Down to Business
By Ilise Benun
You shouldn't mistake a prospect's enthusiasm for readiness to hire you for a job. That may just be their personality. And the smile could come off when they hear your price
If you’ve been reading my columns regularly and taking some of the ideas to heart, you should be wasting less time on unqualified prospects and more on pursuing the prospects you want. However, there is sometimes a point in the process of getting work where many designers still get caught off guard: when they mistake a client’s enthusiasm for readiness.
You may assume that because the prospect seems excited during a meeting, they will be a cinch to close. But there are so many reasons a prospect might be pumped. For example, they may really want to work together but don’t know yet that they can’t afford you. (Yet another reason to talk money early.)
Cordelia Norris, a graphic designer in Knoxville, Tennessee, has a lot of experience with excited prospects who never convert into actual clients. “Ah yes. In my experience, they're typically small business owners who have little experience working with a professional designer,” she says. “They love the idea of design and are very social, but are ultimately commitment-phobic and can waste a lot of your time. I'm still learning how to spot the enthusiastic prospect. I think that letting people know that you're really busy and not cheap may help.”
Sometimes, a client’s readiness is unmistakable: their need is urgent and they must have the job done “yesterday.” Unreasonable timeframes are not good for projects, but that seems to be the business reality these days.
When the project isn’t urgent, it is more challenging to gauge actual readiness. You must be sensitive to a prospect’s signals without making assumptions about what they mean. For example, if your contact was really excited in the meeting, that may be due to their personality style – that’s the way they are with everyone. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you may assume that because the prospect hasn’t yet responded to your proposal they must have chosen someone else. But perhaps the project just got put on hold.
In other words, don’t judge lack of responsiveness as a lack of interest; it might just be “unreadiness.” And don’t judge excitement as readiness; it might just be how the client's personality rolls.
As I've said before about qualifying prospects, it helps to have objective criteria to assess readiness. Start with the following.
Prospects are probably ready to get to work if they have the right:
- Mindset: The prospect is open to continuing the conversation and readily takes your calls or responds to your emails.
- Pricing: You’ve talked price and they’ve agreed to a budget AND a deposit.
- Timing: Their need is imminent and they have a realistic deadline in mind.
- Influence: They are the decision-maker or have adequate influence over the actual decision-maker
Instead of jumping to conclusions, take actions based on these criteria to kick up the process to the next level. The essential question is: Are they willing to sign a contract, set a deadline and put some money on the table? If not, it’s best to delay your own excitement. And if they’re not ready yet, don’t be discouraged. Just get them in your marketing system. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Stay in touch through your monthly email newsletter. Follow them on Twitter and, if appropriate, friend them on Facebook. This will automate the process of staying on their radar until they are ready – which could be months or even years down the road. No matter, you’ll be there when they are.
lise Benun is an author, consultant and national speaker, and the founder of Marketing-Mentor.com. Her books include The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing and her latest, The Designer’s Proposal Bundle. You can sign up for her Quick Tips here and find more information at www.marketing-mentor-toolbox.com.