Have you ever had a situation where you’ve met a prospect and you want to work with them that you do your best to impress them, only for your desire to do so leading you to move from your established way of working?
You end up trying to put a proposal to them or a plan of work that doesn’t quite sit with what you’d normally do?
A sales discussion meeting that started with such great rapport and excitement ends up leading to a stuttering proposal process and awkward underwhelm.
I had that wake-up moment in August 2016.
I’d seen a business mentor called Gary speak at an event in Leeds on July 14th. It was a relatively exclusive event and there were about twenty people in the room, so he’d made a point of getting to know everybody there and find out a little bit about them.
Afterwards, he made a point of connecting with me because, as I discovered, he was interested in some help doing more with his CRM processes and follow-up after investing in two new websites and launching a couple of new spin-off business brands.
We met a week or so later and it sounded like an exciting opportunity to help. His coaching business was making some big strides on the marketing side, he was shifting up his events activities and he was moving into mastermind-style training events. There were a lot of different and exciting things going on.
Add to this that Gary had a personality spark that you meet relatively infrequently as a service provider, where there’s really something about the prospect where you know they “just get it”, and it gives you a buzz and a spring in your step and gets you excited about the prospect of new services and new introductions.
We even called what I might offer to do for his business a ‘concierge set up’. Ugggh, as I read back those three words, I question what I was even thinking. It sounds so wanky.
And yet, there was something about the opportunity that sat really uncomfortably for me. Had it come a few years before, Gary was exactly the kind of client I’d relish serving in a bespoke way.
But in 2016, nine years into running my consulting business, it had moved on considerably. I’d spent the prior two years really successfully growing a group coaching business. That is teaching the same thing, at the same time to small groups of business owners. It had been going great. The business owners were from a couple of really focused market niches so it became easy to target them and talk about specific problems they faced.
The training – on how to implement CRM and marketing automation in their specific setting – was valuable to them. It worked great, and scaled.
Best of all, there were relatively few problem clients. There was this class discipline of not wanting to be ‘that person’ that spoke out of turn, hogged too much of the limelight, or didn’t do their homework. It was the best coaching model I’d ever found.
But here I was, back in the room with Gary, discussing the idea of working with one client in a bespoke way. I’d left the meeting promising a summary proposal of how we’d work together.
It couldn’t have been further from my delivery model.
I sat on versions of that proposal for three days. The delay then became a week. There’d been a bit of back and forth to iron out some additional complexities, scope growth, but nothing that should have been a show-stopper. I’d been introduced to his web person. And I’d introduced him to somebody I’d helped set up something similar for. But there was a real awkwardness about momentum getting lost.
The problem was two-fold:
- Gary wasn’t really my kind of prospect (any more), but I felt duty-bound to help, because he’d requested it (our human nature) and;
- My sales workflow wasn’t geared up then to create well-worded, comprehensive, consistent-looking quotes or proposals.
A few weeks passed and I still wasn’t happy with this bespoke proposal wording or structure. There was still a degree of excitement to help a business like his that was going places and doing exciting things, but problem two kept entering my thoughts: my sales workflow wasn’t set up for outlining the project scope and delivery plan for doing so.
Some things were happening but nothing concrete, until finally, now weeks later, I get *that email*….
“Any progress, please?”
Most client service businesses have had one of those emails or texts. They’re a punch to the gut.
I was embarrassed and annoyed. The proposal was never shared. On the back of an email exchange, I ended up doing the work in exchange for a trade-off in services. It felt flat.
Over time, I told other service business owners about the story of ‘proposal awkwardness’. So often, they’d experienced it too. They talked about the gradual slide down a hill of positivity from a high point reached at a great prospect meeting, only to see the positivity wane and questions start to develop in the prospect’s mind when you let that follow-up slip. It affects all service businesses.
I’m sure you’ll have experienced it on the other side, as a buyer. In fact, as a business owner and homeowner, how many trades people have you had to your house to price or look at different jobs, only to get nothing back from them, sometimes ever? If you’re like most busy business- and homeowners, where your house is often the second priority to time in your business, I bet you’d even pay a premium to the tradespeople who impress you with good follow up wouldn’t you? If only to get that thing done that you know has needed doing for months.
I’ve had it with business service companies, with health and wellness professionals and with home services businesses. It happens.
All. The. Time.
So why – as service professionals ourselves – don’t we put ourselves in our buyers’ shoes and put a huge priority on this experience? It makes no sense.
Let’s address that together.