1 Sure-fire sign you’re wrecking your chances with new clients

I had a few sales calls lately, only I was the potential client.

They were with very savvy marketers, too. Ones who really know their stuff, but I couldn’t believe the insanely simple, crucial mistake they were making in these calls.

And then I realized, looking back, that countless others before them had made the same mistake with me too.

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In fact, I rarely saw sales presentations that DIDN’T make this mistake – unless they were performed by a true pro.

So I decided to share this business-killing mistake with you here on Millo, and teach you the ridiculously simple “cure” so you don’t make it ever again.

Cool? Then let’s go!

First: You have to understand this…

In your very first call you have with a potential client, what do you think is the most important thing they need?

  • A perfect sales message?
  • For you to sound confident?
  • For you to have the perfect “elevator pitch” – and harmonious, eloquent answers to all of their questions?

None of the above.

In my opinion, potential clients have ONE need that trumps them all. If you serve this need, they will forgive any other shortcomings you have and still give you their business.

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You can be late to meetings, miss deadlines, be the least eloquent talker they’ve ever met…and they’ll still love you to death.

(And I know all this from personal experience!)

What is that all-important need?

To be heard.

People need to feel like you understand their goals and needs, that you truly understand the challenges they face and what they’re looking for help with, that you care about them, and that you “get it.”

That’s it.

Do that right, and you can do a whole lot else “wrong” and still have a client for life.

So the sure-fire sign that you’re botching your chances with new clients?

You’re doing 99% of the talking in that first call.

It should be exactly the OPPOSITE. You have to listen, listen, listen.

  • Ask questions.
  • Get to know who you’re talking to.
  • Get them to open up.
  • DON’T interrupt.
  • DON’T interject with industry jargon and egotistical nonsense about how good you do X or Y.

Just listen.

Then, and only then, when they’ve got nothing left to say…talk.

Connect your strengths and services to the goals, problems, and desires they just spelled out for you.

Educate them about your services, and connect everything you do back to those goals and problems they shared with you.

Keep them involved throughout. Say things like “Does that make sense?” or “Does that sound like what you’re looking for?”

They will be AMAZED at how on-point and helpful your sales presentation is. They will APPRECIATE how well you listened and respected what they had to say.

And, more than likely, they will give you their business.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard:

We got a lot of good proposals, but I felt like you were the only person who really understood what we need.

After all, unless you know EXACTLY what someone is looking for, how can you possibly even know what to say?

(Hint: You can’t ;-))

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Leave me a comment below.

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.


More about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable PSD – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see why freelancers & agencies are head over heels for this amazing new service.


  1. dsreyburn says:

    Timeless wisdom. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. great advice, thanks much for sharing.!!!!

  3. Great advice David! You’re on point about listening first and then proposing a solution.

  4. Tiffany says:

    Great article! Looking back on times I loved a sales presentation, I must say, the person pitching followed these guidelines. My full-time job is as a designer and I don’t really have to deal with people–our sales team does that. However, I’m just starting a new business venture on the side and I will be selling, which is a little nerve-racking for me, so these pointers are greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Tiffany,

      Right on – congrats on the new venture.

      It’s pretty simple. When you ask the right questions, people tell you everything they want and need, and then you tell them you can handle it (assuming it’s something you can).

      And then you get projects 🙂

      Let me know if you have any questions as you start selling 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughts,

  5. Jeff Barton says:

    As much as I known this to be true. I need to be to remind myself of this more often. Thanks!

  6. desmarsol says:

    Great post and advice that I have found to work well myself. The one problem I sometimes face is ‘listening’ and yet exerting enough control that it doesn’t veer too far off track with a client who has more time on their hands than I do, so I try to always set a time frame by mentioning how long I expect we’ll need when I schedule a call.

    • I have just tried to schedule out calls via a plugin myself to see how it will go compared to just taking calls whenever and talking forever lol. Hoping it will help

    • Hey Desmarsol,

      That’s a great point, and something I’ve definitely run into myself. I’ve had to learn how to just tactfully (or as tactfully as it can be done…) cut people off and steer things back on track with something like,

      “Hey – sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off, but you said something that was interesting to me. What exactly do you mean by…”

      And take it from there.

      Sounds like you figured something out for you as well 😉

      Good to see you back. Thanks for chiming in 🙂

  7. Joanna Zobjeck says:

    Exactly this:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard:
    “We got a lot of good proposals, but I felt like you were the only person who really understood what we need.”

    I recently landed a pretty large ongoing gig and after my interview I asked how long they have been interviewing for. They said about 3 weeks (I was on the tail end of that). I then asked why they had asked me to come in or what made me stand out from other interviewees. They pretty much said – ‘you were one of the only ones who seemed to be genuinely interested in OUR goals/mission’.

  8. Sharon Pettis McElwee says:

    Whenever I’m meeting with a prospect for the first time, I always open with “why don’t you tell me what problems you need help with before I start talking about my approach so we can be sure we’re on the same page.”

    It’s amazing to see how that changes the whole tune of the meeting. I can actually see it in their body language before they even say a word. Thanks, David, this is a good reminder to listen first and pitch my services second.

  9. When talking to lawyers, politicians, marketing people…. I couldn’t agree more. Egos are very important here, so listen well.
    Not so for your other bright sparks. Before meeting any client, research, research, research. If they are engineers, think like engineers, know their jargon, their lingo, and what engineers tend to like. (hint, not what designers like e.g. “don’t give me any of that arty farty crap” and my favourite “why did you ruin that perfectly good photo of my truck?”). You can listen all you want, but if you don’t understand what they are saying, these people are clever enough to know when you obfuscate in your reply. They also expect you to talk more as “well you tell me as you are the expert” is their most common line. They want to hear from YOU that you know what they are about.

    • Hey Helena,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

      I see where you’re coming from, but respectfully have to disagree.

      When someone first comes to us, we have to know why they did so, who they are, what they do, and why they do it before we even know if we can help them and if we feel they’re the right fit for us as well.

      We don’t do a lot of research into them beforehand, if any. We want to hear who they are in their own words, not what their marketing says or what Wikipedia says about their field.

      But – in that first call, I don’t need to know what they do in so much detail that they’re already going over my head with the info. I more need to know about what problems they’re facing that bought them to me at that specific time, and get a broad sense of what it is that they do.

      (“Why” they do it is much more important to me though in the first call, and that doesn’t require crazy technical language. It’s about their personal goals and ambitions and what inspires them.)

      Diving into the technical stuff and the industry lexicon comes later, in our very intensive research phase.

      I’ve never had someone say things like that to me, even if they were a super-renowned Ph.D. in a technical field I’ll never fully understand.

      I’m definitely not advocating obfuscation. Anyone can see through that, not just those with higher IQs. If a field is very complex and I’m unfamiliar with it, I’m very open about that. I’m also open about the fact that if we move forward, I have the ability to learn, and that the client will have to be very involved in the copy to help steer us right.

      Or, if I feel I’ll never get a grasp on it without a tremendous amount of training, I’ll let them know that too (some industries are simply too tough for “outsiders” to ever fully understand).

      I’ve been challenged before – but I’ve found how I handled it changed the tone of the conversation, and they were happy to go along with our process from that point forward.

      That’s been my experience anyway 🙂 Definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience,


      • Something else that just occurred to me:

        I’ve also found that with people of a very high intellect, often they want to know “why” I’m doing something or asking certain questions, and occasionally they can say things that come off as challenging to the process.

        But when they hear our thought process behind each step, and see that it’s actually quite well thought out, and they “get” it, they become much more open.

        Anyways, again this has been my experience, but I understand you’ve had a different one.

        More than one way to skin a cat as they say (rather gruesomely) 🙂

        Have a great one 🙂

      • Fair enough David, but I am also a former scientist (who also did fine arts), so I will continue to disagree. I also get work from people that disagree with you. That’s good right? We all get work from clients we best gel with. But I can honestly say, there IS a divide between creatives and some professionals, and it appears to me the only ones that don’t see it are the creatives. Listening is very important, it goes without saying. Not understanding how important research first is, means you CANNOT be on the same wave length. Research is an imperative. It is also good sense. You are speaking SOLELY from the position of being a creative, not from the position of your client. I have bumped heads with other creatives about this before, especially after they rage that the client preferred to work with me. Think about it.

        • Hey helena,

          Hm… I’m not sure where you got the idea that we don’t do research.

          (From my previous comment: “Diving into the technical stuff and the industry lexicon comes later, in our very intensive research phase.”)

          Research is actually about 80-90% of our creative process, and depending on the field gets quite technical and cumbersome.

          In fact, we usually do about 2-3 weeks of strictly research before even thinking about the creative.

          So i’m with you on that 😉 you’re preachin’ to the choir.

          It sounds like we structure our initial calls a bit differently though, or have different philosophies for how they should go, and what we want to get out of them.

          But, in any case, if you’re happy with the results you’re getting from how you do things – then I’m happy for you.

          Keep “doing you” as they say on the shores of New Jersey.

          All the best,


  10. Thank your for this great article!

    I think you nailed it David. The “old” sales approach doesn’t
    work anymore. Everyone can be accessed individually through social media.
    Clients expect sales managers to offer solutions to their problems. How can you solve a problem you don’t know yet? How can you solve your client’s problems without knowing the pain points?

    As you said David, you need to ask questions, listen actively and build trust. Only when you have done that, its time to propose a solution. If you aren’t able to offer a convincing solution – be open about it. Try to be helpful and recommend others that are able to solve a problem. This builds mutual trust and brings you new clients in the long run.

  11. Absolutely! Making sure potential (or current) clients feel heard is key to generating new business and developing relationships that return 10 fold in the years to come. Really
    listening to what a client needs and validating their feelings is what lands me my most high caliber clients and the projects I enjoy the most. I’ve been told so many times that even though a client has other
    quotes from people far cheaper than I am, they hire me because they appreciate my communication
    and that I “get them”. Great article!

  12. Marc Posch says:

    Very well said.


  1. […] 1 Sure-fire sign you’re wrecking your chances with new clients […]

  2. […] shows you’ve listened carefully to what your client’s needs are and have put effort and emphasis on meeting those […]


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