What the initial sales call should look like
Today I want to talk to you about how to make the most of your initial sales call, that all important meeting that will either get you that new project, or won’t.
This is going to be a two-parter. In this first episode, I’ll talk to you about what goes into making that initial sales call; in part two, I’ll do a review of an actual sales call I went on, to show you what it looks like in practice. And show you what I did right and where I messed up! (In this case, I committed a huge gaffe before I even got in the door!)
I always like to do a review of these personal history sales calls for a few reasons:
- Reviewing these meetings after they happen allows me to figure out what’s working, what not, and how I can modify the sales conversation the next time I meet a potential new client. This review has become an indispensable part of my process. Plan—Act—Review—Modify
- I don’t just run through it in my head. I take notes. I have a folder on my computer called Inquiries, and start a new document for each person who reaches out to me, and I save it with their name and the date they contacted me.
- Then, after each subsequent contact—an email or a phone conversation—I take notes. They’re messy and full of the details the person has told me—why they want to do a life story, how they found me, but also the random pieces of info about their family or their life, the kernels that will develop into the stories in the book. Also random comments about them, which is pretty often This lady is so sweet! Or quiet man, seems thoughtful—hints that will help me when I sit down to interview them should they hire me.
I do this for every inquiry.
Then, after I sit down with them in person—the actual sales call—I go back and take more notes. EVEN WHEN THEY DON’T HIRE ME.
Why? Because it they call back in a year or three—and trust me, this will definitely happens with some inquiries—I can review my notes and catch up on what we talked about. It’s helpful to me and gives them a sense of connection—that they’ve been heard.
In today’s episode, I’m going to describe how I think my initial sales call should go; in the next episode, you’ll hear me dissect what actually happened on a call I made this week.
Stage 1: Preparation
This falls under the “planning” stage. And honestly, it’s one of my weak spots, because I’m not a planner by nature. But it just feels better when things go right, and I’m upping my chances considerably if I force my monkey brain to try to be systematic about it—to plan ahead. Ugh. Okay, so it’s got to be done, and building a system helps me make that happen.
First step: gather what I need to bring with me.
- My nice leather portfolio, with pockets for:
- my business card (which I inevitably forget to give to the prospective client—see why I need to keep reviewing my process??)
- my presentation folder. If anyone’s interested, I can do a later post about what I have in this presentation folder—but just briefly, it’s about 15-20 pages (on nice paper and comb-bound) with sections for a description of my process, some testimonials, and some excerpts from books I’ve done. Even if you have all this on your website, don’t assume a potential client has seen it. And even if they have, giving them something tangible that they’ll later see lying on their desk or the kitchen counter is only going to help remind them about you and your service.
- a brochure—I’m getting away from doing these; they don’t seem to be a very current way of marketing our services.
- a pen—duh!! Don’t even ask me how embarrassing it is to come as a professional writer, then have to borrow a pen!
- two blank Professional Services Agreement forms (what I use instead of contracts); if they’re ready to sign on immediately, I want to have the forms at the ready. I didn’t used to do this—it somehow seemed a little rude—which just shows how little business sense I started with. We both sign and I take one copy and leave the other for them. Except when I forget….Yesterday when I pulled out my portfolio, I found two signed copies from a client who recentlyhired me. I’d forgotten to give her her copy. Another area for improvement!
- A sampling of books I’ve done for other people. This is perhaps your biggest “marketing” material, the chance to allow a prospective client to start imagining what their book will look like.
What I DON’T bring:
- a recorder. This is an initial sales call. Even if the client hires me on the spot, this is not the time for them to start telling their stories. They will, of course, and that helps build excitement and an emotional connection to the project, but before it can go too far, I tell them I don’t have a recorder so we’ll want to save it for the interview. This helps establish boundaries for what, after all, is my free consultation. (Afterward, I usually pull into a parking lot and furiously write notes on the bits of the stories they’ve told me!)
Second step: the mental review
Getting the stuff together is the easy part. I also like to leave time to review what information I already have on the potential client (from earlier emails or phone conversations), and go over a few key points on how I want the sales conversation to go.
I remind myself to:
- listen more than I speak. These are people who want to be heard—it’s the reason they want to do a life story project in the first place. Ask them questions, learn why they want to do the project, help them visualize it and build an emotional connection to the concept. To see the potential. And take joy in their excitement. What a great job, where we can help someone bring their dream book to life.
- Only then do I shift into an explanation of how the process works, with the emphasis on our interviews or conversations. I also give them a glimpse into what goes on when we’re not meeting, which, as I tell them, is where 90% of the work lies. I used to belabor this part because I wanted them to understand why a project is such a significant financial investment; but they don’t want to hear that. They want to know how their problem (how to record their story) will be solved (hire Amy!). I’ve shortened all that down to: “It takes a lot of work to write a book.” Usually while giving a thump to one of the sample books in front of them. That says it all.
- At this point, if not sooner, ppl will ask about price.
- so many different ways you can address it
- determined whether you have a project price or per hour
- By the end of this initial sales call, some people will tell you they’re ready to sign on now; some will say they need to think about it, or, in the case of adult children wanting a story about a parent, they may tell you they need to talk to siblings about sharing the cost (in my experience, this usually doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean the deal is off—a lot of times they’ll just pick up the cost on their own); and some will tell you they can’t afford it.
- addressing this last one: you have the option of commiserating with them on the price—these ARE expensive projects, after all, and there’s no reason not to acknowledge that, and telling them to call if circumstances ever change
- giving them other options. For me, this is usually a “mini” life story of fewer pages, or an audio only project. Earlier in my career, I even offered a lightly edited manuscript. It brought in some money but was always way more work than I quoted for, and not very satisfying work for me. but it may work for you.
I find that whether I offer these last options depends on where I’m at in my work load. If I’ve got a lot on my plate, I don’t mention it. This has the advantage that if they change their mind and decide they do have the money for the bigger project, you haven’t committed to something smaller (and, in my experience, harder). Also, it leaves your schedule open for the bigger projects, if that’s your goal. There’s nothing worse than having to turn away an ideal project because you’ve committed to doing too many less-than-idea ones. But only you can weigh this. Like I’ve said before, when I was just starting out, my motto was: nothing is too small. It helped me earn some money and get more practice than if I’d held out for the “perfect” project.
That concludes the sales meeting, but not that’s not the last step for me. When I get back to my desk (or sooner), I take notes, being careful to include a few key items:
- name and contact info of the prospective client
- project prices or hourly rates I quoted them
- details on any stories they started to tell me
That does it for the overview of my process on initial sales consultations. Remember to tune in for part two (episode 8) to get the scoop on how this week’s initial sales call really played out. Let’s just say I still have a few things to learn!
If you want to share how you plan and conduct your own sales interviews, leave a comment in the show notes. And if today’s show was helpful, the best way you can return the favor it to leave us a review on iTunes.
Now go out and save someone’s story.