The first time I had a sales call was a disaster.
I spent days creating a presentation, getting feedback from friends, and making countless revisions until I finally felt it was perfect.
On the bright November morning of the call, I was excited and more than a little nervous. I had recently painted my home office, and the fumes from the paint made me a bit light-headed.
I was terrified of messing up my pitch, but when I got my prospect on the call I took them through it flawlessly.
Taking a beat to catch my breath and smiling inwardly, I asked that final question: “so, are you interested?”
What he said next changed how I think about sales forever.
“This is interesting, but I don’t think it’s for us.”
Those 10 words haunted me for weeks.
I played the call over and over in my mind trying to uncover what I did wrong. I was convinced I just wasn’t good at sales and I felt like I never would be.
Treat Your Client Like a Partner
It wasn’t until I described the call to a trusted advisor that I finally understood that my whole conception of sales was fundamentally flawed.
I had been thinking about sales as pitching.
In my defense, pop culture has trained us to think about sales this way. Movies like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Pursuit of Happiness depict salespeople as sleazy con artists or brilliant savants.
In the stories, salespeople convince their buyer through sheer force of personality.
But most successful salespeople don’t operate this way. You don’t have to magically know the right words to say or convince somebody to do something that’s not in their best interest.
Instead, treat your client like a partner and work together with them to make the sale.
There are 3 keys to doing this:
1. Understand their Goals
People buy when they believe the product or service you’re offering will actually help them reach their goals. Before you can show them that this is true, you actually have to understand them.
As Mike Nardi recommends, the best way to do this is by asking questions:
So ask for the ‘why’ behind the project. What’s motivating this? What are they trying to accomplish? How will they measure success? What’s their budget?
2. Co-Design the Project
Armed with an understanding of their goals, work together with them to co-design the project.
Collaborating with them on the scope by offering your own ideas and providing insights on theirs. Which features are likely to be most impactful? Which might be less cost-effective?
Like Luis Vazquez suggests:
Freelancers who are great at selling don’t go into sales meetings wondering if their prospects will hire them.
On the contrary, these freelancers are convinced that who they’re meeting with clearly want to hire them. It’s just a matter of figuring out the details.
By offering your expertise, you can help shape both the project itself and the way they think about you. Instead of viewing you as a code-monkey, pixel-pusher, or scribbler, your client will start to view as an actual partner. And instead of thinking of you as a cost, they’ll begin to think of you as an investment.
3. Help Them Make an Informed Decision
It’s highly likely that you know more than your client about your area of expertise.
Instead of holding that information back until the project, give them the best information you can during the sales process so they can make informed decisions about all aspects of the project.
As Paul Mendes notes, this tactic works especially well if you can bring data to support your recommendations:
The more data and the more information you have ready in real-time, the better impression you are able to give to your clients.
So reference successes you’ve had with past clients, industry best practices, or public case studies you’ve read.
It’s also helpful to share some candid info about the process of selecting a freelancer. On every sales call, I offer my clients a few key pieces of information:
- The range of prices they’re likely to find if they speak with other freelancers and agencies
- The output and results they’re likely to get at those price points
- The key technical/design/marketing considerations that will make or break the success of the project
Your objective here is to be as transparent and helpful as possible.
Answer their questions like you would if they were a friend. If they’re looking for somebody cheaper, offer to open up your network and help them find the right fit.
While these tactics sometimes result in you sending business elsewhere, more often than not this tactic is so disarming that you end up making the sale. And even if you do end up referring business to somebody else, both the client and the person you referred business to remember the favor and will likely pay it back down the road.
Learn and Experiment
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to sales, but the approach above should make it substantially easier to find your footing.
As Thomas Weibenfalk recommends, dedicate yourself to learning by treating each sales call as an experiment.
Once you’ve done a few, it gets easier.