Closing the Sale

8-ballOne of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is getting the client to say “I do.”  Many of us don’t like being turned down, so we wind up not asking a question that runs the risk of eliciting a negative answer. However, you could be the world’s best marketer, a world-class leader at what you do, and skilled at eliciting your clients’ underlying needs, but if you can’t get the client to sign on the dotted line and approve your proposal, you aren’t going to get paid for all those wonderful skills.

The challenge comes when you have sent in your proposal or project estimate and then you sit and wait… and wait… and wait. No word from the client. So you finally pick up the phone and call the client and pray that he doesn’t answer the phone. But, if your luck runs out and you actually can chat with the client, how do you handle his objections to your proposal?

Following are a few of the most common objections I have heard, and a suggested response. Try these out for yourself and see how you can tweak them for your own clients.

It’s too expensive; we couldn’t afford more than a third of this budget.

Your response: “What if we break this down into phases and tackle it bit by bit? I can focus on this one aspect of the job for $1,000, and then we can evaluate the best way to proceed once you have a chance to review.”

or

“Sure, so is your budget approximately $XXXX? What aspect of the proposal has the highest priority for you? Let me work up a new proposal that just addresses this aspect of the project.”

(Keep in mind that this kind of response also indicates that you weren’t able to have a conversation about budget during your initial conversation. Next time, screw up the courage and ask your client “So, what’s a rough estimate of what you’re budgeting for this?” If your client is ready to buy, she already has some idea of what she’s going to spend. If she has utterly no idea, she’s probably not ready to buy yet.)

This really isn’t what I had in mind.

Your response: “Ah, I must have focused too much on one aspect of what we discussed. Would you like me to expand the proposal to include the entire market, or would you like me to refocus on another angle? Tell me more about what is most important for you.”

“It sounds like you’re going to outsource some of the work. Heck, I can find an intern who can help me.”

Your response: “My goal is to be a one-stop shop for my clients, and to provide them with the best results from the best people. I have the expertise and skills to do much of the work myself, and I bring in other experts who have specialized skills. The person who will be working on this is one of the best in the profession, and together we can provide you with a much better result.”

I need to get my boss / co-worker / CEO to approve this.

Your response: “Sure! I would be happy to reword the proposal; what are the biggest concerns of your boss/co-worker/CEO? I would like to make it clear in the proposal how this will help him accomplish his goals. What other information would help him approve this proposal?”

What’s common among these responses is your commitment to finding a way to address – not argue with – your client’s concerns and shift the conversation back to the value that you bring to each engagement. You acknowledge your client’s concerns, ask for clarification and to understand your client’s reasoning, and then find a way to adjust your proposal to better address your client’s needs.

Attracting, Not Chasing After, Clients

Attract the WorldI was thinking recently about what kinds of marketing really work for entrepreneurs who own professional-service businesses. Even when we deliver something tangible – a new web site, or a consulting report – we are still selling our expertise and insight. And we generally are not cheap; most one-person businesses charge $100 or more an hour, so our clients usually aren’t impulse shoppers. (Although I do have an image in my head of buying a half hour of time on the QVC network, in between “Beauty By Tova” and Diamonique jewelry, where I can encourage people to buy my consulting services now and SAVE!)

Recently, I was talking with a coaching client who had just started his business providing research services. He told me that he was calling companies that were advertising for researcher positions, telling them that he was available to do this work as a freelancer. The problem with this approach is that he was spending his time doing one-on-one calls to people who were looking for an employee, not a freelancer. They probably do not have the authority to hire consultants, and the hiring manager is focused on filling a position, not bringing in a freelancer. As he found out, most of his marketing time was spent identifying who was NOT interested in his services.

The goal of marketing is to get people to come to you rather than for you to go looking for prospects. This is why cold calling virtually never works for professional services; people generally aren’t willing to invest in services by someone they don’t know anything about or have any reason to trust.

Likewise, direct mail to people who don’t already recognize your name and know your reputation for excellence doesn’t work − at least not as a primary means of getting clients. Think about it… If you needed a doctor to treat your child’s epilepsy, would you go to someone who had just sent you a postcard or brochure?

No, you would rely on recommendations from your physician; you would conduct research to find the experts in the field; or you would consult with a patient advocacy group. In other words, you − the client − would look for the best person with the expertise you need.

Rather than casting our marketing material onto the waters, we are much more successful when we work on establishing our credibility within our clients’ environment. I’ve been watching this approach work well with one of the people I’m coaching. Marketing professionals are his client base, so he identified his local chapter of the American Marketing Association to focus on. Not only has he been attending the monthly meetings, but he volunteered to serve on the membership committee and is now the membership director. He has the opportunity to contact all new members, to work closely with the chapter board, and to establish his credibility within his market.

Had he put in the same amount of time (and spent considerable money) developing and sending out direct mail pieces or making cold calls, he would not have had the success he has seen so far, nor would he have built a referral network of well-regarded marketing professionals who know his work and respect him. Telling anonymous prospects about your skills and expertise is one thing; demonstrating it to people who will become clients and referral sources is in another league altogether.

Steps for Starting Your Business

I just read a nice summary of what it takes to start a service-based business, over at The $100 MBA. Omar Zenhom’s Ultimate Guide to Starting a Service Based Business walks you through the mental shifts you need to make in order to turn yourself into a successful business. (Yeah, he thinks of them as action steps, but each step requires an attitude, a mind-set, as much as an understanding of what needs to be done.)

This post covers issues like knowing where your value lies and believing that you offer value, re-thinking your web site, setting rates (gulp), and dealing effectively with clients.

Want to find info on people?

While I aeyeballppreciate being a one-person business, with no one’s job performance to evaluate and no boss’s requests for pre-meeting meetings, that does mean that I need to find people to provide support for my business. I use a bookkeeper, an accountant, and a lawyer. I hire subcontractors for work I can’t do myself. I identify speakers and experts in my volunteer roles with non-profit organizations and professional associations.

But before I contact people directly, I always conduct at least a basic background check to learn a little more about them In addition to looking in at least two search engines, I spend a while going through social media to see how they present themselves to their friends and the larger community. I look to see whether other people interact with them on social media. I check whether they have any referrals from colleagues, and whether they offer referrals for others. And I just try to get a sense of what they are like — collegial? well-respected? staying current in their profession?

When you are researching someone who is not a well-known figure, finding their social media profiles can be challenging. I recently developed a short MEB’s 123s podcast, Top Ten Tips for Researching People With Social Media, that gives you some fresh ideas on how to glean more insight from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.