Don’t Just “Propose” … Sell!

John Tabita

We web geeks have a problem. If you’re like me, you probably taught yourself how to design or program websites for the love of it. But, one day, maybe after you built a free site for a friend’s company or your church, this thought passed through your mind: “I could get paid for doing this …”

The heavens parted and the angels sang as you envisioned actually making money or **gasp** even a living from doing something you enjoyed so immensely.

But then reality set in. In order to get paid, you realized you needed clients. And that required you to **groan** sell.

Even though most of us never had any formal sales training, we realize that traditional sales tactics won’t work when selling web services. So, instead, we attempt to build trust and demonstrate our expertise by meeting with potential clients and offering ideas and suggestions. Sometime this backfires when people just want to pump us for information. But if they seem genuinely interested, we prepare a proposal and hope they hire us.

Like any good web designer, I did my share of preparing and hoping. In fact, looking back I realize that I would offer a proposal even when my prospect didn’t ask for one. After all, that’s what web designers do … or so I told myself.

But the fact of the matter is, I would do anything to avoid directly asking for the sale—especially if it meant I had to quote a price. Instead, I took the softer, gentler approach and buried the cost somewhere on page nine of my 10-page proposal. But after a few years, I began to grow weary of the “prepare a proposal and hope” strategy. After some struggle, I emerged with a method more effective than letting the proposal do the selling for me. But in order to take that next step, I had to learn a few hard lessons first.

1. There’s Nothing Wrong with Being Direct

I train sales people for a living, and sometimes during a “role playing” session, I will get those who ask for an appointment in such an indirect manner that it ceases to be a question at all:

“I don’t know if that’s something you may be interested in talking about sometime in the future or not.”

Instead of this: “Do you have about 20 minutes this week to meet and discuss this further?”

We ask indirect questions to be polite. If I don’t know you, and approached you on the street and asked, “What time is it?” you’d probably consider that rude. So instead we say, “Excuse me, do you have the time?” which, technically is an indirect question. A literal response to that would be either “yes” or “no.” But since you understand what I’m really asking, you respond with the actual time of day (unless you’re a real smart a*&#@.)

But, in the right context, direct question aren’t rude, they’re just … well, direct.

2. When Quoting a Price, It’s Best to Do So Face-to-Face

My partners and I once sat down with a client to finalize the project we’d been discussing. We handed him a beautifully prepared proposal, documenting everything a corporate website could do for them. Ignoring the first nine benefit-rich, value-laden pages, he flipped directly back to the last page to look at … you guessed it, the price. If the prospect does this right before your eyes, what do you suppose he’ll do in the privacy of his office?

Price alone without value has no context. Is $1,000 a lot of money? You can’t answer that unless you put it into the context of what you’re getting in return for that $1,000. It happened to me all the time when I sold lawn care, something I later termed as “getting wifed”:

Me: [Explaining all the benefits and value of our service, such as a green and weed-free lawn without the effort or risk of having to do it yourself, for a low, low cost of $20 a month.]

Husband [Telling me to hold the phone a moment, then shouting to wife in the background]: “Hey, Honey, do you want to spend $20 a month on lawn care?” [Then back to me]: “My wife says no.”

In fact, this is what you can expect any time you don’t have the opportunity to have all the decision-makers present.

Cost outside the context of return value is meaningless. Talking price face-to-face gives you the opportunity to provide that context, and prevent you from getting “wifed” or “partnered” because of it:

Me [doing my best Columbo impression]: Mr. Prospect, you told me that you wanted a web presence in order to compete with your largest competitors on a national level. You also said that your average sale is about $10,000. So could you please explain to me how $4,000 is “too expensive” when a single sale will pay for this project more than two times over?”

Don’t let yourself get caught in the trap of getting focused on cost (e.g., what he’ll have to spend), when the real issue is value (e.g., what he’ll get in return).

Next article, I’ll discuss how I escaped the “prepare a proposal and hope” paradigm and was transported to the land of “here’s my check, where do I sign?”

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