Sales advice for freelancers who hate the word ‘sales’

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For many of us, the word ‘sales’ conjures up images of a sweaty used car salesman. We think of telemarketers pushing products during dinner and retail employees who won’t let us shop in peace.

As a freelancer, you have to do some selling… scratch that… A LOT of selling. You may not like it, but at least there is good news.

Real sales isn’t at all what you think it is.

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As a former salesman, I can tell you there’s a better way to land clients than what you have in mind. It’s more fun and leads to greater success.

Everybody sells

Truth is, just about everything in life involves a little bit of sales.

From talking your way out of a parking ticket to convincing your significant other to watch Planet Earth again, you already persuade people every day. Just because you persuade them doesn’t mean they don’t benefit.

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Salespeople only cross a line when they push too hard on the wrong prospects. On my first day of my first sales job at AT&T, my boss dropped a telephone book on my desk and told me to pick a letter and start dialing. It made my skin crawl. I bothered thousands of innocent people before I realized the sheer folly to this approach.

Most people are not a good fit for your service. They will never buy, no matter what movies like Boiler Room or Glengarry Glen Ross would have you believe.

Even if they buy, they’ll feel cheated and tell others. Cold calling those people is like fishing with dynamite: It’s painful for everyone and it doesn’t really work. There are other, more effective (and humane) methods.

Some segment of people out there are a great fit for your product. Half of them don’t want to buy, but can be convinced. The other half are feeling so much pain dealing with whatever problem you solve that they’re desperate for help.

As a freelancer with a finite amount of time to devote to sales, I focus on the latter group.

In my business, these are marketers who are missing their numbers and are getting flak from their executives for not being more effective. When I pitch my writing services, they don’t see a used car salesman – they see a savior. I come bearing answers. They’re often overjoyed to pay and given what they stand to gain, they think they’re the ones getting the better deal.

This is real sales, and real sales is about matchmaking. It’s about putting your product in front of people who would love to hear from you.

Sell less, but to the right people

So how do you find the people who are desperate to buy? That’s the real art of sales. The more time you devote to figuring out who your buyer is and how to recognize them, the less time you’ll spend selling and the easier it all becomes.

When I was at AT&T, I was paid to cold-call people during dinner. I’d ask banal questions like, “Which of our products do you have?” I got hung up on a lot, and I thought it was me. But when I took a job selling at a software company that invested money in attracting only the most interested leads, the tables turned.

After the first few calls, I literally danced around the room. Prospects thanked me for talking to them. All that “objection handling” and “breaking through the gatekeeper” crap went out the window. I got to have frank conversations with people who wanted my help. As a freelancer, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you can put yourself in this position.

Here are 3 steps to get you started…

1. Create an ideal customer profile (ICP)

Begin by interviewing your current clients. Ask why they purchased, what alternatives they considered, and how they’d describe your service in their own words.

When you’ve accumulated a few interviews and done some research online, create a short, five-sentence composite profile known as an ICP that lists the most noteworthy traits of your top clients.

2. Identify your sales channels

For most freelancers, the best channel is asking for referrals. Referred customers already trust you and they’re likely to be the right type of buyer. Always ask your clients if they have any friends who would appreciate your service.

But if referrals alone cannot sustain you, as is often the case, use your ICP to determine the best channel to reach your prospects. Mine is LinkedIn.

All my clients use it and LinkedIn allows me to create lists of prospects and get alerts when they switch roles, a key indicator that they’re in the market for writing services.

3. Create templates and reach out

While you should personalize every message you send, a template can help you remember to include all the important points, like what your prospect stands to gain or how they can reach you. Reach out to each prospect 5-7 times over a few different channels over the course of several months.

When you get a ‘No’, celebrate. Anyone who tells you ‘No’ has done you a huge favor: They’ve let you know that they’re not a fit for your product and have freed you to focus on those who are.

And with that, you can begin a new chapter in your freelance selling career.

There’s plenty more to learn before you become a great seller, but if you can internalize the fact that by selling, you’re saving, not taking, you’re well on your way to having more fun and a lot more success.

Good luck!

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About Christopher Gillespie

Chris Gillespie is a writer and founder of content marketing agency Find A Way Media. He’s a media tech aficionado and author of The Beat, a newsletter which helps writers find enough income to pursue their passions. Check out their new eBook – The BIG book of freelancer sales strategy.

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