Preparing a Personal Sales Strategy: The Key to Successfully Approaching Prospective Clients

Sunday June 01, 2008 by Maria Piscopo,

Posted in: Finding and Keeping Clients

The Rule of 3

Selling is not marketing. Selling is "personal promotion", all the one-on-one contact it takes to make a sale. Marketing is when you combine selling with such "non-personal" promotions as advertising, publicity, direct mail, email marketing and web sites. Though this article focuses on selling, selling cannot stand alone; a marketing plan that includes selling is required to give you the Rule of 3: Repetition = Recognition = Response.

Repetition - You know you need to repeat your message to be persistent but you cannot just keep emailing a potential client over and over. Different marketing tools give you a variety of ways to repeat your message.

Recognition - Requires you to keep a consistent marketing message throughout all your promotions as you build this recognition. You want clients to see your email, your direct mail, your web site and say, "Ah ha! That is the artist I saw before"

Response - Only with the repetition and recognition of your marketing message will you get the response you seek from prospective clients, a call for work!

Let's Talk

One-on-one contact with clients can make or break a sale for you and is a big gap in most art instruction so you have to learn on the job. Nor is selling skill a natural trait: there are no "born" salesmen.

Scripting is a selling technique I teach to close the gap between you and your goal of selling your work. It is not a new sales tool. What is new is applying the technique to creative services.

You may feel you should know what to say - after all, you are the artist - but writing everything down (i.e., scripting it) will make each client contact more successful. It will seem odd at first once you try scripting but take it for a test ride - you will wonder how you got along without it before!

Basically, scripting is talking to clients with some amount of preparation because you want to make the best use of your time and their attention. Because you want to get more information about what clients need and have the best chance to get your work in front of them. It is writing down the expected interaction between you and your client. Adaptation is the key. Once you write the basic scripts, you can adapt to any situation from usage requests to licensing queries.

Start by writing down the conversation from "Hello" and write it just as you would like it to go. Be sure to plan for all variations. In other words, no matter what the client's response, you have anticipated an appropriate reply. Sometimes it helps to write scripts as you see here or you could write them as flow charts. Use any technique as long as it gets you to put words to paper.

Before You Say 'Hello'

Always use open-ended questions in your scripts. These are questions that begin with "How, who, what, when, where and why" instead of closed questions that begin with "Can you, could you, would you, do you." See the next illustration for examples. This is to encourage your client to consider what you are saying- to take a moment to think - instead of automatically replying with a "No." It helps you to gather information, saves time and reduces the rejection that comes with the "No" you often get when you ask a closed question.

After You Say 'Hello'

Open with a brief and specific description of your services based on your targeted market. "Hello, I am an architectural photographer and my name is (___). We are interested in presenting our portfolio for your annual architectural awards entries. When would be a good time to come by? "

Break this down. The first key phrase is "architectural" because this helps the person you are calling to visualize your work and more accurately identify their interest in seeing your work - more accurately than if you had simply said "I am a photographer". The second key in this script that opens doors is to use the phrase "when would be a good time to come by". Too often creative professionals say "can I come by" or "is this a good time" and these closed questions often lead to immediate rejection. Asking an open-ended question gives you more options in terms of reducing rejection and having a conversation.

Getting in the Door

No matter how the person responds there are only two real places they can go: "Yes, now would be a good time" or "No, not now". In other words, you will either get to show your work or they are not interested at this time. I trust clients to clearly respond with their interest because it is a positive response to see your work. They will say (or email back) something like, "Yes, let's take a look" or any variation of "Now is a good time".

It is the other response that can be confusing. Many clients you are approaching have trouble with a negative response that feels rejecting or refusing and will often make deferring comments such as "She is in a meeting" or "She can't come to the phone". This could all mean the same thing! "No, we're not looking at that type of work at this time" which you can safely interpret as "No, not now." In any case, when you don't get a positive response to getting your work in the door I would suggest treating the situation as a "No, not now" and asking the next question (see next section). What would be the value of responding to "No, not now" with "Thank you, goodbye"? None, it's a dead end, don't do it!

'No, not now'

Never hang up the phone or leave a meeting or an email contact without getting some information. You can have more than one information goal when approaching your clients and prospects. For example, it would be great to get an appointment or presentation on the spot but that is not always likely. Having a "Plan B" is necessary, simply because you want to avoid that dead end above. When you hear (or interpret) "No, not now" you can turn to a list of questions you have made to acquire specific information:

  • "When would be a good time to check back for an appointment?"
  • "How do you feel about a follow-up call in 3 weeks?"
  • "Who else do you know that is reviewing this type of portfolio?"
  • "What are your current portfolio submission requirements?"
  • "How often does your company work with freelancers?"

Because getting any piece of information qualifies as successful selling, when you are successful, you will feel more motivated to do this for yourself and for your business.

Present to Create Follow-up

Remember your open-ended questions during sales presentations. For example, when showing your portfolio, ask some of these open questions to get information, to confirm client's interest and take it to the next level and make it a consultation not just a presentation. Note - these questions totally depend on the type of client so be sure to adapt as needed.

  • "What projects are you featuring in upcoming campaigns?"
  • "How often do you review work from different illustrators?"
  • "What upcoming photography needs do you have for your web site?"
  • "When will you be looking at proposals for that packaging project?"
  • "Who else do you know uses our type of service?"

Follow-up to Get Work

Leave behind or send some type of promotion material for the person to keep on file and to help them remember what you can do for them. Find out first what the client prefers - a CD? DVD? Postcard? Printed piece? Probably something they can keep on file.

Then, back to your script. If you leave a client without a follow-up agreement or conclusion as to what happens next, then you do not have any follow-up. It is always the artist's job to create the follow-up that continues the relationships that leads to work.

Remember your 3-Rs! After all, this is the main reason you are meeting or talking with this potential client. Once you begin the process of selling then follow-up is the answer to the question, what happens next? This requires a careful and tightly constructed script. Choose any one of the questions below to conclude your presentation, meeting, email or phone call. Always be the one in charge of the follow-up, it is not the client's job.

  • "When should we get together again?"
  • "What work would you like to see more of?"
  • "When should I call you back about that project?"
  • "How about I give you a call next month?"
  • "How do you want to keep in touch?"
  • "When should I send more information?"
  • "How do you feel about an email follow-up?"


Prepare like crazy and then - just go. You won't know until you start. "Success is yours to attain" as author Douglas Adams says, "All it takes to fly is to hurl you at the ground... and miss."