Posts Tagged ‘asking’
Have you ever noticed that when it comes to mobile (cell) phone numbers, that there is no set rules on how you say the number? With land lines numbers, everybody generally uses the format of 5-3-3 when saying a phone number – so “01256 123456” is said as “01256-123-456”. Its short, punchy, and it works for everybody (for London, the leading 5 gets replaced with 3 or 4 leading).
But with mobiles, after the leading “07” bit, there is no rules for the grouping – it all depends on the number you have. But if you group your number one way, and somebody repeats it with different groupings, it’s easy not to recognise your own number. If my number is “07780123456”, I might say “077-80-12-34-56”. Someone repeating it back to me might say my number is “07-780-123-456” – it sounds completely different and makes me double check and think about what is being said.
This mixed-format confusion can be used to great advantage when replaying requirements back to customers. After they are done stating all of their requirements, by repeating their requirements back to them in a different order (either by voice or in an email), the changed and mixed context forces them to think about what they have said, what you have noted, and also if it is really what they want. I also like to throw in the word “only” (or just) as well here and there, just for good measure.
A requirement of “We want a web application that allows UK students to enter their accommodation details on a form, and this gets saved onto a SQL Server database which we can produce ad-hoc reports from”, when mixed and repeated back, might become…
“So let me check I have this right. You want to produce some ad-hoc reports from a SQL Server database. This database will only be populated from a web-based data entry form that we would develop, and would be made available only to UK based students who would use the form to enter just the details of their accommodation”.
I have used it a number of times where the customer has then commented with something like “well, it sounds like something is missing..” or “yes, but we also need…” after they have specified all their requirements.
Using this technique I have saved myself a lot of headaches during project delivery by making sure the customer has detailed everything that is required by double checking what they really want, which has led to more of the work being detailed up front (with a higher price tag) and saves the last minute “oh, I forgot I needed…” conversations on delivery day.
With the prospect of the 2nd dip of this never ending recession looming like a dark cloud, contractors may find work drying up, day rates being squeezed lower and lower, or even worse, both – no work and low rates for the few jobs out there.
I was talking about this subject last night with another contractor, and the conversation was interesting. He had also seen the rates fall, but had managed to offset them by arranging to allow every other week to work from home. By working from home the reduced rates were counter-balanced by removal of travel costs, removal of wasted travel time, and more home time allowing flexible working.
So how do you broach the subject of working from home – a very difficult subject for contractors to raise with department managers. It’s all in the way you sell it. If you just say, I would like to work from home please, the answer will be a straight No! But, I would go along the lines of…
Hi, look, I have been thinking that if you allow me to work from home, then its a win from all sides – hear me out. First, it means I get the benefit of not having to travel, so that means I have more time, so would be happy to work an extra half hour a day at no extra cost – how does that sound? But because I have no distractions, I will get a lot more done. But I can see your sceptical, so what about this, let me try it for a week and if I am not as productive or in fact even more productive in those 2 weeks, you have the option to vito the home working, and no complaints or questions asked. And of course, whenever I am needed here for meetings etc, I will always be available to travel in. So does that sound good to you?
In previous posts, I have talked about how useful it is to collect information from your customers or potential customers. From feedback on quotes (is the pricing good, does the quote style work, how understandable are they, etc) to feedback on projects (good value for money, good communication, would the customer be happy to act as a referral), any information that your contacts provide is good information.
There are different ways of collecting this information. You can create printed forms and supply these with the quotations and projects in the post, or you can create bespoke response forms on your web site and point your customers to the URL.
But an easier method is to use a survey or data collection service such as SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey allows you to quickly define a number of free surveys and email the URL to your customers, will collect the data and will send you back a summary and detailed report on the findings. It’s all quick, easy, and code free.
SurveyMonkey is free as long as you only ask up to 10 questions for 100 people. If you need more questions or more people, it has a fairly cheap premium version. It allows your survey to be customised with different types of questions (text, large text, selection boxes, yes/nos, scale from 1 to 10, etc), styles, layouts etc – all very nice and easy.
Clearly when you send out the email with the survey URL, the email needs to be about the person rather than you. If you send a request for information out to 100 people asking “We need to know how well we are doing…” you will be lucky to get 2 replies. But, if you make it about the customer and their needs “By filling out this very quick survey, we can meet your requirements better in the future and provide the things you really need…” your response rate will be a lot higher.
So give SurveyMonkey a trial, and start collecting useful customer data.
I had the opportunity to sit in a sales presentation earlier in this week, but this time I was working as a consultant and was sitting at the table, having the presentation given to me (and a few other people). The presentation consisted of the usual powerpoint show, a brief demo and then a Question and Answer session.
At the end of the presentation, one of the senior managers sitting at the table asked the question “What are the benefits of your system?” The salesman giving the presentation paused, thought about the question, and then gave a 5 minute reply – which completely failed to answer the question.
What he said was “Oh, the system is written in the latest technology, it provides a full user guide, we provide full training as part of installation, etc etc etc blah blah blah”.
To be honest, it was a fairly impressive list. But it wasn’t a list of benefits – it was a list of features. Every product and service has features – but its hard for these to make a sale – it’s the benefits that make the sale.
Benefits should/would include: “The user guide means that the answers are always at hand and therefore will save you time, the latest technology is used so that the software will have a longer shelf life and thus will reduce your support costs, etc etc. “ Benefits answers the big question – what’s in it for me?!?
The salesman’s list of features, didn’t list a single benefit, and the team decided not to recommend purchasing the product.
It’s a lesson well learnt, and I will be sure to include the benefits of my services and products in my future pitches.
So what are the benefits of your products and services?
Whenever you approach the end of a large freelance project or the last couple of weeks of a contract, what do you do? Clear your desk? Make sure to get the invoice out? Organise the wrap up drinks? There is a trick you can use to generate more work (sometimes) from the customer. The trick is to generate a report.
When I come to the end of a project or a contract, I spend half a day creating a ‘wrap up’ report for the customer – a nice light report (typically 4 to 10 pages) which covers three areas:
- A summary of the work I have done for them in the project or contract – this reconfirms to them what great value I have been, reconfirms that they made the right choice to select me, and tells them how busy I have been
- A notes section – here I detail anything I have spotted which is not as good as it should be.
- A recommendation section – considerations for future improvements
Now the trick is to make the notes and recommendations section not too scathing. You don’t want to point out to the person who has hired you how bad their processes are or why their department sucks. However, what you do want to do is bring to their attention areas which they may not be aware of, and (this is the most important part) recommendations for improvement on some (not all) of the areas noted and how you would deal with the issues.
A lot of managers live by the principle “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”, and that is what the report is for – to say in a gentle way “oh, I noticed that your process for xxxxxxxxxxxx is causing problems, if you yyyyyyyyyyyyyy this will stop this problems occurring”. Of course, by branding the report with your personal or company details, who will be the first person they ask when they want to action on some or all of the areas documented?
The best bit is that if you cost this report into the project costs (hidden of course) or produce the report on their contract time, they are paying you to perform the analysis and advertise your follow up services.
As an example, of this, one of the gentle ways I documented and recommended a solution which I was then asked to develop is as follows (note, this intended to be fluffy, and not too critical but highlight an area of concern):
As part of the day to day standing data reference, it was noted that the operators need to adjust data into the SQL Server database using SQL Enterprise Manager. Whilst this is an effective and efficient method of amending the reference data, it may be worth considering that this also could lead to accidental deletion of data, tables or amendment to table structures. I would suggest a better method would be to develop a browser based data correction routine, which would allow the same functions to add and amend data onto the SQL database, but would provide audit and change control, whilst at the same time restricting access to the database to ensure that mistakes are minimised. This would also have the advantage of….
Sometimes I kick myself for things I do. But more often than not, I kick myself for things I don’t do. Take this weekend – I received a letter from my joint GAS and electricity supplier and it said that the prices were going up again. I had had enough – so I called them up to complain about the massively inflated costs of powering my home. “Why is it so expensive?”, I asked, “why don’t you have a cheaper plan?” I continued. Without a moments pause the operator said “We do” and changed me to the new plan.
It’s the exact same gas and electricity coming into my home (and home office), from the exact same supplier, with me paying the bills the exact same way – but its 25% cheaper. And what did I have to do to get this?
Jack Canfield (author of the Success Principles) says that “Nobody will give you what you need, because nobody but you knows what you need”. His solution – Ask. Or as he puts it “ask, ask, ask, then ask again. And when you are done asking, ask some more”.
If I had asked earlier, months ago when I was first unhappy with the cost of my fuel, I would have saved 25% over the last few months, including the winter fuel. All I had to do was ask.
So what do you need to ask of your customers, your partners, your co-workers or the world to get what you need for your freelance business? And what is stopping you from asking?
How much are you worth? By this, I mean how much is your day rate worth? But hang on, before you answer this (in your mind), let me clarify the question just a touch more – how much are you worth per day if there was no competition to bring your day rate down, and you could charge (without ripping people off) what you really thought you were worth? Is it a different number to what you currently charge per day?
If the answer is yes, then let me ask you two more questions – why are you not charging this larger day rate? Have you tried asking for it?
A few weeks ago, I tried something. It may sound crazy, but I decided that the next prospect or lead that came my way, when they asked for my day rate or a quote on a project, regardless of the size of work or type of work, I was going to take my standard day rate – AND DOUBLE IT – just to see what happens.
What actually happened was this… I actually crumbled before I said the day rate. In my mind I heard me saying it, and in a split second, just as the rate was on my lips, I realised how massive it was, and I just could not do it. Instead, I said a day rate which was 50% above my current day rate. And you know what, the prospect said yes!!!!! Just like that – yes!
All this time, I had been charging a day rate 50% lower than they were willing to pay. Imagine if I had actually doubled my day rate – and they had said yes. It’s not worth thinking about, because if I had, if they had, I have actually taken a 25% pay reduction on the job, compared to what they were willing to pay.
The point is this, the next time a prospect comes along, take a risk, raise your rate (day rate, hourly rate, product rate etc). See what happens. They could say yes. Of course, they could say no, but then you can always haggle it down to a bit more than your current rate.
Its just extra money, for the same work.
There is a question I know, that may just be the most powerful question in the world (for freelancers, small business owners and contractors). In fact, when I think about it, it might just be the most powerful question for everybody, anywhere, EVER! Oh there are big questions in the world (such as “where do I come from?”, “where am I going?”, “is there life out there?” or “will BP ever stop that oil leak?”) but this one is worth knowing and using.
But there is a problem with the question. The problem is nobody likes to ask the question. Not because they don’t want to hear the answer, but because it is a difficult question to ask. It makes us seem needy, greedy, difficult, awkward, – or maybe that’s how we feel it makes us appear.
In all my time working and living, on both sides of the fence (watching people sell and being sold to), in business life and personal life, it’s the question I hear so vary rarely, but am not afraid to ask myself – and it’s a question that gives the most important answers you can ever know (yes, I am almost to the question – stay with me…).
But, and here is the important part – the question has one rule. And that rule is that – after you ask the question – stop talking. Don’t say another thing, just ask the question and then listen.
So are you ready for this BIG question? The question that nobody uses but makes such a difference to growing your business and relationships?
If so, then when you are selling your freelance or small business service and your finish the presentation, demo or discussion, or you have finished talking to your partner about something you need and want, or even at the end of the job interview – ask the question. And the question you should ask is simply…..
So what will it take for you to (do as I ask/give me the business/buy my product/hire me*)?
* delete as applicable.
Business Referrals are great. A customer telling new potential customers to use your products and services is a great sales generator. Not only does it send out a really strong sales message to other customers, but it costs you very little in terms of sales activity (compared to other methods of lead generation).
But how can a small business generate referrals? What is the best method of new customer referrals, and what can somebody do to make sales through referrals?
The problem is that customers are just too busy with their own problems to even think about helping you with the growth of your business. They need a little push, or even an incentive.
Clearly, depending on how desperate you are or how strong a personality type you have, asking is a good starting point. At the end of a successful project, asking for referrals without trying to make it sound false, desperate or greedy can work, by using an honest approach. A question such as “Thank you for allowing me to work with you, I really enjoyed it. Now I have a favour to ask. As the project went so well, I wonder if you know of any other companies who you think could benefit from my product/service?”
The other method, which I prefer is a survey. I use surveys after each project I complete to ask a number of sample questions:
- How did you rate the Product or Service (1 (bad) to 10 (good))
- Value for money (again 1 to 10)
- Fit to requirement (again 1 to 10)
- Level of communication (1 to 10)
- Comments on any of the above (nice big text box)
- Would you recommend us to another company (yes or no tick box)
- Recommendation you would provide for public viewing (nice big text box)
The point of the survey is to provide me general information about how my products and services are viewed by my customers, allows me to make sure my pricing is not too high or too low (the value for money will give me a comparison of how I fit with other quotes they would have received for the same job without me actually asking for the price). If any scores lows or the have left comments, then I can contact them and follow up any problems.
Now, in terms of referrals, the last 2 questions get me the information I need without me having to directly ask for it. 9 times out of 10, a customer will tick the “yes” to the recommend question, in which case I will then contact them and say “as you were kind enough to say you would recommend our services, can you think of any companies I could contact?”
Finally, the last question gives me nice quotes which I can place on public profiles (LinkedIn), printed material, web sites etc. All good sales collateral.
One other thought on a survey – I have found I get much better responses when the person has the ability to complete it online (create a survey form on your website and email them the URL), when they think they can complete it in confidence (with possibly a hidden field that tells you who really completed it), and the offer of some reward (entry into a prize draw or discount for future orders).
I thought I would share what has happened a couple of weeks ago . Before I start, please bear in mind that I found myself in a lucky position of knowing how much the customer wanted me, and I accept no responsibility for this if you try it yourself.
So I have been in a contract for 5.5 months of a 6 month contract, and the customer had already taken me aside and made noises about renewing the contract – all good stuff. I waited, and on Monday, the call came in from the agency, “they want to renew for another 3 months, with possibly 3 months after that”, great says I, “However they have tight budgets, and day rates are dropping, so we need to discuss money” says the agent.
What followed was a 20 minute chat about rates, and how both the customer and agency wanted me to drop my rates by around 9%. Well, as much as I like working for the customer and the work, there is no way that is going to happen. So without really thinking about it, I said, and these are pretty much my actual words…
“Well, it surprises me that you are talking about a rate reduction. Over the past 6 months, I feel I have proved myself and actually done more for the customer than they asked or really paid for, so I was going to ask you for a day rate increase. As I am doing more work than was expected, how about we look at a day rate of xxxxx”. Xxxx was my date rate plus 30%.
In my view (and oh god, agencies are going to comment below about this), an agents job is not only to find the right contractor for a position, but to find the right rate for the customer. I didn’t in fact want 30% more, but I picked a high number so that they could beat me down and look good to the customer.
Directly after the phone call, I went in to see the customer, and said that the agency would be calling, and that we had had a strange conversation about rates, and whilst I understood from the agent that budgets were tight, I felt I had a lot to offer, and was prepared to be flexible, but if they really wanted to retain me, we would need to look at a rate increase. I pointed out that yes, they could get somebody cheaper, but the job involved more than was originally suggested, and for the lower rate, they would be hard pushed to find anybody with the right skills (this may or may not be the case – I have no idea).
Over the next 24-48 there was a series of phone calls between the agent and myself, and the agent and the customer. The customer went up a little, but not too much. The agent told me the increase, and I quickly said “No. Sorry, I understand the gesture but I said xxxx and they said yyyyy. Whilst I understand budget pressures, the only person who is loosing in this are myself for getting a lower day rate than I need, and the customer for paying more.”
Anyway, after all the phone calls were nearing an end, I caved with “Cut the difference. I want xxxx, they offer yyyy, if you can add £10 a day onto their offer, I will accept” – the agency said yes – so the agency cut its commission by £10 a day.
The customer came in to chat to me, they are happy – it means for slightly more money, they get to keep me and saves the effort of finding someone new, training them up, and taking the risk of signing up a dud. The agency told me that they are happy – they don’t loose face to the customer, and have ‘beaten me down’ from my original request, and of course I am happy, as not only am I not having my day rate cut but in fact its gone up. In the end, its gone up a few pence under 10%.
As I say, this may sound slightly underhand, but what I am trying to get across is the power of asking, and the power of negotiation. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.