From marketing and networking to working tirelessly to earn referrals, attracting prospective clients is an essential part of the job as an independent professional—but it’s only the first step. On the path from initial discussions to signing a contract, how you handle the process of closing a sale is critical to gaining new clients. Below are five tips to keep in mind that can help you turn a request for proposal (RFP) into a client acquisition.
1. Balance the Hard and Soft Sell
When meeting prospective clients, your goal is to convince them that you have the right skills and qualifications for their project. However, don’t make the mistake of letting your enthusiasm overwhelm and drive prospects away. Whether you’re eager to land your first client or excited about the opportunity of a large, high-profile project, it’s important to remember to balance both hard and soft selling techniques.
The ideal balance will vary depending on your industry and the client’s personality. You want your prospective client to be impressed by your qualifications and confidence, but avoid coming across as too aggressive, or worse, desperate.
2. Know Your Client
Before meeting with a prospective client, you should always know as much about them as possible. Research their industry, business model, and target audience. If possible, talk to colleagues who have worked with or for this client in the past. Also, learn about the specific people you will be meeting with, including their full names, job titles, and position within the company.
All of this information can help you craft more informed, knowledgeable responses to questions the client may ask. Help to close the deal by impressing the client with your preparedness and insight like you would in a formal job interview.
3. Prepare References and Recommendations
Recommendations from past clients not only serve as proof of your qualifications and experience, but they can also attest to your professionalism, reliability, and high-quality output. Have a list of references prepared ahead of time so you can present this valuable information to prospects as soon as it is appropriate.
If you have a strong relationship with past clients, consider asking them for their permission to be contacted in addition to providing a written referral. Showing that you’ve worked for clients in the past who are willing to vouch for your ability to deliver results can be a very persuasive factor in a prospective client’s decision to engage your services.
4. Emphasize What Sets You Apart
It is important to keep in mind that you are likely not the only independent professional a prospective client is considering. Often, the experience and services of multiple consultants vying for a project may seem similar to a client, particularly to one who is not familiar with your field. To stand out from the crowd, emphasize the key qualities that make you uniquely valuable—experience, specialty, technique, or philosophy.
5. Accept Rejection Graciously
There may be times when you’ve navigated the sales process gracefully, presented an ideal solution, and built a great rapport with a prospective client and yet an offer is not extended. This may be no fault of your own—perhaps the client’s project was canceled or postponed, or funding was cut.
While it can be frustrating and even aggravating to invest a large amount of your time and resources into an extensive and well-designed presentation for a project that never takes off, keep in mind that in these cases “no” may actually mean “not now.” Accepting the decision with graciousness, appreciation for the opportunity, and a request for future consideration could result in future business or referrals.
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