Entrepreneurs are among the most optimistic people on the planet and with good reason. It takes tremendous courage and resilience to build something from nothing and to keep building year over year. Entering the 4th full year of business ownership, I've learned how to decipher what clients and potentials really mean when they say certain things. Regardless of where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, the sooner you understand these 3 things clients (and potentials) say and what they REALLY mean, the better off you will be.
1. You have one or two typos in your proposal, it's no big deal but you should be aware.
This is code for if I didn't know and trust you, I'd have judged you. There have been multiple times in my journey that I have heard this from someone who bought from me already. While I went back to look for the typos, I have to say it wasn't until late last year that I paid someone to review my writing, all the time. And that is not cool. I am certain that my oversight has cost me business. On one RFP we lost, the gentleman who gave me feedback told me that my "typos did not affect the vote" but the fact that he mentioned them tells me it's important. Your friend/colleague/potential is telling you to stop being sloppy and it is blessing that they are doing so. It is tough to pay for services at any stage of your business but especially in the early days. It is easy to review things yourself and hope for the best. The problem is you only have one shot with some folks, even people who know and trust you. Don't do what I did and ignore suggestions for proofreading. Do something. Today. It is worth it in the long run. Don't lose business or face over a typo.
2. Our team is having some heartburn, I'm working on it.
This is classic for one person has a major sticking point in something you said and I'm trying to clean it up. While this one is not one you hear often, it is common when you present to groups and have to get many different people to buy into your idea/solution/service. Don't be afraid to ask your contact point blank what the issue is. I had several instances of this and in 2014, I mustered up the courage to ask my client directly. They were so relieved for several reasons. One, they did not want to "give up the information"without a direct inquiry. It was a very sensitive discussion and because I asked directly, I gave them an opportunity to tell me with a clean conscience. Two, they were genuinely in a tough spot of not knowing how to answer. The people who know you and want to do business with you are putting themselves out to bring you in. When there is push-back, it is on you to make it easy for them to advocate without selling you. Asking directly what the issue is and for an opportunity to address it yourself. This not only makes life easier on your contact but gives you another shot to demonstrate why you are the right person for the job. You take the burden of selling you off your pal and put it firmly where it belongs - in your own hands.
3. We are having some challenges with the budget.
"Challenges with the budget" means you have not clearly articulated how you will add value to the organization with your project. This one is really cut and dry - it needs to be crystal clear how what you will do will do one of the following: save the company money, make the company money or solve a problem that has gone unsolved. Now, when consulting in the space that I am in organizational development, inclusion strategy or strategic planning, it is slightly tougher to articulate but must be done. The person on the other side of your proposal wants to work with you. People don't get to the proposal stage of potential projects without a clear budget expectation in mind. When you get to the final stages of the sale and money is the issue, you have not demonstrated value very well. Ask the budget, whenever possible. You avoid putting yourself in a tough spot later by taking the risk to learn what the budget is as soon as you can. Another tactic we use is finding out the "pain", the thing that keeps them up at night. When you can solve a problem that is eating away at someone, they always find the "budget." No joke. My favorite example was last year when a potential and I went back and forth for a few months on a project that he could not get approved budget wise. Finally, I sent him a note that stated why we may not be a fit at this time and how I am ready when they are ready for my type of services. Within 2 weeks, he came back with his own discretionary budget. When you clearly show how what you can do, people find the funds.
Those are the most common things I've heard over the last 3 years and how we've solved for them. We rarely hear these anymore. Take time to peek behind the words and understand what people are really saying, especially people who connect with you. Few people connect with the intention of wasting time. Make it easy on all involved by anticipating needs and addressing them for smoother selling.