So, you’ve gone for it. New Year, New Career and you’ve decided to take the leap to freelance but now you don’t have the reliable back up of a sales team to generate your leads for you how do you go about setting yourself out from the crowd?
Here are some helpful tips to help you win business from our Founder, Ginny Nicholls, who worked both on the Client Services and Sales sides of the fence when working for digital agencies.
Oh no, not you again…
Salespeople get a bad rep; I know as I’ve been one. You’re a pain in the neck to pretty much every member of the tech team. You can feel the eyes rolling as you approach to ask for ridiculous amounts of input into tenders and pitch docs, whilst asking bucket loads of questions to try and understand complex cross-channel digital strategies so you can then speak with confidence and at least try and sound like you know what you’re talking about.
At the other end of the scale, you live in a world of terror where you cling onto every lead that comes your way, knowing that if you have one more baron month on “the board” both your neck and your job are on the line.
It’s easy to have a love – hate relationship with selling as it’s without doubt, the hardest, most soul-destroying graft you’ll ever have to do whether you’re agency side or a freelancer but, equally when you get that signature on a dotted line, the sheer elation is so powerful it becomes addictive and you just want to get better and better at it.
Listen, learn and hone
Whilst my time in the sales team on agency side was one of the most stressful times of my career to date, it was also undeniably the most valuable. The job was phenomenally difficult, but I treasured every second in that role for the main reason that I got to spend a vast amount of time one-on-one with the agency MD, who was someone I looked up to massively and led the team from a place of kindness and dedication to client satisfaction.
His approach to selling wasn’t what I was used to seeing. There was no aggression, no pushing with discounts or false promises, or opening with all the amazing things the agency could do. Instead his technique came from a 100% dedication to understanding what the client needed as opposed to assuming what they wanted.
Sounds easy right? Wrong…really getting under the skin of exactly what it is your potential client truly needs is what will help you stand out, but it’s also one of the most difficult skills you’ll ever have to add to your toolbox.
Here are some practical tips for selling as a freelancer that my MD taught me, and I use almost every single day. Whether speaking to prospects or current clients these tips help you stay on top of people’s needs so you can suggest a solution as opposed to sell a product.
The S-P-I-N selling method
In my very early days in the sales team, I’d go out on meetings with my MD and we had a code. He would go through his line of questioning with the prospect, exploring every nook and cranny of their pain points whilst working through the “S-P-I-N” model, and my job was to simply shut up. Literally not say a single word until he drew a line on his notepad which was my signal that I could speak again. Why? Because the key to really getting under the skin of what’s keeping your potential client awake at night is to follow a clear line of trajectory with your questioning and the model my MD used, and subsequently taught me, was S-P-I-N selling.
What is S-P-I-N selling?
S-P-I-N stands for the following:
The theory is that by filling in the blanks for each of these points, by the end of your meeting you’ll have a complete picture of where your potential client is currently at, where they need to be, what’s stopping them from getting there and what you can do to help fix it.
To create that picture, you work through each point meticulously whilst trying not to move onto the next until you’re 100% satisfied that you’ve understood, in full, each scenario. Naturally conversations tend to bounce around however, the closest you can get to navigating this model the better your understanding of what solution you’ll need to propose will be.
Here’s some examples of how to navigate through the points with a plan whilst maintaining a natural flow of conversation.
Open questions are critical
Sounds obvious right, but by giving your potential client the opportunity to answer with “yes” or “no” you automatically drop a conversation barrier bomb. Check out the 2 different opening questions below:
Option A.) “Is business going well?” No.
Option B.) “So, tell me how’s business going…” Funny you ask because actually…
The differences from a language perspective are minimal but from an outcome perspective they’re huge.
Option A.) “Agh OK, so I take it you’re having a few problems?” Yes.
Option B.) “Agh I see…what kind of problems are you facing at the moment to make business difficult?” Well, my head of SEO has left, and I’ve only got execs which is great, but I simply don’t have the time to train them up…etc
Option A.) “So, I take it this will have a pretty detrimental impact on your business overall?” Yes.
Option B.) “Oh no, that does sound like a stressful situation! What kind of implications will that have on your teams if you can’t bridge that resource gap quickly?” Well our agency has just won a huge tender that SEO is part of, we’ve got several pitches in the pipeline and our retained clients need hands on deck for reporting which we’ll struggle to fulfil at our current capacity…etc”
Option A.) “Sounds like you need an extra pair of hands!” Yes.
Option B.) “OK – all understood. So, to summarise our chat, business is tricky now due to not having enough hands on deck to be able to fulfil new business requirements and current client needs. This resource shortfall is putting stress on the internal teams and has the potential to kick new client relations off on the wrong foot. In terms of immediate needs if we could help plug some resource gaps with senior level SEO support to help take some of that pressure off the team and the business would that help?” When can you start?
OK, so this is a simplified version and if every sales conversation went like this a great deal of us would be millionaires by now but the above gives you a good idea of how much more of an impact having a clear narrative and working with open questions can have in the early days of getting to know potential clients.
The harsh truth…and you’re not going to like it
There’s no easy way to say this and I’ve said it before, but S-P-I-N, whilst on paper sounds simple, is without doubt one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to get to grips with. My former MD first introduced it to me over 8 years ago and even after using it almost daily, it’s still something that I practice as opposed to master.
So why bother?
My MD told me a true story about when he was looking for a quote for a loft conversion (stick with me, it’ll make sense!). He had 3 builders come out and quote; the first 2 came in, measured up and gave him a price. The 3rd came in and before even touching his tape measure asked questions like “who’s going to be using this space?”, “what’s the space going to be used for?” etc. These questions helped determine fine detail like where sockets should be placed and how many would be needed, as well as the orientation of the extension because if it’s for a tall person, they don’t want to be constantly hunched whilst walking around under the eaves.
My MD went for builder number 3 as the solution he proposed was bespoke to his exacting requirements as opposed to an off-the-shelf product.
Sales tips for freelancers
Anyone can propose an SEO audit or talk about how many million-pound PPC campaigns they’ve run, but if you can really understand the needs of a potential client and map your experience to the solution, then you’re onto a winner.
Finally… practice, practice, practice. You will likely never master the art of S-P-I-N (and if you do, please call me and tell me how!) but the more you make a conscious effort to incorporate it into your daily life the easier it becomes.
What tips and tricks do use for selling as a digital marketing freelancer? Comment below to help anyone new to the world of freelance secure their first few deals and build up their pipelines.