Sales isn’t rocket science, but it does require a bit of TLC. As sole proprietors, we are so busy focusing on client services that we don’t pay much attention to improving our sales process. We just do it “on the side”. Many small businesses share in this struggle, and also find themselves spinning their wheels trying to turn the leads into engagements.

If you haven’t developed a formal sales process, set aside an hour this week to follow these seven steps. They will help you reduce the time you are having to spend with leads, and get you closing more deals.

Step 1: Define your target client

The first thing to consider is who is most likely to hire you, and does anyone influence their decision. If your sales process isn’t designed to please and convince them, you won’t see many conversions. These people are your target client. This doesn’t mean you won’t take business from someone who doesn’t fit this profile, but it will help you address the needs and wants of the people you most want to do business with.

Here’s an example we’ll nickname “Tina Smith”:

  • Female, age 45 to 55
  • Married / dual income earner
  • Homeowner
  • Looking to renovate
  • Has secondary education and household income of $150K+
  • Lives within 30km of your office
  • Likely to read: Our Homes, Houzz blog, Style at Home

It’s quite possible you will have two or three target buyers. If you identify them up front, you can spend your time, effort, and money on this particular group of people instead of casting your net far and wide. When you narrow your focus in this way, your limited money and time will be more likely to reach the people most likely to do business with you.

Here are some suggestions for defining your target buyer(s):
Residential clients – For residential projects, isolate your target audiences based on age, sex, location, income level, education, and other such factors.
Commercial clients – You can isolate commercial clients based on their industry and create specific ad campaigns for them. Ads with specific target audiences will provide higher ROI.

Suggested exercise: define your target buyers (maximum 5, preferably 2 to 3)

Step 2: Map your sales process

Asking the right questions at the right time will also help you understand the lead’s requirements better. And initiating certain conversations and sharing collateral at the right points in time will help you better engage your leads, and increase your chance of winning their business. It also weeds out people early on who aren’t a good fit.

These questions, conversations and collateral together are your sales process. And it must be comfortable for you to execute, and designed to make the people you’re speaking feel informed and confident in you.

Here’s a basic structure for your sales process:

Step 3: Make the education process easy

People will find your business through research. They might ask a friend, use search online, or see your work on social media like Instagram. No matter how they hear about you, their first impression of you will be your website. How well does your website represent your business?

First-time visitors will have questions about you and your service; for example, what’s the scope of work for a decorator, or what’s the benefit to hiring a designer over a contractor. Does your site provide answers to the initial questions buyers have?

Suggested exercise: write down questions “researchers” will have, then ensure your website answers them

Step 4: Qualifying leads

When a buyer is ready to speak with you, they are a lead. But are they a good lead? As you know, sometimes the fit isn’t good, for many reasons: budget, location, needs. At this stage you need to qualify the lead through a series of prepared questions. These questions ensure there is fit on both sides.

Qualifying questions might include:

  • What characteristics are you looking for in a design firm?
  • How involved do you want to be in the project?
  • Tell me about the scope of your project.
  • Have you ever had a renovation before?
  • Have you spoken with other designers?
  • When are you looking to begin your project?

Before speaking with leads, some design professionals use their website to help qualify people. Some do this by listing their fee schedule or fee range, while others have an online questionnaire people must complete in order to speak with them. These are both effective ways for weeding out tire kickers—but there is some risk that they lose potential clients by putting up too high a barrier.

These are the most common ways companies gain an understanding of a lead’s requirements and qualify them. If you’re satisfied with the answers, you’ll likely classify them as “sales qualified” and you will move into a more advanced sales conversation.

Suggested exercise: write down 8-12 qualifying questions

Step 5: Prepare answers

In these early conversations, you’ll find there are frequently asked questions you answer. Prepare your answers to these questions so they are polished. Since these interactions are typically over the phone, pay attention to how you come across, and be sure to smile—it’ll be heard over the phone!

Suggested exercise: create FAQs you field, and answers to them

Step 6: Evaluation

After you’ve qualified the lead, you have someone who has a fair chance of converting—and now it’s up to you to make the sale! Your success in this stage depends on how well you’ve understood your client and their requirements, and can demonstrate that your services and approach will benefit them. You need to give them confidence that you’ll be able to help them achieve their design goals, or solve their space problem or pain.

Think: what questions do most clients ask you, or want do they ask to see before they decide to engage you?

It’s quite possible they are speaking with a competitor. Be sure the buyer knows your what makes you better or different from the others.

This is also the right time to share details about your process and tools, and answer the buyer’s questions. You may share printed or digital collateral to showcase your experience and expertise, and earn their trust.

During the sales process, some people may express objections or show hesitation regarding your services based on your presentation. Take their concerns seriously. How you answer their questions and concerns will make or break the deal.

Suggested exercise: List questions you are frequently asked during this stage

  • What information is important to convey, and how will you do it (in person, by email, presentation, printed material, phone conversation)
  • Write down what makes you stand apart from competitors

Step 7: Closing the Deal

What is your process for closing? What contractual documents do you have? Have these been organized and are ready to go.

At the same time, consider sharing a welcome package. Almost every client is really excited to get going, so meet their excitement with basic, even templated, materials that make them feel their project is getting started. While you are extremely familiar with what lies ahead, they may not be, so project to dos, a timeline or a “what to expect” document are typically very well received.

Suggested exercise:

  • Create a list of your contractual documents
  • Formalize your kickoff materials, and the timing in which you share them

Getting in the driver’s seat of this process will save you time and demonstrate to your professionalism and experience. Of course, there’s no one size fits all process, and there’s always room for improvement, so consider this a jump off point, and modify your process as you learn how to make it more effective.