A reader asked for help. She prepares about 30 quotes a month. Most don't turn into business. In fact she has a hard time even getting a follow-up meeting after sending the quote.
She'd found an article I wrote on how we reduced no-shows at pre-sales meetings and hoped something similar might work for her.
Her sales process was pretty standard.
Discovery meetings took about half an hour. She'd spend four to five hours after the meeting on the notes, proposal and quote.
Her boss was trying to scale up to at least 50 quotes a month. At four to five hours per quote that'd take her 25 to 30 8-hour days. She was already working brutal hours (we spoke at 9pm on a Friday night) and didn't know if she'd be able to cope with the pressure.
Something jumped out at me as she was speaking, but I said nothing till she ran out of steam. Then I asked her what her work day would be like if she never had to prepare a custom quote for a cold prospect again. And, if she could go from begging for follow-up appointments to winning deals without them.
She's works in an industry I know well - online marketing for offline businesses. Her offering is a $2 500 to $10 000 per month service contract, with a 6-month lock-in.
She argued that it's impossible to win a $60 000 marketing contract without custom quotes and follow-up meetings.
Bigger value projects do take a lot of work to sell. You have to have the discovery calls, meeting notes, customised proposals and quotes. And, you often need several follow-up meetings.
That time and work is a waste if the deal doesn't happen (most don't). We've come to accept it as part of doing business, but it doesn't have to be this way.
A pilot-project is a small, fixed price service. It delivers real value to the client, but without a big investment or long-term commitment.
Instead of trying to sell a $10 000 per month ongoing contract, you sell a $1 000 once-off project.
I used this approach to sell Google Ads management services. I'd meet with prospective clients to see if it was likely that Google Ads would be profitable for them. If it looked promising I'd propose a two-month long test campaign. Four out of every five prospects said yes during the first call.
Near the end of the campaign I'd ask the client if they'd like to continue getting leads. Almost everyone said yes. And why wouldn't they? By this time they knew that Google Ads was a good fit, and they trusted my work. It's an easy sale to make.
Your pilot-project must be valuable to the client in its own right - even if they don't sign up for anything else. If it doesn't deliver value it won't build the trust needed to sell bigger projects.
My Google Ads pilot campaign delivered value in a two ways:-
If you don't already have an idea for a pilot-project think about the first steps a client has to take to get what they want. We did this to come up with a pilot-project for an immigration consultancy.
Someone wanting to move to another country needs a visa and usually a job. The country my client works with has a range of visa options. Some depend on having a job, others depend on qualifications or work experience. Others need a job and the right qualifications.
Applying for the wrong visa can waste tens of thousands and set immigration plans back by years. Deciding which visa to apply for is an important part of my client's work for their clients.
We extracted some of this work into the pilot-project - a personalised report on immigration options. It includes:-
Pricing is tricky because we have conflicting requirements:-
Being super-efficient in executing the pilot-project is the only way to price low and still cover costs. Efficiency comes from the design the project and doing the same kind of project over and over.
Let's talk about the design. I'll use my Google Ads pilot as an example again if you don't mind.
You need a decent website to run Google Ads. It must be fast. The pages must convert visitors into leads. And, it needs conversion tracking or analytics set up.
None of my clients had this when they first contacted me. Getting their websites ready for Google Ads was a weeks-long, time-sucking nightmare. The exact opposite of efficiency. It killed the momentum and burned all the profit.
After learning this the hard way I designed this inefficiency out. From then on we built a specialist micro-site for every pilot-campaign instead of messing with the client's website. I invested in tools to make this easier and eventually we could build a micro-site in under two hours.
The immigration report is also designed for efficiency. The research takes time but the actual report is mostly made up from reusable templates.
The good news is that you only need to prepare these documents once. They're the same for every client.
They why and what document.
This document sets out why you're doing the pilot-project and what you're going to do. The why describes the client's problem. The what shows how the pilot-project solves the problem
You need this because sometimes the person you're speaking to will have to tell someone else about the pilot-project. This saves you having to rely on their understanding and memory.
You could put it up on your website or send it by email.
I dug out the text for my original (circa 2013) why and what webpage. You can download a copy here. You'll see it's written in plain English and doesn't contain a lot of jargon. That's because the reader is likely to be a business owner rather than a Google Ads expert.
The project scope document.
The scope document sets out exactly what's included in the pilot-project. And, just as important, it sets out what's not included. This could be part of the contract if it makes sense.
The client information document.
Most pilot-projects need some information from the client. This document tells the client what you need from them.
At its simplest it's an email template. Later you might get more complicated with an intake form.
The follow-up email sequence.
If you don't close the sale on the first call, you should follow up. A series of emails works well. I've got detailed instructions on how to prepare a quote followup-email sequence..
Once again I'll speak from my experience selling pilot Google Ads campaigns. What worked was to suggest a pilot-project as the logical next step.
A typical call would start with me finding out about the prospect's business. I'd ask a load of questions trying to figure out if it was likely that Google Ads would be profitable for them. If it looked good I'd do some quick keyword research to make sure that enough people searched Google for what the prospect sold.
If there was enough traffic I'd say something like...
Based on what you've told me and the expected search volume it looks like Google Ads is a good fit for your business. But, until we run a campaign we won't know how many leads you'll get, how well the leads will fit and how much it will cost.
But, it doesn't make sense to commit to a long-term contract until we know for sure that you're going to be able to make a profit from Google Ads. I recommend that we start with a pilot-campaign. Think of it as research to make sure this does what we'd hoped instead of risking a lot of money.
Would you like to go ahead with this?
Almost everyone said yes. I'd then explain the costs, scope and get the ball rolling.
Pitch the big project when the client has experienced the value of the pilot-project. I my case this was a week or two before the end of the pilot-campaign.
I'd meet with the client to discuss the sales they'd made to the leads. If their sales cycle was long and they hadn't yet closed any deals we'd talk about the potential value of the leads.
If it looked good I'd ask "Would you like to keep getting these kind of leads?" and when they said yes I'd propose my regular contract.
For the immigration consultancy we had them send the report and then invite the client to meet to review and discuss it. This lead naturally into offering to help with the rest of the immigration process.
Over the last few years I've done deep work with a handful of clients to increase the number of sales they made from their Google and Facebook leads. I've put what I've learned into a 9-lesson email course.
My experience has been that it will deliver more sales if:-
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