Working with great clients makes a world of difference, but you need to know what you’re looking for from a client to know if a lead will be a good fit. Whenever I’ve asked agencies and freelancers about their ideal client, I’m usually met with confused faces. Most people are in a constant hustle from project to project and don’t really slow down to consider their own needs. Understandable, sure, but throw one or two bad clients into that hustle and things start to go south fast. Timelines run over, budgets get busted, and morale plummets, potentially affecting projects with other, great clients. This can all be avoided with some vetting of client scope, timelines and budget in the sales process.
Let’s talk more about that. At Focus Lab, I approach sales like dating. I’m not getting married after the first date (aka giving someone a proposal). We have three main qualifying steps that allow us to move from a first date to a proposal (pun intended): email conversation, video call, and thorough project planning questionnaire.
“I approach sales like dating. I’m not getting married after the first date (aka giving someone a proposal)”
I like to start off with a casual email conversation where we double check the basics (budget, timeline, high-level project understanding) to see if we even need to go on a first date. If things line up and we are both interested, I schedule a video call. The keyword here is video. If a lead doesn’t want to meet via video that is an instant red flag for me, and things usually don’t pan out. Why? Because it's all about body language. Since we rarely meet our clients in person, I need to know a person or team communicates verbally and non-verbally. I tend to stay away from project details during this call and instead focus on what they are looking for from a partner and share details around our process to see if we would be a fit for them. If our processes don't work for them then we’re both happy we found out early. If things are still feeling good, we move into the last phase of our sales process, where I send the potential client a very thorough project planning questionnaire. This is where we dive into the in’s and out’s of their project and gather the specifics we need in order to put together our project recommendations and proposal.
That’s our process at a high level. But what do we look for in leads to determine if they will be a good fit? Again, it’s communication skills. Luckily our sales process allows us to see a lead’s communication skills on multiple fronts, including email, video, and questionnaire. Did they slack on the questionnaire with one word answers? Were they engaged and attentive on the video call? Are they the person that will be giving feedback on our work or is feedback coming from a different stakeholder like a game of telephone? If communication is weak during the sales process, that is indicative of the fate of the project. But if it’s strong, it sets the foundation for a successful project. Remember that communication isn’t a one-way street. If this becomes one of the attributes you look for in a client, make sure your communication is likewise strong, and always strive to create better process around communication to make it easy.
Now it’s important for you to determine what you hold important, and try to evaluate these things during your vetting period. If you focus on fit before project outcomes you’ll never lose.