So you think you hate sales? Maybe it’s not what you thought you’d be doing as a freelance designer? Well, if you can’t sell, you can’t survive as a business. Period. The following blog post is a summary of my talk from Podcamp Halifax 2014. Settle in, it’s a bit of a long one, but if you attended the talk it offers some extra insight into these sales tips, and if you didn’t make it, hopefully you’ll find it useful.
As you can see from the embedded slides below, I have attempted to relate these sales tips to some of TV and film’s most greasy sales people. Most people hate these guys, and as human beings, they generally suck, but I have a theory that people who hate sales often tend to be doers and makers. And if your only exposure to sales people are these guys, or worse yet, a bad car salesmen, you tend to think that in order to be good at sales, you have to be a greasy, conceited slimeball. But the truth is, even these slimy over-confident jerks can teach us something.
It’s time to get over your fear of asking for what you’re really worth. Never apologize.
One of my partner Carman’s favourite phrases is: Can’t sell to me, can’t sell for me. We frequently use it to remind ourselves of what we’re really doing when we’re heading into a closing meeting. We want the business, and we want that client to know how and when and why we’re going to deliver exactly what we say we can deliver. Convincing your prospect that you’re the right choice allows them to see how you’ll help them close more business.
If something costs more, we often value it more highly. I get that some people will always see a price as exorbitant and think things should be cheaper, but just like with wine: in your mind, a $25 bottle of wine tastes better than a $13 bottle of wine. Wouldn’t you rather work for the client who truly believes that spending $20k on a website will net a better result than a $5k website? Now, live up to what you promised and do a kick ass job worthy of what you’re being paid.
A number of the businesses I’ve mentored over the years have had a line in their business plan that goes something like: because we’ll have lower overhead, we can afford to charge less than our competitors. If your value proposition is that you can do what I do for cheaper, you’re just racing to the bottom. and the problem is, you just might win.
Give yourself a revenue/sales target to work towards. Then, measure it.
Your target can be based on any number of things. It could be based on your desired monthly income. It could be related to what you need to sell in order to buy a new camera, computer or other piece of equipment that will allow you to scale your business. It could be a revenue target that finally allows you to hire that second or third pair of hands.
When you hit your target, evaluate how you were able to deliver on those projects. If you miss, figure out why. Can you be more efficient? Did anything really stand out as a vertical that you excel in? Maybe there are more companies in that vertical who could use your services? Know anyone at any of these companies? Add them to your lead workflow to try to get a meeting with them.
Set aside real time every week to follow up on sales leads. You have leads, right?
Salespeople use a process of lead generation, nurturing and followup to attempt to close new business. At Kula, we use inbound marketing and HubSpot’s software to attract, convert, nurture and close leads and turn them into customers. A lead, in the purest sense of the word is anyone who has expressed interest in what you sell, either by raising their hand and filling out a form on your website or by contacting you through a referral or third party.
Leads are often referred to by temperature ratings. A warm lead is someone that a colleague may have introduced you to who is presently in the market to purchase your services. A hot lead is someone who has contacted you directly and expressed interest in buying. A cold lead is someone you’ve never met or someone who may not know that they need what you’re selling. Obviously, the warmer the lead, the more focus that should be applied to trying to close them.
Acting like a real salesperson will make you better at sales. Maintain a weighted sales funnel.
If you act more like a salesperson, you’ll get better at sales. Selling well requires the tracking of leads and ranking the potential of a lead to close. All good sales people maintain what’s called a sales funnel, basically a list of all of the potential work that’s coming down the pipe. Some store this information in a cloud-based paid CRM (customer relationship management) like Salesforce or Highrise or free tools like SugarCRM something else. Others keep a running spreadsheet, and some just keep a record on paper.
So what’s a weighted funnel? Let’s say you have three potential projects in your funnel. One is worth $10,000, another $5,000 and the last is worth $1,000. So, you have $16,000 in potential business, right? Unfortunately, no. Chances are, you won’t win all of this business, and the next $16,000 you earn may come from a completely different set of projects. So how do you calculate the actual value?
The $10k project is with a friend of a friend. They’ve only interviewed a couple of firms and are planning to make a decision quickly. Your initial meeting went well, but you are missing one key bit of experience that they need, although you’re pretty sure you have a partner who can help fill the role. You might rate this lead a 50%, you’ve got a good warm connection, but they’re a tiny bit concerned about your ability to deliver. You’re pretty sure you can convince them otherwise. That means this job is only worth $5k in a weighted sales funnel.
The $5,000 project is with a not for profit that sent out an RFP. You’ve done some work in this space, but $5k isn’t a lot of money for what they need, so you’re not that hot on it. Plus, you’ve never heard of the organization and you don’t know anyone there, you just found the RFP on the net. You might only rate this one 10% due to your concerns and your lack of connectivity. Still, you could go after it if you don’t have many other leads to work. $500 for this one.
The $1k is a small project for a friend of your dad’s, and it’s a slam dunk. Still, nothing’s certain in this life, so rate it at 75% and close it as quickly as possible.
So despite the fact that there’s $16,000 in total dollars on the line, if you’ve been realistic in your weighting (and I encourage you to be conservative), you actually only have $6,250 in business that you can work to land in the next month. Of course, there will be new projects that come up as well, but it often works out that the business you do land will fit within this weighted funnel number. Once you’ve been doing a certain volume of business, you’ll begin to see some patterns and get better at estimating the value. You should keep this funnel up to date and use the intelligence you gain when you lose and win work to help shape what work you go after.
If you’re only finding out about an RFP when it hits the street you won’t likely win it.
RFPs are often the bane of the small business existence. The biggest problem is that while the entire purpose of an RFP is to provide a fair and equitable competitive environment, people are still very likely to do work with people they know and like. On occasion, RFPs are structured so that they may fit one particular firm’s offering better than others. It’s hard to make a living as a small business doing only work that comes out via RFP, that’s why referrals and generating inbound leads are so important.
So how do you get inside? Meet people. Get out to networking events. Follow people you admire on Twitter whether they’re a competitor, a prospect or potential mentor.
Talk to your elders. People who are successful are well-connected. Most of them are pretty cool too, and would be more than happy to introduce you to someone. You can always ask someone you know in common to introduce you to another business person. Ask for a coffee or beer meeting—keep it casual. Don’t make the whole meeting about you. Learn what made them successful, ask lots of questions. You never know what could come out of it.
One thing to remember about this approach: it’s a long play, and won’t likely garner results for quite some time. If you have more immediate leads, close those first. Having coffee with dozens of people isn’t work, so don’t get too carried away.
Learn how to sell more of your services to existing customers. Get a bigger share of their wallet.
When you’ve landed a client and completed a project with them, you’ve hopefully earned their trust. It’s a great deal easier to sell to someone who already knows and likes you, rather than finding a new client. If you see an opportunity to help your client with a related service that they may not know you provide, by all means, let them know how you can assist them.
For example, if you’re an SEO writer, but you also manage social media accounts, you could let your client know that you could help with that service to drive more traffic and engagement for the blog posts you’ve created. Always make it about how you can help their business, not about what it will do for your bottom line.
You can kill a deal if you don’t know when to accept ‘yes’. Know when to stop talking.
This one might sound a bit strange, but I’ve seen this kill more than a few deals. You’re in a boardroom, you’ve finished your presentation/pitch and after a little back and forth on pricing and timeline, your prospect gives you the good news—you’ve got the gig.
At this point, you should book the kickoff meeting, and change the subject. Do not try to bring up other services you offer, or convince your new client that they’ve made the right decision. Just shut up. Seriously. Close your mouth now. If you must say something, change the subject to something unrelated: “Going mountain biking this weekend, Bob?”
The problem here is that if you keep selling after you’ve gotten to yes, the client is wondering left wondering why you’re still trying to convince them when they’ve already agreed to hire you. They start to second guess their choice and wonder if you’re maybe not that confident in your ability to deliver. They may not say so right away, but it could easily destroy the deal you’ve worked hard to win. Own it, be quiet and be confident.
Prospects want to make sure you’re the right choice and will ask questions. Have an answer ready.
Objections or hard questions are all part of the sales process. As with anything, it’s best to be prepared. Of course, there may be some questions that come completely out of left field, but you should have an answer ready for when a prospect confronts you about price, timeline, process or the need for one of the tactics you’re proposing. They might bring up something one of your competitors proposed and ask if you agree with it, or think it’s necessary. Be honest, and consider your response and how it could impact the deal. If they remove the AdWords component of the marketing strategy, you may feel that they’ll limit the traffic that you’ll be able to drive to their site and kill the results you’re banking on.
Be careful you don’t over promise as a result of the objections or questions. If they ask why you can’t do the job any faster, let them know that as a successful business, you have lots of projects on the go, and you need to ensure that the client’s project gets the attention it deserves. If they try to beat you up on price, you should already know if you can or cannot afford to cut some cost. If you’re going to cut the cost, make sure you remove some of what they’re getting as well. And don’t forget rule #1: never apologize for what you’re worth.
You’re using social media to research your prospects, right? The warm lead always wins.
Talking to someone that you know a little bit about is always easier than if you know nothing about them. One easy to do this is to always do your research. Know your customer and their customer. Find out who you might know in common. A quick bit of LinkedIn or Twitter creeping will do wonders here. Find something you have in common. It could be a love of bicycles or motorcycles, it could be animals. It could be anything, just use it as a bridge to a broader conversation. Ask your friend who knows that executive to find out if they need what you sell. If a friend gets you a meeting with the CMO, make sure you thank your friend as well. Scotch works nicely for this.
Know when your potential client is thinking about you. Use tools like HubSpot’s Signals.
Knowledge is power. Everyone knows this, yet few exploit it to win at sales. As noted in item #9, the more you know about your prospect, the more comfortable they’ll be talking business with you. It’s a whole lot easier approaching someone when you know they’re at least a little engaged.
Have you ever sent an email to a potential client with a link to your estimate and rationale for how you’d approach a project? There are tools available now that will allow you track when marketing emails are opened, but generally, it’s not been possible to do from Gmail, Apple Mail or Outlook. With HubSpot Signals, you’ll know exactly when a prospect opens your email. You’ll know if they click a link and if you have HubSpot on your site, it can also tell you when they revisit after converting on a form.
Although it’s borderline creepy, Signals can let you know that your potential client opened your email and followed the link to your online estimate. Picking up the phone and placing a call to see if they received the email and if they want to chat about your proposal means it’s happening when you are the thing they’re thinking about. It’s potentially one of the most favourable times to call them as you won’t be interrupting.
If you made it all the way to the end, thanks for sticking with me. Please share your favourite sales tips in the comments or let me know what you think of any of these. I’d also love to hear stories of successful deals and what helped you close.