5 Tips for the Initial Client Sales Call

The most important discussion you’ll have with any client is the first. They tell you about their project, you talk about your process, and at the end, both of you should have a good idea about if working together makes sense.

Usually, this first client/freelancer discussion occurs during the sales call. That first sales call can be difficult for the unprepared freelancer.

How do you make the most out of the call and know whether or not the project is a good fit for you? I’ll teach you how. Here are five tips I’ve picked up.


How to Make the Most of Your Sales Call

You need to get the most from your sales call. Here are five tips to help:

  1. Determine how they’ll fund the project. Learning about their source of money will tell you a lot about the project and how serious the client is. You can ask questions like, “do you have a budget for this work?” or “can you tell me about your company?” Individuals are a lot more risky than even small companies. Individuals tend to want your services while businesses truly need them. When a company decides they want to build a web site or have copy written, they budget the funds and in their minds, that money is already spent. When working with an individual who is financing the project themselves, they might decide to not do the project for any number of reasons from realizing how much it will cost to having an unexpected personal expense.
  2. Give a price range. After hearing the scope of the work they want done, you’ll probably have a good idea of what the cost will be for the project. It’s good to clue them in to what you’re thinking so both your time and their time isn’t wasted moving forward when both parties expect totally different costs. I give a range and say something like, “In the past, projects I’ve worked on like this cost somewhere between ‘x’ and ‘y.’ Is that in line with what you were thinking?” Their next words will almost always tell you if it’s worth moving forward or not. It’s important to not say one specific number. If you’ve underestimated the amount of work it will take, depending on the client, bumping up your number isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Giving a range saves you from this potential trouble and still accomplishes what you want to know at this point: determining if you and your client are in the same ballpark. Depending on the client, it might be appropriate for you to ask if they have a budget. Most of the time they’ll say they are gathering estimates, but sometimes they already know. Who knows, you may be told a number that’s much higher than what you were expecting!
  3. Put them on the hook. If it sounds like the potential client might just be testing the waters, don’t just jump out and offer to put together the proposal. Instead, give them something to do once the phone is hung up. This is a good test of their commitment to the project and to you. I’ll often ask for them to send me a list of competitors or a list of sites they’d like to be used for inspiration. You can say that this is just part of your usual scoping process and it helps you determine the effort required–which it really does. If that email doesn’t come (a friendly reminder to the potential client isn’t bad). If a response never comes, then hopefully you’ve already moved on from the project too.
  4. Guard your references. I’ve gotten into the habit of guarding my references as closely as I can. You want your references to give glowing reviews and if you have random people calling them regularly, those references won’t glow for that long. Use them wisely! Also, think about the impression your references will get from the people you have calling them. My references are either current or past clients, and I never want to jeopardize future work. So what to do when a potential client asks for references and you are leery of giving them out? You could refer them to testimonials or case studies you’ve prepared on your web site. Or, you could work out an informal reference agreement with other contractors who also need references from time to time. Finally, you could wait until they’ve returned what you “put them on the hook” for (see tip 3 above).
  5. Have fun and be happy! Yes, people want to work with professionals. But, sounding like you’re boring isn’t going to win you your next big project. If you sound like you enjoy what you do, know what you’re talking about, and are confident with your approach, then you’ll sound trustworthy to your potential client. Even if at first you dislike sales calls, act like you enjoy them. Someday you may very well love these first calls. After a while, they become a game and when you become good at them, it’s another tool in your freelancing belt. The old saying, “fake it ’til you make it” is true!

So on your next initial sales call, try to use some of these tips and not only will you make it more productive, you might find yourself enjoying it.

Your Turn

What tips do you have for making sales calls? What works for you?

Share your techniques in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    Matthew – these are some very good tips that we can use daily. I specifically like your tip #3 Put them on the hook… There is a form that each of my potential clients needs to fill out before I can start a proposal. It’s a short form and shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes, but it gives me everything I need to create my design brief. In the initial call (or email) about the project I explain that in order for my to understand a firm grasp of the project, company, and their design needs, that I need the form filled out. Depending on how quickly and completed I receive that form gives me a very good idea of how the client works and even lets me know if it’s something that I want to move forward with.

    #5 is always good. We do this for a living, we should be happy and confident!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    @Jen – That’s a great tip! Ideally you get some good information from them about their requirements, but you really get a good gauge of their level of commitment to the project and to working with you on it.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. says

    Really good article. I think I spend a lot of time on equiries, which at times consumes a considerable amount of time. Gradually learned to cut down that time so to read and learn more about Enquiry conversions is great.

  4. says

    @Eduardo – YES! It is such a time burn. I’m sure all of us have put many hours into putting proposals together and the project wound up going no where. The client doesn’t want us to waste our time, but sometimes we can be too eager to put that proposal together since it seems like the logical “next step.”

    Qualifying the client should be as important in the early going as understanding their project. It saves wasted efforts and keeps your hopes from being crushed :)

  5. says

    Yeah, I try not to spend too much on a proposal either particularly if you know clients are shopping and approaching other web designers to compare prices or proposals. So I don’t provide the client too much information in the enquiry phase in the circumstance that all the effort in a proposal could be handed to a competitor, or worse a competitor gets a friend or themselves to enquire to obtain prices and sales techniques. So it’s good to read articles such as yours to keep sales processes short.

  6. says

    I love the idea of a “hook” – it’s something that I haven’t tried, but definitely will in the future. As a freelance writer, there’s so much competition out there that giving them a small assignment after first contact would be a great way not only to gage their interest in your services, but it would also set you apart from your competitors – something that all of us are trying to do!

  7. says

    Great post Matthew! The tips here are great ideas that I’d like to try for my future sales emails from clients.

    I especially agree with giving a range instead of an actual figure when a potential client asks about your fees. I scared a client away because of this mistake and will definitely not let this happen again.

  8. says

    Great post! One comment from my side – we have created a system that helps designers manage their sales and customer communication process – you can check it on http://disqourse.com . It will help you to look professional and at the same time you will stand out from email using competitors.

  9. says

    My sales calls are a two way interview. It’s very important to remind yourself that they are not just employing you. You are employing them with your talents. Not everyone is compatible on a professional working level. It’s great to pull as much information in the first few phone calls. If I see any red flags, I don’t even waste anymore time.

  10. says

    Good input on sales. Finding ahead of time the budget of a client is crucial, and helps you know if you want to take on the project or not. It also helps you base a couple of options the potential lead may be interested in without wasting your breath. I say to always leave a good impression, and keep your track of your consultation and proposals. You may never know who might give you a call back when you lost the sale to another competitor months ago! I actually just experienced that this week ;)

  11. says

    I like the tip number 4!

    I feel most companies will be so quick to shout and rave about their work and how good it is, but this is a unique way of maintaining the credibility of all that hard work.

    Good Post!

  12. says

    I hope my voice does not sound too off-putting. For personal reasons, my tone is monotone. My current employer even commented on it during my phone interview, so I hope future employers give me the chance to prove myself.

  13. Liz says

    After the call has ended and you’ve been asked to send a detailed quote, you can always use free tools like Sage Software’s Billing Boss (http://www.billingboss.com) to create the quote. If the quote leads to a sale, you can then convert that quote into an invoice without needing to start all over again.

    I run my own business, and Sage asked me to share my experiences with Billing Boss with others. So here I am. Please note: This author has been compensated by Sage.

  14. says

    Putting them on the hook is a GREAT way to find out if they are a serious client or if they are just window shopping – or if they are another competitor.

    I like to send them questionnaires to fill out which gives me more info about their business and project and also allows me to build a relationship and rapport with them.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Have fun and be happy! Yes, people want to work with professionals. But, sounding like you’re boring isn’t going to win you your next big project. If you sound like you enjoy what you do, know what you’re talking about, and are confident with your approach, then you’ll sound trustworthy to your potential client. Even if at first you dislike sales calls, act like you enjoy them. Someday you may very well love these first calls. After a while, they become a game and when you become good at them, it’s another tool in your freelancing belt. The old saying, “fake it ’til you make it” is true! via freelancefolder.com [...]

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