by C.J. Hayden
Most of the information and effort aimed at getting more clients focuses on promotion and attraction. You'll find plenty of advice on how to tell the world about your business, make the phone ring, or get inquiries to arrive in your email inbox. But once you've been marketing yourself for a while, you discover that turning those prospects into paying clients can be pretty darned difficult. I find that many professionals are simply not prepared to sell to the prospects they attract.
When you're selling a professional service, marketing doesn't end at a sale; it ends in a sales conversation. People don't buy accounting or coaching or graphic design or management consulting as the result of seeing your ad or getting your letter or visiting your website. They make their decision to hire you as the result of a conversation where you find out what they need, tell them what you have to offer, and the two of you see if there's a match. That's selling.
If you put all your effort into marketing, then aren't prepared to sell when a prospective client gets in touch, you'll waste good prospects and the work you did to get them to contact you. Here's what you need to be ready to sell.
1. Get your basics together.
An essential element for successful selling is a clear, concise description of what you do, with an emphasis on the benefits of working with you and the results you can produce. This is not the same thing as simply citing your education and experience. Prospects don't want to hear what you might be capable of; they want to know how you can solve the problem they have today.
Be prepared to discuss your rates. While you may need detailed information to quote a firm price, don't stall prospects with a vague "we'll need to talk about that" when they ask what you charge. Whether you work by the hour, day, month, or project, you can answer with a range of prices or examples of what you've charged in the past. Prospects don't want to waste time in conversation if your services cost far more than their budget will allow, and neither do you.
2. Be prepared with qualifying questions.
Not everyone who contacts you will be a real prospect. You'll need to ask questions to select in the prospects you want and select out the ones you don't. What problem do they need to solve? How important is it to them? What made them contact you vs. a competitor? How much are they expecting to pay? How soon will they be making a decision? Their answers will reveal how appropriate they are to become your clients, and their readiness and willingness to hire you.
3. Determine what you want prospects to do.
What do you want your prospects to do when they first contact you? Schedule an appointment for an in-person presentation? Provide details for a quote or proposal? Review your offerings to choose options? Come in for an evaluation? Sign up for a sample session or introductory seminar? Whatever you determine this first step is, your entire response to their query should be focused on getting them to take it. Lead them through your sales process; don't make them figure it out.
4. Be ready to follow up.
Most initial conversations end with a next step rather than a closed sale. Gain your prospects' agreement to this step, and follow-up will be much easier. When they agree to schedule a presentation, evaluation, sample session, or introductory seminar, confirm the date on the spot and follow up with a reminder. When they agree to send details for a quote or make selections from your offerings, tell them how to do it and follow up with a form, list of questions, or link.
When it becomes clear your prospects aren't ready to commit to a purchase, you'll need to follow up as well. Capture all the details you'll need in your first exchange with them, and ask their permission. For example, "May I call you next month?' or "May I subscribe you to my newsletter/blog?" or "May I add you to my mailing list for future events or new offerings?" Be prepared to follow up repeatedly until they're ready to act.
5. Have tools to support your strategy.
Each one of the steps above requires tools to perform it well. Everyone needs a clear description of services, fee schedule, and list of qualifying questions. Depending on your business, you may also need a presentation, sample session, or intro seminar outline, quote or request-for-proposal form, and/or online portfolio or catalog. For follow-up, you need some sort of contact management and calendaring system, and may also need a subscription management system.
Developing these steps and tools for effective selling will make it possible to convert more of your prospects into clients. An organized, well-considered sales process like this will also make you a more confident salesperson. So be prepared for your marketing to work by being ready to sell once it does.
Copyright © 2011, C.J. Hayden
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