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Freelancer’s Guide to Sales: Using Which-Craft


Ever wish you could just wiggle your nose and force those indecisive prospects to make up their mind? Perhaps help your clients stick to their game plans instead of changing things constantly? Or get your spouse to let you buy that surfboard you always wanted?

There is a powerful technique passed down from master contractor to grasshopper apprentice once a generation. This tale was shared with me a few years ago and has had a vast influence on our income. I call it the power of which-craft. Let me share a story with you about the power of the word “which”…

The Fable: Service is Sales

Long, long ago, in a land not so far away, there were thousands of small businesses called service stations. Oh, they had gas, similar to our current day gas stations, but they also offered so much more. They were a place where the customer and the car were doted upon like royalty. It was the golden age of customer service.

It was Tommy’s first job and he could imagine all the things he was going to be able to buy with his new money. The owner explained to him that he was going to be a service attendant. His job was to give the customer anything he needed (for a price). The customer was not to touch the gas pump, that was Tommy’s responsibility. He would be paid a basic hourly rate and a commission for any additional tune-up or repair services he sold.

Tommy went out like a whirling dervish. He poured gasoline into thirsty vehicles. He washed windows. And at the end of the week he got a check for $31 (it was a long long time ago). Excited, he showed it to his coworker Bill. It was then that he noticed that Bill’s check was for $115. Feeling a little upset, Tommy began to complain that it was unfair for Bill to make so much more than he did.

Bill sat him down and explained that they were on commission. He had simply sold more goods than Tommy. “You’re going to have to learn a bit about sales if you want to make more money. Why don’t you watch me a bit next week and see what you learn?”

Tommy studied Bill. A customer drives up, thinking to himself, I want $5 dollars of gas and a pack of gum. Bill walks to the window and asks “Which would you like, a fill up with regular or premium?” The customer responds “regular.” Later Bill explained to him that customers would usually pick one of the choices he offered, even if it wasn’t in their game plan.

He starts the pump and then he asks them to pop the hood to check the oil. “Sir, you are short of quart of oil. Which do you use normal or synthetic?” The customer didn’t know. “You aren’t sure? It’s a newer car, I’d recommend you pick the normal oil. I’d be happy to top that off for you. You know, while I was checking your oil, I noticed you are out of windshield wiper fluid. I can grab a bottle from the shop for you and fill that up as well?” Bill went into the shop and come back out to fill up the fluids.

“Excuse me sir, when was the last time you changed you windshield wiper blades? Winter is about to start and I noticed yours are getting pretty warn out. I have a replacement pair that would work for your car. They are a little more expensive that the parts shop, but we could get it done in 2 minutes and you wouldn’t have to deal with it later. Which is more important to you, a few dollars or having to take time away from your kids this Saturday?” OK, a bit over the top, but we’re making a point here.

“Sir, a fill up, a quart of oil, a bottle of windshield wiper fluid, new windshield blades and a pack of gum, that will be a total of $55.25. Which would you like to use, cash or charge?”

The customer drives off thinking, “what a nice guy! I’m coming back here next time.” Bill walks away with a sale that should have been $5, but with a little wiggle of his nose, and some which-craft, was $55.25. He walks to the next car, leans towards the window and with a big smile asks, “Which would you like, a fill up with regular or premium?”

The Moral of the Story

No one wants to pay for anything. But, everyone wants to have everything.

With an open canvas, your prospect will basically ask to receive everything for free. A bit of of an exaggeration, but for those of you who have been around for a while, you all know exactly what I mean. When people have a problem that can be solved, given a choice between potential solutions, they will often pick one. And the choice should never be: use my services or don’t, that is up to you. The choice is, I can solve your problem this way or that way, which would you prefer?

As a contractor, whether with a new client or with your current ones, you need to set the stage and define the terms. Because if you’re not doing it, one of two things will happen. Either the customer will define the terms themselves, or worse, they never get explicitly defined at all. That’s like playing Russian roulette. Given two or three choices, even if none of them are exactly what they want, your client will usually pick one. Who would you prefer defines those choices?

The formula is simple. Think the situation through and come up with 2-3 options that you find acceptable. Then present them in the following manner:

“Which would you prefer, option 1 or option 2?”

Which-Craft in Action

We have been developing a facebook app with one of the more pleasant project manager’s I’ve worked with this year. Like all dedicated project managers (and start-up owners), he tried to slip in a few extra changes and features. We allowed some. Then the time came to push back. Ben, our flash developer, gutted it up and did a masterful job. (check it out at Travel Muse Map)

… we cannot change the map insertion behavior this week and meet our deadlines. Which would you prefer: 1) push Saturday’s launch or 2) do it as a dot update next week post-launch? I’m sure Shane will be happy to discuss this when he returns on Thursday.

Simple. The fact is, there were really three choices: stay up all night, push the launch, or do it as a dot update. In a skilled attempt to avoid the first option, we presented the other two. It worked like a charm, although it took two tries. The first time, our project manager responded with an email that said he wanted it all. Ben had to fight for it a bit and stand his ground. Sometimes, you need to repeat the which statement a few times.

One of the most common mistakes I see with this technique is to bury it within explanation and flood of sweet verbal caresses. Of course you need to be polite. You also need to make it explicitly clear that this is the place where they take a stand and make a decision. Be polite and be firm. I tend to put the which statement at the beginning or end of the conversation, to make sure it doesn’t get bypassed.

So, next time you want to close a deal, improve your client relationships, and make some money, pull out your broom and use your which-craft.

Now, let me ask you, which article did you like best, The Freelancer’s Guide to Sales: You’ve Got the Cookie or Are You Working For Free?