My father was a sales representative for the original Eastern Airlines. As one of EAL’s Florida experts, he spent a lot of time visiting hotels and attractions around the Sunshine State, making sure they had all the system timetables they needed, and in general reminding them that Eastern was around and looking to do business with them.
What does a sales call look like?
Dad was trying to sell seats on airplanes. I’m trying to sell technical writing services. Still, the process of the sales call doesn’t change too much, despite the difference in industries and products.
You might or might not enjoy sales as part of your work routine, but it is often necessary. When things get quiet as a freelancer, you need to check in with your existing customers to see if you can dig around for more work before you start looking for new customers. It’s a delicate balance sometimes. You want to get paying work, but you don’t want to look desperate or pushy. The goals of a sales call are simple:
- Maintain your connection with the customer
- Look for opportunities for future sales
Maintain your connection with the customer
The first part–maintaining the relationship–is a combination of “small talk” (the nemesis of many an introvert) and serious talk. The small talk means simple things: learning and remembering the point of contact’s name, where they’re from, their interests, any personal details that you can remember as conversation starters on future visits. And yes, it doesn’t hurt if you just try to make friends with your customers. Friendships and closer connections make it easier and more fun to work with customers in the long run.
There are multiple software programs out there that you can use to track your sales contacts. You can even use Microsoft Excel, if you’re lazy/cheap. Or, if you’ve got a reasonably good memory, you can just remember who is who and what their lives and needs are.
Look for opportunities for future sales
People in the sales profession will always emphasize the need to “ask for the sale.” Meaning you need to ask a concrete, yes-or-no question like, “Can you commit to X activity?” or “When can I expect to hear from you about writing for X project?”
I know: if you’re like me, you might not always be comfortable asking for money. But you’ve got to eat, too. And there are psychological tricks you can play on yourself to work around this. The most important thing to do (for me) is to ask for the work. This means you’re more concerned about helping the customer. The money will come after that.
And here’s another thing you can do when looking for work. It’s entirely possible that your customer doesn’t have work and doesn’t feel comfortable telling you that. Rather than force your customer into an uncomfortable corner by asking, “Have you got any work for me?” you could ask instead: “Do you know anyone in need of a writer at the moment?”
This opens a couple of opportunities for your customer:
- They are free to refer you to another department within their organization or even at another company.
- If they don’t know anyone needing technical writing assistance, they can save face by saying, “No, but I’ll keep my ears open” or “No, but I’ll be happy to recommend you if someone needs help.”
Ensuring the next sale
The trick, of course, is developing your reputation with the customer to the level where they will be willing and eager to recommend you to another organization. That requires you to do two things:
- Do good enough work that a customer can recommend you professionally.
- Develop a good enough personal relationship with the customer that they will recommend you personally.
The second item might seem minor, but it’s not. Humans are emotional creatures. It’s easier and more believable for a customer to recommend your services if they appreciate the quality of your work and they like working with you. I wish it were a simple matter of pure merit, but it’s not.
So as you’re working through the mysteries of translating Engineerish and getting your style and grammar right, remember that you also have to pay attention to the sales aspect of your life as a writer.