I taught kindergarten in a previous life and the most valuable piece of advice I ever got was from a veteran teacher who said, “Never smile on the first day of school.”
She was one of the kindest, warmest people I knew, certainly no ruler-wielding ogre, but her point was that it was important to let the kids know who was boss. We weren’t there to be friends with them, weren’t there to entertain them. We were there to do a job, and that job was to teach.
Tip # 3: Set Expectations
It’s not so different with prospects. You need to be the authority figure and set the expectations up front. Much like the first impression you’ll make with your manner of dress, you will make an impression with your initial approach and once that approach is made it cannot be unmade.
So before you end up in a mental struggle with a client, make it clear from the minute you walk in what they should expect when doing business with you.
Set Expectations For The Relationship
Ever walk into a meeting and start chatting it up with a prospect you can relate to or feel immediately comfortable with? Next thing you know you’re out for dinner at Chili’s, talking about baseball and last summer’s vacation and brainstorming how to engage your prospect’s customers on Facebook. Then you’re out to your second dinner at Bennigan’s and your third at some burger joint down the block, talking direct marketing and oysters, email campaigns and golf.
Until one day you realize your services aren’t free with the purchase of the fries and you’re agonizing over when, where and how to draw the line between your chummy new relationship and the billable time that you spend consulting.
When this happens, there is no going back. All that free time and advice and help that you gave away won’t be recovered, and chances are your sort-of-prospect-not-quite-client is not going to understand where the friendly talk ends and the paid time begins.
Chances are you’ll never be able to draw that line back in the sand. Chances are, if you try, you may end up alienating your sort-of-prospect-not-quite-client who doesn’t understand why he suddenly has to pay you to “think”. Then it’s off to the competition who may charge for every second and every verb and if that’s the expectation that was set from the start.
Set Expectations For The Budget
Remember the client who thought they could get the hot dog for the filet mignon price? Avoid that scenario entirely by making sure your prospects understand the value of your time and services.
Part of this will be dressing appropriately; part will be presenting yourself appropriately. And part of it will be making it clear right up front that you do not work in exchange for French fries.
As independent consultants and service providers we’re often afraid to talk money too soon because we’re worried it will scare our prospect away or start a bidding war with the competition.
All I can say is stop being afraid. Right now.
You know that you bring value, so don’t be afraid to say so, in a very direct and immediate way. Don’t be afraid to look a prospect in the eye and say, “I’m not cheap. But I know what I’m doing.”
The longer it takes you to get the point across that your services aren’t free/cheap/about the same as a plate of nachos, the less likely that you ever will, and the more likely your prospect is going to move on to someone with a better value proposition.
Set Expectations For The Project
This point leads to a whole other conversation about proper project planning, but in a nutshell make sure your prospect understands just what you intend to do.
If you make a lot of warm and fuzzy promises that you can’t keep it will only cause you grief later and you may end up losing the client anyway. On the other hand, if you can’t specify what you’ll deliver your prospect won’t be any more likely to stick with you.
Although you won’t get into details until you engage the client, you should be able to articulate what to expect in terms of timeline, deliverables and outcomes.
Here are two common mistakes to avoid when discussing a project:
- Don’t make your job sound overly complex and difficult. You don’t want to baffle a prospect with jargon or use big words just to impress. They won’t.
- Don’t make your job sound easy as pie. Sure, it may be easy for you, but could anyone else sitting around that meeting table do it? Remember that in a prospect’s mind, “easy” usually translates into “cheap”.
Set Expectations… In General
What is your process? When do you begin and end a project? How do you bill and what happens when payments are late? What type of input do you need from the client?
The clearer you can be about how you expect to do business, the happier both you and your client will be in the end.
Think of your first prospecting meeting like taming a tiger. You can walk into the cage with a big steak and offer it up all friendly-like, and wait while the tiger mauls you to shreds with nary a thank you in the hope that he will kneel nicely next time you ask, or you can step up with your whip and chair and let that tiger know who’s in charge and just how things will be.
Which one do you think will work out in the end? Sounds like an A/B test challenge… let us know how it works out for you.
What’s the one most important thing you make sure that you always tell a prospect up front?
Read More In The “Make The Sale” Series
- Tip 1: Qualify Your Leads
- Tip 2: Dress The Way You Want To Be Perceived
- Tip 3: Set Expectations
- Tip 4: Know Your S#*@
- Tip 5: Believe In Yourself
- Tip 6: Have A Personality
- Tip 7: Have Good Collateral Materials
- Tip 8: Don’t Sell Your Services
- Tip 9: Talk (And Learn) About Your Prospect
- Tip 10: Be Genuine
- Tip 11: Have A Good Website
- Tip 12: Follow Up
- Tip 13: Define Your “Je Ne Sais Quoi”
- Tip 14: Give It Away