About Vickie Sullivan
Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.
Written by: LMiller | October 10, 2014
Dodging Bullets: 3 Questions to Ask Before Taking on Any Client
Originally published by RainToday.com
Your marketing is going well, and you have a steady stream of incoming leads and referrals. Many of these buyers know they need help. And after a few conversations, you know how to help them. You articulate your customized solution, and they agree. Both of you get excited about the possibilities. Time to seal the deal, right?
Not so fast. Mutual enthusiasm can be blinding. Many of us seasoned rainmakers know there has to be a good fit. But how you define “a good fit” can be the difference between a client for life and a slow-moving train wreck. Here are three questions I ask myself after every conversation with a prospect to determine if the person could be a fabulous client.
1. Do I really agree with them?
Every sales conversation includes a definition of the problem to be solved. The prospect gives their perspective. You do your homework and either agree or find bigger problems that question their assumptions.
It’s tempting to think, “Well, I don’t agree with their assessment, but I can change their mind later.” Um, no you can’t. Instead, you are setting yourself up for an ongoing argument and big problems down the road. Now is the time to test the buyer’s openness to hear hard truths.
Example: Years ago, an author called me to help promote ideas in her book. I loved her topic and loved her. She felt the same about me. The problem was she thought the book was fabulous, and I thought it was poorly written and positioned her as a low-fee wannabe. I asked a few questions to see how strongly she felt. She asked me what I thought, and I gave her a few good news / bad news observations. Her head exploded. I ran for cover. We parted friends, but we didn’t work together.
My favorite tactic is to take a short trip to the dark side. I ask, “What if I read your book / do my homework / XXX and find that our assumptions here are incorrect? What happens next?” Their response will show you any roadblocks ahead. You will learn if the buyer clings to their ideas due to political or personal reasons. You could upset a mighty big apple cart.
2. Can they hear me?
Many buyers are already on the journey before they reach out for help. Some have a love-at-first-sight approach and are so enamored with it that they can’t hear anything beyond agreement. The more desperate providers will take full advantage of that and flatter their way to a sale. This strategy comes back to bite them hard in the implementation phase.
Everyone has great ideas. The real question is can this person hear hard truth? Are they open enough to go beyond what they want to hear? Now is the time to test that theory.
Example: I was referred to an already-successful entrepreneur who wanted to launch a new business based on his thought leadership. He was excited and asked me what I thought. I liked his idea, too, and gave him a couple of trends that were in his favor. I also named three more-prominent thought leaders in this arena. I recommended that he get ready to compete with those folks. He head the kudos but not the warning. I passed.
My favorite tactic in this situation is to give good news and bad news, and see how the buyer reacts to both. If they selectively listen now, they will do so again (and again) later on. If they run away at the first sign of bad news, do a happy dance. You just dodged a bullet.
3. Are they ready?
Some buyers approach providers with an idea of their next level of success. What they don’t know is what it really takes to get there. That information can help them (and you) decide how ready they really are to move forward.
When a buyer says, “I want this,” it’s tempting to assume they are sure about their needs. Don’t. When you confuse confidence with readiness, you make assumptions that set up unrealistic expectations. Nothing good happens after that.
Example: A prominent person called me because he heard a high-fee speaker and thought, “Hey, I could do this.” I gave him a brief overview of the marketplace. He asked me to give him “the system” for free so he could decide one way or another. I told him buyers are different based on the market segment and explained the investment levels to map out his best path. He determined that he wasn’t ready to proceed. I was relieved.
My favorite tactic to determine if a buyer is ready is to test their readiness with a 30,000-foot discussion about the journey ahead. Ask something like, “What does this journey look like to you?” If the answer is not crystal clear, ask this question: “What would happen if, in the middle of this effort, you learned that the cure was worse than the disease?” If the buyer waffles, suggest a smaller project that will map out what lies ahead. Otherwise, abort mission.
Looking Good on Paper
Many clients appear ideal on paper: they need your help, they have the resources to invest, and you sincerely want to work with them. In these disruptive times, it’s tempting to go for the close. When you set the opportunity (and our sales goals) aside and ask the above questions, however, you set yourself up for long-term client relationships filled with more opportunities and referrals. And that can be the best marketing strategy of all.