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.