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Freelancer’s Guide to Sales: You’ve Got the Cookie

got the cookieThere have been “aha” moments in our business that have substantially affected our income. One was bookkeeping & clocking (read Are you working for free?). The second major “aha” was realizing that even though I work with technology each and every day – I am in a people business. I solve people problems. People decide whether or not to pay for my solutions. People drive most of our business through referrals and reputation. The fact is, you can geek out all you want, but if you can’t hang with people, you’ll always struggle. So let’s chat for a minute and talk about meeting new people and building your business.

You’ve Got the Cookie

Everyone with a problem is looking for a solution. Let’s take your common four-year-old. He has a glass of milk in one hand and his other hand is empty. He keeps staring at you expectantly. Why? Because you have the cookie he wants. Do you have to convince him he really wants your cookie? Plan strategies and prepare for an argument? No. All you need to do is hand it to him and he is thrilled.

Most sales look just like that. If they don’t, you’re making it too hard on yourself. You’ve got the cookie that certain people want. It’s a good solid cookie and you should be proud of it. Don’t make them work hard to get it. Just offer it to them.

In sales, he who offers his cookie the most times usually wins. The key here is going out to places where these people might be and meeting them. Get out of your computer chair, dress nicely and go to a business mixer or a conference. Get some good business cards and talk to everyone you can. Check out my last article on 10 steps to generating new business.

Not Everyone Loves Chocolate Chip Cookies

(in fact I don’t like chocolate at all)

You are at a business mixer walking around with your plate of chocolate chip cookies. You turn to the person on your right, a smile on your face, and ask them if they want one. They decline, rudely. Now, most contractors I see react in one of two ways.

The outgoing, determined contractor replies, “You should really try one, how do you know you don’t like it? Sure you want it. After all, these are the best cookies out there. And I’m the best damn cookie maker this side of Timbuktu. You’re missing out something terrible. I’ll give you a deal. Everyone needs cookies in this day and age,” and on and on.

The reserved and shy contractor sighs and thinks to himself “I knew it. Of course he doesn’t want my cookies. Why did I even ask? No one ever wants my cookies.” He goes to the corner to spend the next 5 hours thinking over each word of the conversation in detail.

The fact is, if someone does not like chocolate chip cookies, you aren’t going to get a long-term customer out of them. Does that have anything to do with you? None whatsoever. STOP WORRYING ABOUT OR BOTHERING PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE. The art of sales is identifying those who do and helping them choose you.

As an expert, you are out in the world to solve problems. Find someone with a problem you can actually solve. You will inevitably hear “no” more often than yes. Don’t stress about it, just move on. I often talk to a hundred or so people just to find one good client. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

How do you know if they want your cookie?

In the simplest of terms, I walk around and ask people: “Do you want my cookie?”

Imagine you got into the elevator and were standing next to the ultimate prospective client. The numbers start passing and she asks you the big question: “What do you do?”. This is your chance to know if she wants your cookie. You buck up and give her what we call your “elevator pitch”. It is a 30-second explanation of the problems you can solve and how you do it. It is the most valuable sales tool you can ever have. It will allow you to know in 30 seconds whether or not she likes chocolate chip cookies. Plain and simple. No stress. No drama.

So what’s your elevator pitch? Post it in the comments and I would be stoked to share thoughts and advice.

Oh, you want our elevator pitch huh? Ok, here it goes:

“We solve people and business problems using technology. We’ve built our reputation in user interface, rich internet applications and enterprise systems. Our clients are mostly fortune 500 and international companies like AT&T, Boeing and SAP. We’ve had a lot of success primarily because we speak both geek and human really well. We are good at taking what is often complicated and making it simple. We bridge people and technology.”

That’s the crux of it. I usually customize it based upon who I’m talking to and their needs. I often shorten it for brevity. My elevator pitch contains all the main points in helping us find the right fit. They know who I’m looking for (bigger companies), what problems I solve (people / business problems), how I do it (user interface, RIA’s & enterprise apps), suggests credibility (client list and word reputation) and what sets us apart (bridging people and technology, communication & simplicity). As soon as that’s done, the conversation either picks up and gets interesting or meanders onto another topic. They have sorted themselves.

Don’t Lick the Cookie

What do you do when you meet someone who loves chocolate chip cookies? Peter & I jokingly call it the hot chick approach. You ever see a teenage guy trying to talk to a beautiful girl? It’s incredibly funny and a little sad (unless it’s you – then it’s really sad). He prattles on endlessly making awkward social gaffes and stupid comments. We’ve all been there at one time or another. The fact is, most contractors seem to do the same thing when talking to a viable prospect.

“You need a website? Really? Oh man, can I have your office number, and cell number, and email? I do websites. I’m so glad we met. I’m really good at PHP and can do some design. I know there are better designers out there, but I’m OK and I’m really cheap. You’ll get the best CMS too. My friend John’s mom is so happy with the blog I made her. Can I call you tomorrow? Or maybe do you want to get coffee this afternoon? I don’t have a portfolio yet, but I do really great work and I can build forums, and contests, and stores, and I’m trying to learn flex if you’re interested. I’ve been doing this about 2 years now since I got out of school and I love it, though the people part is kind of tough. Not that I don’t like talking to you. I just get nervous.” You get the idea. We’ve all done it.

Back to your plate of cookies. You offered one and they accepted, totally excited to get the cookie. And you just start going on and on about the cookie they already said they wanted. It’s like you took a big whopping lick, salivated all over it and then passed it over. Don’t do that. I’ve seen so many of your potential clients move on because you didn’t shut up. Just give them the elevator pitch. That’s what it’s for. Once they show interest, it’s time to start listening.

You smile and act friendly while staying calm. You ask questions. Listen to them and learn as much as you can. That is the hot chick approach. And it works (happily together for almost 8 years). People love to have someone genuinely listen and care about what they say. You are supposed to be providing a solution to their problem. If you don’t understand what it is because you didn’t ask questions and listen to their answer, how can you solve it?

The 1-2-3-4 of Cookie Distribution

So you walk around, plate of cookies in hand. What should you be doing?

1) Introduce yourself and make a friend.

2) Use your elevator pitch to quickly qualify them and see if there is a match.

3) Ask questions to listen and learn.

4) Trade contact info and move on.

These are the four fundamental pieces of a typical sales conversation. That’s it. Wash, rinse, repeat. Over and over again. The real sale happens later in what is often called the close, which we will review in another article. My advice – pick one at a time and work on it. Start with the elevator pitch since it’s the cornerstone to the whole process. The rest is practice.

I’d love to hear everyone’s war stories and advice. What was your biggest mistake? What do you do that works?