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What Dealing With Inconsiderate Prospects Has Taught Me

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In this article, you'll learn how to...

  • Maneuver to handle less-than-polite prospects
  • Navigate the process of landing a new client while saving time and resources

When the client (a life coach) called just before Thanksgiving, he was filled with urgency and enthusiasm. "We need copy for our website," he said, "and it's got to be ready in three weeks. Can you get me a quote today?"

"Yes," I said. For I like to be accommodating. Especially when I hear from a prospect in distress.

Soon after our call ended, I started putting together an estimate. Sure, I had other things to do, like wrap up some work for paying clients. But Mr. Life Coach needed an answer ASAP. So I placed those other priorities aside and got him a quote that afternoon.

A Lesson in Courtesy

If you run a business, you know how much work is involved in creating a proposal. For a copywriter, it goes something like this:

  • Review the client's website and other collateral.
  • Weigh all the research that would be required (competitive analysis, interviews with key stakeholders, etc.).
  • Consider the subject matter and deliverables to calculate the time needed for writing and revisions.
  • Add up the numbers and arrive at a dollar value.

After all that, I write an estimate, along with some observations and recommendations, in a coherent, thoughtful proposal. Depending on the project size and complexity, this process can take 20 minutes... or two days.

Once the proposal is ready, I email it to the prospect. And then the wait begins. Some clients get back to me within a few hours. Then there are people like Mr. Life Coach. One day passed. Two days passed. No response. Fearful he might have been hit by a bus or something, I checked in later that week. Still nothing. In fact, I haven't heard from him since.

Some ground rules are in order for such situations. In particular: if you request a quote from me, I owe you a timely response. And, in return, you owe me the same. You might think my quote is too high. You might find another writer who's a better fit. That's OK. Either way, just let me know. I'm a big boy—I can take it.

How to Stay Sane

Dealing with prospective clients, including the inconsiderate ones, is just part of the job for many of us. Fortunately, you can make this responsibility a little less frustrating and time-consuming. Here are a few tips.

1. Weed out the tire-kickers

Some clients are willing to pay good money for talent; others, not so much. If you want to do more than just eke out a living, you can't always compete on price. So when communicating with a prospect, try to get a feel for her budget early on in the process. If you discover her expectations are completely unrealistic, move on—pronto.

2. Streamline the proposal-writing process

Have a template ready to go so that writing a proposal takes less time. And track hours on your projects so that you have a sense of how long certain projects take. For instance, if you're a copywriter like me, you should have a rough per-page quote in mind for website copy.

3. Don't give it away for free

Have you ever come across a prospect who keeps asking you for stuff? "What do you think of my current home page?" "How should I reorganize the site map?" "Have any better ideas for a tagline?"

And that's before he's even signed a contract. It's one thing to drop a few nuggets of wisdom if you're trying to close a deal. However, at some point, you have to stop giving free advice and start demanding (nicely) that he sign on the dotted line.

4. Walk away gracefully

If you don't hear back from a client after submitting a proposal, you should initially pursue a response. A couple of emails, a couple of voicemails are fine. But it's kind of like dating—you don't want to come off desperate. So keep your pride and know when it's time to call off the chase. Sometimes, having that kind of confidence can inspire the client to come running back to you. And if not, there are always other fish in the sea.

5. Never take calls from life coaches

(Just kidding.)

 


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Dan O'Sullivan is a partner at The Hired Pens, a Boston-based copywriting firm specializing in websites and various marketing collateral. You can email him at dan@thehiredpens.com, and check out The Hired Pens' blog.

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Comments

  • by Sharon Long Thu Apr 28, 2011 via web

    Oh, Dan, do you know how much I would love to write a comment on your article something along the lines of, "that's never happened to me!"? Alas, as a freelance copywriter for over a decade, it has happened far too many times. Thanks for the reminder that we can be smart about our time...and still be nice about it too. :-)

  • by John White Thu Apr 28, 2011 via web

    %3Eif you request a quote from me, I owe you a timely response.

    You've got that part right.

    %3EAnd, in return, you owe me the same.

    That's where you went wrong.

  • by Brian Steacy Thu Apr 28, 2011 via web

    On John White's comment...they don't "owe" you a response, I agree. When we agree to a request we might specify our own conditions of satisfaction. Set up a meeting to discuss or negotiate a response before agreeing to prepare a proposal. "Yes, I'll get this to you this afternoon. Will you be able to get me a response tomorrow morning by 10?" By no means does this suggest they'll keep that meeting but at least you'll have some warning if they refuse to commit. Want a future with me? You better keep your commitments. ...and a life coach no less?

  • by Volker Mendritzki Thu Apr 28, 2011 via web

    If you are in any type of sales role this will happen (more than once). Maybe I've been at it too long but I'm finding more and more requests for quotes are met with deadly silence after the fact. Sometimes prospects are really that busy that it takes time to respond. Sometimes they are afraid to say no. But most often when this happens, the prospect doesn't know what they want or have the authority to commit - just fishing.

    Simple rule, if you ask for a quote, I will follow-up with you at least five times to get a decision.

  • by Ben faranda Thu Apr 28, 2011 via mobile

    There's another option too, perhaps two in fact:

    1. Put an expiry on the quote 5 days or 7 days

    2. Quote subject to discovery or meeting (with a reference to scoping or some other imperative.

    Happy selling

  • by Raul Colon Sun May 1, 2011 via web

    I feel the same way. Thankfully my CRM Software which is fairly simple and has a lost deal button which I gladly push when I run into clients like that.

    Sometimes it is better to focus on a few clients and just as you advice clear away the ones that will make you lose your time.

    On my side when they keep on asking questions I send them a Proposal for a Website assessment. Which I later give them a discount if they accept to go along with the rest of the project.

    Good Tips!

  • by Michele Aymold Mon May 2, 2011 via web

    Great post! I work for a configuration, quoting and proposal software company, and we hear this scenario all the time (as well as experience it for ourselves)! While our software can help you streamline the proposal process as you suggest to avoid spending a day on getting a quote out, that "inconsiderate prospect" will still continue to exist. Whether you spend a day or a week putting your proposal together (or minutes with the right software), I definitely agree that at some point it is better to walk away. Ben's comment to add an expiration is another great tip as well!

  • by Dan O'Sullivan Tue May 3, 2011 via web

    Thanks to all who commented, and great tip from Ben on adding the expiry. I stand by my statement that prospects owe you a response. Why?

    1) It's a matter of common courtesy (both as a businessperson and a human being).

    2) As a copywriter, the quotes I provide generally are quite simple (e.g. 10 web pages for X dollars). They don't take that long to process, and thus writing a response is a pretty simple manner. I realize this point does not apply to those who submit more complex proposals, of course...

  • by Susheila Moodley Wed May 11, 2011 via web

    What a delightful post... I must say of late I have been finding more and more of this kind of deafening silence and I am finding that common courtesy seems to be a value that is fast leaving the business arena. I have always followed a principle of 3... If I have not heard from you by my third attempt at getting feedback about the proposal, I take for granted that you are unlikely to sign on the bottom line... But I must admit, a simple courtesy phone call that says `Thank you for your proposal but we have decided to...." would be incredibly refreshing!!!

  • by Volker Mendritzki Wed May 11, 2011 via web

    In my old DM days, 5th, 6th or 7th contact produced the best results. I take the same approach in sales - keep following up until you get a Yes or No.

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