Should You Meet With Prospective Clients?

“Can you come by this week? We’d like to meet you.”

If you’ve been a freelancer for some time, you’ve probably heard this request more than once from a prospective client.

To some freelancers, meeting requests are a clear sign of legitimate interest. They are a critical step in their selling process.

But other freelancers cringe when they get such requests. For the most part, they view in-person meetings as a waste of time and would rather discuss the project or opportunity over the phone.

Benefits (and Drawbacks) of Face-to-Face Meetings

I can see why each group feels the way they do. Some folks instinctively know that their chances of success are higher if they sit face-to-face with the decision maker.

Those who prefer to stay home argue that people who want to meet with you don’t always value your time. And the fact that they’re asking for a meeting now is a bad sign of things to come, should they become a client.

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, but long ago concluded that the right answer lies in the middle; agreeing to meet with prospective clients, but being smart about which invitations you accept.

How to Decide Whether to Meet

This is sometimes a tough call to make. That’s why I’ve adapted and implemented a “best practice” from my selling career that has worked wonderfully well in these situations. It’s called the “BANT” test.

BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Timing. To make BANT work, you want to develop a few simple questions to ask prospects when they request a meeting. The answers they give you will help you determine how to proceed.

Here’s how it works:

First, thank the prospect for their interest and the opportunity to meet them in person. Then, ask if you can run through a few quick questions over the phone first, just to make sure you better understand their situation.

“Do you have a budget already set aside for this project?”

Before you take the time to meet with the prospect, you want to make sure they’ve earmarked funds for this effort. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people have said they’ve wanted to meet me right away…yet didn’t even have final approval to move forward with the project in question.

While on the subject of money, some freelance gurus suggest that you ask the prospect for his or her budgeted amount. I prefer to give them a rough estimate of what I charge for such a project. That will immediately screen out those who aren’t able (or willing) to pay my fees.

“Mind if I ask who will make the final decision on hiring the freelancer for this project?”

If it’s someone other than the person you’re talking with, ask if the decision-maker can be part of this initial meeting. There’s no use driving all over town, only to have to come back another day to meet the head honcho. By the way, if you feel a bit uneasy asking this question, don’t worry. Your prospect has heard it before and will (or should!) respect you for asking it.

“Have you identified a specific project you want to discuss?”

You might already have the answer, but I come across prospects all the time who don’t even know what they want from me. They feel they need a freelancer in my profession (copywriting), but they haven’t identified an actual project. Everything else being equal, you want to make sure they either have something scoped out or are very close to doing so.

“When are you looking to get started on this project?”

Not long ago I talked with a prospect who wanted to meet me right away. But when I asked her this question, she told me that they couldn’t get started on the project for another 3 months. (Hmmm, 3 months? Any chance we can put off this meeting for another 2 months…?)

Naturally, you’ll have to apply common sense to this formula. You can’t expect a perfect score every time. In fact, you should temper prospects’ responses with other key factors.

For instance, consider how they found you, the company’s name and reputation, and any other valuable insider information (maybe someone on the inside has told you how desperate they are for someone with your qualifications or skills!).

One final tip: Before you invest your valuable time putting together a proposal, you should run through these same questions with your prospect, just to make sure a proposal is justified. I typically spend 30 – 60 minutes assembling a proposal. So, I want to only dedicate that kind of time to projects I know are fully qualified.

Do You Meet With Prospects?

What about you? What’s your take on meetings with prospects? Do you agree or disagree with this method?

What other questions help you determine if a meeting is justified? And how do you handle a prospect who insists that they have to meet you in person?

Image by johnjoh