I think about that a lot. Rather than making assumptions, I often ask them why they picked me over a colleague. That’s useful information to have, because it helps me fine-tune the way I run my freelance business and how I position myself in the marketplace.
So, what are clients really looking for?
Even though you and I are likely to have very different clients with very different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision. You might be selling a service or a product. It doesn’t matter. All buyers are influenced by the same three things:
Price, Benefits and Perceptions
The price is what the customer pays in exchange for benefits received. It’s something your client has to give up in order to get something from you. Ideally, those benefits should outweigh or at least equal the cost.
Benefits are the positive effects derived from using your solution or service. It’s the pleasure people experience after getting rid of their inner emptiness, frustration or pain.
Smart sales people sell benefits. Stupid sales people slash prices. Any idiot can close a sale by cutting the price (and go broke in the process). It takes brains to sell benefits.
Perceptions are the result of how people evaluate the benefits and price, the (initial) impression they get from your business, as well as the total experience of using your product or service.
In the end, perceptions matter most. Allow me to demonstrate.
Let’s assume you’ve studied the market and you decide to charge $250 per hour for your services. Is that too much or not enough? Does it even matter what you think?
Client A will never hire you because she thinks you’re too cheap and cheap equals crap. Client B will hire someone else because she thinks you’re overpriced. Client C will happily hire you because she believes your price is just right.
Your fee is just a number in a certain context. It is always evaluated in relation to something else. That “something else” is a matter of interpretation or perception.
People do things for their reasons. Not for yours. Get this:
An anonymous donor just paid $3.5 million at a charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world. Is that too much for a few hours of conversation and a meal?
Hedge Fund manager Ted Weschler spent about $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions. To him, it was money well-spent. Buffet ended up hiring him to manage an investment portfolio.
Perceptions are personal value judgements and therefore highly subjective. This begs the question:
Can perceptions be influenced? Can we manipulate a client into buying from us?
Even though I believe that lasting change comes from within and cannot be forced upon someone, the fact is: people are impressionable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be as open to social proof, and all advertising would be totally irrelevant.
1. First impressions are crucial
We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but psychologists will tell you that it takes us only a few seconds to form an opinion of someone or something. That’s why companies spend billions on packaging and people spend millions on makeup, clothing and cosmetic surgery.
If you can’t pique a consumer’s interest or instill a level of trust right from the start, he or she will move on to whatever catches the eye next. So, ask yourself:
What is the very first thing new customers see or experience when they stumble upon my product or service? Is it the landing page of my website? Is it a cover of a book or a brochure? Is it… me?
This first impression is the all-important hook. It sets the tone and tells prospective clients enough about your level of professionalism and style, or lack thereof. If anything, this is where you should spend most of your marketing money. To do it right…
2. Your message needs to be clear, convincing, congruent and consistent
If you want to play the part, you have to dress the part and embody the part. That might seem obvious, yet, so many business owners undermine their own credibility by sending out conflicting signals. A few examples:
- A translation and proofreading service emailed me: “Your welcome to visit our website.” When I pointed this out to them, they blamed this slip of the pen on the intern.
I thought: “What? You don’t proofread your own material? Why would my legal translation be safe in your hands?”
- The sign in the front yard said: “Quality lawn care at a price anyone can afford.” Meanwhile, weeds were growing everywhere and most trees needed pruning.
- The owner of the local health food store looked like she was terminally ill. She must be friends with that overweight director of the fitness center.
See what I mean? Actions speak louder than words. Remember the four C’s when you craft you core message: you have to be Clear, Convincing, Congruent and Consistent.
Some things are more subtle:
- You profess to be a pro with years of experience. Then why on earth did you use a free service such as Weebly or Wix to build your website? You don’t even have your own domain or dedicated email address. Is business that bad? Can’t you spare a few hundred bucks and hire a professional to take care of your online presence? What image are you projecting here? And by the way: Why did it take you three days to get back to me?
What clients hate more than anything is to be ignored. It gives them the feeling that their business isn’t important to you, and you know what? I think they’re right. Time happens to be something we all have the same amount of. How we choose to spend that time, gives us an inside look into someone’s priorities and planning skills.
I’ve walked out of a fancy restaurant because the waitstaff couldn’t be bothered to serve my table in a timely way. I don’t care if you’re known for the best food in town. If your service sucks, you’re screwed.
I read on your website’s Contact page that you’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I sent you a message three days ago and I have yet to hear from you. What other promises aren’t you going to keep? My project has a strict deadline. If you can’t meet your own, how can I be sure you’ll meet mine?
Being responsive also means: giving your client concise progress reports. It’s a way to reassure them that they’re in good hands. If you’re right on track, let your client know. If you’re experiencing an unexpected delay: let your client know. Don’t wait until they send you an email wondering why they haven’t heard from you in days.
Communication is key, as long as you’re to the point. Anticipate and answer client’s questions. Be an open book. Stay in touch. Make it a breeze to do business with you. You want your clients to smile when they think of you. That will happen when you…
Not all inquiries lead to a sale. Sometimes what you have to offer is not what a client is looking for. In my case they might want to hire a female voice actor or someone with an older sound or a different accent. Does that mean that all my efforts were wasted? On the contrary.
If you cut off contact because you can’t make an immediate sale, you’re thinking about yourself and you’re thinking short-term. Everything is marketing. Any contact with a client, no matter how brief, is a golden opportunity to start building a relationship. A healthy relationship is a two-way street and takes time to evolve. It’s about giving and receiving.
So, how do you give to a client who doesn’t need your services?
It’s simple: be a resource. If you’re not right for the job, recommend a few colleagues who are. I’m sure they won’t mind. Show your expertise. Build some goodwill. You’re sowing seeds, and who knows when they might bloom? There are always new projects in the pipeline that might be a good fit for you.
Here’s the thing about giving, though. Don’t just do it for future rewards. That’s not a gift. That’s a bribe. Do it because it’s a decent thing to do.
It’s all a matter of perception.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Why did I almost lose a ten thousand dollar voice-over job, and what was the one thing I did to save it? Click here to read my next blog post.