Get more freelance clients by moving beyond surface-level needs to uncover what clients really want and how they decide whether or not they will hire you.
Imagine what business would be like if you didn’t have to pitch and sell or seek out and convince new clients to hire you. Imagine how different your business would be if your pipeline was consistently full and potential clients said “yes” with excitement after only a conversation or two.
Over the years, the size of the projects my company takes on has increased dramatically but our approach to consistently making high-value sales with ease is still the same. A successful sales process requires a core understanding of what is most important to buyers and how they make buying decisions.
Learn Your Clients’ Wants And Needs
Before you can even have a sales conversation, you first have to understand what your clients need — and not just their surface wants but their secret inner desires. They might tell you they want to sell more books, fill a program, sell out an event, fill a practice, or help more people. Every client wants to achieve those things. Every client also wants to make more money. They wouldn’t be talking to you if they didn’t.
The trick is diving beneath a client’s surface-level wants to figure out why they are reaching out. And, it’s often not what you think.
Clients want to be heard and acknowledged
Everyone has a varied set of life experiences that shape their views in different ways, especially when dealing with design, which is subjective and emotional. One person might think a design is amazing while another thinks it is awful. Both perspectives are right.
Clients know their business and industry better than anyone because they live it every day. When clients have something to say, they want you to listen, acknowledge their input, respect their perspective, and share your feedback. When they feel like you care about them and put their best interests and needs first, they will trust you to lead them through the project and deliver exactly what they hired you to deliver.
Clients want to look bigger and better
Often, clients hire you to move upmarket or move the needle forward in their business. They want to look bigger, better, and more expensive because this shift in perception will support higher rates, attract larger clients, and create new opportunities. Clients want to look more professional and close sales faster — and secretly, many just want to look better than one key competitor (the one that really gets under their skin).
Clients want new opportunities
Whether it’s getting an invitation to speak at an event or partner on a project, earning a new referral or contract, gaining brand exposure, writing a guest article, or being interviewed on a podcast, your clients want to attract new opportunities and they don’t want to have to do a lot of work to get them. They hope that the work you do together will result in new lucrative opportunities that increase their brand visibility, expand their reach to new audiences, and boost their bottom line.
Clients wish for a partner they like
Clients don’t simply want a vendor, they want a partner who has their back and is committed to helping them achieve their goals. The key to making this a reality is investing time during the sales process to get to know your potential client. Ask them about their weekend or their family or their hobbies. Get to know them as a person and try to find some common ground that you can connect on beyond your work together. Help them get to know, like, and trust you.
Learn how buying decisions are made
Once you uncover what clients need most, you must understand how they make buying decisions and what needs to happen for them to feel good about each decision.
While every client will present a unique situation, budget, and set of project requirements, the way they decide whether or not to hire you is the same. A client who is on the fence about hiring you, one who is wrestling with putting their signature on the final contract is also one who inside is dealing with a battle of heart and head.
Buying decisions are made with the heart and justified with the head.
- Their heart is saying yes while their head is saying no. This happens when it feels right, they like you, and they want to say yes, but there are some logical details that they haven’t been dealt with and they need clarification and reassurance.
- Their head is saying yes, but their heart is saying no. This happens when the contract, the fee, and everything you discussed is right, but for one reason or another, emotionally they’re just not feeling the partnership.
People buy with their heart
How many times have you purchased something you wanted even though it wasn’t in the budget or maybe you shouldn’t get it? How many times have you made an impulse purchase? I’ll bet that each time it was because that thing you wanted triggered emotions that were so strong, you threw logic out the window and made the purchase. You saw it and felt happy, excited, relieved, or even nostalgic.
Like you, clients make buying decisions based on emotions.
They want to do business with people they know, like, and trust. They make decisions about who they hire based on how they feel and how strong their connection with the person they are speaking with is. Yes, it sounds like we could be talking about dating, because that’s exactly what the sales process is like.
You and your prospect are courting each other to see if you want to make a commitment. Your courtship is done through email, phone calls, video chats, and in-person meetings. You’re talking about their problems and challenges and how you can provide solutions. You’re talking about their needs and wants and how you can help get them their desired results.
The feelings and emotions associated with you or your company stem from this experience with you. If they feel like you get them, understand their goals and needs, respect and value them, and support them through the process — and they like you and feel like it would be enjoyable to work together, they will make the decision to hire you.
People justify a purchase with their head
The heart guides the buying decisions in your interactions and conversations, and the head guides the buying decision during the discussion of critical details, contract review and negotiations, and payment. Once a prospect feels in their heart that hiring you would be a good decision, it’s up to you to make sure the head or brain is satisfied with the fine details and logic.
This is when you must follow up on promises of solutions and results with facts, figures, data and proof. You need:
- Common language that you both understand
- A clear, easy to understand, professional contract
- The details of exactly what is and is not included
- A step-by-step process they can follow
- Case studies, testimonials, and social proof that back up your track record
- Simple, concise, honest answers to their questions
Their brain needs to justify their emotional buying decision. Whether clients realize it or not, there is a mental checklist of information they need to complete so they can feel really good about investing with you. Whether it takes one phone call or three phone calls, a video chat, and two in-person meetings, you need to ensure they get every bit of information and reassurance they need to feel great about signing your client agreement.
Learn to leverage emotion and logic
During early sales conversations, avoid spending too much time talking about yourself. Instead, spend as much time as possible getting to know the client. It is critical that you ask a lot of questions, especially a few key open-ended questions, such as:
Can you tell me about your business?
The answer to this question, especially the length, gives you a really good idea of the client’s levels of personal nuttiness, professional passion, and business model clarity.
Why do you need this project done?
This answer tells you why this project is important right now. You can reference this later in the sales process when pairing emotional benefits with logical data and figures. If they object to the cost later, you can say, “Wow. Earlier you told me this project was really important to you because of XYZ, has something changed?” Their answer will either re-engage them in the sales process or give you an idea of why they changed their mind and what is standing in their way.
How is not having this X, affecting your business right now?
The client wants something they don’t have or wants to achieve something they haven’t yet achieved and they are reaching out because it is negatively affecting their business or life in some way. This is a hard question for many prospects to answer because they have to admit to themselves and to you what isn’t working. Their answer to this question will often reveal the core problem they need to be solved.
If we get this done, what would change?
They just admitted that things aren’t working and that they have a problem. This question then lets them dream about how great things will be when the problem goes away. Their answer will reveal their core desires and wishes.
How much is this worth to you?
You now know their problem and what they hope to achieve by solving it. Now you need to tie both of these things to money. Get them thinking about their bottom line and how your work together would affect it. Their answer will help you justify your fee. (This doesn’t mean you change your fee based on their answer, but that often hiring you becomes a no-brainer.)
Make the sale with emotions and logic
Prospective clients have a problem or challenge and they know that with one decision, their problems can go away. It’s your job to help them make that decision and feel great about it.
By asking the right questions upfront, you can have a real, honest conversation completely focused on the client:
- This is a conversation that taps into their emotions, addresses their wants and needs, and backs up everything with clear business logic and a step-by-step process.
- During this conversation, you listen, acknowledge, and show empathy, making sure to ask open-ended questions that trigger clients’ emotions.
- Once prospective clients are emotionally invested, you offer relief by sharing that you can solve their problem, open their eyes to what’s possible if you work together, highlight the next steps.
The goal is to show clients that you care, confirm that together you can reach their goals, and move them to a confident YES!