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.

Universal Marketing Cycle

Picture your marketing opportunities as if they flowed through a water system. At the top are collection buckets for the prospects, contacts, leads, and referrals with which you are filling the pipeline (Stage 1).

Your marketing pipeline empties into a follow-up pool (Stage 2), which you dip into in order to move potential clients and referral sources further along in the system. With potential clients, you want to move quickly to having a sales conversation (Stage 3). If they say yes at the end of the sales conversation, you have a new client. If they say anything else, you have more work to do in order to close the sale (Stage 4).

At any given time, one of these four stages is likely to be a place where you feel somewhat stuck. That stage is where you need to put your energy in marketing and sales right now, as opposed to any other part of the cycle.

With that context in mind, let’s look a bit more deeply into the third stage of the cycle, and why I felt it necessary to give it a new name.

I’ve noticed over many years of teaching the Get Clients Now! system that people tend to shy away from choosing Stage 3 as their area of focus. Filling the pipeline usually sounds like more fun. Following up can sound promising, because it’s often an activity you’ve been avoiding and may now feel ready to take on. Closing sales is something we all know we need to do. But that intervening stage between following up and closing the sale doesn’t seem to get much attention.

I’d like to change that. I think we all need to pay attention to that third stage at some point in the development of our approach to marketing and selling. When it comes right down to it, the whole purpose of following up with prospective clients really should be to have a conversation with them about becoming a client.

But wait, isn’t the purpose of follow-up to get prospects to become clients right away? In other words, to close the sale? Well, no. At least not until you know if you want them to be your clients in the first place.

Selling professional services is not like selling vitamins or software or ebooks or home-study courses. When you sell customers a product, you don’t necessarily have to talk to them first. But if you are going to personally deliver services to clients, they’re gonna want to talk to you before they sign on. And, you should want to talk to them, too. How else will you know if they are even a fit for what you do?

Customers who are unhappy with a product are relatively easy to deal with. You tell them to return it, you refund their money, and they are out of your life. But clients who aren’t happy with the service you are providing — whether it isn’t what they were expecting, it doesn’t address their issue, or they just don’t like the way you work — will make your life miserable. They will drain your energy, distract you from the good work you are doing for your other clients, and can even harm your reputation.

Selling is a conversation. It’s not a presentation. I’ve always explained Stage 3 of the Universal Marketing Cycle by saying it’s the time and place where you ask your potential clients what they are looking for, tell them what you have to offer, and the two of you together see if there is a match. But calling this activity “presenting” your services has I think misled readers and students into thinking this could be done: a) in a one-way monologue, b) with a canned speech and/or PowerPoint, or c) by writing killer copy.

My hope in renaming this stage is to bring it more of the attention it deserves. We need to have sales conversations with our prospective clients in order for them to screen us, and for us to screen them. Encouraging conversations like these must be part of our approach to marketing.

We may be able to fill our pipeline with impersonal or one-to-many tactics like social media posts, sending broadcast email, postcards, or running ads. We may even be able to follow up with mass-produced communications like emails, online posts, and cards. But at some point, if we want prospects to become clients, we need to talk to them.

If you’ve been focusing your marketing on any of the other stages of the Universal Marketing Cycle — or maybe all three of them — without getting the kind of results you’d like, perhaps it’s time for you to put some attention on our renamed friend, the sales conversation.

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