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My perfect prospect is one who says, "I'd like you to write a 5,000-word brochure on what it's like to be you. We pay $15,000, and we pay upon the firing of your synapses when you reach the end of this sentence."
Alas, prospects like this are the invention of a fevered IP brain. For some reason, we IPs are more likely to run into wafflers, window-shoppers, and know-it-alls. But since that's what life throws at us, we may as well learn to deal with these unsavory breeds. I asked IPs about the difficult prospects they've encountered, and then spoke with Sandra Crowe, author of Since Strangling Isn't an Option Dealing With Difficult People, to find out how to turn them into obedient little clients.
This prospect knows infinitely more about your job than you do -- yet he feels the need to pay you good money for your services, presumably because he's too busy curing cancer or solving world hunger to do the job himself. "He contacts you about a project, but makes it very clear that he has a prolific background in marketing, so he can help you do your job better," says IP marketer Ann Keeling, owner of Cristofoli-Keeling Marketing Communications Management. "Once you start asking questions about his background, you find out that his 'marketing' experience is in selling Yellow Pages advertising."
What can you do to defuse the know-it-all? Listen to him. If the prospect wants to hire you, you must have some sort of expertise that he doesn't. His know-it-all behavior is a reflection of his insecurity -- and if you make him feel inadequate by dismissing him, you'll feed his insecurity and make his behavior even worse. Listen to what he has to say, ask questions about his ideas, then say something like, "Well, that's an interesting way of looking at it. Can I share with you how I see it?"
This prospect dangles the possibility of everlasting projects in front of your greedy IP eyes, and then holds off for weeks or months while you stew in an increasingly bitter gravy of impatience. Michele Brownstein, an IP PR guru and president of dMk Communications, once met with a prospect who kept asking her to call back next week next week next week. So she did... and did and did. After a couple of months, the prospect set a date for signing the contract -- and then never called back.
According to Sandra Crowe, some prospects get a sick thrill out of stalling. It's a control thing. "There's an underlying manipulative, angry kind of behavior going on," says Crowe. So instead of asking yourself, "How do I get this staller to sign on the dotted line?" just let it go, putting the proverbial ball back in her proverbial court. Tell the staller that you sense she's not ready to hire you yet and give her two choices: Either you can call her back in a few months, or she can call you when she's ready.
And how do you know when to throw the proverbial ball back at the prospect's head? Crowe subscribes to the Rule of Three: Give the prospect three calls or meetings, then be prepared to drop it.
IP writer and editor Lauren Taylor recently received a call from a prospect with a project. But instead of learning the details of the assignment, Taylor was treated to stories about (1) the car accident the prospect was recently in, (2) her related -- and unrelated -- health problems, and (3) the shortcomings of the employee who had resigned and left her in the lurch. "It took me another 10 minutes or so to drag out of her what magazine she produced and what she wanted me to do for her," says Taylor.
This type of prospect lacks the little voice that tells her what's appropriate and what's not, so your job is to redirect her. "Go with the conversation, but move it to its ultimate point," says Crowe. "Say, 'I'm not understanding what it is you want me to know about this.'" By admitting your confusion, you might be able to move the conversation along to more relevant topics.
If this doesn't work, add a time limit to the conversation: "I'm expecting a phone call in a few minutes. Is there anything else that's critical for me to know at this point?" And if you're really desperate, try, "I have to go drown myself. Will you get to the damn point already?"
Prospects often call me for copywriting services. When I ask what they need, they sometimes say, "We need a six-panel brochure about our new peach defuzzer" or "We need a 500-word press release to announce our move to Pascagoula." But other times, they have no clue; they just know that a business should have written materials of some kind. They want me to decide what kinds of marketing materials they need -- which is something they should have decided before they called. I'm a copywriter, not a marketing consultant. If I were a consultant, I'd charge a lot more.
Here's the thing -- even though you're not a marketing consultant or a database designer or whatever it is the prospect really needs, you probably know someone who is. Instead of blowing the prospect off, offer to find someone who can help her. Then call that IP and strike a deal: If he lands the assignment, you'll join the project once he helps the prospect figure out what she needs from you.
Jocelyn Murray, an IP marketing consultant, has had the distinct displeasure of tangling with a freeloader -- a type of prospect who sees the IP as a rich and free source of information. After reading an article she wrote in a local business journal, the prospect called Murray and asked to "compare notes" on the topic. "After the second phone call and some further qualification, I realized that this woman had no intention whatsoever of contracting my services, but just wanted to pick my brain," says Murray. "In her last call to me, I said that I no longer wanted to compare notes with her -- without being rude, of course -- but that I would be available if she needed my services."
They can't freeload if your services aren't free. Instead of letting the prospect pick your brain gratis, charge for meetings and advice. You can always offer to apply the money to her project should she decide to hire you.
A prospect from a printing company once asked me to edit and lend my name to a cheesy promotional article he had written about his shop in exchange for the awesome publicity I would get by having my name in the impressive Macon Business Fortnightly. That way, the editor would be tricked into thinking that the article was written by an independent journalist instead of by an unethical publicity hound. I replied that I'd have to pass on his generous offer.
Crowe uses the word "policy" to turn off prospects like this, as in, "It's not my company's policy to steal old ladies' wheelchairs." Then, instead of lecturing the prospect about what a lowlife he is, you can try to turn his unethical offer into a respectable project. I could have offered, for example, to write a new article about this printing company for X dollars -- cash up front, in this case.
The tightwad seems to have forgotten that he's on the phone with an IP, not at a flea market or a Middle Eastern bazaar. It's almost like a game for him to see how low he can get you to go, laughing with evil glee as your mortgage goes unpaid and your kids starve because he's browbeaten you down to a crappy rate. Bwa ha ha ha ha!
Tell the prospect that the only way you're willing to give a discount is if he's willing to buy a package -- say, six months' worth of consulting or three training sessions. "What you're doing is putting the onus back on them," says Crowe. "If they turn around and say, 'Well, we don't have that much work,' then they've just negated themselves out of getting the discount."
When an ill-mannered prospect enters your life, you don't have to run the other way. Instead, run towards him with open arms as you feverishly try to figure out a way to transform this annoying specimen into a servile paying client.
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