I know the scenario well:
You get a call from a potential client and set up a meeting. You spend at least 2 hours prepping, traveling, and actually meeting. Then you spend more time carefully preparing the proposal.
Then you wait. And you don’t hear back.
So you follow up and still get nothing.
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Finally, you hear:
- “We’ve decided to work with another firm” or
- “The department head didn’t approve the budget” or
- “The project has been put on hold” or
- “We’ve decided to do it in house”
Heartache. Wasted time. Inefficiency.
Can you do better? Can you waste less time on prospects that aren’t a good fit for your business?
Ask these 5 questions to become more efficient and weed out the prospects that aren’t going to do good business with you anyway.
The next call you get from that prospect you met at a networking event last week starts out like this:
“Hi, this is Sally Smith from ABC Company. We’d like to get a quote for some design work.”
In the past you might say:
“Okay, when would you like to meet?”
Now we’ll handle the same call very differently.
- Your goal is to make a connection, have a meaningful conversation, help them in achieving their goal, and see if you’re aligned to work together on the project.
- You have to let go of any attachment to getting the project. This takes a tremendous amount of stress off you and changes the whole energy of the conversation.
So back to the conversation.
Sally has called you and said she’d like to get a quote on some branding work. This leaves many holes to be filled in. We don’t know who she is, we don’t know what her position is in the company, and we don’t know if she’s just collecting information or is actually ready to start the project.
Now you’re going to have a conversation with Sally and ask a series of 5 powerful questions that will reveal all sorts of information AND it give her clarity on what she is looking for. So you say:
“Sally, I’m so glad you called, there are some things I’d like to know about the project before we meet.”
Question #1: What prompted this project?
You are asking them for the story behind the project…how they got to where they are now.
You want the inside scoop.
- You may hear how another firm completely screwed up their website and they’re calling your firm to save it.
- Or how they’re looking to take advantage of a digital media and want to create a marketing campaign on social media.
- Or a whole variety of stories of how the project happened and how they got to you.
You need to know what you’re dealing with before you make a decision to take it further.
Question #2: Who are the decision-makers?
You want to know what Sally’s role is in this project – is she the admin assistant or the VP of Marketing?
Find out who the decision makers are and push to meet with the group. You want to know who they are and that they are in the loop on the project…and how many of them there are.
Because the last thing you want to happen is to have the entire project halted in the 11th hour! (Been there.)
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions until you are confident this is a good fit. Do a gut check here. Your gut may be screaming “walk away from this one” and you often don’t listen.
Question #3: Can you give me a ballpark budget?
Gulp. This is a very tough question to ask.
They often won’t answer it or will say they aren’t sure. This often prompts the question:
“What would you charge for this?”
This is a great opportunity here. You can give them a big ballpark range.
“You’re looking at anywhere between $5 and $10,000 for a basic identity program for a small company”
Just be quiet and wait for a reaction…this will feel like torture but it can save you hundreds of wasted hours.
They may say:
“Okay, sounds great”
or they may say:
“That wasn’t really what we had in mind – we were thinking more like $1,500.”
If you get the latter, you know immediately that you are not aligned to work together! How great would it be to have this information up front before you go to a meeting or spend hours on a proposal.
Whatever you do, don’t panic for the work and say:
“Okay, I guess we can do something for $1,500.”
Instead, you might say something like:
“Sally, I don’t think we’re well aligned to work together. I’d be happy to refer you to another designer who might be able to do it for that price.”
Remember it’s about a good match.
Now, assuming you get past this question satisfactorily, let’s move on…
Question #4: When will you be ready to start?
Another key question. The response might be:
“We’re committed to launching the new identity in the next quarter so we’re very serious about moving this forward as soon as possible. We’d like to make a decision in the next 4 weeks.”
Or you may hear something like:
“I’m not really sure, my boss asked me to get some quotes.”
Which one would you rather spend time on?
If you get an answer like the second one, ask more questions. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but you are actually helping them get the clarity they need to get a better finished product in line with their goals. Keep asking questions til you’re crystal clear what’s going on. You may even ask them to find out more details and get back to you before you make a decision.
“Look Sally, I’d really like to help you get some clarity on this project. From what I’m hearing, we’re not clear on your objectives or timeline. Can we reconnect in a day or two when you have more information?”
Again, don’t be attached here. You want to feel confident that you are helping them and that you’re aligned for the work.
Set up another call. Make her accountable to you (you’re already helping her).
Question #5: Who else are you talking to?
(Often they won’t answer this one either.)
The standard from my experience is 3 designers in total. If they say they’re talking to 8 designers and then narrowing it down, that’s a red flag for me in a number of ways!
- They may need to see 10 concepts before they can make a decision.
- They may have a committee of decision-makers who don’t agree.
- The left hand might not know what the right hand is doing.
There’s a lot of reading between the lines here and you have to put on your intuition hat to make a decision.
Additional tips for success
Business development can be THE biggest challenges for creative entrepreneurs, but it doesn’t have to be. When you use these questions and the bonus tips below, sales become easier and even fun because you’re meeting new people and making a connection.
More tips for success:
- Do more listening than talking. Don’t give your mini-credentials presentation and talk about how many awards you won this year. Have REAL and meaningful discussions.
- Focus on how you solved a similar problem for someone else and what the results for them were. For example: “When my client Dianne launched her new identity, she doubled her sales in the first 6 months because people understood what she does and how she’s different.”
- Passing on the project is not a bad thing. If you need to walk away, that’s okay. Taking a pass leaves open space for the right work to come your way. If you’re busy with energy-draining, bad-paying clients, there is no space for the good ones.
In summary here are the 5 questions again:
- What prompted this project?
- Who are the decision-makers?
- Can you give me a ballpark budget?
- When will you be ready to start?
- Who else are you talking to?
YOU can do this! You can learn to do business development in a whole different way and be a lot less stressed about it. And with some practice, you can confidently walk away from the wrong work.
It took some practice for me but in time, I’ve nailed it and you can too!
Got a great story or tip to share? I’ve love to hear it! Share it in the comments.
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