From marketing and networking to working tirelessly to earn referrals, attracting leads for prospective clients is essential, but it's only the first step. On the path from initial discussions to signing a contract, the way an independent contractor handles the process of closing the sale is critical to gaining new clients. Below are some tips to keep in mind that can help you turn a proposal request (RFP) into a client acquisition.
Your goal when meeting with prospective clients 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 prospective clients away. Whether you're eager to earn your first client, or excited about the opportunity for a large and 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 the prospective client to be impressed by your qualifications and confidence, but avoid coming across as too aggressive, or worse: desperate.
Before meeting with a prospective client, you should know as much about them as possible. Research their industry, business model, and target audience. If possible, talk to colleagues who have worked for this client. 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 give more informed, knowledgeable responses to any questions the client may present. Help yourself close the deal by impressing the prospective client with preparedness and insight, like you would on a forma job interview.
Recommendations from past clients can not only serve as proof of your qualifications and experience, but can also attest to your professionalism, reliability, and high-quality performance. Having a list of relevant references prepared ahead of time means that you can present this valuable information to prospective clients as soon as it is appropriate. If you have a strong relationship with any past clients, you might ask for their permission to be contacted if necessary in addition to providing a written referral. Showing that those you've worked with in the past are willing to vouch for your ability to deliver results as an independent consultant can be very persuasive factor in a prospective client's decision to hire you.
Remember, you may not be the only independent consultant that the prospective client considers. Often, the experience and services of the multiple consultants vying for the project may seem similar to a client, particularly to one who is not familiar with your field. Whether in experience, specialty, technique or philosophy, by emphasizing the key qualities that you possess that make you uniquely valuable can help set you apart from competition in the prospective client's eyes.
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 due to no fault of your own. Perhaps the client's project was cancelled or postponed, or funding may have been 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 leaves the ground, keep in mind that in these cases "No" could 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 even referrals.