I recently did a Q&A for .net magazine (June 2012, issue 228), answering a few reader questions. One person inquired about my experience going full-time freelance. In my answer, I discussed how I'd always been fearful about going out on my own because of the sales process.Having spent the majority of my career in the marketing and sales departments of various employers, I hadn't seen much in the way of “sales” that appealed to me. Particularly the aspects of it that always struck me as sleazy. I just couldn't see myself being that kind of person. Pushy, fake and even dishonest. I also couldn't see myself as the confident “people person” I thought you had to be in order to be successful with sales, sleazy or not.My first year freelancing, I avoided sales. And, fortunately, I was able to get away with it… but only for so long. This year has been slower for me so far, and that means I've had to take more action in terms of generating new opportunities. Ick. Even writing “generating new opportunities” feels like the kind of sales-speak that bothers me.But this is the problem. My perception of sales.Thanks, in part, to speaking with Brad Parscale on the EE Podcast, my perception is changing. I'm not only learning to embrace the sales process, but I'm learning to re-think what sales really is. And, even better, my business is benefitting from this shift.I'm discovering that true sales is about the prospective client and the fact that I can help them achieve their business goals. It's about the need to establish a relationship so they feel secure to trust me with their business. It sounds like common sense, I know, but re-defining sales from this perspective has been key for me.I'm now spending more time with prospects, not only trying to learn more about their project but also building a relationship. For example, I created a project questionnaire that I ask all prospects to complete. It has been a fantastic tool to give me a big- and small-picture perspective of the prospect and their needs. The questionnaire has also impressed several prospects (one of which is now a client), who appreciate the more professional fact-finding tool than a simple email. And, for those who don't want to fill it out, the questionnaire has served as a red flag for prospects who may not be a good fit for me.Beyond the questionnaire, I'm also taking more time to research prospective projects and clearly define what I can deliver before following up with a call. I take more time to ask questions about a project that the prospect, perhaps, didn't address or didn't consider. This preparation, though a bit time-consuming, is worth it. Every single time, the prospects I speak with are impressed with how well I know their project and how prepared I am to deliver. Even for those prospects who don't become clients, I've left a positive and professional impression that could lead to work in the future or a referral.I won't lie and say that I like all the extra work this now involves for me. I'd much rather write HTML and CSS all day long. But there is a rhythm to it, and it is nice to constantly fine-tune my communication skills and materials. Also, by investing in this upfront time with a prospect, when I do win a project, I'm so much better prepared to execute and my estimates are much more on-target. I've also found that the clients I've earned with this considered sales approach are more committed to their projects and invested with the vision we've come up with during the sales process.What I realize now is that if you are doing sales well, you don't even think of it as sales. It's building relationships, understanding a client and a project, and demonstrating you can deliver. Nothing sleazy about that.
24 May 2012