Most of us aren’t trained salespeople. We chose this path because we wanted to do the work.
And many of us underestimated how much of the job is selling. I certainly did.
So, in my first few years as a soloist, I was a distinctly awful salesperson.
I’d meet with most any prospect who asked. But first, I’d go to Kinko’s – hey, it was the ‘90s – to get my “pitch deck” printed and bound.
Then I’d head to the prospect’s office, where I took great pride in presenting my beliefs, my process, and my proof. If we had an hour scheduled, I might talk for 40 minutes or more.
If you’re counting my mistakes, you should be. They were numerous, and my closing rate was low.
My Sales Yoda
In a moment of good fortune, I met a friend – a successful business development leader for a local agency – for happy hour.
“I hate sales!” I whined at some point, probably over the third pint. “How do you do it?”
He had the wisdom and the class to reply that how he did it was not necessarily how I should do it.
Then he asked about my selling process (such as it was), my lead sourcing, my screening and my preparation.
Finally, in a kind but firm voice, he shared his advice:
“Stop selling what you have… and start listening to what they need.”
Oh, hello, light bulb.
He then shared a number of tips, several of which are reflected in the list I’m about to share with you. Importantly, he had little to say about tactics, and spoke mostly about mindset – about genuine curiosity and a desire to serve.
This was exactly why I respected him in the first place. He was great at his job, in large part because he led with integrity.
That conversation, a few years into my freelance career, dramatically increased my win rate, saved me a ton of time, and led me to enjoy sales instead of loathing it.
I’m not certain that I picked up the tab for those beers, but I sure hope I did.
Nine Sales Tips for Soloists
Selling our services – and ourselves – is a particular kind of sales. Based on my 25 years of in-field testing, here are nine tips for soloists who are struggling with, or simply dislike, selling.
Inspired by my Sales Yoda, we’re going to lean heavily on mindset.
1. Get those shady tactics outta here.
If it feels aggressive or disingenuous when others do it to you, don’t do it to others.
So forget about “yes ladders” or “the assumptive close.” We’re not going to be those kinds of humans.
And besides, “always be closing” is borderline sociopathic.
2. Stand confidently on the value of your work.
What you do improves the condition of others, right?
So you can step into any sales conversation confident in the knowledge that, if things line up, you can help this person too.
3. But that value is relative.
What you offer is a better fit for some than for others.
And since both parties should emerge from the transaction better off, not every gig is worth winning.
View the sales conversation as an exploration – not an attempt to force someone to buy – and I think you’ll enjoy it more.
4. Selling is part of serving.
It’s a necessary step toward serving others to the best of your abilities.
And you can’t serve others unless you understand their problems well.
So start with their needs. If you can help them, great! If not, maybe you can refer them to someone who can.
5. Ask more questions than feels comfortable.
Understanding their needs means we must adopt a stance of curiosity.
So ask questions. Listen to understand. Ask more questions.
If you’re talking more than about 30% of the time in that initial meeting, you’re not asking enough questions.
6. Keep a list of questions you love.
You’ll ask better questions if you’re prepared. I suggest keeping a list of questions that feel natural to you and that get the job done.
After each sales call, update your list.
I organize my questions in a simple flow that makes sense for my area of specialty (core brand strategy):
- Background (what got them here)
- Objectives (where they want to be)
- Parameters (team, timing, budget)
There are many questions within each category. But with your own flow and some questions you love, you’ll be ready for a sales chat at a moment’s notice.
7. Learn to draw your process.
Clients love this. Instead of marching into the room with a deck, use a whiteboard to illustrate the steps you’ll take to get the client to where they need to be.
Almost any process can be broken into three to five steps. Draw them simply and refer to them as needed. It shows mastery.
I am arguably the world’s worst sketcher, and if I can do this, you can too.
8. Screening is selling.
Not every lead is a good lead. Effective selling is, in part, about spending more time with the good fits and less time with the poor fits.
If a client wants a new brand strategy by Thursday, or if they haven’t set aside appropriate funding, we’re not a good fit. Better to know this earlier – it saves time for both of us.
9. Be a magnet.
You can circumvent much of the sales process by attracting others to you.
You do this by showing up consistently and demonstrating value, authority and credibility.
Consider two prospects: One who reaches out to you after your recent Chamber presentation, and another who you cold-called. Which do you think will offer you both a shorter sales cycle and a higher win rate?
To sum up: Lead with confidence in the value you deliver, and with curiosity about their needs, and you’ll do just fine.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to help as many freelancers as possible.
Need a deeper dive on your own approach to sales? I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. Click here to find out more about how my customized coaching can help you level up.
Copyright 2022 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the footer section.