If you’ve already made contact,  ring up your prospect and schedule lunch or coffee.  People are often more relaxed in Summer,  so you’re likely to have your best opportunity to build a relationship that leads to doing business.

While you’re thinking about prospective clients,  revisit your marketing strategy and confirm that you are reaching those who have both motive and money to hire you.  The essence of your marketing strategy is to know how to portray yourself favorably to the clients on your wish list.  That sounds so obvious it’s ridiculous,  but many Freelancers do not know who has the greatest potential to become their best clients or how to make themselves known to those in that group.  According to the 2012 Freelance Industry Report,  only 28%  of Freelancers who spend less than 2 hours/week on marketing bill at $70.00 + per hour,  while 41%  of Freelancers who spend 20+ hours/week on marketing bill at $70.00 + per hour.

Considering that a 2010 survey by the Freelancers Union revealed that 29%  of Freelance consultants earned less than $25,000.00 a year and 58%  earned less than $50.000.00 a year,  one can assume that not many are billing at $70.00 + per hour and if they are,  they’re receiving rather few hours.  Therefore,  consistently spending even two hours/week on marketing can reap tangible benefits,  since it has been demonstrated to have a direct correlation to your billable hourly rate,  if not the number of hours one is able to bill out.  (I wonder who has 20 hours/week to spend on marketing? )

Furthermore the busier you become,  the less attractive it is to keep low-paying and/or difficult clients on your roster,  because you will be unable to afford to keep them there.  Scarce time will also make you feel confident enough to ask current clients for a price increase as well.  Make time to do more marketing by dropping any difficult or low-rent clients and use that space to perfect and execute your marketing strategy.

To give yourself some inspiration check out free webinars,  if you’re unable to afford a course or a conference.  Those of you with teaching or speaking experience might even be invited to become a presenter.  I presented the webinar  “A Business Plan for Your Nonprofit”  on April 24 through Nonprofit Webinars  http://nonprofitwebinars.com/past_webinars/a-business-plan-for-your-nonprofit  .  Marketing strategies will be different for every category of service,  but robust marketing must be on the calendar of every Freelancer if we expect to connect with clients who are willing to pay us what we are worth.

Thanks for reading.  Have a happy 4th of July holiday.

Kim