10 Ways to Ask a Client To Do Business With You

As I started this list I realized that so much depends on the questions that you have asked the potential client up until this point. Timing is important here. A potential client must trust you and be comfortable that you can help him or her before he or she is ready to allow you to do the work. If you ask some of these questions too early, the client may feel pushed or coerced. Trust your intuition to tell you when the time is right. Just don't forget to ask the client for the business!

1. Is there anything more that you need from me? Can we schedule an appointment to begin?
2. You have told me you need to get this done quickly so let's schedule an appointment to begin working on it. What is the best day for you?
3. Imagine the relief you will feel when this is all straightened out! Let's get started working on it this week! Can you come in on Friday?

4. Should I proceed with handling this matter for you?

5. I'd love to work with you on this, when shall we begin?

6. Is there anyone else that needs to approve this decision? Are you ready to go forward with this?

7. What is the time frame in which you want to accomplish this? To meet your schedule it would be best to start by _______ don't you agree? Shall I put a date on my calendar by which time I will have the work completed?

8. I can get this done for you by Wednesday of next week, would you like me to call you then or would you like to schedule an appointment for that day?

9. When you are ready to begin to work with me you will need to give me ________. (Retainer, contract, credit card number etc.) Would you like to do that now?

10. Since you know you want to do this, are you ready to get started?

By Alvah Parker
Photography by Photoroller
Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor (The Attorneys' Coach) and a Career Changers' Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Subscribe now to these free monthly publications at her website http://www.asparker.com/samples.html  and receive a values assessment as a gift. Work becomes more meaningful and enjoyable when you work from your values.


The Pricing Predicament

How can I figure out how much to charge f
or my product or service?

What is the highest salary I can ask for?

Talking about money is a thorny issue. Everyone has opinions about it but those underlying concerns are:

-  Did I set the price so high that no one will buy? (Is the salary I asked for so outrageous that they will hire someone else)

-  Did I give them such a low price that they question my value or did I leave money on the table? (Is the salary I asked for so low that they wonder if I know what is going on in my field?)

Finding an appropriate price is not easy. There is a lot of psychology in pricing along with some mathematical computation. Sometimes people forget to think about the mathematical piece. The cost of delivering the product or service including the time of the deliverer is important. If you do compute your actual costs you can then add a percentage on top (margin) to give you your profit.

Seems simple but now you'll need to see what others are providing. How does your product compare with those it competes with? This is the market research part of pricing. If you are negotiating salary for a job at a design firm, you'll want to know what others who do similar work get for that job.

Now here is where the psychological factors come in. Price something way above what the competitors charge and you could price yourself out of business - maybe or maybe not. Perhaps your product is like no other that it competes with. The price may in fact be justified.


Price something way below what the competitor's charge and it is possible you will be very busy. If you haven't done the cost analysis, you may find yourself losing money though. Another possibility is that potential customers may question your value. "Why are you so cheap?"

Justification - that is what is necessary. In your sales pitch you will need to tell the potential buyer what makes your product so special. (Why you do charge so much or so little.) If you don't really believe that she is worth more than she'll have a hard time convincing others that she is. Clearly Presidents of large corporations have no problem with their sales pitch and are really good at convincing boards of directors to pay them huge sums.

"Whatever the market will bear" is often the philosophy you hear. It certainly must be the justification of the presidents and CEOs who get big salaries, bonuses and pensions. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere between my friend who doesn't think she is worth that much and the big company pay outs. That is a place where the business owner gets what he/she is worth and the consumer gets the value he/she expects. For me there is also integrity involved in pricing not just what the market will bear.

Take Action

1. Assess your own work situation. Where are you undervaluing yourself? Write down a list of the benefits you offer to your client.

2. Check your competitors. What do they offer? How do they price their offer? Compare their offer to yours. How are they alike? What is unique about your offer? How do you tell your clients about that uniqueness?

3. Not unique? Why would your clients choose you instead of your competitors? If your uniqueness is price alone, you are on a slippery slope because there are always others ready to price below you.

By  Alvah Parker
Photography by Adam Borkowski


Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor (The Attorneys' Coach) and a Career Changers' Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Subscribe now to these free monthly publications at her website http://www.asparker.com/samples.html


Client Handling Tips to Greatly Increase Client Retention

What is "client handling"?  "Client handling" is a term to describe all your interactions with your clients that aren't the design process itself. These interactions are mostly face-to-face during an appointment with a client, but also could be on the telephone, by email or text message.

Client handling includes elements of professionalism, technical knowledge, customer service and requires us to pay attention to a myriad of tiny details relating to how we run our practice. Individually, these details may seem trivial or unimportant, and for that reason it can so often be tempting to ignore them or just not bother. However, when added together, these details send the message loud and clear to your clients that you are an organized, dedicated professional, who has their interests and well-being at the centre of everything you do. Great client handling skills plus a fantastically effective design is definitely a recipe for success that guarantees you many clients who will be loyal for years to come, and who will also send you numerous word-of-mouth referrals, as well.

Why are client handling skills so important?

Customer (or client) service is an important feature of client handling.  We are not just in the design industry, we are also in the service industry. As design has become more mainstream over the last 5-10 years, and  clients have become more sophisticated consumers, they have come to expect excellent customer service as well as a great design service. If clients don't like what we do, or how we do it, they will go elsewhere to find a designer who does give them what they are looking for.

In a very competitive marketplace, the extra mile that you go to provide outstanding client service may well be the thing that sets you apart from other designers- and be the deciding factor when it comes to clients rebooking with you.

Exemplary customer service is an attitude - it's not what we do, but how we do it; we can't just pretend to care, we genuinely have to care - both about our clients, and about our own standards of excellence. A genuinely caring attitude will make clients feel looked after, respected, and, above all, valued. A client who feels valued becomes a repeat client.

Great client care is one of the easiest and cheapest of ways to build a devoted following of loyal clients. If you have worked hard on your marketing activities to get new clients it makes no sense whatsoever not to work equally hard to keep them.

What are the keys client handling skills?

A client-centred attitude: your clients should feel that they are getting 100% of your attention and interest, and are at the centre of everything you do, from the moment they walk in through the door, to the second they walk out again. To achieve this requires you to:

• be meticulously prepared and organized: yourself, your office and all your equipment should be prepared for your client's arrival, so that once they arrive all your attention will be on them and their needs

• find out exactly what the client needs/wants from the process

• to be attentive and tuned in to the clients needs throughout the design process

• to respect that this is the client's time, and not your own

Putting the client at the center of everything we do makes them feel cared for and valued - and they will value us and what we do for them in return.

Communication Skills:

Excellent communication skills are at the heart of good client handling. They are involved at every stage of our client interactions: before meeting a client (this could be a telephone or email enquiry); meeting and greeting the client for the first time; during the design process; during the post-design chat; when taking payment and rebooking; during follow-up contact by phone or email.

First - and last - impressions are critical to the client forming a favourable opinion of you, so make sure you give these interactions the attention they merit. Once the design process is under way, explaining what you are doing and why, and letting clients know in advance how the session will proceed will put clients at ease, build their confidence and trust in your expertise and abilities, and generally ensure that they have the best possible experience.

Attention to Detail:

There is no one big "secret", no "one" thing that will guarantee success. A great client experience relies, rather, on you paying attention to numerous tiny details; fantastic customer service is unobtrusive and unfussy, but makes the client feel that their needs have been anticipated and effortlessly met.

Paying attention to these details will establish your reputation for quality and excellence. Once established, it's important to work hard to maintain these standards, and demonstrate your commitment to the highest levels of service.

Individualize Your Service:

One way to make good service great is to treat your clients as the unique people that they are, and to make sure that you are doing all that you can to tailor your time with them to their own individual requirements. Making notes of their preferences will enable you to give them personalized service which they will truly appreciate and value.

Things like making sure they get their favorite appointment time, or sending an article that will be of interest or benefit to them are also examples of how we can demonstrate to our clients that we see them as individuals and value them as clients.

Go the Extra Mile:

Always under-promise and over-deliver. Don't just meet expectations - always strive to exceed them; surprise and delight clients with extra touches that cost no more than a little time and effort, but demonstrate your commitment to quality and excellence.

Put things right quickly and gracefully:

"A criticism is a gift" (although it seldom feels that way at the time!). If something hasn't gone well for some reason, then offer some recompense. You could always ignore the problem and take the money and run, but that would result in an unhappy, dissatisfied client who probably won't come back, and will tell all their friends about their experience. If you offer recompense, they will feel that they have been heard, and their views respected, and you (very probably) will have kept a valuable client. Things always go wrong from time to time - it's how we deal with these situations that's important.

That said, there will always be people whom we can never please, regardless of what we do, and also do bear in mind that good customer service doesn't mean ignoring professional boundaries. Unreasonable and inappropriate behaviour has no part in a healthy designer-client relationship and should be addressed accordingly.

To Sum Up

Good client handling costs you nothing except a little time, effort and energy. Exemplary customer service is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to differentiate yourself from other designers. Making the effort to pay attention to the details, and continually and consistently apply the highest standards to all aspects of your client care will reward you with satisfied clients and many repeat bookings.

By Helen Hunter
Photography by Doncut


4 Tips for 5 Minute Marketing

Simple Marketing Tips to Do Marketing the Easy Way in 5 Minutes a Day 

All the business owners I work with are eager to find a simple way to add new clients. Most are already busy and tell me they have to struggle to find blocks of free time to "do marketing." Of course some marketing does take large blocks of time but I am here to tell you that not all marketing is time consuming.

Sad to say that often business owners who believe that marketing requires an open block of time just don't ever get around to doing their marketing at all even though they know they should.

If you would like to avoid the guilt that comes with "shoulding", here are 4 quick and easy ways to market your design practice without ever setting aside a block of time.

The key is to keep your intention of wanting to "do marketing" in the top of your mind. Then look for opportunities during the day to follow one or two of these marketing tips.

Talk to New Clients

First are you talking with a new client? Ask the client how s/he found you. Perhaps a friend referred him/her. Then underscore that you build your business on referrals. Tell the client that you are confident they will be as happy as Ms. X was with your services and you hope s/he will refer others to you too.

Thank You Notes

The referral gives you another marketing opportunity. Send the referrer a note thanking him or her for the referral. Have a standard note that you write for this and it too can be done in less than 5 minutes. The note is another way to stay top of mind with the referrer.

Ask for Referrals

Even if the client found you on the web or in the yellow pages you can tell them the reason for the question is that often you get clients through referrals and you want to be sure to acknowledge the referrer. This gives you an opportunity to say that you hope they will feel comfortable referring others to you.

Make it a game to see how many times a day you can seamlessly add a request for a referral to your conversation! Whether it is another professional or a current client, look for an appropriate time in the conversation to make this request. You want the request to be natural not pushy.

Slip in a success story or respond to a compliment with, "If you ever come across someone with a similar issue, I would value a referral from you."

Stay Connected

Finally use email or LinkedIn to connect to a former client, a school classmate or professor or a business acquaintance. A short email lets them know you were thinking of them and is a great way to get them to think about you!

Over the years that you have been in business I am sure you have done some or all of these. The point is to do them consistently week after week. By staying connected to your network and asking for referrals your practice will grow effortlessly!

By Alvah Parker
Photography by Melinda Nagy

Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor and Career Transition Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Sign up for these publications on her website free monthly publications. Alvah may also be reached at 781-598-0388 or at asparker@asparker.com.



10 Ways To Handle Client Complaints

Ten Ways To Handle A Customer Complaint
Most professionals take pride in the work they do. Dealing with complaints is often challenging and upsetting. It is very natural to try to explain or justify what was done. The suggestions I have made in this list are not easy to do in the heat of a situation. So when you hear a complaint about you or your business/practice perhaps the best strategy is to count to ten and then do some of the following:

1. Listen - Resist the temptation to argue with the client. Instead ask questions to get to the bottom of the situation. What is the client really upset about? Show the client that you really understand the situation from the client's perspective.

2. Don't be defensive - This will get in the way of your listening to the client. Allow the client the time and space to be heard. If you get defensive you'll build a wall between you and the client. Try to find ways to build a bridge so that you are aligned with the client.

3. If you agree that it was a mistake, fix it immediately or do what you can to satisfy the client and apologize. We all make mistakes at times. Check to see if there is anything in your office procedure that can help you to avoid a similar mistake again.

4. For a more complex issue research the problem before you make any decisions. Find out what actually happened. Is a system in your office not working correctly? Does it need to be fixed? Has the client misunderstood something? Give yourself time to figure out a fair resolution.

5. Look for lessons in the situation - If the situation was caused by something you or your staff control, find a way to fix it for the future. This means assessing the systems you have in place and your methods and procedures. It also may mean retraining an employee or employees.

6. Reeducate the client when necessary - How did you set client's expectations? Were you clear about what he/she could expect? Help the client to understand the process now to guard against future misunderstandings.

7. Know that if one client complained there are others feeling the same way. What do you need to do to address the problem with the others? Who else might have been affected in the same way?

8. Give the client choice of possible resolutions. How can you make this right with the client? Negotiate a way that works for both of you. Sometimes just fixing the problem is sufficient. At other times the client is looking for something else. Look for an equitable resolution.

9. Thank the client for helping you with your business. As painful as they can be complaints from clients often let you know exactly where you need to work to improve your practice/business.

10. Follow up with those who complained to be sure they are fully satisfied. If you have altered a system or changed a way of doing business and the client is affected by that change, follow up to be sure that the client noted the change.

By Alvah Parker
Image by Piotr Marcinski

Alvah Parker is a Practice Advisor (The Attorneys' Coach) and a Career Changers' Coach as well as publisher of Parker's Points, an email tip list and Road to Success, an ezine. Subscribe now to these free monthly publications at her website http://www.asparker.com/samples.html . Parker's Value Program© enables her clients to find their own way to work that is more fulfilling and profitable. Her clients are attorneys and people in transition who want to find work that is in line with their own life purpose. Alvah is found on the web at http://www.asparker.com  She may also be reached at 781-598-0388.


Interior Design PR Tactics: Make the Media Take Notice

Two Key Elements of a Great Story That Make the Media Take Notice

In order to gain publicity, you need to tell a compelling story. A reporter or producer needs to immediately see that there is value in taking a minute to read your press release. To uncover your best story, it's best to spend some time brainstorming your options.

So, let's get started! A story that gets picked up by the media generally has one or two main elements:

It's Personal

In other words, your story draws out an emotion. Your story makes them cry, laugh, get angry, feel happy, be inspired, or feel any range of emotions. This kind of emotional story makes readers feel that they can relate to you.

The Audience Can Apply Your Story to Their Own Lives.

In other words, a person can benefit somehow from hearing your story. They can avoid a problem, learn a new skill, think differently and so on.

One great way to start brainstorming your story is to think of all the labels that can describe you. Labels can include your gender, race, ethnicity, religion, life experiences - good and bad, education, hobbies, business or personal challenges, marital status, sexual orientation, place of residence and so forth. Once you have your labels, you may uncover a great story to tell. Or you may uncover a great market that you can turn to for coverage. Take religion for example. There are great publications out there for those markets. The Jewish Press and the Catholic Press Association are great examples of this. You can tweak your press release to show that you have credibility in those areas and you can increase your reach!

International Speaker and co-author of the best-selling book Guerrilla Publicity, Jill Lublin says that to gain great PR you should "use everything you've got." I love this statement because it's true. What this means is that you should look at all areas of your life and determine if there is a story there to tell. Sometimes your best story has little to do with your business, and that's just fine. Great press coverage will make you stand out even if it's not totally focused on your business.

I decided to "use everything I had" by touting the fact that I was a mother of young kids. This turned out to be a great idea because I was quoted in an article about creative outdoor fun with toddlers. This may not seem like a big deal because my business has absolutely nothing to do with outdoor fun with toddlers, however my name and my business name were mentioned in the article. And it was written for the iParenting website where they get thousands of readers every day. Not bad public relations!

Here's an example of how this can work. Let's say your parents live in a different city than you do. You can quickly and easily customize your press release and make the media in their city take notice. Here's what you can do. Start your press release like this:

Daughter of Lynchburg residents Mary and Gale Weisman, announced today that...

I once got a 3 column story with color a photo using this exact PR tactic!

Now that your creative juices are flowing, take three minutes and brainstorm what story you can pitch that is personal or that others can apply to their lives.

By Meredith Liepelt
Photography by Raisa Kanareva
© 2011 Meredith Liepelt, Rich Life Marketing Meredith Liepelt, President of Rich Life Marketing, offers a free report called "101 Ways to Attract Ideal Clients, Build Your List and Raise Your Profile," which can be downloaded immediately at RichLifeMarketing.com.


6 Tips To Negotiating with Clients, Contractors & Manufacturers

What You Need For More Successful Negotiations

In almost every aspect of everything we do, there is a degree of give and take. Rarely do we ever get everything we want. However, some individuals seem to consistently end up with better results than others. Whether they are doing something consciously or subconsciously, every one is doing some aspect of negotiating on a daily basis. Some are simply doing a better job than others!

In order to be a successful negotiator, there are many things that a designer must do:

1. Do your homework. Expert negotiators always are prepared when they enter in a negotiation. They understand fully all of the needs, wants and limitations of their clients, but also study their negotiating counterpart – the interior design client- in order to understand his needs, priorities, etc. While professionals always enter this process fully prepared, I have often observed the novice simply either ask for too much, not prioritize, make empty threats, enter with an unprofessional attitude, etc.

2. What does your side really need as opposed to simply want? What are the "deal breakers," if any? Have you created priorities?

3. What are the needs of the interior design client? What things do they have more flexibility with, and where is there very little wiggle room? It is important for a negotiator to recognize that there is a need for both sides to feel they did alright in a negotiation.

4. Never ever lie! Many novices exaggerate what their side has to offer, or are even nearly delusional about the "power" their side possesses. Since professional negotiators do considerable homework learning as much as possible about the other paty’s background, history, needs, etc., lying not only doesn't work but casts your veracity in question, thus often creating mistrust and ill will.

5. The best negotiations occur because of relationship development. Experts understand that negotiations are both an art and a science, and while some of the details and analysis may be somewhat scientific, a negotiator must be an artist in terms of building a trusting, open, and understanding relationship. When negotiators get to know each other better, they tend to be able to open up more, and get into more in- depth discussions than they otherwise could.

6. All successful negotiations occur by using a win- win approach. In an optimum situation, you and your interior design client finish the process believing you did well, and extremely satisfied with the results. Develop an understanding of what can be done, and what needs to be done. For example, in being a professional negotiator for over thirty years negotiations, when I have needed dramatic pricing adjustments from a hotel food and beverage department, I work with them to see how they can save money, and thus pass that savings along. It may be by tweaking menus to "tag-on" to another group (thus affording the venue an economy of scale), or by letting the department determine which room works best for them. Your client will appreciate the candor and the understanding of their needs.

One does not become a professional negotiator overnight, and not every one is "cut out" to be involved in negotiations. A successful negotiator must have the attitude, self confidence, perseverance, integrity, and attention to detail to end up with beneficial results.

By Richard Brody
Photography by Kurhan

Richard Brody, with over 30 years consultative sales, marketing, training, managerial, and operations experience, has trained sales and marketing people in numerous industries, given hundreds of seminars, appeared as a company spokesperson on over 200 radio and television programs, and regularly blogs on real estate, politics, economics, management, leadership, negotiations, conferences and conventions, etc. He has negotiated, arranged and/ or organized hundreds of conferences and conventions. He's a Senior Consultant with RGB Consultation Services, an Ecobroker, a Licensed Buyers Agent (LBA) and Licensed Salesperson in NYS, in real estate.  Richard has owned businesses, been a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Executive Officer, and a Director of Development, as well as a consultant. He has a Consulting Website ( http://tinyurl.com/rgbcons ), and his company PLAN2LEAD, LLC's site ( http://www.plan2lead.net ), and can be followed on Twitter


Managing Your Client's Budget

To execute a project successfully, a designer has to consider many crucial factors of the organization and the client. One of the most important things to consider is the budget. The client sets the estimate and the deadline which has to be considered by the designer or project manager.

What is a Project Budget?

The project budget can refer to an estimate of the overall expenses that are to be incurred on a specific project, or the maximum expense limit set by the client for deliverables. It consists of several factors such as labor, resources, and the scope for additional finances if the need arises. Typically, on a client project, the company bills clients not only on the output but also on the hours that are put in by those working on the project. Below is an explanation on budget planning for project.

Tips on How to Manage a Project Budget:
Proper Resource Allocation

Proper resource allocation is very significant in estimating or planning the project budget. A designer should make it a point to coordinate which employees will perform what tasks, and what are the supplies required for starting out. He should analyze the available resources possible to be used and the supplies or skills to be brought in. To rule out the chances of any loss or wastage of resources, the designer should choose highly-skilled employees for the project. An efficient project team will make the project successful even with the least resources. This has to be primarily considered if it is a client project that has to be completed in a particular time frame.

Using Budget Management Software

Nowadays, designers can manage the project cost using effective budget management software. These software help to keep a track of the estimated budget and actual expenses. However it's up to the designer to make sure every transaction and expense detail is recorded in the software. In addition, these types of software have different modules which enable budget planning to be merged into other functions of the project. This eventually leads to effective management of the overall project. Using a reliable budget management software is a good tip on how to manage a project effectively.

Proof of Expenses Incurred

Along with managing budget records in the software, you should also obtain hard copies of the transactions made and expenses incurred. This is particularly a case in manufacturing or construction projects. The copies have to be attached to periodical reporting of project advancing to the management or appropriate parties. Collecting purchase orders and expense receipts also helps in cross checking with the software if the correct entry has been made. The hard copies serve as a backup to the details recorded in the software.

Reviewing Budget Periodically

A designer should also keep a track of all expenses in detail. Ask all team members to give a status of the actual work done and the resources spent, used, and are available. Reviewing budget factors and amounts is normally done weekly as a standard. This allows you to cut down the expenses on resources, right at the time they are used. This certainly enables the designer to modify the project plan as required.

Good Communication of Budget Risks

When it comes to budget planning and management, healthy communication among those involved in the project is also a requirement. It is extremely important that a designer assesses any risks concerned with an increase in budget expenses. If the budget expenses are predicted to go beyond limit, the designer should inform the client about the same. Besides, he should also inform the client about the need for change in budget. Doing so will prevent the delay that may happen due to budget issues.

To manage a budget, see if the expenses can be reduced on transport, overtime, material and supplies, etc. Following these guidelines will help you to keep the budget under control without having an impact on the quality of deliverables. Remember that budget planning and management is an integral task in efficient project management.

By Stephen Rampur
Photography by Jeinny Solis


New Client Meetings - 7 Steps to Success

Meeting potential new clients for the first time can be nerve racking. Wondering if they will be a good fit for your business and services. Wondering if they will like you. Wondering what you should say.

Let me give you some straight talking tips on how to make your first client meeting a success.

(1) Do your home work.
 Before you meet with your prospect make sure you know why you are meeting, and what the [client or]company does. You should be walking into the meeting with a pretty clear idea of what you can do for them, or which type of service may be suitable for them.

I'm not saying you will always know. But in most cases you should have a good idea. If you don't, you are attending the meeting without any objective. It's guesswork.

By doing your homework you can be armed with insightful questions. Plus it means you spend less time talking over the basics, and can get stuck into how you can really help them.

You can do this home work (or pre-work) by asking initial questions over the phone; or asking them to answer some questions in writing; or by checking their website; or by reading up on their industry.

(2) Make a good first impression.
 Simple things make a big difference. Make sure you are dressed well. Not too fancy. Not too casual. Aim to be a notch above the standard you expect your prospect to be dressing at.

  • Turn up on time, or 5 minutes early.
  • Don't park right out the front in their customer carpark.
  • Get the name correct for the person you are meeting.
  • Be nice and polite to the receptionist and anyone else you may meet.
  • Greet your prospect with a firm handshake and smile, saying Good to meet you.
  • Wait and follow the lead of your prospect as to where to go and when to sit down.

(3) Find out WHY.
 This sounds simple, but can often be tricky to identify. By asking suitable questions you need to clearly understand:

  • Why are they looking for help now, at this time?
  • Why are they considering your type of services?
  • Why have they contacted you in particular?

See how we have drilled down to obtain very specific reasons in the three questions above. The answers to these questions will give you valuable insights into the potential this prospect offers you.

(4) Confirm their time frame.

Probe and confirm their expectations of timing.

  • When will they be making a decision?
  • When do they want to start?
  • When do they expect completion?
  • When do they expect your input?

(5) Specify outcomes they are seeking.

Don't beat around the bush when it comes to finding out what they are trying to achieve. Ask them how they think your services (or, this project) will help them. What will they achieve? How will they know when they have done that?

Sometimes clients are not clear on these factors themselves. By you asking them to explain it, they will often appreciate your help in helping then clarify what they want to do. After all, you are the expert in their eyes.

(6) Clarify what comes next.
 Make sure you have stated, or paraphrased their words, about what will happen next after this meeting. Don't leave it in limbo. Don't be scared to make it plain.

Demonstrate self-respect by ensuring clarity regarding the next step. Let them know you don't expect your time talking with them to have been wasted. You expect some action.

(7) Follow up. Always. And Soon.
 No matter what the time frame, or what the service being offered, always follow up promptly. Send a brief email to say, Thanks, we'll be in touch soon. Or send a few bullet points or summary of key items discussed. Or send your official contract, engagement letter, or proposal.

By following these 7 steps you will be streets ahead of your competitors... and you will win more business more easily.

Photography by Leloft 

Stuart Ayling runs Marketing Nous, an Australasian marketing consultancy that specialises in marketing for service businesses. He helps clients to improve their marketing tactics, attract more clients, and increase revenue. For additional marketing resources, including Stuart's popular monthly newsletter, visit his web site at http://www.marketingnous.com.au.


Pricing Your Design Services: Will You Pass the Flinch Test?

There is a little test that professional buyers give to every sales person. It is a test to see if they are confident in the price they presented. They call it the flinch test. Will you pass the test?

After a lengthy buying process, the time has come to submit pricing. Countless hours are spent formulating a glorious proposal that details your comprehensive solution. Proud of your accomplishment, you present the proposal to the buyer. Skipping the sections about your company and your solution, she flips right to the pricing page. "Oh my gosh, I didn’t think it would be this expensive!"

What happens next determines whether or not you will get the business. When I say "get" the business, there are two sides to consider. The obvious is whether or not the prospect will award the business to you. The less obvious is whether your company will agree to their desired price level. The negotiation may get to a point where the prospect says they want to award you the business, but at a price unacceptable to your company. If you’ve ever been there, it is painful to say the least. As a designer and a sales person, you have a responsibility to facilitate the process in a way that leads to a mutually acceptable conclusion.

There is a trade secret in the purchasing world. They call it the "flinch test." This is the test Procurement Agents and other professional buyers give to sales people when they provide pricing. "Wow! You are 25% higher than your competition." These pros are trained to react with surprise so that they can see if the sales person is confident in the price they have put forward. It is nothing more than a straightforward negotiation tactic. Often times, they overstate the price difference such that you can do some quick math and see that the differential is bogus. I can recall a time where I was told that we were 50% higher than the competition. When I reviewed the numbers, this meant that the competitor was losing 18% based on fixed costs that we both had. It was highly unlikely that the competitor was signing up for this kind of an account. When I asked the Procurement Agent about that figure again, he flinched and we ultimately won the business.

The key to passing the flinch test is to respond with confidence in your price. If you don’t believe you are providing a fair, competitive price for the solution, my question is why are you presenting it anyway? One would hope that you have integrity so why present something you don’t believe in?

Some responses that cause you to fail the flinch test.

• What price were you looking for?

• I’ll ask my manager if we can do better.

• How about if I take 10% off?

The reason these are failed responses is that they create trust issues with the prospect. Were you trying to rip them off with the price you presented? One of two things is true. Either you were trying to rip them off or you believe you provided a fair price. What other option is there? Some will say that they were preparing for a negotiation. That’s a fair point; however, it is a terrible negotiation strategy to give the appearance that you will drop your price first moment someone balks. That approach gives the impression that you sought to gouge them.

Most negotiations end at the middle ground. They wanted 5; you wanted 10 and settled at 7.5. That seems logical. However, if you lower your price early, the middle ground is lower. In the same scenario, if you dropped to 8 right off the bat, the middle becomes 6.5. As I mentioned, you have to manage the negotiation such that the middle is not lower than an acceptable price for your company.

Successful sales people have a planned, or dare I say "canned," response for the flinch test. They don’t expect a prospect to respond with excitement about a price. They anticipate shock and have a process to handle it. Here are their secrets…

1. They set expectations upfront. Early in the buying process, they set the expectation that they are not the low price provider. "To be clear, our company is rarely the low bid, does that mean that we won’t be working together on this project?" If they say no, you are set for the later phases of the process. If they say yes, at least you haven’t invested a ton of time in an account that you won’t win. If you are going to lose, lose early.

2. They don’t flinch! "I’m not surprised by your reaction. I get that a lot. As I mentioned at the outset, we are rarely the low bidder."

3. They seek to understand. "When you say that you are shocked by the price, which part is surprising? This is the subject of another article of mine which addresses the importance of understanding the prospect’s perspective of price.

4. They reinforce their position. "Since we are rarely the low price provider, what do you think our 1000 clients see that leads them to pay a little more to have us?

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Procurement Training. Think of it as sales training for buyers. After the session, I had an interesting conversation with the trainer. Here’s what he told me…

"For 25 years, sales people asked me for coaching on the price of their proposal as I was the head of rocurement for my company. I told each one of them the same thing. Provide us with the best price that you feel good about giving and either way, you win. I always got a puzzled expression from that. Let me explain. If we award the business to you at that price, you’re happy. If we award the business to someone else at a lower price, you are happy as well because you wouldn’t have been happy to support the account at that price point."

I often wonder how many commission dollars were lost just because they flinched. How may commission dollars have you lost because you flinched?

By Lee Salz
Image by Dana B. Heinemann

Lee B. Salz is a sales management guru who helps companies hire the right sales people, on-board them, and focus their sales activity using his sales architecture® methodology. He is the President of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars and author of "Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager." Lee is an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, a print columnist for SalesforceXP Magazine, and the host of the Internet radio show, "Secrets of Business Gurus." Look for Lee's new book in February 2009 titled, "The Sales Marriage" where he shares the secrets to hiring the right sales people. He is a passionate, dynamic speaker and a business consultant. Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitecture.com or 763.416.4321.