What do you do when a potential client calls you about a project opportunity? Do you know what questions to ask…and in what order? Do you know what “next steps” you’ll suggest based on the information you gather?
OK…so developing a sales process is not the most exciting activity in the world. But somewhere during my 11 years in sales, I came to the realization that even a mediocre process beats no process at all.
In fact, following a well-defined process can not only help you improve your sales effectiveness as a freelance professional, but it can also help you stay relaxed, boost your confidence and save you a great deal of time and effort.
Some Guidelines to Follow
The specific sales process you use should obviously depend on your specific profession, the type of work you do and the kind of clients you go after. But at a minimum, it should follow these simple guidelines:
- Take Control. As the service provider, you need to take charge of the initial conversation with the prospect. You’re the expert. You know what questions you must have answered. If you let the prospect take complete control, you probably won’t be able to gather all the needed information. Or you might find yourself sharing ideas, references and too many work samples prematurely.
- Determine the Problem to Be Solved. Find out what problem they’re trying to solve, especially if the scope of work is unclear. A simple “What do you need help with?” is often a good conversation starter. Walk away from that first conversation with something tangible.
- Learn More About the Prospective Client. Ask a few questions to help you determine what type of prospect you’re dealing with. One of the first questions I always ask is “How did you find out about me?” That’s because someone who came via client referral is very different from someone who found me through a Google search.
- Learn More About the Work. Next, you need to learn more about the project or work to be done. You don’t need to know every single detail…at least not yet. Just enough to help you put a proposal together. The more detailed questions should be saved for a future conversation—once you land the work.
- Check for Budget. I’m a big proponent of bringing up the issue of fees early on. Why? Because the time to find out that this is NOT a good prospect (from a budget perspective) is now—and not after you’ve spent one or two (or more!) hours putting a proposal together. I’m not suggesting you should quote an exact fee at this point; providing the prospect with an approximate range will often do the trick.
- Avoid Jumping Through Hoops. At the same time, you should try to limit the amount of work and information you provide until you know you have a qualified prospect, a good potential fit and strong commitment that you’re their top choice (or at least on the short list, if there is one). In other words, referrals, detailed samples, concepts and the like should all wait until you’re closer to striking a deal. They should rarely be part of that first conversation.
- Ask for the Work. Never be afraid to ask for the work. I call prospects just a few hours after emailing my proposal. I flat out ask if we can get started. And if you’re in a situation where a committee will be making the decision, always ask when that decision will be made. When that day comes, call to ask for the work.
Whatever you do, don’t “wing it.” Develop a good process and put it down on paper. Continue to refine it as you learn what works well and what doesn’t.
Have you had trouble getting better projects in the past? What techniques have you used to improve the projects that you accept?
Share your experiences in the comments.
Image by Johan Larkander