In trying to grow my business, I’ve realized I need to either A) hire a salesman or B) learn sales. Â A isn’t working out, so I’m picking up the torch. Â I wanted to write out today what I’m doing wrong in hopes to help other freelancers, contractors, consultants, and those wishing to grow their business. Â These don’t have anything to do with software. Instead they have to do with engaging with clients.
When I was a freelancer/contractor, getting the gig was easy to put into motion. Â A client would find me through networking (blog, twitter, people I know, event I spoke at), we’d talk over email or phone once or twice, and boom, I’d start working within usually 3 days.
The bigger clients, the ones I do consulting for through other firms/companies, are the ones I want to do business with on my own. Â I want to grow my business to beyond just me. Â I’ve done a few engagements where I’ve hired/sub-contracted others, but I want to do more to ensure I work on the work I want to work on, and it gets done to my standards. Â Those kind of clients require more than just a phone call and email; they require engagement, basically a sales cycle. Â This means getting them to sign a contract, a statement of work (SoW). Â This is done by spending time with them to learn their needs and build rapport. Â I think.
I suck at this. Â Through listening to Guru Ganesha recommended to me by a startup I worked for, asking my father questions (pimp salesman), to asking others in the industry at 360Flex (thanks Michael, Lisa, and David!) how they do it, I’ve learned a lot of what I’ve been doing wrong. Â I still don’t know what I don’t know, and am working to find various mentors to help.
Type of Client
I’ve looked around at successful (success defined as making/charging high rates) companies in our industry, and they all have the following traits:
- above average at development
- have Java in their skill set/marketing
- are a team of developers vs. an individual
What I missed, however, was ability to close bigger clients. Â The type of clients I would work on at IBM,Â Universal Mind, ESRIA, and Roundarch were completely different than those I’d get on my own. Â If I did, it was through a 3rd party recruiting firm that provided no value and took tons of money off the top of my rate, or through networking.
I no longer work with recruiting firms because the amount of money they take off the top is insane, and they provide no value to my client (beyond preferred vendor for tax purposes which I’ll get to in another post). Â Thus, the onus is on me to engage, be found, and/or network with them. Â I’ve started to get exposed to these types of clients, but my negotiations with them have suffered because I don’t have the experience, nor training, in doing so.
With UM it was easy; Todd, the then CEO now President, had usually qualified the lead. Â Tom, CTO, would get a deeper sense of the high level requirements and start identifying appropriate resources, and then engage with them over the phone/email to guage their interest, and help him flesh out the details. Â Roundarch worked about the same way from what I cold tell. Â I’d then go on-site and do my thing, by myself or with a team.
With WASI, we’re basically doing the same thing. Â I’m still learning their process, how they approach clients, how they qualify them, the contracts, yadda yadda yadda… but it’s still a team effort in terms of getting clients. Â Either I’ll get a lead from networking (email, blog, twitter, conferences), a client will find me online/through referrals, or my partners will have done the same thing and we’ll collaborate.
Some of these leads, however, are wayyy different than my previous standard fare. Â They require long sales cycles, aÂ significantÂ amount of time to negotiate & adjust contracts, and ways to find an in as a preferred vendor. Â However, you need to play the game (sometimes) because these are the types of clients who want a company, not an individual, to solve a problem for them. Â This means longer & larger engagements, more money, and my target client to grow my business (assuming we mesh obviously).
What I’ve Done Wrong
The following is a quick list of things I’ve done wrong.
- followed up with past clients I’ve done work with
- followed up with clients who I failed to get a contract signed with
- stood my ground on price vs. discovered why the lack of conviction
- use email vs. phone
- not used verbal contracts with agreed upon timetables
- done free consulting without knowing it
- didn’t use reward and reverse; talked too much about what I could do
- never strip lined
…yeah, that’s enough for now.
Following Up with Past Clients
The best salesman is yourself. — My Granddad
That’s never more true than on clients you’ve done work with in the past and you did a good job. Â Thus, they are the easiest to sell. Â Ed Grasing asked me that couple weeks ago, and was shocked that I never did. Â In thinking about it, I’m shocked I never contacted them either. n00b.
Following Up with Clients Who Said No
Some clients who don’t get software development and skimp on price often get what they are paying for: death, pain, and misery. Â This often leads to projects in trouble, and then people like me are called in to help save it. Â Michael Labriola suggested this one, citing a lot of clients who end up learning the hard way are happy to hear those who know what they are doing calling back to check up on ’em. Â And then they sign the SoW they originally said no on. Â I’ve actually tried this and got a bite, so clearly something there.
Selling on Price vs. Empowering with Conviction
Price doesn’t matter to a client. Â David, and others have said you should sell on value, not price. Â In listening to Ganesha, the only reason clients say no to your price is that they lack the conviction you can get it done. Â If a client has the will, they’ll find the money. Â I used to think it was a negotiation. Â In fact, it wasn’t me standing my ground but rather me disappointing a potential client in my inability to give them the conviction I could get their project done.
This is EXTREMELY frustrating to me. I’ve spent 10 years building a personal brand to ensure people in the industry have an iron clad perception I know what I’m doing and I love doing it. Â Just about every single client, I’m introducing them to this brand that they’ve heard nothing about it. Â If they were a long time blog reader or twitter follower, they’d have conviction. Â They aren’t. Â This is an area where I’m currently struggling on. Â How do I give my client conviction I can git-r-done without doing free consulting during a sales cycle to convince them?
Using Email vs. Phone
I have 40 leads whereas 2 years ago it’d be 4. Â It’s easier to manage & communicate using email than phone for that many leads. Â Still, voice mail & voice itself are more powerful than email… sometimes. Â I just need to make an effort to reach out more to engage potential clients.
No Agreed Upon Verbal Timetable Contracts / Free Consulting
Ganesha talks about how to prevent getting clients where you don’t know if they’ll sign or not. Â Where they basically say, “we’ll get back to you” and you never hear from them again. Â They string you along for months, all the while costing you time, money, and stress. Â His attitude is the client needs to sell YOU on if they are worth working with. Â Once you find that out, you find out their pains, and identify if you can solve them. Â Once you get that understanding, sometimes it leads to another meeting or more exploratory meetings with other people from the company. Â With larger meetings, these take time and money. Â Your time. Â Your money.
“Begin with the end in mind.”
Jesse Freeman & Elad Elrom were obsessed with charging for this time. Â Lisa was too. Â It doesn’t jive at all with what I’ve witnessed in how my dad, and other sales people do business. Â They work on aÂ commissionÂ from the sale, not a Time & Materials.
Anyway, bottom line, each meeting you work towards a verbal contract with your client to determine if you’re going to proceed with a black and white & yes or no. Â That way, you get a lot more “no’s”, but NO “maybe’s”, nor “I hope they’ll call me back”.
Since I suck at this, I’ve spent a lot of unpaid hours working with clients to get them to sign an SoW.
Reward Reverse vs. Running My Mouth
In consulting, your first job is to listen. Â You need to understand what the client’s true problems are so you can make accurate recommendations that the client can actually implement. Â Reward Reverse is a communication technique to ensure the client does the talking, and feels like they are controlling the meeting. Â Like Tennis where you volley the ball back in the center, or when you put your kid in the car shopping cart to make them feel like they are driving. Â Most salesman haveÂ diarrheaÂ of the mouth, and the client doesn’t feel in control. Â This is done before the salesman has a true understanding of what the client actually needs.
From 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
“First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.”
I love to meet new people and talk to them. Â I love talking in general. Â When I see a client with a software need, I’ll often think to myself, “Dude, I KNOW my team and I can knock that shit out of the park!” Â Clients have often liked me because of my passion. Â I love this stuff. Â This is the cornerstone of what I built my brand on. Â I just assumed that passion would help me sell. Â It has often done the opposite to larger clients.
When a client asks a question, and I go off on a rant for 5 minutes, they’ll be polite and ask another question. Â Repeat. Â Instead, using Reward Reverse, you answer their question (the reward), and ask one in return to get a better/more understanding from the client (the reverse). Â Get them to do the talking. Â Get them to think they’re leading the dance.
This is hard. Â “I WANNA WRITE PIMP CODE FOR YOU, ZOMG FXG SKINS MVC ROBOTLEGS BLAAAHHHH!!!!” instead becomes me asking short questions and taking notes. alskjdfkljasdklfjlkj
A Sandler word, a sales strategy. Â It’s aÂ metaphorÂ based on a fishing technique where you let out more line to tire the fish out and reduce pressure on less strong fishing line. Â It’s basically reverse psychology used on clients who you feel are pulling away. Â If you get a fish on, you’re first inclination is to yank and reel in like mad. Â Striplining you go the other way.
If I’m just not convincing the client I can work magic with Flex & people to help them on their already troubled project, one thing I’ve done is striplining without knowing it. Â It’s like the Observer design pattern in that you can use it without actually knowing what the Observer pattern is.
“So, your existing consultants are going to meet their next Friday deadline so you don’t need me, right?”
“Well, no no no… they’ve never hit a deadline and ruined all rapport with us.”
“Yeah, but they’ve been doing that for months; what’s another missed deadline?”
“It’ll cost us the project!”
Oh. Â If they don’t hit their deadline, you lose the project. Â LEVERAGE!
The point is, I’m not trying to convince the client how great I am; I’m getting them to convince me, and thus themselves, that I’m the one to solve the problems… by telling them they don’t need me. Â It’s not something you do all the time; only when you get resistance. Â This is hard for me to because I WANT to help people. Â It’s what makes me feel good. Â Hard to keep this in check and stripline on those leads that may be swinging the other way.
In the past 7 years, I’ve gotten a lot of leads and a lot of work. Â As I’ve tried to get the bigger clients which I know my team and I are more than capable of handling… I’ve failed on a few occasions where I should of had it. Â It makes me feel really good to know as much as I suck at sales, I must have SOMETHING clients see that more than compensates for this, else they wouldn’t hire me. Â If I can fix the sales part, then I’m clearly on the right track.
The frustrating part is that in reading the above, I feel like I’m with sales where I was at with coding back in 2001. Â I have a loooong way to go.