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  1. #1
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    Question Pre-Sales vs. Consulting

    I suspect we've all had potential clients that want to talk, email and meet (a lot) about their project before any money has begun to change hands. You know the drill: one of the company's representatives may meet you, then solicit more of your ideas via email, then more phone calls, then there are more meetings with other associates and more emails. Then they start trotting out the principals one at a time. This pre-sales phase can really drag out.

    Obviously if you're working on the proverbial Big Deal, you do what's necessary. But let's face it: most deals we do are not The Big Deal. However many projects are complex and do require a good deal of planning.

    Effective planning requires intelligent consulting and project management, and good consultants and PMs are worth their weight in gold. It needs to be made clear to the potential client that the consultant's time is valuable...ideally right from the start.

    I'm interested in input as to the gentle strategies and tactics you use that edge the client into a professional, compensated relationship and out of the pre-sales phase.
    Last edited by david102299; Aug 14, 2006 at 10:38.

  2. #2
    A Smarter Way to Web! zivo's Avatar
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    Post You can only control you

    Unfortunately, we can only control ourselves!

    There are many permutations on potential clients. Some simply do not know, or are afraid to take the first step, and that's why they will ask zillions of questions. This is where you need to build confidence with them, and educate them on a phased implementation, and move it to proposal.

    There are also people who are trying to get free advice, and I don't just mean relatives. It may always not be obvious at first, but if it becomes too much, then you can simply tell them that we should move to the proposal phase, and if they do not want to, then you cna be polite and tell them you feel they are ready, based on your expertise. At that point you may never hear from them again, or they will want to proceed.

    One of the things about running our own businesses is that we have a choice in who we want to work with. And structure you contracts so that you have a severance clause if need be.

    Maybe I should rephrase my opening line... fortunately, we can control ourselves!

    mp/m

  3. #3
    SitePoint Evangelist
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    During initial conversations I'll try to establish a balance between the "nice-guy who gives free advice" and "paid consultant" roles.

    It usually starts with a 10-15 minute ("nice guy") phone conversation. We'll lightly discuss the situation and throw some ideas around. I'll toss in some prequalifying questions and bring the conversation to a close. If the prospect starts getting out of control with the free advice questions I'll say something like: "I think you might benefit from our planning interviews - one session costs $x and will take approx. x minutes. Would you like to schedule a time?"

    -Costas
    In order to understand recursion
    one must first understand recursion

  4. #4
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    I'm the same as Costas. For me, it doesn't matter if it's a small job or a big 5 or 6 figure project, my sales process works in pretty much the same manner. At no point in the process do I begin working on building the technical specification for the project, as this is the work I get paid for. Hence, I make this very clear from the very beginning of discussions so there is no confusion and no assumptions from the prospect.

    How long is required for the initial sales process depends on the size of the project and the type of client, but I think it's important that you avoid the siutation described by the OP where you are constantly meeting with different members of the organisation. While I appreciate that sometimes you must first face a 'gatekeeper', I would certainly ensure that the next meeting involves all principle decision makers (but always try to make sure they are there at the first meeting).

    It's important that before you begin any meetings, you first discover just what this prospect expects from you with regard to the length and structure of the sales process. If what they describe sounds like your worse nightmare and doesn't gel with your favoured process, then you can discuss alternative compromises with them. I think the main advice I would give is to ensure there are never any surprises; everything is pre-planned and structured and both parties know just how far each one will be prepared to go before cheque books and contracts need to be signed.

    And if a party requires more indepth processes that no doubt move into consulting territory, I simply inform them that this is what I get paid for and have them sign a preliminary agreement and pay an initial retainer. As long as you are upfront, confident, and don't allow people to take the piss, you should be fine.

  5. #5
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    It seems that many business men (and women!) are geared towards hiring employees rather than hiring a free lancer. One thing I do is make sure that potential clients understand my services and how I work, which I guess is pretty much letting them know in a nice way that my services aren't free and don't begin until I see the deposit.

    I don't think I would send them ideas after the first meeting. I would try, discreetly, to tell them I have several good ideas that I would like to share in detail at the beginnng of the project (which is after I get the deposit).
    Last edited by Shyflower; Aug 15, 2006 at 04:59. Reason: gender reference
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown


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