Are They “Sold” Before They Call You?

It was, by far, the best job of my sales career.

I was working for a small company, selling software to specialty contractors. The product had broad appeal and it helped solve a problem that no other company was addressing properly.

However, there were only two of us trying to cover the entire U.S. and Canada, for a product with a realistic prospect base of more than 10,000 companies.

With so much ground to cover and not enough time to do so, my colleague and I realized that we had to find better ways to qualify prospects so that we could spend most of our time with “hot” prospects … and less time with folks who didn’t yet “get it.”

Let Them “Self-Select”

One of our ideas was to help prospects “self-select” before they contacted us. We theorized that if we could do a better job with our direct marketing strategy and our web copy, we could attract more prospects that were, say, 70 percent “sold” on buying the product before they even talked to us.

If we attracted more of these high-quality prospects, that would mean we could spend more time “preaching to the converted” and less time trying to persuade others of our product’s value.

This would translate into more sales in less time … and higher commission checks!

So we set out to change our key messages, our web copy and our lead generation campaigns. We added a self-running demo to our website. And we did a better job of explaining the product’s business value through our marketing efforts.

The experiment worked!

Soon, we found ourselves working with more prospects who already understood the value of our software. Our sales presentations were more productive. And our “close ratio” (the percentage of prospects who bought the product) more than doubled in less than one year.

What does this have to do with freelance copywriting?

More than you might think. As a freelancer, one of your most valuable resources is your time. And as a general rule, you should try to spend as much of your day as possible on billable work while reducing the time you spend on non-billable activities.

One way to do this is to ensure that your marketing campaigns, website, key messages and other materials do an excellent job of helping prospects self-qualify or self-select (i.e., determine whether or not they should call you). This helps reduce the time you spend talking with (and putting proposals together for) low-quality prospects.

My own goal is for my marketing materials and website to produce prospects who are at least 70 percent sold on hiring me before they contact me. I only want to talk with prospects who already understand the true value of a freelance copywriter and who realize that a high-caliber professional doesn’t come cheap.

If prospects are 70 percent sold before they call me, this means I only have 30 percent of the way to go. Which means I can use this to start a meaningful dialogue.

But it’s not just about me. This approach actually helps my prospects just as much as it helps me. No one wants to waste time talking to a service provider who can’t help them or they can’t afford.

What can you do to help prospects self-qualify? Here are a few ideas:

#1: Preach to the converted. Make sure that your marketing materials (including your website) are written for prospects who already understand the value of hiring a freelance copywriter. Don’t try to sell the value of your profession. There are too many prospects who “get it” to waste time with those who don’t.

#2: Take a stand. Be clear about the type of work you do and don’t do, as well as the type of clients you work with. For instance, if your focus is B2B copywriting … say that! And if you have a specific specialty within B2B, make sure that’s also clear.

Also, if there are certain types of projects or industries you won’t even touch, let prospects know. For instance, I know a copywriter who clearly states on his website that he will not edit copy someone else has written. He even adds a bit of personality to this statement by asking prospects not to EVER call him with requests such as, “Can you just take a quick look at this document and ‘clean it up’ a bit?”

That language is a bit too aggressive for my taste, but it works for him. However you do it, just make sure readers walk away knowing what you’re all about (and what you’re not about!).

#3: Be explicit about what makes you different. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. There are many things about you that make you different enough from most other copywriters. You may not notice them at first, but they’re there!

Here’s an exercise that will help you bring those differentiators to the surface. First, do a personal inventory. Think about the following:

  • Background
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Track record
  • Specialized knowledge
  • Certifications
  • Achievements, accomplishments, awards
  • Aptitudes
  • Hobbies

Make a thorough list of what attributes you may possess under each category. And don’t rush through this exercise. Take your time. You won’t think of everything the first time.

Next, connect the dots. After a few days of adding to the list, take another look and start thinking of ways these attributes make you different from most others. Of course, make sure that those differences would be meaningful to your prospects. Or at least make the connection clear to the reader if it’s not obvious.

#4: Add credibility elements to support your claims. This could be in the way of samples, testimonials, clients lists, case studies, awards and so on. Before they call you, prospects want to feel confident that you’re the real deal.

An impressive background, years of experience and deep industry knowledge are all great. But if they’re not supported with testimonials or other credibility elements, they’re going to wonder how much of what you’re saying is true.

#5: Consider developing a specialty. You don’t have to be a specialist to be a successful freelance copywriter. I know many generalists who make a great living and prefer having a wide variety of clients and projects.

However, everything else being equal, it’s easier and more cost-effective to market yourself when you have a specialty. In virtually every profession, specialists tend to land a higher percentage of the prospects they go after.

Sure, they’re working with a smaller pool of prospects. But at the end of the day, what truly matters is how many of the prospects you talk with end up becoming paying clients.

Just make sure to pick specialties that are in high demand. So if you’re going to specialize by industry, pick industries or sectors that are growing and need a steady flow of written materials to market and sell their products and services. And if you’re going to specialize by project type, stick to those projects that are in high demand right now and will stay that way for a while.

For instance, my specialty is writing articles, white papers and case studies for B2B software companies. So I have a double specialty — part industry, part project type. It works well for me because both the software industry and these project types I mentioned are red-hot right now. Plus, the demand for articles, white papers and case studies doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Helping prospects self-select is a smart practice. You’ll be able to focus on prospects who are mostly sold on hiring you before they even call. You’ll free up more time. And you’ll be able to command higher fees and have more fun in your business.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: February 10, 2011

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