The Inadvertent Freelancer (Part 3): Pre-Sales Homework

What differentiates one freelancer from another is their brand and how they present. Are you doing everything possible to speak to the prospect's issues instead of speaking about yourself? Selling doesn't have to be hard if you sell with your strengths: your subject matter expertise and your knowledge of the prospect.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor on

Use your subject matter expertise to make selling a pleasure not a chore

Never call or meet someone without having done a lot of homework on their firm, their economic situation, their markets, their market challenges, etc. Then, and this is the most important point, you must develop a point of view around them.

The purpose and focus of a sales call should always be about the prospect: NOT YOU! As bad as you want to talk all about your credentials and how bad you want this work, you need to focus on the prospect. Make them the center of your universe. It’s their firm and their money.

I do a number of tech selling courses every year to teach people Point of View selling. Here’s the short version of the course in a couple of paragraphs:

- take the time to research this firm

- identify the top three business problems plaguing this prospect. These should be material issues that must be corrected asap or the company will suffer dire consequences or will be exploited by the prospect’s competitors. It doesn’t help you if you identify 10 or 20 problems as most executives can’t solve more than 2-3 issues simultaneously anyway. Also note that these issues better be on the top of this executive’s personal problem list as they’re not focused on problem #21 when problem #1 could cost them their job next week.

- quantify the cost of inaction. If this number isn’t big and believable, it won’t get acted on. Alternatively, identify the magnitude of the opportunity. I once found a way for a company to free up over $450 million in working capital. That earned a big seat in front of the CEO and CFO of these Fortune 500 firm.

- present no more than three solutions. Make sure these address one or more of the problems you’ve highlighted.

If you do this correctly, you don’t even need PowerPoint slides. You’ll be able to speak to these points in an elevator, over drinks, in the Admiral’s Club, etc. But, if you do develop a deck, keep it really short. The purpose and focus of a sales call should not be around the tedious poring over of a 100+ slide PowerPoint deck.

Today at lunch, a CIO was regaling us with the story of an ERP vendor she invited to have speak to her IT team for a one-hour lunch. Would you believe the vendor brought a 320-slide deck?

Generic slides, too many slides, no focus, no attention on the prospect, no idea what the prospect’s problems/issues are, etc. are all formulas for sales disasters. Don’t do it.

As a freelancer, you need to be different. You need to be better than others. Just because your old employer did things a certain way does not mean you should.

Try this exercise: Identify at least five things you’ll do differently than those still at your old firm. Will you deliver a better product or outcome? How so? Do you have a better approach? Can you act faster? Do you have some super talented team members or partners you can bring into a deal? Do you, a seasoned professional, deliver the work instead of a green staffer? Are you more accessible? Are your solutions more flexible or are they a one size fits all commodity that old employer sold? Have you got some special intellectual property that you’ll bring to bear on your gigs? Do you have great references from other clients?

In crafting your differentiation, avoid telling anyone that you are less costly. Whether you are or not, is not the point in any sales call. If you’re saying you’re a low cost commodity, you’re showing people that even you don’t think you’re worth a solid billing rate. Well, you are. In fact, if you don’t walk away from some low price deals every year, you’re probably hurting yourself and your business. Don’t get me wrong – be reasonable. But, don’t take bad deals just because the pipeline’s low at the moment.

Prepare to invest in your brand.

I go to a few tech trade shows every year – not to cover them – but to learn a few new things and re-connect with peers and prospects. Sure, I may do some ‘meet and greet’ stuff at other events, but, attendance should make you smarter and better known in the industry.

Take a look at your CV (not resume). The resume is what a job seeker polishes up. The CV lists all those brilliant things you’ve written, patented, presented, etc. The CV should show the trade shows you’ve spoken at and the topics you’ve wowed others with. On this point, I’m unforgiving. If you don’t like public speaking, then write. If you won’t write, speak. If you won’t write or speak, you better be a damn good inventor. As a freelancer, inadvertent or otherwise, you’ll perish if you don’t get your name and brand out there somehow. Invisibility is death to a freelancer.

As a subject matter expert, you absolutely should have something to say about your area of expertise. If a prospect is trying to choose between you and another freelancer, most will take the one with a recognized area of expertise. Anyone can say they are project manager but how many can say they gave a talk on “PMO in multi-national software implementations”. Shoot, I’d probably call you for a conversation just to hear what you know on the subject. And, as someone who has hired scores of people, I’ll hire the more expensive expert who has proven expertise over the cheaper person who may or may not. What employers or contractors want is ‘proof’ of expertise. They see the proof as a proxy for the value you can deliver. Without the proof, value could be a crapshoot.

(to read part one, click here) (to read part two, click here)

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