How to Win Clients with Time-Tested Sales Techniques
Photo by netan.
I would never call myself a salesman. The word brings to mind a host of stereotypical, manipulative, sleazy jerks I’ve encountered who have very transparently tried to pad their wallets through coercive tricks. I have, however, worked some sales jobs over the years (reluctantly) and each provided lots of sales training, tips and tricks. Frankly I hated it, but when I left the world of sales to pursue a creative career I was surprised to find that my sales training comes into constant use when dealing with clients.
Below are five sales techniques that I find helpful for gaining and keeping clients and, more importantly, that I feel I can use in moderation and still look myself in the mirror.
A Bug In Their Ear
This is a trick from retail sales where you walk past a customer with you hands full of papers and say, in passing, something really positive about the product they’re looking at, then walk away. After giving them a little time you pass them again, this time not looking as busy. The idea is that they’ll stop you and ask you questions. You then start to sell.
I don’t personally feel comfortable with the above technique and have never used it as such. There is, however, an important principle at the bottom of it that I feel I can comfortably use. “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” While Newton was talking about physics, it can also apply to psychology. “We tend to retreat from aggression and pursue the elusive.”
As a freelancer this leads to an easy, soft sales approach. Pick a client you would like to work for and mention an idea to them casually (“It’d be great if your website had…” or whatever) that pertains to what you do. Do not, at this point, mention the idea of you doing the work. Make yourself casually available for them to ask further questions of. If they like your idea, they’ll probably ask you to do the work.
The best thing about this technique is that it takes next to no time and costs nothing. Do this with many potential clients and wait; the worst thing that happens is they take your suggestion and hold you in high regard for it.
The Emotion Scale
A boss I once had presented the staff at a sales meeting one day with a chart of emotions. At the bottom were the negative emotions, progressing up into neutral emotions and at the top were positive emotions (unfortunately, I do not have the original chart, but the principal works regardless). He told us that people cannot relate to someone who is not within two emotions on the scale (ie. a depressed person will not relate to cheerful behavior).
If a client is showing negative emotions then carefully place your communication at just above theirs on the emotion scale. That is to say an angry client is best met with a tone of boredom or calm reserve. Without them realizing it, this will bring their emotions closer to yours. Keep moving up the scale each time they get closer and eventually you will have them neutral, if not happy. This will put you in a better position to create a positive resolution to the conflict.
F.A.B. stands for Feature Advantage Benefit. It is very easy to fall into the habit of selling by listing features at length (“I can build you a website that does X, Y and Z!”). We must remember that while the reasons one wants those features seems obvious to us as experts in our industries, the client may not be as familiar with the terminology as you.
The F.A.B. technique suggests listing the services you’re offering as a feature followed by the advantage of that feature and how it benefits the customer. This will ensure that the client sees the real value of the work you’re proposing. For example if you are a copywriter you can say something like, “I have already worked for other clients in your industry (feature) so I already have some knowledge and know where to begin my research (advantage) which means I will take less time to write your brochure and we won’t need to make as many revisions (benefit).”
Be Santa Claus
Do you remember in the movie Miracle on 34th Street when Santa refers customers to different stores and the storeowner is angry until he realizes that the store is packed with customers who are lined up to see his Santa? Well, it turns out this really works.
It can be tempting as a freelancer to try to accept as much work as possible, even if it is outside of your strengths, but sometimes giving your clients a referral to somewhere that can do it better (or cheaper?) can result in them coming to you first next time. Keep a list of other freelancers and businesses that you know will treat them well and don’t be shy about giving it out. The client will love you for it and maybe the other freelancer/business will return the favor.
Ask For The Sale
It’s silly, but I’ve seen many sales not go through because the salesperson never asked “So, would you like to buy it?”. It feels like such a taboo to flat out ask someone if they want your services. Most of us tend to stall and answer questions hoping they’ll hire you. Find a not-too-pushy way of asking the question “do you want to hire me?” or “so, should we move ahead with this project?” and don’t be shy to ask it. If you don’t ask, they may go talk to someone else who will.