This year I’ve focused on overcoming the freelance feast vs famine – where you’re either so busy you could cry, or you’re so quiet you could cry.
Starting the year in famine mode, I set to work on my sales process…
But unlike in previous years, it wasn’t working. I can build a pipeline of leads – that’s the easy bit of sales. And I’m pretty good at qualifying and nurturing them through the funnel to become marketing-qualified leads, and in turn, sales-qualified leads…
But the close? It just wasn’t happening. And I had no idea why.
I tried everything I had in the past, thought of new things to try, read up on how to ‘seal the deal’…but nothing was working. Everyone was making the right noises, but no-one was prepared to sign on the dotted line.
Life was so frustrating.
So I turned to a sales mentor…actually, things were so frustrating that I turned to two sales mentors.
Both were guys I’d worked with previously – one as a colleague, one as a client. Both are now in high positions within some pretty large technology vendors, generating thousands (if not millions) in revenue every year.
I should probably keep their secrets to myself, but I believe in the power of the community, so here are the golden nuggets they were kind enough to share…
What’s the compelling event?
If the prospect doesn’t have a reason to sign on that dotted line, guess what, they’re not going to sign. Without a compelling event, such as a rebrand, upcoming event, or submission deadline, your services will only ever be seen as a ‘nice to have’.
The good news is that the compelling event could be anything. So when you’re having those initial discussions, explore every avenue to work out what it could be.
You’ve got to get closer
Once of my biggest frustrations is having ‘bitty’ work, where I’m thrown the occasional case study or thought leadership article. I love a meatier project, where those tactical deliverables actually form part of a campaign – plus, working in this way means you’ll always get better results, and the client gets a better return on their investment.
To get closer to your prospect, you have to look beyond the immediate need. Start by asking what the rest of the quarter’s activities look like, and then the next quarter…and the next. If you’re working with someone like a marketing manager, they’ll have everything planned out. And if you’re building that relationship, they’ll trust you enough to share it.
Write a schedule of activities
As part of your contract, you should include a schedule of activities. This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it sets expectations for what the project could look like in its entirety.
And if things are going quiet, it also affords you to opportunity to go back to the client and say:
“We said we were going to do X, Y and Z this quarter. We’re currently six weeks in and I’ve only been briefed on one thing. I’m worried if we don’t make this a priority now, we won’t have time to deliver what’s required for you to achieve [insert compelling event].”
And don’t forget the contract
It’s such an important part of any relationship because it sets expectations for both parties. It doesn’t have to be anything mighty and scary (trust me, I’ve read and signed a fair few of those over the years); mine’s a couple of pages long and is written in simple English.
But make sure you include important details, such as:
- What you’re agreeing to deliver
- What you need from the client in order to deliver it
- Payment terms
Never chase a prospect
Whether personally or professionally, we’ve all been there; you ask for a quote and the sales person starts to bug you until you’ve signed on that dotted line. So you start screening their calls, deleting their emails…and in the end you get so fed up that even if you want what they’re got, you’re going to buy it elsewhere out of principle.
Make sure you add value with every communication you send.
Imagine you’re waiting to close a deal on writing a series of blogs. You could chase with an email saying:
“Just wondering if you’d had a chance to review my quote yet?”
Or you could send an email saying:
“I’ve just published a case study on my website about how I helped ABC Company to achieve X, Y, Z results through a series of blogs I wrote for them. Given we’ve been talking about a similar project, I thought it might be of interest. You can read it here…”
Or what about:
“There’s a lot of stories in the media at the moment about X. Given your product does Y, should we look to take advantage and write something about Z?”
Never sell yourself short
There’s a reason you have a rate card. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort researching what you should charge based on your skills, knowledge and experience – plus the value that you’d bring to the client.
The first piece of advice: always know your worth
I remember receiving sales training many years ago, when I was told:
“Never answer an unasked question.”
So, if you’re sat in front of a prospect and they say:
Don’t immediately start discounting because they’ve not asked for that – they’ve simply made a statement.
Rightly or wrongly, I have a rule that I never discount. I know my worth, because I put A LOT of time, data, and analysis into working out my pricing model, and then continuously monitoring and evaluating it to ensure it continues to deliver value for both my clients and me.
If I was to immediately discount, I might as well pluck a random figure out of the air or use Fiverr to win work. Plus, how is it fair to my clients if one person is paying £5 for a blog, while someone else pays £120?
I know my rates are fair and in line with the market. So if I’m asked to discount, the answer is always “No”.
The second piece of advice: think about what you could add into the deal instead
There’s always something else you can give, which doesn’t necessarily cost you a lot, but could be incredibly valuable to a client.
- Being white labelled (i.e. they say you work for them – particularly useful if you work with agencies)
- Adding briefing time into the mix
- Add an additional round of revisions to fixed-fee projects
- Agreeing to work from their office
- Adding some pull quotes for social media updates onto the end of an article
Does it work?
So having my mentors’ pearls of wisdom to good use, I am now feasting, working with a handful of wonderful new clients, all with exciting, long-term projects…
And I couldn’t be happier!
None of their advice was exactly earth-shattering, but in making some simple tweaks to my process, I was able to close some incredible opportunities, and improve the quality of new leads entering my sales pipeline.
Want to know more about the sales funnel?
Hopefully you’ve found this advice as useful as I have and can now put it to good use. But if you’ve still got questions about the sales funnel, check out this article…