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A note from John: this post comes to you from Everett Sizemore at Inflow, who also wrote the monster Prioritizing Your Marketing Channels post. I asked Everett to write this post because I have seen a number of Inflow’s sales cycles and am very impressed with how consultative they are in their process. I believe that this is paramount to the success ofconsulting businesses who charge a premium for their services. Because they charge a premium, they can afford to have fewer clients and thus selecting those clients is crucial to their success. Here’s Everett.
As the marketing director for Inflow, an eCommerce marketing agency in Denver, I have the opportunity to work closely with the sales team from initial contact all the way up to delivering the proposal. This post outlines the general chain of events as a lead comes in, goes through our consultative sales process, and – hopefully – becomes a good client.
When a new lead comes in asking for a specific deliverable or service, our first objective is to find out why they have decided this particular thing is what they need. This is fairly common with most professional services:
Or how about this one…
It would be easy to sell boilerplate SEO audits, content audits and conversion optimization site reviews as products. That seems to be how a lot of clients expect to interact with agencies these days. There is a strong pull toward creating a menu of services from which prospects can choose as if they were at a restaurant.
A consultative sales process takes the time to educate potential clients about what their options are, and even goes so far as to recommend the appropriate solutions based on hours of in-depth research.
Obviously, an agency can’t afford to do this for every unqualified lead that comes in so one of the keys to having a consultative sales process is being able to quickly evaluate leads so you can weed out ones that you’re probably not interested in signing on. Notice the title says “better” business, not “more” business. We accomplish this with a “project fit matrix,” which will be covered in more depth below.
We gather info as soon as we can in the sales process by using progressive profilingand lead scoring. Our form questions change depending how much we know about the prospect. Their lead score goes up automatically as they interact with more of our content. We round out contact information with tools like Hubspot’s CRM and Sidekick. Note: We have never called anyone unless they specifically asked us to do so, typically by filling out our Consultation Request form.
The next step is to apply the lead to our “Prospect Fit Matrix.” This involves looking at their business model, site, code, platform, indexation stats and a few tool reports. It takes about 15-30 minutes and gives us a general idea of how likely the prospect is to sign on and be a good client for us. There are sometimes leads that are obviously not a good fit from the start, and we may not bother applying the Prospect Fit Matrix to them.
If they are not a good fit, we do our best to refer them to a trusted consultant or agency, often via Credo.
If they are potentially a good fit, we spend a lot of time digging into the potential project during the sales process. We eventually might spend anywhere from 4-8 hours of staff time (communications, research, preparing presentations and proposals, etc.) before a proposal is delivered to the client. This is why it is essential we qualify our leads.
We then schedule a conversation within the next few days. It typically lasts 30-45 minutes, but some really good ones have gone on for more than an hour. As long as we don’t have another call scheduled, we like to answer as many questions as the prospect wants to ask.
We come prepared with a few highly actionable, customized, specific takeaways that demonstrate the following:
We also talk a lot about goals in these first calls to make sure they align with available budget, timelines and opportunities. If not enough time is spent here, there is a risk of having misaligned goals, which doesn’t typically end well.
I used the word “better” clients instead of “more” clients in the title because that is what a consultative sales process does for us.
We put a lot of work into our sales process to make it a beneficial exercise for both parties. If the potential client is not willing to also do the work to make sure it’s a good fit, it’s probably not a good fit.
And if a lead gets all the way through most of the sales process, only to go elsewhere, the process itself will have provided them with some value and will have saved us from signing a client that is unlikely to be happy with our services.
A PPC prospect came to us with a well-optimized and decently performing AdWords account. They wanted to increase conversions by 10x on the same ad spend. This might be possible if the account was in bad shape, so we dug in. Fortunately for everyone, we found there wasn’t too much else to squeeze out of the account.
They were willing to pay us and get started right away, but we couldn’t talk them into more realistic goals for PPC, or to invest in another channel, such as Content Marketing.
In the end, they went looking for another agency who will probably take the work. But we don’t feel bad about it, even with the time invested.
We don’t like to set our team up for failure when they thrive on being successful for our clients. This is why a consultative sales process is about more than improving closing rates or signing on “more” clients. It’s about signing on the “right” clients, even if that means spending a little more time educating and consulting during the sales process.
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Check out our recommendations for lead generation and SEO tools as well as the books we recommend reading as you grow your business.
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