How Much Time Should You Spend With Prospective Clients?

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“Can you come by this week? We’d like to meet you.”

If you’ve been writing copy for some time — especially if you do some local networking and marketing — you’ve probably heard this request more than once from a prospective client.

And, it doesn’t have to be a meeting request. It could be an out-of-town prospect who wants to schedule several calls with you to “bounce ideas around.”

Or, maybe they want you to talk to the company’s president. And her husband, who runs sales and marketing. And Bob, who maintains the company’s website.

To some freelancers, these requests are a clear sign of legitimate interest. They’re an indicator that the prospect is serious about hiring you.

But, other freelancers cringe when they get these requests. To them, they’re an indicator that the prospect doesn’t value their time. And, the fact that they’re asking for more meetings, more phone calls, and more “brainstorming sessions” is a bad sign of things to come, should they become a client.

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, but long ago concluded that the right answer lies in the middle; agreeing to some meetings and extended conversations … but being smart about which requests you accept.

This is sometimes a tough call to make. That’s why I’ve adapted and implemented a best practice from my selling career that has worked wonderfully well in these situations. It’s called the “BANT” test.

BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing. To make BANT work, you want to develop a few simple questions to ask prospects when they request more time from you. The answers to these questions will help you determine how to proceed.

Here’s how it works:

First, thank the prospect for their interest and the opportunity to meet them in person or to talk with other members of their team. Then, ask if you can run through a few quick questions over the phone first, just to make sure you better understand their situation.

Budget:

“Do you have a budget already set aside for this project?”
Before you take much more time with the prospect, you want to make sure they’ve earmarked funds for this effort. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people have said they’ve wanted to meet me right away … yet didn’t even have final approval to move forward with the project in question.

While on the subject of money, some people suggest that you ask the prospect for his or her budgeted amount. I prefer to give them a rough estimate of what I charge for such a project. That will immediately screen out those who aren’t able (or willing) to pay my fees.

Authority:

“Mind if I ask who will make the final decision on hiring the freelancer for this project?”
If it’s someone other than the person you’re talking with, ask if the decision-maker can be part of this initial in-person or phone meeting. There’s no use driving all over town or scheduling call after call, only to have to come back another day to meet the head honcho.

By the way, if you feel a bit uneasy asking this question, don’t worry. If they’ve been in business for more than a few months, your prospect has heard it before and will (or should!) respect you for asking it.

Need:

“Have you identified a specific project you want to discuss?”
You might already have the answer, but I come across prospects all the time who don’t even know what they want from me. They feel they need a web copywriter, but they haven’t identified an actual project. Or, they haven’t really defined which pages they want written — or why! Everything else being equal, you want to make sure they either have something scoped out or are very close to doing so.

Timing:

“When are you looking to get started on this project?”
Not long ago, I talked with a prospect who wanted to meet me right away. But, when I asked her this question, she told me that they couldn’t get started on the project for another three months. (Hmmm, three months? Any chance we can put off this meeting for another two months … ?)

I’ve found that the further out the project is slated to start, the higher the chances that it will be delayed, put on hold, or scrapped altogether. So, whenever possible, you want to put off lengthy discussions until your prospect is ready to get things started.

Naturally, you’ll have to apply common sense to this formula. You can’t expect a perfect score every time. In fact, you should temper prospects’ responses with other important factors.

For instance, consider how they found you, the company’s name and reputation, and any other valuable insider information (maybe someone on the inside has told you how desperate they are for a web copywriter with your qualifications or skills!).

One final tip: Before you invest your valuable time putting together a proposal, you should run through these same questions with your prospect, just to make sure a proposal is justified. I typically spend 30 – 60 minutes thinking through and assembling a detailed proposal. So, I want to only dedicate that kind of time to projects I have a high chance of winning.

Try out this BANT technique next time you get a new prospect asking you to drive to their office or to chat with everyone on their team. It could very well save you (and the prospect) a lot of time. And, it will help position you as a true business professional.

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Ed Gandia

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