Making the Sale

In “Set Your Rates Right” I talked about charging what you’re worth. I attempted to convince you to give up the guilt and understand that being paid well for your work is good for you, your business, your clients, and the dogs. But knowing you’re worth a decent rate is only half the battle and I promised we’d talk this time about making the sale.

It’s Not a Job Interview
The first step toward comfortable and effective sales is a perspective change. Many trainers approach both the phone conversation and the initial consult as though they are interviewing for a position. This triggers all the anxieties associated with job seeking, chiefly performance pressure and the fear of rejection, emotions that make the sales experience nerve-wracking and tempt us to lower our rates, offer larger than required discounts, and otherwise send messages that we’re not worthy.

Instead, recognize that you’re a professional with a valuable skill and knowledge set. Potential clients are coming to you for help. You are using the phone conversation and the initial consult to assess whether theirs is a case you’ll take.

Don’t Be Afraid to Lose the Client
If you determine that you’re willing to help (either moving from the phone screening to an initial consult or from the initial consult to a training program), you’ll offer assistance at the price it’s worth. If it’s not the right match for the client, that’s okay. It has to be—no service is right for everyone.

Again, this is all about perspective. Not being the right match at the right time doesn’t need to be a personal rejection. The client may be saying no for all sorts of legitimate reasons. They may not have understood the level of work and commitment involved and, now that they do, are making a wise decision to wait until they’re ready to do it right. They may truly not have the money needed and so will wait until they can afford it. If this is the case, it is not your responsibility to subsidize their training by lowering your rate—we talked about the pitfalls of that last time. And in both cases, if you handle things well there’s a decent chance you’ll get a call from them in the future.

Be Confident. Take Charge.
It’s also much more likely that potential clients will say yes when you let go of the fear. We want to hire confident service professionals—I want my doctor to know her stuff, for example. I’d be nervous if she appeared to doubt her rates. Just like I’d be leery if my lawyer didn’t step in to take charge of the initial interview or my mechanic asked me what I thought was wrong with my car.

When you talk to a client on the phone, lead the conversation. Start by asking what led them to call a trainer today. Listen, asking any follow-up questions that’ll allow you to determine whether you want to pursue an initial consult. And then empathize, be the expert, and tell them what you can do for them. If the call is about excessive barking, for example, you might say, “I know how frustrating barking can be, and to have neighbors calling on top of it—how stressful. I’m so glad you called and I’m happy to help. Now, there are a number of different reasons dogs bark, and we’ll need to determine what’s happening in Fido’s case. So let me tell you a bit about how we work.”

From here you explain the role of the initial consult and your basic approach. If you do day training you explain how the program works. If coaching, you explain that you’ll be meeting with them once a week, etc. Same with board and train. Be sure to include the benefits of your approach. (For example, with day training you’d emphasize the convenience, speed, and effectiveness of having a trainer do the training for them.)

It’s important to take charge at the initial consult, too. Don’t be content to be left standing in the entryway while the client’s life swirls around you, politely waiting to be acknowledged. You’re a professional there to do professional work. They’re paying for your time and there’s a limited amount of it—it’s important to get right to work and set a tone of productivity. When the door opens, introduce yourself and shake hands while making good, solid eye contact. If the dog is present, compliment her and, if safe and appropriate, pet her. But then straighten back up, smile, and suggest, “Shall we sit at the kitchen table and get started?” Clients will feel more comfortable if you take the lead, and are much more likely to hire you if you seem competent and in control.

When it’s time to decide on the number of subsequent sessions, that decision must be yours. Offering clients a choice of package sizes is a setup for failure. You’re the only one with the knowledge and experience necessary to determine how many hours are needed to reach the client’s goals. Once you’ve moved through the assessment interview to determine what’s happening with the dog, and have come to an understanding of the client’s desired outcomes and what needs to be done to reach them, you need to share that—confidently and sincerely—with the client. You might, for example, say: “I’m so glad you called to get help with this. It sounds like this situation has been difficult for quite a while and I can certainly help to alleviate some of this stress for you.” Next, explain your assessment of the situation and your prognosis. (Remember never to make guarantees—they’re rightfully considered unethical in our profession.) Then continue: “I told you a bit about how we work on the phone. (Repeat the basic info and benefits of your approach.) Given that your goals are [insert client goals here], we will need X weeks to carry out the training plan for Fido.”

The Dreaded Question: How Much Do You Charge?
It’s ironic that a culture so profoundly focused on money has bred us to be so uncomfortable talking about it. But that’s the reality for most of us: Being asked what we charge makes us squirm. Maybe it’s fear of rejection or self-doubt. Maybe just polite squeamishness. Whatever the reasons (we’ll leave them to the sociologists and psychologists), let’s talk solutions.

One way to get around the dreaded question is to answer it preemptively. Don’t wait for the question—just tell them your fees. The smoothest place to insert the information during the phone screening is after the explanation of what you do. You explain how you work and the role of the initial consult, and then tell them what it costs. At the initial consult, cover the fees right after you tell them the length of the training program.

The next key is to move on. So often we quote our rate and then wait for a response. This opens us up to uncomfortable silences, rude whistles of sticker shock, or even ruder commentary on our pricing. Instead, just keep talking and infer in so doing that 1) your rate is perfectly reasonable, 2) it’s not up for discussion or comment. Because it shouldn’t be.

On the phone try, “The initial consult is $XX, which includes a written report (if it does). What I’d like to do with our time together is to determine the root cause of Fido’s barking so that we can put together a training plan specific to his situation and your needs. I have an opening in my schedule next week if you’d like to get started.” Similarly, during the initial consult: “You know my regular rate is $XX. Because we’re looking at an X-week commitment I’ll put your package together at a discounted rate of $YY, which will make the full training program $ZZ. As I explained, the key here will be to teach Fido alternatives to barking so he has a more polite and acceptable way to ask for what he wants. This should give us the time we need to accomplish that so you can enjoy his company more fully and not have to worry about the neighbors. I have some availability next week if you’d like to get started.”

When They Say No
A gracious response is best. When clients say they have to consult their spouses or think about it for a while tell them they should: “Absolutely. This is a big commitment and I encourage you to think it through. If you have additional questions please don’t hesitate to let me know. And if and when the time feels right I’ll be here to help.”

It’s never a good idea to backtrack. Fight the temptation to lower your rate or change your schedule or anything else you think may cause them to reconsider. Doing so sends a message of self-doubt and business desperation that actually makes you less attractive to potential clients. A strong, confident, gracious answer leaves the door open and your professionalism intact.

A quick note: If you’re selling packages (which I hope you are!) look into opening a credit card account. This is very easy to do through your bank (or you can research companies for the lowest rate—the average is around 2%) and allows potential clients who may not have the money easily at hand to still take advantage of your services.

The Benefits of a Professional Stance
In addition to raising your conversion rate (the number of potential clients who turn into real ones) and thus your income, taking a strong professional approach to dealing with sales affords several other benefits. When you carry yourself in the manner described here you’ll likely begin to feel more confident, making the sales process that much easier. I’ve had many business consulting clients report that although they had to “fake it to make it” the first couple of times, as they saw results from these approaches they began to believe in the message. Our clients report a significant increase in comfort and success around issues of money and sales from their changed stance.

You should see differences in client buy-in, too. As you hold yourself more confidently, clients are less apt to question methodologies or compare them unfavorably to those they see on TV. If you act like an expert your clients will see you as one and treat you accordingly.