Do you feel awkward or waste time with sales conversations? Even with the most brilliant branding, website, social media and marketing strategy, the need for qualifying prospects one-to-one is critical. Here’s how to hold your nerve.
It’s a problem everyone has, can or does face be they a corporate, soloist, consultant or coach. I see the issue with many people once their branding and marketing strategies start pulling well. And qualifying can be particularly tough for those who struggle with sales conversations, assertiveness or are in their first years of self-employment.
Over recent years the buyer’s journey has shifted significantly with the digital age, social selling and content saturation. This means that buyers are often educated and researched prior. But it’s still critical to nail qualifying with elegance and ease to save time, money and our sanity. And it also helps build and maintain muscles of self-worth and boundaries.
I use the word ‘prospect’ in place of ‘client’ for good reason. Technically until a trade of services and money takes place, the person is a prospect. And in that enquiry and initial conversation phase both sides are evaluating if there is a fit together. The answer may be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – and it may come from either party or be mutual.
What I have also learnt over the years is that incoming enquiries or referrals need to have the exact same qualifying process as outbound conversations.
We assume that a referral or inbound enquiry is an easier conversation and quicker route to a sales conversion. This is just not always true.
Often there is a greater need to quickly qualify via referrals because despite kind and thoughtful intentions by the referrer there is just no alignment around the prospect being ready, willing and able. And incoming enquiries must similarly be taken through the qualifying process as the prospect’s intentions and direction is generally unclear and not committed to using your services.
There are 2 types of prospect or lead conversations: Inbound (reactive) & Outbound (proactive).
With social selling, LinkedIn, networking, content, marketing campaigns and website automation etc, the entrance points are variable. But the same 3 steps are key to qualifying a prospect.
Each step ‘Willing, Ready & Able’ should be delivered with a friendly, light and no pressure mindset (after an initial rapport building chat and business overview). Often during that phase the Willing & Ready steps are answered. But the Able (aka financial capacity) is where many come unstuck.
Step 1 – Willing
Has the prospect acknowledged they have a problem and are seeking a solution?
Many prospects are either unaware of their issues, or not ready to accept them. There are many techniques to identify pain points that need solving, but it is usually clear quickly where a prospect is on their acceptance. While your marketing efforts can help raise that awareness over time, this step can be a longer tail discussion to draw out the implications of problems.
Step 2 – Ready
Are they ready to solve that problem NOW or soon? But beware, many people may admit they have an issue but it’s in the ‘would be nice to solve when I have time etc’ vs ‘urgent must solve’ pot.
And it’s the ‘must solve’ pot that you want to determine. There is no point investing further time now for those in the ‘in 12 months I will be ready’. Sure you can spend time creating pain hypothesis in a prospects mind neurologically, but generally it’s a black hole. Keep these prospects on your mailing list and engage on social media etc. It’s a bit like Anthony Robbins principle – the level of pain must surpass the level of comfort in changing the current situation.
Step 3 – Able
Can they afford it? Sometimes prospects couldn’t give a hoot about fees because 1 & 2 is tacit and are simply seeking the best service provider. But this step is where many struggle to have an overview financial chat. But it is critical to identify if the prospect is price shopping, a bargain hunter or seeking quality services.
Identifying this before any further time, meetings or proposals is crucial – especially in services which are competitive. Sure, price can feel feels ‘tacky’ to discuss but it is the first objection given to squash a deal or get out of an uncomfortable conversation.
There are a few ways to tackle this. The prospect may raise the question first. Or if not you should weave it in without pressure. And dependent on the variables of your services you may have a wide berth (ie what does a website cost is like asking what does a car cost)
What does it cost?
If this is asked directly, give your range. The bottom range in itself will self-select often. If your starting range is too much – there is no way the highest service has a chance of life. Try “it’s hard to say exactly for your specific needs, but my services range from $ xyz to $ xyz.”
And if you don’t have a range, but an hourly rate or major package give it up front. No need to ‘prove your worth or value’ at this point.
Then pause and wait for the response and tone from the prospect. What they say next and how they say it will be your general cue for further discussions. Or it made by the end of the road. Dependent on their response you may then ask if they had a budget in mind or dive deeper.
Clarifying capacity directly
Only if 1 & 2 is clear for a Yes then you may want to enquire about the prospects budgets. I would keep it very informal along the lines of: “Just curious, did you set aside a budget for this or is there some scope and flexibility based on needs and results?”
Immediate price question
Sometimes you get a prospect who just wants to dive straight into a price question. This is a red flag often (but dependent on the activity and engagement prior on social media etc). So just give your range and save your time OR you may respond that it’s not your policy to give prices upfront without understanding needs and timelines. Hold your power and nerve. Be discerning in how you respond.
So are your prospects Willing, Ready and Able? And do you get a sense that you would both would be a good fit (another whole blog)? The prospect may be going through a process of interviewing and deciding the best supplier for THEM (which is your opportunity to show them ‘Why You”. Or it might just be a case of ‘Great, what’s the next step to work with you”. Whatever the outcome you will be clearer and less stressed.
There are very clever ways to minimise the price/fee time wasters in the way you communicate and position your branding and service proposition. This is the how and what of your own USP and offerings. It can include an element of storytelling into the way you position your offerings and value. It self-selects and repels at the same time.
So hold your nerve, do the steps, save time and qualify more ideal prospects.