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Freelancer’s Guide to Sales: Followthrough


Quite often sales is like dating. The no-no’s in the land of courtship are exactly the same cardinal sins of the land of sales. Talking about yourself through the whole meeting. Never asking any questions about your date’s situation and needs. Taking the time to ask those questions, and not listen to their answers. Thanking them repeatedly in a gushing and desperate manner for meeting with you. Forgetting to make a friend. If you were a gecko on the wall of a meeting where those occurred, you would probably wince, laugh or both. And yet we have all done them.

Peter and I often talk in detail about sales, and yesterday, the conversation fell upon one of the most detrimental sales bloopers: walking away without booking another meeting in your calendar. What is your goal if you go out on a date? Have fun, land another date.

We have been chasing a contract with a large server software company for some time now. Peter made a friend, demonstrated our technical capability with a savvy, professional demeanor. Heck, we even landed the sucker. We helped as much as we could to maneuver the maze that is AP. Then, a few weeks ago we got a call. Our sponsor was quitting the company.

Quitting?!?! Who is replacing you? We have a PO but no check yet! Is the project dead? and on and on … you get the idea. After a bunch of in house brainstorming, we concluded that our goal was to keep the communication going. Book a meeting from a meeting. As long as we have a meeting in the calendar, the sales cycle is not dead. To make a long story short, we got a meeting in the books (though tragically we got stood up by the new director of our ex-sponsor’s department last week), and now need to figure out how to get this company back on the calendar. Is the deal dead? Without another meeting, that is quite likely.

I was so afraid of being pushy, I didn’t even lead.

Most independent contractors I know hate sales. Why?

I don’t like conflict and don’t want to feel pushy. For a long time, I was too nice. I was so afraid of being pushy, I didn’t even lead. Quite often, the most important part of the sales process is to know the next step and guide the prospective client through each phase.

In a nutshell, we build software. We have successfully completed hundreds of projects. How many websites or applications has our potential client built? More often than not, the answer is zero. We know the routine down pat. If you take that into account, who would be better equipped to lead the process – a busy and often overwhelmed client – or an experienced software professional?

We know the next step. Rather than waiting for the client to magically divine what happens, why don’t you just tell them. Our sales success rate has gone way up since we started being direct and leading. Most of our clients genuinely appreciate being guided through what is going on and what to expect.

Setting Expectations

Have you ever watched a very close basketball game, where the score bounces back and forth. Your favorite team even drops a little behind. Adrenaline is pumping, your emotions roller coaster (and you aren’t even playing). If I walked up behind you and said, “Oh I saw that game earlier, CAL wins,” and you are anything like me, your entire roller coaster ride just ended. The drama of the game just doesn’t affect you if you know the outcome.

The sales process is quite similar. If you knew exactly how this whole process ends, then there is no reason to get all rilled up. Some of you may love being lion tamers and keeping everything a big mystery, but I prefer a calm and happy prospect. So I tell them, this is how the whole bidding and project will happen and how it ends. If they have their expectations set early and correctly, then your odds of winning go way up!

I have been thinking about sales during a recession and how it has to change just a little. You see, when opportunity abounds, you land projects and can afford to screw up just a little. If a client doesn’t become a repeat customer that is sad but not a killer. In a recession getting the gig is important, but keeping the customer with a solid win is the difference between staying in and going out of business.

The pivotal moment in setting up a long term win is in your initial sales process. SET THE RIGHT EXPECTATIONS. Often as contractors, especially software developers, we are perma-positive and wildly optimistic. Peter & I meet with the head of UI at SAP yesterday and were joking about managing software teams. “Oh, you want moon landing software – 2 weeks. Pace maker code – thats 2 weeks. From our engineers, everything takes 2 weeks.” When you are dealing with a client, the way you win is to exceed expectation and those expectation are set before you even win the project. So set them carefully.

Sales Checklist

I have a checklist that Tom made for me to review before and after each sales meet. It helped me walk into a meeting with a game plan and my own expectation in line. It was composed of five simple questions.

Did I:

Make a friend

Establish credibility

Listen and find a need

Book another meeting

Ask for a referral if they were not a fit

Simple, but in the heat of the moment, I still struggle to remember and act on each of those. Sometimes I get grumpy. Other times I am a total chatter box. A few weeks ago, I had such a great time making a friend, I forget to find a need. I can’ tell you how many times I forgot to book another meeting and as a result spend weeks trying to get back in touch.

So, from me to you – good luck with your next sales meeting. May you be a little better than you were in the one before!

A quick question to everyone. I have been wondering if you are altering your sales tactics as part of the changing business climate. What is working and what is not?