I just realized that even though I have made my living from customers buying my services for a while, I have never actually had to sell. This seems to me quite an achievement.
What got me thinking about this was I was just interviewed for an article for WordTracker by Rachelle Money. She asked how I got into this blogging lark, and during me waffling on I told her about how customers would come to me with their problems.
Back when I started out, the problems people would come to me with were programming related, now they are more likely to be online marketing or blogging issues, but still people come to me rather than me calling them. I think this is a nice place to be!
Cold calling has never been something I even wanted to try. Some people can do it very well, but all through my career I have avoided it. I am not the most forward person, especially on the telephone with someone who doesn’t want to hear from me. For me making a cold-call would be more a punishment than a useful sales tactic.
How to Attract Customers
The secret to attracting customers so you don’t need to approach them is based on the following factors:
- Awareness – People need to know you exist, and remember you in the correct context as someone who might be useful
- Belief, Credibility and Trust – You might be the best expert in the world but people need to know they can rely on you
- Evidence – Why should someone believe that you can do the things you say you can?
- Solutions – Have you got appropriate services and answers for their problems?
- Approachability/Personality – Very often the sale comes down to you being the right person as much on personality as skills. We want to work with people we like and feel we can talk to.
Of course now I call the solution Authority Blogging and I teach people how to grow their profile and engage audiences, but these factors worked in my favor long before I had a name for it or was even doing this consciously.
Creating the Opportunity for Opportunities
What I started out doing was answering programming questions on email discussion lists. People got to know me through my answers and discussions. To avoid repeating myself, and so I could write more in detail, I would write articles. After a while I wrote for the top ASP site, ASPAlliance, which made me more visible, brought me programming contracts, and eventually led to me doing speaking, teaching .NET programming, which led to me being awarded Microsoft’s “MVP” award, and book deals.
This same pattern has repeated in all the phases of my career, from programmer to project management, to webmaster, SEO, online marketing to blogging. Each stage I joined the niche community and got stuck in which led to opportunities.
It comes down to making yourself useful, creating the environment for opportunities and taking the opportunities that further your cause.
Many times I would go pitch some work with the marketing agencies I worked for and I would get a sense the winner had already been all but selected, the customer just wanted reassurance they had made the right choice. The same happens now, I talk through what I can help with, the options, and I leave it to the customer to decide to go with me.
When people do approach you with work, you could say that you have to “close” the sale, but personally I see it more as answering any questions and explaining how you can help. If you have done your content right then the customer will already be “sold”, you just have to clear up any missing information and take the order.
Improve Your Process
Every time you get approached, ask
- where the customer heard about you,
- what attracted them,
- do they have any preconceptions
- if they have any questions that are not answered in the content,
- and if anything worries them or puts them off.
… then next time your job will be even easier. Knowing why you don’t get this sale and fixing your approach will make it more likely you get the next one.
In fact, being aware and listening really is half the battle. For example, for ages I didn’t have my service for creating flagship content as I assumed my ebook would tell people what they needed to know. Then I found out companies were hiring others to do the writing but using my ebook as part of the spec. By accident I had been creating work for others that I could do myself!
I hope that I have shown that you do not need to be a pushy sales type to get work, your blog can do most of the work for you. If you get out, get known and show your expertise through helping people, then customers will be more inclined to approach you. Most of the effort is in showing you are the right person for the job, this means writing content that solves problems and having your services on display.
Is this something you do? Have you got any tips? Are you planning to take this approach or one like it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments …