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Getting a potential client on the phone and having a great conversation seems like most of the battle in the early days of starting a business. However, you’ll soon learn – like I did – that moving the conversation from “just a conversation” to an actual sale is 99% of the work!

Knowing how to engage a conversation and then turn it into a sale is really really hard, and I used to wrack my brains trying to work out what steps would lead me to a sale.

Luckily, by now I’ve come across every kind of sale situation you can think of, here are just a handful of difficult ones that come to mind:

  • People asking me to meet them for coffee, and then having to answer a bunch of questions on the spot
  • People asking me to create a strategy and proposal for them without telling me any of the details of what they need.
  • People asking me to have multiple calls with them to explain my strategy, veering into me actually educating them

I’m about to explain to you how I go about navigating difficult conversations and situations with difficult clients.

Traditional advice for engaging clients

Like most entrepreneurs, I sought out a tonne of advice when I was trying to learn how to engage my clients on the phone and move the conversation to a sale. Here’s some of the advice I’ve received in the past:

  • Ask a prospective client to fill in a questionnaire, then schedule a meeting if they are a good fit
  • Only offer paid proposals, charging a flat fee of £500 for a strategy and then invite them on board as a customer if they are happy with the proposal
  • Meeting face to face increases the likelihood of the customer buying from you – so you should try to make every meeting with a potential customer and in-person one.

Where I went wrong

Like I said, I really fumbled around with figuring out the best way to sell to a new client in the early days of starting my business.

To begin with, I’d go all-in on every single potential client. I’d ask all the questions, strive to understand what they were looking for, and I gave them all the in-depth information and advice they wanted. However, in taking this approach, I ignored some pretty obvious red flags. For example, some clients didn’t engage with the conversation at all, or they were solely focused on the price and not the service, or they wouldn’t share any of their details with me.

The worst thing that happened was that I once spent hours and hours putting together a whopping 15 page proposal for a client I’d never even spoken to. It’s okay to be desperate, but I really should have been smart about how I used my time.

What I would do differently

I learned that whenever I kept the sales process simple, and talked to genuine people who needed my help, I always made the best sale. I’m a lot better at reading the situation these days, which means I can tell when a customer is a good fit for us.

I know now how important it is to be picky with my conversations, and to use my time wisely. It’s good practice to ask the person to answer a few questions in advance of a meeting to ensure they’re a good fit for you and your business. If someone shares very little information with you, see it as a red flag.

Another important part of the sales process is keeping it simple. What worked for me was arranging an initial call (assuming they are a good fit from the questions I asked previously) and giving them some basic details on how we can work together. I always avoid face-to-face meetings to begin with, unless I have a good reason to believe that the quality of the opportunity is really high.

After this initial call, I send a really simple proposal, and win the sale based on the relationship I’ve developed with them and my ability to concisely explain how my solution will help them to reach their goal. The proposal is just the rubber stamp at the end.