The five Ws you need answered by a prospect

You’ve probably heard of the Five W’s (and one H) before. If you don’t remember them, let’s review them — or at least a variation of them you can use with prospects.

  • Who is responsible? or Who is the buyer?
  • What needs to happen?
  • Where do we expect to see change?
  • When does the project need to be done by?
  • Why does this need to happen?
  • How do the goals need to be accomplish?

If you’re crafting a proposal but can’t answer all of those questions then you’re not ready to write the proposal because you really don’t have the information you need.

Let’s walk through the questions.

Who is responsible? Who is the buyer?

As I said last month proposals only go to buyers. The buyer is the person that could say the word ‘yes’ to your proposal and it would happen. They’re the person that can knock down barriers within the company that may come up during the project.

If you don’t know who you should be sending the proposal to then you’re not ready to send it. In my initial client email I simply come right out and ask who the decision makers are on a project. Then I require that all the decision makers are on my call. If they can’t all make it then the project isn’t important enough and I’m likely saying ‘no’ to continued involvement.

What needs to happen?

This one most people can answer well. They can make a list of the 30,000 tasks that need to happen to technically execute on the project.

You obviously need to know this, but what you should never do is put all of those tasks in the proposal. Put in the major 3-5 highlights — not every little task that needs to get done.

Putting in everything takes you out of the strategic partner role and puts you back in the tactical role. That means you’re no longer the peer of the buyer, you’re just a hired hand — immediately diminishing your value.

Where do we expect to see change?

Where in the organization are you going to see the positive benefits of the work you’re about to do? By answering this question you show the prospect that you understand the value you bring and that you understand how they want their business to be affected.

If you can’t answer this it’s because you haven’t spent enough time digging deep with the prospect to identify the value in the project. If you’ve been on a bunch of calls with them but aren’t able to answer this question, then you haven’t built enough trust for them to tell you what you need to know. Therefore, you need to talk more — or just forget it, they’re not going to trust you.

When does the project need to be completed by?

When is all about the prospect’s timelines. Does the project need to be live in two weeks? Is that really enough time to do it right? Do you even have the time to put in the work to hit that deadline?

Yes this sounds silly but so many consultants I talk to send out a proposal with a start date a few weeks out and the prospect declines the proposal because they need it done faster.

I get this information by asking the client in my initial email what their ideal launch date is.

Why does the project need to happen?

When you approach the why question it’s about the big picture strategic purpose of the project. There isn’t just a single why either, there are often many.

You set up a new online store so they can make sales online (why 1). You set it up because their competitor is now online and they are getting all the foot traffic after people visit their site (why 2). You do this work so that the prospect can warehouse a more diverse product by hitting a wider market (why 3).

When you’re digging in with your prospect don’t just stop at the first why — go deeper. The deeper you go the more value you’re going to find. More value means higher fees for you.

How will the goals be accomplished?

This is more than just the tasks and the timeline; it combines both. This is where you logistically plan to take on the project. Are you going to need to hire someone? Are they available? If they aren’t currently, when will they become available?

Far too often, consultants get a ‘yes’ from a prospect and then have to scramble to get the required assets together to actually make it happen.

A smart business owner lines up those assets beforehand and makes sure they’re ready to jump when the prospect says yes.

Using the questioning methods

All month we’ve talked about effective questioning of your prospects. If you take the time to practice those questioning techniques, answering these questions above is going to be easy. When you sit down to write your proposal it’s going to take 10 minutes instead of hours if you’re trying to guess at the answers to questions you never asked.

If you need help getting these questions answered with your prospects get in touch. I’d love to help you win at business.

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Show interest in your prospects’ problems with echoing questions

When your prospects read your proposal they want to read about their problems — in the words they use. When your prospects talk to you before a proposal they want to hear their words coming out of your mouth. They want to hear their business problems and know that you’re interested. They want to feel like peers and friends. They want this because it helps relieve the anxiety they have around the process.

So many projects fail and your prospect is worried about this project being a failure as well. Maybe they’ve already been on the receiving end of a failed project and they’re hyper concerned that this project doesn’t also turn into a failure.

One of the best ways to make your prospects feel like you’re speaking in their voice, and understand their problems, and are interested in those problems, is to use echoing questions.

I hear myself

While it may have been since you were a child, we’ve all entered a big open space with hard walls and yelled to hear our own voice bounce back at us. Why do we do that? It simply sounds neat to hear our own voice bounce back to us across distance with little distortion.

Your prospects are doing this as well. They’re sitting on the other side of a table or on the other end of a call trying to yell out their needs to you. What they want is to hear their concerns echoed back to them.

Echoing questions are perfect for this. The essence of an echoing question is to say the same thing the prospect just said but in the form of a question. Let’s look at an example.

Prospect: We really need a system to capture leads.

You: So you need to capture your leads better?

Prospect: Yes we’re dropping a bunch of sales on leads that just get lost in the system.

You: Oh, so you’re dropping lots of leads?

Prospect: Yes, well it’s only sort of a system. It’s a bunch of paperwork and for every new lead the sales manager needs to get involved to assign a lead to a sales person. That process is way too slow and as a result the lead has already made a purchasing decision with someone else.

You: So the problem is lack of automation in the system?

Prospect: Yes, if we could take the sales manager out of lead assignment and get it right to sales people we could cut our initial contact by a few days and should get us talking to the client before they’ve made their decision.

Simply by repeating what the prospect said to us in slightly different language we can discover that the real problem isn’t a the lack of a system to capture leads. The problem is that the system they have is all manual and they need to automate it.

The thing about echoing questions is that they don’t really ask for information. Take a second and look back — we never really asked the prospect to go deeper. What echoing questions do is tell the client we’re interested.

It shows we’re leaning into their problem, and prospects want consultants that are interested in their issues and the success of their business. Because we’re interested they want to tell us more; they like being the focus of attention.

Now it’s time for you to practice echoing questions. Talk to your friend or to your spouse and practice using echoing questions to show interest.

If you have a mastermind or mentoring group then ask them to role play a conversation with you so you can practice your echoing questions today.

Strike up a conversation with the person next to you at the coffee shop and use echoing questions to dive deeper into what’s important in their life.

Using echoing questions not only gets more information from your prospects that you need, it shows them you’re interested in their problem and builds trust. A prospect who trusts you is one that’s going to say ‘yes’ to your proposal.

photo credit: clement127 cc

Using the 5 Whys Questioning Method with Your Prospects

Most business owners are looking for a quick fix to a problem. They search out a developer, designer, or consultant to quickly devise and implement a solution to their problem.

What they’re really asking for is generally a Band-Aid for a wound that really needs antibiotics.

While you could take on this project it’s probably a bad idea. In three months the issue will boil to a head again and you’ll either be applying a fresh Band-Aid or find out the client is telling other people your Band-Aid didn’t work.

What’s your job?

You may think you know what your job is, but I’d guess that many of you are wrong — you don’t actually know. If you’re a designer your job is not to design things. If you write code for websites your job is not to write code. If you’re a writer your job is not to write.

At their core, all three of the jobs above are the same. They are there to affect change in someone or something. The designer improves (changes) brand perception with a great brand identity. The developer increases (changes) conversions with a faster site. The writer communicates new ideas with the intent to change the opinion of readers so they can be better people than they currently are.

With that in mind I have a question for you.

Do you want to make good change or bad change?

I hope that everyone reading this wants to affect good change. I’m at least going to assume you do want to affect good change.

That means you need to get past the superficial fire that your prospects present to you and you need to find the root cause of the problem.

Enter 5 Whys

The 5 Whys is a really simple questioning tool to have in your tool belt. It simply consists of asking Why? 5 times.

Client: Our sales have dropped in our store and we need to fix that!

Question: Why have they dropped?

Client: Our competitor rolled out a new store and we saw a drop in sales right away.

Question: Why do you think this new store precipitated the drop in sales?

Client: Well, the new store of our competitor is mobile-friendly and our site isn’t. At least that’s our guess.

Question: Why do you think mobile friendly is a big deal?

Client: Of course, lots of shopping is done from a mobile device but more than that our demographic is skewing more and more to younger people and they use mobile devices even more than most.

In this case, we only needed 3 of the Why-based questions to find out that the demographic is changing. That lets us know that we may need to build a site that’s geared towards that younger demographic in more ways than just supporting mobile devices.

To prep for this (and we’ll talk about my prep routine near the end of the month) make sure you write down 5 WHYS in bold at the top of the page you’re using to take notes on the call. Underline it and circle it and put a pink unicorn sticker beside it. Do whatever it takes for you to remember to ask WHY 5 times in the next call you have with a client or prospect.

I’d love to hear how that call goes. Send me an email at curtis@curtismchale.ca.

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Are you asking the right questions in your initial prospect meetings?

This month we’re going to talk all about questions since they’re a very important part of running a good consulting business. If you want to earn more you need to start asking better questions so you can find the true problems a prospect has with their business. Without good questions you’re not going to find the second and third levels of value for the project.

It’s only with those deeper problems and deeper levels of value that you can really knock your earnings into overdrive by charging for the value you bring to an organization.

The thing is, most people don’t really know how to ask good questions. If they do ask a decent question they don’t know how to just sit and listen to the answer without rushing in to say something. Most times you’re just waiting for your turn to speak instead of really engaging with what the prospect is saying and coming up with the next good question.

Today we’re going to talk about some overall best practices in asking good questions. Later in the month we’re going to look at specific questioning methods you can use in the course of conversations with your prospects.

Yes or No

The whole point to your call with a prospect is to build trust. Trust enables you to discover deeper levels of value and deeper problems in their organization. The only way to get this trust and to get these deeper levels of value is to learn to ask good questions.

When I’ve listened to recordings of my coaching clients talk to their prospects I’m continually surprised with the number of questions they ask that the prospect can answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

I’ve got a five-year-old that’s generally very talkative and bubbly unless you ask her about school. If I ask her if she had a good day I get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with nothing else. I want to know what’s going on with her and how she’s experiencing school. To get those answers I don’t ask her if she had a good day. I ask her what she did that day, and since she’s not yet a teenager she doesn’t say ‘nothing’ — she tells me stories about playing with her friends, which is what I wanted to hear. Sometimes I even just ask her how dinosaur wrestling went, and after a smile she tells me about her day, which doesn’t include dinosaur wrestling.

You don’t just want technical details from your prospects, you want to hear about their dreams for the business. You want to hear about their fears for the business. You want to hear about their biggest pain points in their business.

The only way you’re going to learn that the business owner hasn’t taken a vacation in years because they have no systems people can execute on is to ask them good questions.

Open Ended Questions

Many people have heard of open vs. closed questions. Closed questions are those that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They stop the conversation in its tracks because they steal the momentum of the discussion.

You don’t want to use closed questions.

Open-ended questions are ones that fuel the momentum of the conversation. Like when I talk to my daughter instead of asking if she had a good day I ask what she did. For your prospects instead of asking if they need a new website ask why they need a new site.

When you’re starting your conversation with a prospect you should be asking many, many open-ended questions like:

  • Why do you need this?
  • What changes will it bring to your business?
  • What do you think the biggest hurdle with the project will be?
  • Tell me why other projects have failed?

Funneling Questions

These types of questions are used to lead from a more general understanding of a topic to an understanding of a specific point. The deeper you go with these questions the more detail you’re pulling out about a specific point.

Moving from our first open question above, “Why do you need this work?” we may find out that the client’s business has dropped recently. A follow-up funneling question would be to ask them why the business has dropped. Then maybe what competitors appear to have kept business strong.

Probing Questions

Another way to get more detail about a topic from a prospect is to use probing questions. Usually these come out in the form of questions about deadlines, or asking who is in charge of a certain area of the project.

One of the more well-known set of probing questions are the 5 Why’s which I’ll talk specifically about later this month.

Your initial interview with prospects and any interview about a project should bounce between open questions and funneling or probing questions. When an open-ended question yields a topic that needs more detail start asking questions about that area specifically, then return to your original line of questioning about the project.

Simply thinking about asking open questions is going to yield better answers from your prospects so you can find more value to provide for them.

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A System to Turn Leads into Clients

One of the biggest issues consultants have is getting new clients. We rush proposals in the fear that someone else will snap up that client we need. The stress of finding new clients keeps us up at night and takes much of the fun out of being your own boss.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can be booked for months just like me. All you need is a system.

Specializing

Yup, I just said you need a system and the first thing I’m going to talk about is not a system. When you’re starting out, this first step is actually a leap of faith (or fear). You need to specialize.

If you’re the best at ‘everything’ then really you’re not much good for anything and no one is going to know what to come to you for or what type of clients to refer to you. Given the choice of you who can do anything or a consultant who specializes in the work a prospect needs, most of the time the prospect is going to choose the specialist.

Start the work of specializing today. Look over your last year of work and think about what projects were the most fun. Where did you have the most impact on a client’s business? What type of project was that?

Now start the process of telling people you do that. Then tell them again and again and tell them another time. That’s how you’re going to get leads in the door. Now let’s talk about converting them to paying customers.

Sending good email

For most of your prospects the first point of contact is going to be an email they send to you. They come in via a referral or have found your site and want to talk to you about their needs.

This is where many consultants send some haphazard email to a prospect that all but drips of desperation to land any work just so the bills get paid. While you may indeed be desperate — you don’t currently have work and you need this job — you need to start the relationship off better than that.

The best thing you can do is to write a standard email and just use it every time for every inquiry. I wrote a whole series on sending good email and I’ve even got a book on sending Effective Client Email so go grab some of that content and start sending the same email to everyone.

Using the same standard email means that you can test what works and what doesn’t. I store all my email templates in TextExpander which makes it super easy to get the text into my email client. It really doesn’t matter what you use to store them as long as it’s easy and you use it to save you time when sending your email.

Could you write this email out of your head every time? Of course you could, but there are two problems with that. First off you have much better things to do with your time than to type out the same bunch of questions. Second, you’re going to forget a question at some point and then you’re going to have to send a second email to ask it. That’s another waste of time for you and for your prospect and it makes you look unprofessional.

Once you get some good answers to your questions (and yes you should require the questions to be answered) it’s time to get on the phone with the prospect. No it’s not time to send them a proposal even if they ask. It’s time to make sure you’re a good fit and to make sure that you both are on the same page about the project and the desired outcomes and deliverables. By the end of the 20-minute call you should have the deliverables, outcomes, metrics, and values for the project defined.

The main goal of the call is to build trust. You want to make sure that you trust the client is telling you the truth about the needs of the project and the value it brings to their organization. They need to develop trust that you’re telling them good information about their needs. A solid, well-priced project is all about trust so if you don’t have it then expect the project to go sour.

Good Proposals

After the first call you may or may not be ready to send a proposal. You may need another call to talk about the project or you may need to do a discovery phase to really dig into what’s needed to fulfill the client’s goals for the project.

I never do more than two 20- to 30-minute calls with a prospect without getting paid. More than that, you need to consider adding a discovery or planning phase to the project. That planning (or analysis of their needs and the possible solutions) is one of the most valuable assets you bring to the table and you need charge for that value.

If you’re ready for a proposal after those two calls you need to remember that a proposal is not a 20-page document including bios of your company and its history. A proposal is a 2- to 3-page sales letter to your client. It’s all about them and their problems and the solutions you offer.

Start with a description of their problem and use the words they used during your call. Then tell them about how awesome their business will be once the problems are solved. What does success look like? Next you show them the options for you to solve the problem and how much each option costs. Yes, always do three options. Now tell them the timeline and what each of you is responsible for.

That’s all you need to do if you’ve taken your time building trust before you send a proposal. If you’re writing multi-page proposals then you’re wasting your time and decreasing your win rate.

If you want to know more about Writing Proposals that Win Work check out the book I just released.

So you’ve taken your time getting to the proposal and won the work. Then you’ve delivered on it well. Good job — but, the relationship isn’t done, so don’t just let your client walk away never to hear from you again.

Contactually for Follow-up

Like I said above, just because the project is launched doesn’t mean that your relationship with the client is done. In fact, now is the time to double down on the client so that when they have more work they come right to you first. This second time they don’t need to do a bunch of vetting of you or building trust. You’ve done that for the first project then reinforced it when you launched the project well.

This client that you want to work with needs to go into your CRM so you can follow up with them. I use Contactually but when you’re just getting started and your list is small use your task manager of choice.

For clients I’ve worked with before I follow up around once a quarter. All you need to do is send a simple email asking how business is going and add in a personal question regarding something you learned about them during the project. This is not a hard sell on your services, it’s just a quick email to be friendly and since almost no other consultant they’ve ever worked with has done this they’ll be impressed — plus they’ll respond and just build a bit more trust in the relationship.

At least once a quarter I email a previous client like this and they either have more work right now or have a solid lead that they’ve been meaning to tell me about. A simple follow-up system built in Contactually has earned me many thousands of dollars a year in new work.

But previous great clients aren’t the only people I put in Contactually. I also put in any leads I think are qualified and I’d like to work with. This may be an eCommerce project where the lead had a fire just after we started talking and put the project on hold while they sorted out insurance, or it may be a lead that had legal stuff to wrangle before they could move forward with the project.

The first day I used Contactually it earned my $15K in a solid lead I had simply forgotten about. They had been waiting until budget renewal came around. Sending them one email because Contactually reminded me about them got a ‘yes’ and a deposit within a day.

If you don’t have a CRM then take a look at Contactually. I love it and it’s earned its cost many times over.

That’s it for my system to turn leads into clients. First, I’ve specialized so I get leads that see me as an expert in my field not just one of many possible people that could do the work. Second I’ve refined my emails over years and always ask the same questions. I start my prospect qualification process with my emails. Third, I take my time with my proposals building trust then writing short, to-the-point sales letter proposals. Fourth, I follow up, and follow up, and follow up because no one else does that and it brings in work.

If you don’t have a system then start with item one today. Figure out your specialty and start telling people about it. If you’re having trouble figuring that out get in touch I’d love to help.

photo credit: clement127 cc

Reasons your proposals get rejected and how to combat them

While it would be great to tell you that I win 100% of the proposals I send that would be a lie. Just today I sent a proposal and the prospect said ‘no’ for very legitimate reasons that I was unaware of (but should have been, and that’s my fault).

Let’s look at the main reasons you hear ‘no’ to the proposals you submit.

1. No Money

There is always ‘no money’ in an organization. Any business has to continually prioritize their spending and only spend on things which will yield a solid return on investment.

So what they’re saying when they tell you that they have ‘no money’ is that they don’t see the value in the proposal you just submitted. What you provide is simply not worth what they would need to spend.

Hey, my book on estimates goes on sale tomorrow. Make sure you get on the email list so you don’t miss it.

Like I said above, I just had a proposal rejected and it was entirely around the cost of the project. The cost of the project would have eaten 80% of the entire revenue of the site for the year and this project is not likely to double their revenue. I would never advise anyone to spend like that, it would be stupid.

So this really means that I missed some vital questions when I was vetting the project up front. I needed to get better numbers on the revenue of the site so that I could put together a proposal that actually was worth it for the prospect.

2. No Time

Yup, time is finite. You don’t ‘find time’ in the couch cushions. You don’t ‘make time’ at the time factory. So when a prospect tells you that this isn’t the right time for the project or there is currently no time, what they’re really saying is that in the 24 hours they have in a day they don’t feel that the project is worth spending any time on.

They don’t think that putting time into it will provide a good ROI for the time investment.

Now it is possible that there is a valid reason to delay the project. I once had a client’s wife lose her battle with cancer and we put off his project for a full year. If there is a valid reason like that then commit to a follow-up time and follow up on the project when you said you would.

If there isn’t a valid life reason and they’re ‘just waiting to finish project X’ then it’s likely your project will never happen. You never showed that it was important enough to devote resources to now and that’s unlikely to change in the future.

3. No Need

What if they say “Hey, thanks but we don’t really need this right now”? Uh…then what have you been talking about this whole time?

It’s entirely possible that the prospect was just tossing out some work to ‘see how much it cost’ and they didn’t really have a current need. They were fishing and if just the right thing hooked the line they’d take it home; otherwise it’s all catch-and-release.

If this is the case you need to beef up your vetting process so you don’t bother putting time into prospects on fishing expeditions.

It’s more possible that you simply stopped asking questions too early. You heard “I need a new website” and sent an estimate over for a new site. You didn’t dig deeper and find out that the new online store from a competitor has eaten into 20% of their revenue this year and what they really need is a site with a marketing plan that will get attention back to them so people purchase.

If you don’t know how to get down to the second and third level needs of a prospect then it’s time to learn more about questioning techniques like:

If you can get a handle on even one of these questioning methods you can quite quickly learn to get down to the real value in a project and the prospect’s real needs.

4. No Trust

You know what? The other three issues, in the end, really come down to this issue of trust. The prospect doesn’t trust you with their money. They don’t trust you with their time. They don’t trust you enough to tell you their real needs.

You haven’t convinced them of your credibility, integrity and quality. You’d never spend money with someone you didn’t trust so why do you think that a prospect will?

Before you send anyone a proposal you need to spend time cultivating a relationship of trust. That doesn’t happen in a single phone call or a flurry of email exchanges, at least not usually.

If you really want to win proposals and charge well then you need to spend time getting to a proposal, not just rush to get them out and let sheer volume make up for bad proposals to prospects that don’t match up with you.

photo credit: pellaeon cc

Crafting a Successful Proposal

Today we’re going to talk about how to craft a successful proposal. Before we start, though, let’s step back and consider the goal of a proposal before we dig into the details of what actually goes into it.

The sole job of a proposal is to lead the buyer into a purchase with you.

It sounds simple and it is. If all your proposal does is show that you’re the right person to purchase from then the proposal has done its entire job.

But what does a proposal that wins work look like? Here are the sections I use in my proposals, which have a win rate of 80%+ by the way.

Appraisal

This is where the whole relationship you’ve been building prior to the estimate shows, because you write down the exact business problems the prospect is trying to solve for. By the time they’re done reading this section they should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you understand the current state of their business.

Specifically, you need to write out what is currently going on with their business. What are the problems they’re facing? What are the consequences of those problems?

After acknowledging their problems, talk about the desired improvement and why your solution is a good thing for the company. Now they should be envisioning the future where the project is finished and they’re reaping the rewards.

Deliverables, Outcomes, Metrics and Value

Now it’s time to really show them that you understand the project by telling them about the deliverables, outcomes, metrics and the value they’ll get out of the project.

If you’re not familiar with what those are I wrote a long post about it already you need to read.

I always finish off this section with a statement or two that goes something like this.

The project will be deemed a success if ….

Your prospect should look at that success metric and nod their head in agreement because if they saw what comes after that ‘if’ they’d be happy with the spend on the project.

Options

Now it’s time to offer them options in your services. You never just quote a single price. Giving them only a single price only gives them two choices when responding: Yes or No. Providing options gives them many more ways to respond, and different opportunities to work with you.

If you provide three options then the customer can say Yes/Yes/Yes/No. That’s four choices instead of simply two. More than that, though, providing options can dramatically increase the value of the project.

I recently sent an estimate with three options: one priced at $8,000, the second at $9,000, and the third at $12,000. Each level would have accomplished the main client goals but the third and highest-priced option added to the overall goals and automated a bunch of the site — features the prospect hadn’t even put much thought into. I just knew that the goal was to automate a bunch of content entry so added an option to have further automation.

The client went with Option 3, which was actually $3,000 above the initial budget they said they had to invest. They were impressed with me thinking forward and saving them more time. For a single idea and a bit of work I increased the value of the project by $3,000.

Yes, options are totally worth it.

One detail to note here: I don’t include the price of each option as I present them. Instead, I first list out what a prospect gets at each level of work proposed. The end of my proposal includes a link to the actual costs and contract workflow in 17hats. By the time they’re going to the pricing they’ve already said yes in their minds to my proposal and we’re just waiting for the confirmation in the deposit and contract.

Clear deliverable times

Once you’ve shown them the options they can choose from to use your services it’s time to give them clear deliverable times. No, I’m not talking specific dates like the fourth of September; I’m saying that you tell them how many weeks a project will take.

For me this ends up in two or three time frames which match up with the options they were already given. Option 1 may say that it will take 3 weeks, Option 2 is 4-5 weeks, and Option 3 is 6-8 weeks.

Here you’re just setting up their expectations for the arrival of the deliverable items.

Accountabilities

Now it’s time to establish what both you and the prospect will be responsible for. For my software projects I inform the prospects of any items they need to purchase and provide to me, such as X number of seats to a piece of licensed software.

I also always state that we both agree to put the user first, and if in doubt, we’ll add on user testing to the project to really see which will be better for the site user. It’s actually not important what I want or what the client wants. Your client’s customers are the ones who really matter in the end, so serving them is the goal you should both have.

Easy Acceptance

Before you laugh here, let me tell you about a contractor I wanted to hire. They had sent over a good proposal and understood my business. The rates were reasonable and the timelines fit my needs. Then I went to accept the proposal and we hit a brick wall.

Want to see examples of my proposals and learn how to build the relationship of trust you need with prospects to win most of the work you quote? Join my email list to get the first chance and best price on my upcoming book on writing proposals.

The contract said they required a faxed copy of the original. No, I couldn’t use an online fax service. Mailing it to them wouldn’t work because they moved around a bunch and were currently overseas where they didn’t know the postal system well enough to give me any address to get it to via an overnight courier.

I trundled off to my local business store and ran the fax through the number provided. Paid my fee and left thinking it was all good. Sure I was a bit annoyed but hey, it was a good project that was going to help my business. I fired off an email saying the fax was sent and that I was looking forward to the project.

Guess what the contractor said? He never got my fax though they did get my deposit. No, they wouldn’t just take my deposit as a confirmation — I needed to go back and send the fax again. Well, the story goes on and the fax never did work. The contractor refunded my payment but the project never happened.

Don’t make your clients jump through hoops like that unless you want to frustrate them into not working with you or recommending anyone work with you ever. I use 17Hats and through that it’s a simple matter of the client typing in their name to accept the contract. It even flips them directly over to an invoice they can pay online after they sign the contract, and lets them download a PDF copy of the contract — which includes my signature — for their records.

Whatever service you use make it easy for someone wanting to give you money to accept the proposal and give you money to work. If you aren’t set up with an online tool, just send them a copy of the proposal via FedEx with a pre-paid return envelope they can just drop the acceptance in. Don’t kill the sale right at the end when you should be sipping champagne.

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Defining Deliverables, Outcomes, Metrics and Values

Real business owners who want to take their business to the next level aren’t interested in airy-fairy notions of how your work will help their company. They want tangible, concrete evidence by which they can measure the success of a project.

They want to know that you both line up in your thoughts on the Deliverables, Objectives, Metrics and Value as they relate to your work for their business.

Do you even know what those are for the current project you’re working on inside your business? If you don’t understand them there how on earth can you understand them for your prospects’ projects?

Deliverables

The deliverable is where many consultants stop when talking to prospects and clients. They figure that simply delivering a new site or a set of marketing materials is what’s of real value to their client, but it’s not.

The deliverable is simply the thing being delivered in the project. It may or may not have any real value to the client. Even if it does, it’s likely not really the most valuable thing to them.

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We’ll talk a bit later in the post about the value, but for now, know that the deliverable is the tangible product you’re actually handing over to the client during the project.

Outcomes

The outcome is the business benefit that follows from the deliverable. In the case of providing a new online store to a client, the outcome might be increased online sales because the new site is mobile responsive. The outcome of a marketing campaign could be greater brand awareness.

At first glance this is going to sound a lot like the value in a project and you’re sort of right. It is some of the value in a project, but it’s not the total value.

In fact this is quite possibly the least valuable thing in a project. I’ll tell you why at the end when we talk about value.

Metrics

Metrics are the observable indicators of progress or success in the project. For our eCommerce store above it would be measuring more sales due to the updated store function that supports mobile shoppers.

The big mistake many people make here is that they focus on things they can’t control. Maybe your job is to help the customer make more sales through a marketing campaign. Don’t hang your hat on the metric of more sales though, since there are many variables you don’t control, such as the sales team.

In the case of a marketing plan, you can influence the number of leads you bring in so a realistic metric would be leads since an increased number of quality leads is something you can measure and commit to.

When setting metrics, always go to the conservative end of the metric. If you think that the client can get between five and ten new leads a month due to your marketing efforts then base your proposal around five. Then if you hit seven, or even ten, you look like a rock star.

Values

This is the last thing you need to define before your proposal is complete. You need to know what the real value is to their organization — but don’t stop at the first-level value, since it’s often the least valuable thing.

In our eCommerce example the first level value is more sales, but what will more sales bring to the organization? Will it bring in more income and profits?

Will that increased profit let them expand into a new market they’ve been looking at? Will the extra cash on hand let them make bigger bulk purchases and take advantage of deeper bulk discounts? Will it mean they can hire a new sales person and thus increase sales further? Can they retain top talent by increasing wages? Will those increased wages let them be more competitive in the hiring market?

There is a lot more value than simply ‘more sales’ in most projects, but I believe 99% of consultants stop at that lower level — a limited perspective often reflected in their fees. The only way to really get to these second and third level value items is to talk to the buyer and not rush through the proposal.

In your next proposal make sure you cover all four of these things. Doing so will maximize your win rate since the prospect will know that you fully understand their business and the impact this project will have on their business.

photo credit: brickset cc

How to set up Contactually so you get continual leads

When I was starting my business I’d often go from totally overwhelmed to barely any work in a span of 4-6 weeks.

One time in particular meant a very long dry spell and our savings account was getting low — really low. Low enough that I told my wife we were going on a date and stopped by a client’s place because we were close and they just happened to have a cheque for me.

Not a moment I’m particularly proud of. Even thinking about that time in my business makes me feel embarrassed.

The thing that got me to the feast/famine cycle wasn’t a problem with my skills. It wasn’t a problem with my project delivery. It really wasn’t even a problem with the quality of clients I was getting.

It all came down to the fact that I stopped marketing my business when I was busy because remembering all that marketing stuff was hard.

Fast forward a number of years and marketing can still be hard if you don’t have a system. My system is Contactually and today I’m going to show you how I use it to follow up with clients I enjoyed working with.

Simply investing a bit of time here each week is going to take your business from that feast/famine cycle to regular business with clients you love.

Get your buckets

Once you’ve imported your contacts into Contactually you need to start making it really useful by setting up your buckets. A bucket is simply a way to group users.

I create two buckets for sorting all my previous clients.

  1. Meh, don’t care about
  2. Great clients

While I’d love to say that my initial client emails always weed out the clients I don’t want, it’s simply not true. There will always be some clients that seemed great when I started the project but ended up being a pain to work with. Those clients end up in my ‘meh’ bucket.

That ‘meh’ bucket doesn’t get any type of follow up. I just let them go their own way since I’m likely to decline working with them in the future anyway. The overhead of dealing with them was not worth the time it took.

The crucial bucket then is my great clients bucket. In this goes all the clients I really enjoyed working with and would like to work with again at some point.

Set up your follow-up interval

Once you’ve created and labeled your buckets, you next need to set up your follow-up interval. I set my interval at 74 days. That means that around 5 times a year I’ll be reaching out to all past clients I would like to work with again.

Set up a few templates

No, you don’t want to re-write essentially the same email each time you communicate with your client. Like me, you’ve got much better things to do. That’s where the Contactually email templates come into play.

I use one email template with a few extra lines in it to do most of my follow-up with past clients, colleagues, and longer term leads I want to keep warm.

Here is my exact basic follow up email template:

Hey Bob, hope the day is treating you right.
I just wanted to touch base and see how things are going.
(option 1) Are you working on anything interesting right now?
(option 2) How’s the site working currently?

By selecting ‘follow-up’ with the contact in Contactually and then choosing this template I really just have to delete one of the possible follow-up lines and then click ‘Send’.

Of course for some clients I end up writing a bit more but it’s really not necessary.

Using this basic follow-up email I’ve been able to stay top of mind for clients in the long term and get referrals from them to their friends, and more work on their projects. No one said it had to be fancy, it just needs to be effective.

When on earth do I do this

Yeah I’m sure you’re asking yourself when on earth do you do this? As I publish this, it’s a few days before Christmas and you’re likely spending time with your family — not writing emails to possible clients.

What client is really sitting down waiting for your email this close to Christmas anyway?

While I hear that argument, I don’t listen to it. You’re always going to have a reason to not market and it’s almost always going to be a terrible reason.

As this is published I’ve still spent an hour this week going through Contactually and working through the list of contacts it wants me to follow up with. I’m even on vacation from December 15th till January 15th and I’m spending one hour a week following up with prospects and old clients.

See, just because it’s close to Christmas today doesn’t mean that it’s going to be close to Christmas in two weeks. I’m available for work in a few weeks and that’s what I’m trying to fill, not today or tomorrow.

By sticking with this continuous cycle of spending an hour a week working through the tasks Contactually sets for me, I’m ensuring my pipeline is full all the time.

photo credit: julochka cc

Why selling a dream is so much easier

Remember when we talked about selling a dream? Once you get into the habit of selling a dream — as opposed to the actual product or service — your sales process will be so much easier.

Think about it your own purchases. Aren’t your quickest and easiest purchases the ones that give you a picture of a better/more fun life? That shirt you know you look good in is an easy purchase, since you see a future where you look freaking awesome.

Pushing the sale, or pulling?

If you’re not selling a dream, you’re pushing a new prospect to a sale. At each step in the sales process, you keep pushing the sale forward so that it actually happens.

On the other hand, if you successfully cast a vision of the prospect’s dream, that prospect will be pulling you towards the sale. They’ll want to get to that dream, and you are the one to get them there faster.

Which sounds like an easier sales process — pulling or pushing? Which sales process do you really want used in your business?

The hardest part of ‘pulling’ sales is truly understanding your prospect and their dreams. You have to listen to the prospect, no monologues. You need to engage with them and ask lots of questions so you can understand their dream and can cast that dream in your project plan.

It takes a bit more work up front (as opposed to just emailing a price quote) but doing so will yield clients who are really invested in working with you. Clients that will get the work they need to do done. Clients that you really want to work with and who will send good referrals.

That sounds like a better outcome to me.

photo credit: kalexanderson cc