The Confidence Game

More than a dozen years ago, after being laid off from a Fortune 100 company and learning that hiring managers were not interested in our skills, or they were not interested in those skills when attached to someone over age 40, a work colleague and I each launched ourselves into the self-employed life, specializing in different aspects of business strategy and marketing services.

We each suffered through lean financial times, but eventually I broke through to regularly generate a comfortable, although by no means extravagant, level of business earnings.  Unfortunately,  my friend and colleague has continued to struggle, if not starve.

I was recently inspired to estimate the value that the projects I’m hired to manage bring to my clients’ organizations (an important factor when calculating the project fee, BTW) and concluded that the impact of my work is worth a five-figure sum to the client.  My clients’ confidence in me extends to an unspoken but consistent (monetary) value.  I am trusted to manage the five-figure tier of responsibility for the small and medium size for-profit and not-for-profit organizations on my client roster.

I imagine the limitation is at least partly related to the fact that I work alone (although I have colleagues to enlist if a project exceeds my ability to fulfill the scope).  My projects are mostly ongoing and modestly paying contracts, interspersed with short-term, more lucrative, assignments.  When invited to meet with a prospective client, I usually get hired.

My friend, who also works as a Freelance consultant, is infrequently called to speak with prospective clients about her marketing services and when she is invited to discuss a project, she is seldom hired.  The projects that she aspires to manage can be confidently estimated to have a seven-figure value to her prospects’ organizations.

My theory is that my friend is so seldom hired because even her most solid prospects remain uncomfortable about the capability of a one-person shop to successfully get the job done and help them achieve very important, high price-tag goals.  Her prospective clients apparently do not trust her to successfully manage and impact that tier of responsibility and so she is not hired

At a cocktail party last weekend, I had the unexpected opportunity to meet a lady who does precisely what my friend would like to do.  But this lady does not work alone.  She is part of a three or four person team that offers clients a comprehensive package of services that my friend could never deliver.  I doubt that she could ever persuade those with the necessary expertise and experience to work with her because she lacks the professional stature that would give them the confidence to do so.  My friend and colleague is out of her league and refuses to acknowledge it.

Another acquaintance recently closed her business, rather than sell it (I wonder if she preferred not to disclose financial statements that would reveal to potential buyers that she’d been using her own money to float the organization for five years or more). About three years ago, she invited me to her office to discuss how the two of us might do some business.  We were together for about half the day and we were joined by her second-in-command. Her goal was very straightforward—-win back former clients and acquire new ones.

I suggested the creation of a monthly newsletter, a form of content marketing that has been shown to be an effective client outreach tool if properly chosen topics are featured.  I would be happy to produce the newsletter and take on as much of its production as was mutually agreeable.

That time, I was not hired.  No one was hired and there was no content marketing campaign.  It became obvious that this very elegant lady, who over 50+ years built a business with an enviable client list that was now quite diminished, did not warm up to the current marketing methods, including an e-newsletter.  She did not trust the process.

So what can we learn from these three tales?  First, we can acknowledge that trust and confidence play a foundational role in all relationships, business and personal.  Second, those who elect to go into business or self-employment are advised to offer products or services in which you have the deep knowledge and experience that gives prospective clients and potential referral sources the confidence to hire or recommend you.  Do that and you will succeed in business.

In closing, let’s heed the advice of entrepreneur and selling skills trainer Grant Cardone, author of Sell or Be Sold  (2012), who says that getting sales is often not about money (pricing), but about the buyer having confidence in three things:

  1. Confidence in the product or service
  2. Confidence in the salesperson
  3. Confidence in the company

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81), Pierre-Auguste Renoir

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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

Client Retention Means Exceeding Expectations

Client retention and referrals are the best ways to build a good client list. Earlier in the year,  one of my clients referred to me a colleague who is in a closely related business.  I was so happy!  While working with clients new and long-term,  my mission is to do an excellent job and exceed expectations, so that I will create the conditions for a long relationship and the receipt of referrals.

The two clients are friends,  yet very different in working style.  The first is laid back and easy to deal with.  The new client, to be honest, has not yet developed trust in my abilities. There is a tendency to be more hands-on than I would expect and to assume that things may not have been done correctly on my part.  I’m not sure of the source of the client’s anxiety, but I’ve decided to view the matter as a learning opportunity that will keep me in top form.  I will be pushed to do my best work and have the opportunity to go into trust and credibility building mode.

I started on the client retention path by first learning who had referred me and then sending a thank you email.  Prior to that,  the client had received December holiday cards, as it is my custom is to send holiday cards to all clients I’ve worked with in the previous five years.

Regarding the new client,  my objective is to help that individual relax and know that I’m in control and will make him/her look smart and capable in the eyes of superiors and peers.  I’ve written previously about how to establish a good relationship with difficult and demanding clients. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/how-to-manage-a-difficult-client/

Other tips include:

Be prepared

If you know that you’ll be asked to address a certain problem that the client must resolve, or you must make make recommendations about how the client might capitalize on an expected opportunity, do your homework and come to the meeting brimming with practical ideas and insightful questions.

Listen to the client

Listen and learn how the client views matters from his/her perspective, whether it’s how to implement the solution for the project you’re working on,  how to resolve a customer service glitch, or any other matter that is presented.  Show that you value the client’s opinions.

Respect the client’s ideas and suggestions

You may not have all the answers. The client’s lived experience matters.  Be open to incorporating the client’s ideas into your proposed solution.  Always agree with the client and validate his/her choices. Subtly adapt his/her suggested strategy into something that you know will be more effective, when necessary.  If the client mentions that another consultant has handled a similar project in a different way,  listen up and learn. You may receive valuable information on how to improve your business practices.

Communicate constantly

Misunderstandings cause relationships to fray and misunderstandings occur when communication is unclear and insufficient.  Meetings may be infrequent, but emails are a way to report on (in writing!) your many successes toward achieving the objectives and goals of the project.  I keep my clients apprised of what I’m doing.  This custom also helps when it’s time to send an invoice and billable hours must be justified.  What I don’t want is a client who questions why I’m claiming so many hours.  Moreover, if the client feels that some aspect of the project scope should be expanded or diminsihed,  adjustments can be made in a timely fashion.

Get it in writing

Take meeting notes and within 48 hours post-meeting, send an email to confirm what has been discussed and agreed-upon. Include project specs, the fee structure, the payment schedule, project milestones, the deliverables and the due dates.

Client retention is the foundation of every business.  It takes less time and effort to retain a client than to pursue and acquire a new one. Furthermore,  long-term clients are much more likely to bestow on you that ultimate affirmation, a referral.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

The Less Than Zero Pricing Tactic

Psychology counts when pricing a product or service.  Take note that in every store,  the price of items always ends in .99,  .98,  or .95 and never .00.  Number psychology research has persuasively shown that buyers do not like zeros.  Stores do not sell items for $100.00,  they sell them for $99.95,  because customers associate zeros with premium prices that they’d rather not pay.

Furthermore,  the phenomenon called the left digit effect causes our brains to misinterpret that $99.95 as having a value closer to $99.00,  instead of $100.00.  Lindsay van Thoen,  columnist for The Freelancer’s Union,  says that our clients are like any other consumer and Freelance consultants should bear that in mind when pricing contract proposals.

When we are invited to submit a proposal,  we are all excited.  Here comes money!  The last thing we want to do is to wind up in a wrestling match with a client who wants to nickel and dime.  We take pains to itemize the major components of the project and provide the rationale for the total project fee.  Nevertheless,  haggling may ensue.  According to van Thoen,  Freelancers are wise to follow the lead of retailers,  cut the zeros from our proposals and make it easier for clients to agree to our price.  Resist the temptation to price your project at $5,000.00.  Instead,  price the project at $4825.00 or $5175.00.

Unfortunately,  clients sometimes feel that Freelance consultants pad price quotes,  even when an itemized accounting is provided.  A figure that does not appear to be rounded-off,  but appears to be specifically customized to the service requested and contains few zeros that may imply that we’ve  “rounded-up”  the fee,  can be more trust-inspiring and believable to certain clients.

Other ways to make it more palatable for clients to accept our proposals are to  1.) Ask the client for the project budget and work with them to provide services that you can afford to provide within that valuation and  2.) Provide three levels of service: good,  better and best,  so that clients can choose services according to needs and budget.

Pricing pundit Rafi Mohammed,  founder and CEO of the consulting firm Pricing for Profit in Cambridge, MA,  offers two valuable pieces of advice to keep in mind about pricing.  First,  prices must reflect the value that clients place on the service.  Second,  different clients place different value on a given service.  Offering  “good, better,  best”  options allows the client’s need for the service to be met in a way that is in line with the value placed.  A good pricing strategy is an important part of your marketing plan.  It sets the stage for building a profitable enterprise.  It is imperative to set prices that reflect the client’s value of what we sell and,  equally important,  to help the client perceive that listed prices are trustworthy.

Happy 4th of July!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

You Like Me. You Really Like Me!

Everyone likes to do business with people they like and when given a choice,  we avoid doing business with people we don’t like.   Marketing expert Rohit Bhargava claims that in some instances,  likeability can trump professional  expertise in business situations.   In his 2012 book,  “Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust,  Influencing Behavior and Inspiring Action”,   he explains how we all can become more likeable ourselves.

In “Likeonomics”  Bhargava,  who led a marketing team at the global ad agency Ogilvy,  where he worked with clients such as Intel and Pepsi and who now teaches global marketing strategy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.,   discusses why some companies  and people are more believable than others and why likeability is integral to being trusted,  obtaining and retaining customers and making money.   He reveals five characteristics that make businesses and individuals more likeable to clients and customers:  Truth,  Relevance,  Unselfishness,  Simplicity and Timing,  neatly embodied in the acronym TRUST.

 Likeability  differs from niceness.  Those two adjectives have similarities,  but if you think about it,   you’ll realize that they are not exactly interchangeable.  For example,  nice people don’t like to upset anyone or contradict the prevailing opinion.   To avoid rocking the boat,   nice people  may not always tell the truth.  They like to go with the flow.

Nice people prefer to gloss over the uncomfortable truth because they loathe confrontation and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings .   Nice people want to liked.   Don’t get me wrong,  I like nice people.  I like people who don’t want to hurt my feelings.  The problem is,  nice people are often shallow people.  In my experience,  nice people do not have a backbone,  they definitely don’t have your back and in fact,  nice people are not ashamed to stand by and watch your enemies stab you in yours.

On the other hand,  likeable  people usually value the truth.   In fact,  likeable people can sometimes be rather blunt as they point out the truth of a situation.   Likeable people tend to be transparent and for that reason  they earn trust.  According to Bhargava,  trust and believability are at the foundation of being liked.  They are the basis of our most successful relationships.

Bhargava goes on to say that likeability is not the exclusive domain of extroverts and neither is it a personality contest.  Likeability is about being warm and approachable,  not about being chatty and outgoing.  When one is warm and approachable,  it is not necessary to engage in nonstop small talk in an effort to win someone over.

To be likeable,  all you have to do is be receptive to whom you meet and open to the conversation you’re having.  Be interested in the person you’re speaking with.  Listen and respond accordingly.   Believe it or not,  an excellent way to convince others that you are a great conversationalist is to listen and let the other person talk.

Bhargava further recommends that you keep your marketing message and sales pitch simple because that’s what people will respond to best.   Simple is easy to understand and navigate and evaluate and that is very important to busy people  (like you and me!).   When speaking,  limit  technical jargon and  fifty dollar words.  Don’t try to impress clients and prospects with your stunning vocabulary and encyclopedic knowledge.  Instead,  use clear and simple language,  to ensure that your message is understood and no one feels confused or intimidated  (this is not to be confused with dumbing things down).

Finally,  be honest and transparent about the services and products that you offer and your ability to meet the client’s needs.   As badly as you may need a contract in order to pay your bills,   it is far better for your professional reputation to turn down a contract if you know you cannot do the job.   Honesty demonstrates integrity,  creates respect and goodwill and will persuade that client to bring you in at another time to discuss a project for which you are qualified.

“Likeability is a skill—it is something we all universally can work on get better at”,  notes Bhargava.   Like the saying goes:  People do business with people they know and like.  They do more business with people they trust and respect.

Thanks for reading,

Kim