Those first few moments of interaction between you and a prospective client matter more than you can imagine. Everything you do in this critical early phase of your project development is important and will likely determine your success or failure. This post...

Those first few moments of interaction between you and a prospective client matter more than you can imagine. Everything you do in this critical early phase of your project development is important and will likely determine your success or failure. This post focuses on some of our methods for ensuring that initial contact is positive, mutually beneficial and results in business.

Before a potential client contacts you, you are essentially a blank slate. Everything you do adds marks to that slate.

Preparing for Inquiries

Your phone rings or an email arrives in your inbox. A prospective client is interested in hiring you. What now? Let’s start at the beginning and determine what we can know about this potential client right off the bat. Somehow they heard of you, so this is your first mark. Find out how they heard about you to know the context of their first impression. For example, if one of your favorite existing clients was raving about you, you have a great first mark on your slate. If the inquiry came based on a Google search for "Web designers" then your only mark might be that you came up in search results. The prospect who heard about you from your deliriously happy client will already be inclined to work with you and you will not have as much of an uphill battle.

TIP: It is important to be able to determine which leads have the most likelihood of turning into real work. This way when you get busy you will spend your time going after quality clients versus wasting your time.

The next mark on your slate will be based on how well that first interaction with you goes. You want this mark to be a good, solid one. Do they Google your name or company name and instantly they have access to a lovely Website and contact page? Do they have to sort through multiple search results for "your name" to find your site? Do they come across negative posts or even worse, your Facebook page with privacy settings turned off? You should assume that once someone hears about you, they need to efficiently and pleasantly be able to do the following things:

  • Remember your name or your company's name
  • Find your site easily in a search (ahead of negative or personal sites)
  • Quickly find out where and how a prospective client should reach out to you
  • Be contacted back in a reasonable amount of time (I say no longer than 48 hours)
  • Enjoy their first interaction with you

If you want to pre-qualify your prospects efficiently, encouraging them to call you directly on the phone may be a bad idea. Answering calls, returning calls, deciphering messages and then taking the time on the phone to cut through the chit chat and get to the essentials takes a lot of time. You may prefer to downplay your phone number and instead ask prospects to fill out a short inquiry form or contact you via email. Using forms or email you can set up convenient auto-responders letting prospects know their email has been received and they should expect to hear back from you in "x" amount of time. This leaves little room for confusion. Avoid sounding cold by using friendly wording and a promise (you can keep) of a quick response time. Just remember, if you go with the form or email route, you run the risk of a competitor getting on the phone with the prospective client first. You decide which works best for you. Try switching it up between various approaches and track how it affects your incoming business requests.

EXAMPLE: “Thanks for contacting us, we appreciate your interest in working with our team. Please fill out this short form so we can learn a bit about you and your project, and we’ll call you back pronto (otherwise known as within 1 business day).”

You need to decide how much time you will invest into each new prospect and how far you will go to get the information you need to provide a proposal.

WARNING: Some clients want you to do all the work for them so be careful you aren't giving all your ideas and expertise away for free at the beginning. Sharing a few good recommendations goes far in letting someone know you are good at what you do, but figuring out the whole project for them will only lead to a client relationship where you are doing all the work, and probably not being compensated (or appreciated) for it.

The way a client gets in touch with you can determine if they will be a good or bad client. Did your contact come as an email inquiry, a RFP (request for proposal document) or a phone call? If they emailed you, did they follow your guidance on your contact form? For example, if you have an email address specifically for new business inquiries, did they use it or did they send their email to the first address they found? This approach of giving potential clients specific (and easy) instructions for contacting you will go far in telling you what you will be dealing with before you've even spoken to them. In the Web business, clients are often intimidated and misinformed; it's your job to guide them. You can't guide someone who won't follow the rules.

REMEMBER: Someone who has followed your instructions is likely to respect your professional opinion, isn't going to rush the process and will follow your lead through the job.

If the inquiry came as a voice message, you can start doing some detective work before you call them back. Note: I rarely answer a call I suspect is from a prospective client, I want to wait and find out who they are so I can do my homework. The first thing I do is check to see if their company's URL is showing up in our Google Analytics. You want to know how much time they spent looking at your work and learning about you.

TIP: In Google Analytics go to: Visitors/Network Properties/Service Providers and you will see a list of domains that have visited your site. I look at this list daily, it’s the best crystal ball you have to see who’s checking you out. It also gives you a chance to be proactive and start researching them before they contact you. Talk about being prepared!

?Next try a Google search to see who you are dealing with. You want the call to have come from someone relatively important at the company so check the “About” or “Our Team” page immediately. If you can't find anything in Google, it should tell you they are a start up or a really small company; this means small budgets and unorganized teams (there are exceptions, but this is usually the case).

Another place to do some recon is on Twitter. Simply go to http://search.twitter.com and start searching. You might find a personal Twitter account, or the company account. Either way, it’s good insight into the prospect and what they are currently doing.

I’ve also found LinkedIn to be useful when doing some preliminary research. It’s helpful to know where your contact’s past jobs were. Maybe there’s a common denominator, who knows? Maybe you are both graduates from the same school. http://www.linkedin.com

The important thing is to not jump so quickly on the lead that you forget to do your homework. Check them out and see what you are dealing with. I sometimes break this rule if I get a call from someone who said a client recommended they call. Client referrals are often some of the best leads and they appreciate a prompt response. Another reason to wait just a little while is to prepare an agenda or a list of questions before you're put on the spot. Nothing sounds worse to a prospect than a bunch of uncomfortable silences on an initial call. If you tend to choke up under pressure, have a handy list of go-to questions sticky-noted to your phone for emergencies. Here are some good go-to questions when the moments get uncomfortable (and ones that will help you learn more about the client, too):

  • How did you hear about us? (I can't emphasize enough how important this bit of information is to gather.)
  • What are some of your frustrations with your current Website?
  • How long ago was your current site created?
  • Who else will be involved in this project?
  • How many Web design projects have you managed in the past? Were they successful? Who did you work with?
  • How many other agencies/designers are you inviting to bid on this project?
  • When do you expect to make a decision?
  • If you could have your dream site, what would it look like? (Get URLs for sites they like.)
  • Will there be an in-house team working collaboratively on this project?

Did you spot the second most important question in that list? It's the last one. Often times, you are working against a concerned in-house designer, developer or IT team. They are usually resistant to outsiders and may honestly be concerned for their job security. If you can learn as much about these people as possible, you can attempt to dilute the trepidation within your proposal or initial conversations. Including a section in your proposal entitled "Working Collaboratively with the In-House Team" or "In-House Long Term Management" will be sections which might very well earn you fans vs. enemies. It also shows the client you are thinking from a collaborative and long-range perspective. Trust me: you want these people on your side. Their votes often hold more weight and a client will be unwilling to hire someone that clashes with their in-house people.

Here’s another reason to make that first phone call count. People are going to want to do business with people they like, and it's much easier to get a sense for someone on a phone call then in text. Don’t hide behind emails. Get on the phone once you are prepared. Make a connection that lets your prospective client know you are a smart, creative, insightful individual (or agency) who is genuinely interested in their project and their problems. Even if it's not a good fit, they will appreciate that you cared enough to make the effort, and take the time. You never know where that person may end up working in a year or two, so even if the potential work in this instance seems unlikely, you never know what it may turn in to one day.

I'll be continuing to discuss how we do business here at Fastspot, so feel free to let me know what you are wondering about!

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published November 9th 2010