Here at MeasureMatch we're focused on adding value to our network of vetted, independent service providers; and while 40% - and growing represent multi-person consultancies, agencies and systems integrators, the majority are solopreneurs, some of whom are taking the leap into self-employment for the first time after years' experience within the corporate world.
Previously, we've written about Creating Great First Impressions, Submitting Killer Proposals and Winning Clients.
This time on the MeasureMatch blog, we're here to help ensure our service providers' sales discovery process doesn't destroy profitability even before a contract is signed.
While we know these service providers are expert at servicing clients - after all, they're masters at their craft - to build a successful operation, it's also critical to be business minded at all times; and often that means holding tricky conversations with clients, both existing and prospective, to ensure the best possible outcome: a well scoped, well costed, well run project.
With strategic business, where a client has been identified not simply in terms of the work they need doing, but also the long-term potential they present and the non-monetary benefit to the services business, the discovery "process" can be involved.
By involved we mean long. Multiple stakeholders, multiple meetings, multiple scope interactions; even sometimes multiple SLAs. It's a bit like a marriage. Usually, there's lots of value exchange on both sides before any solid commitment is agreed.
With MeasureMatch it's slightly different.
Our clients post projects on the platform for immediate execution: they've identified a challenge that can't be solved by their internal teams, or they need to add bandwidth to better service their own clients.
With contracts completed ranging from $3k to $100k for high-growth start-ups, mid-market enterprise clients and major agency groups, MeasureMatch project work tends to be deployment, optimization and/ or troubleshooting focused. While some contracts can take a good while to land, our fastest brief to contract is under 24 hours. It's a lot more like Tinder. Some interaction from each potential partner, but too much and the likelihood of a successful first date lessens.
To that end, below are 10 tips and tricks to make the discovery process - to be clear, that's the time between a client opening a conversation with a service provider and requesting a proposal from them - insightful and enjoyable, rather than protracted and painful, for all concerned:
1. suggest a discovery call right after a client opens a conversation with you, if they don't request one. It saves a lot of written back and forth and will help in beginning to build a relationship with your potential customer
2. ask the client who needs to be on the call. See if you can get them to bring in all the relevant stakeholders (or set up an initial 15 minute call with them and ask them for an allhands call at the end of this session). This will save you time repeating yourself in front of different sets of stakeholders. After all, discovery is a reconnaissance mission, not a road-trip
3. prep the call. Review the brief, write down the key points you need to communicate to best position yourself for the work and - more importantly - the key questions you need to ask to be able to submit a proposal for the project
4. prep the people. All too often, service providers turn up well prepared for the discovery content, without thinking about the people being spoken with. Everyone has a Linked In profile these days (and if they don't alarm bells should sound!) and often, commenting on shared connections or employment history while introductions are being made can make you stand out. It will certainly generate empathy, which is a great place to start!
5. upstream your conversation. Two points here; both of which are critical to understanding what the client needs, as opposed to what they say they want (surprise: they're not always the same thing!)
i/ ask the client what the business challenge is they're looking to answer with this work. This will help you understand their true goals, will weed out any client stakeholder misalignment (when they don't all agree with what is being said) and will impress the clients that you're thinking above and beyond the isolated project brief to truly "get" their business
ii/ listen. No, really, we can't overestimate the importance of this one. A discovery conversation is not an elevator pitch. It's the chance for you to understand more about their business and how you can help them. And it will give you much more information than if you kick off with a 15 minute monolog about your business.
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6. ask questions based on their challenges. Where are they on their buyer journey? Have they looked to resource this work internally, or elsewhere? What do they feel the barriers are to success? This keeps them talking, provides you with further information and builds the relationship: it helps the prospective client understand that you care
7. understand what the competition looks like. Is this project brief being discussed with anyone else? Understanding the consideration set can help you decide how much effort to use in pursuing the business.
8. use the call to revalidate everything you uncover. "Agreeing what has been agreed" is a classic sales technique to ensure all stakeholders leave the call clear on what has been discussed and what the next steps are.
9. be clear on next steps. Have you agreed to deliver a proosal for the work? Does the client need to validate the meeting with their management? Do they need to share additional information with you? Following up the meeting in writing with what theactions are, who owns them and when they are due does three things:
i/ builds your reputation with the client as a great communicator
ii/ makes it more likely you'll have what you need, by when you need it
iii/ reminds you exactly what's next and when (in case you're not a natural administrator!)
10. lastly, be firm. if the potential client starts asking for more than an initial discovery meeting without a contract in place, take care not to agree to this in the meeting, as you'll find it hard to back-pedal afterwards. Whether it's reviewing sample data, getting access to tools or even offering advice, remember that your time is valuable and good clients are prepared to pay for it!
This last tip applies to change requests throughout the project engagement: if a client is asking for something for free that a service proivder fees is a chargeable change request - in terms of deliverables and/ or timings - let them know.
Be nice, but be firm.
Your profit margins will thank you for it. And your client - if they're a good one - will too.
In short, don't be afraid to say "no".
But in a way that will still seal the deal...
Your success is our success. It's trite and a truism, we know, but important all the same. Just like "the customer is always right".
MeasureMatch works hard to ensure every client communicates detail above and beyond their initial project brief. We ask our service providers for the same level of care when submitting proposals through the platform.