When thinking about the best way to get new business, it’s often good to remember that contacting a prospect directly can be the most effective tactic. However, this can sometimes seem too scary: the thought of picking up the phone, or meeting someone for coffee, or even sending an email can send a wave of fear through your business heart.
“So that’s what I have to offer you, Mr. Prospect. What do you think?”
“Well, Ms. Professional, I’d like to think about it.”
“Okay, may I call you next week?”
Does this dialogue sound at all familiar? Yet another sales conversation is ending with a stall from the prospective client. Is he actually interested in hiring you, or was that just a polite way to say no? What exactly is it that he wants to think about?
Language is the currency of marketing. It may seem like getting clients for your business is about money, but communication is the real key. In order for someone to become your client, they must first understand what you are offering, relate your offer to something they want or need, grasp how your service can help them, and determine that you are the right person to do what’s needed.
When I rewrote the Get Clients Now! book for the 3rd edition, I decided to change the name of the third stage of the Universal Marketing Cycle from “getting presentations” to “having sales conversations.”
If you haven’t read the book (or it’s been a while), here’s what I mean by “stages” of marketing. The Universal Marketing Cycle is an insightful diagnostic tool to help consultants, coaches, and self-employed professionals choose where to focus your marketing efforts.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was on the organizing committee for a huge event. We rented out a venue that could hold 1500 people and hoped to fill it as full as possible. We engaged a well-known author and speaker. We had multiple teams of volunteers handling the event promotion, venue logistics, lunches, back of the room book sales, travel and other arrangements for the speaker. In short, we were on it.
As event day drew closer, we noticed ticket sales were lower than hoped. Not to worry, we thought; we know that many people wait until the week or two before an event to buy their tickets. Nonetheless, the promotion team redoubled their efforts to get the word out. One week before the event, ticket sales still lagging, we realized we had a serious problem and were not likely to meet our goal. Again, the promotion team made one last effort to get the word out.
When the big day arrived, we had fewer than 100 people in attendance. We barely broke even on the event and our efforts to fill the organization’s coffers — and bring a message of hope and transformation to a big audience — were, well… failing.
A sales conversation is the exchange between you and a prospective client where you find out what the client needs, explain what you offer, and see if there’s a match between you. It’s neither a lecture nor arm-twisting; it’s a discussion between peers about an arrangement that will serve you both.
Here’s what a conversation like this sounds like in real life, with a few asides to note what you might learn from it.
Accountant Meg: Hi, Jack, this is Meg Jones, the small business accountant. How are you today? (Meg re-identifies herself to Jack. She also doesn’t launch right into a lengthy speech.)
Prospective Client Jack: I’m good, but a little busy right now.
Meg: I hope “busy” is good news for you. Do you have just a few minutes to talk about us working together? Last time we spoke you said you’d like to explore that idea. (She acknowledges Jack’s situation, but doesn’t just end the call. She asks permission to continue, and reminds him of a reason he may want to.)