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Episode 217: Giving Potential Clients a Clear Path to Buying from You—with Deb Zahn

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. On this podcast, I'm going to talk about giving potential clients, like folks who may want to work with you or who definitely want to work with you, giving them a really clear, easy path to actually buying from you. Which may seem obvious because you're like, "Well, Deb, of course, I'm out there selling my consulting services." But you would be amazed at how many consultants sadly stop short of actually getting to the part where they're helping clients purchase their services.

So, I want to talk about what that looks like, and I'm going to use an analogy that I think works really well. So, I grew up going to garage sales with my mom. So, out here, I'm on the East Coast of the United States. They call them tag sales. But when we grew up, they were called garage sales, and it was our weekend activity. We loved to do it. And we still actually love to do it. Because it's kind of the thrill of the hunt. You go out, you don't know what you're going to find, it's all a mystery. You hope to get surprised, and you hope to find that really valuable item and you're going to get an awesome deal.

And anytime we did that, we would walk out. And as soon as we were out of eyesight of whoever was having the garage sale, we'd put our hands up, we'd say, "Score." And that was sort of our thing, and we still do it to this day. And so we kind of joke in our family that we don't have family heirlooms, we have other families' heirlooms that we got at a really good deal. That's generally how I grew up. My mom is a bargain hunter. I follow suit. I can't help it. It's genetic.

So, this was back before smartphones that had apps that told us where the sales were. This was before GPS, so if you couldn't find something, you had to pull out a map to try and find it.

And so sometimes, there would be listings in local papers. We would look at that and we'd plot it out on a map. But a lot of times what we would just do is we would drive around neighborhoods on the weekend looking for garage sale signs. And we knew which neighborhoods tended to have better garage sales. And so those would be the ones that we would go, just drive around and look for signs. And over time, we became extremely judgmental about garage sale signs. Not just a little judgy, but extraordinarily judgmental about the signs themselves.

And so the reason for that is most of them were awful. So, they'd have these tiny little letters written in ballpoint pen. You couldn't read it. You couldn't read it from a car, let alone it expected you to get out of a car and go up and read it. And a lot of times, even then, you couldn't even read it because the writing wasn't very clear. One of the worst is, you'd have garage sale in huge letters, which, garage sale is important. You want to know that it's a garage sale. But it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is where the heck is it. And so they'd have that in huge letters.

And sometimes, they would have a long list of items, and then either they would forget to write the address or have the address in tiny little letters. And often, it wasn't the street you were on, and it didn't tell you where to find that street. So, the only way that you were going to find it is if you pulled out a map and went and searched in that map and actually tried to find out where that street was. So, that made you do all of this extra work to try and find out where they were.

The other bad ones were written on a flimsy cardboard. So, if the slightest bit of wind hit it, it would bend and then would bend around the telephone pole, and you couldn't read it. So, unless you were going to stop and get out of your car and look at it, you couldn't actually see anything that was actually written on it.

Arrows, we were very, and still are, opinionated about the arrows. So, a lot of signs will have arrows supposedly guiding you to where the sale is. And sometimes, they were done in such a way that because of the way that the sign was actually positioned, you couldn't tell where it was pointed, so you couldn't tell where you were actually supposed to go. But the worst ones, the ones that made us the most angry were the arrows that would be a sequence of signs that would have arrows. And what that meant is that's where you were supposed to turn. So, turn on left on this street, and then you'd see another sign and you turn right on the next street. And you feel like, "OK, good. They're leading me there."

It would help you make the first two or three turns, and then there would be no other signs and there would be no sale in sight. And we'd make the last turn and we're like, "Where is it? Or where's our next sign telling us where to go?" And we just in invested, probably a few minutes, but still we felt like we invested a bunch into this. So, we felt abandoned and betrayed. And then we were angry, and we didn't even want to go to the sale because we were going along with you and then look what you did to us. Like we thought you wanted us to buy from you.

And the problem is that most folks who are making these signs aren't creating them from the point of view of their would-be buyers. They weren't thinking about how do I actually make this easy for this person who has money in their pocket to get to my sale and give me that money and let me get rid of some of my junk or let me get rid of some of my treasures. They weren't asking, "Hey, if I write this, can you actually read this from a car? Is the arrow clear? Does this actually take them all the way there so that if they were driving, we know that they could actually get to our sale?" They weren't asking any of those questions.

And so their signs, even though they gave us hope that, yes, somewhere around here, there's a sale that we might want to go to, it made it darn near impossible for us to actually find them and to be able to become one of their buyers. Now, occasionally, very occasionally, we would find what we would call the perfect garage sale sign. And actually, we still do. We're such nerds. We would pause and admire it and basically break down what we thought its virtues were. Arrow was super clear. Didn't have a lot of extraneous detail. We knew exactly where to go, exactly what to do. And if it was a sequence of signs, it took us exactly directly to the sale.

And even better, once we got there, it would tell us where we could park because now we live in a rural setting, so there's not always places to park. It would tell us exactly where we could park. And we just love those things.

We actually joke that if my mom ever got a tattoo, this 82-year-old woman ever got a tattoo, which will never happen, it would actually be of the perfect garage sale sign. That's how ingrained this is into us. Now, of course, once we saw the perfect sign, we would expect the sale to be amazing. Occasionally we were disappointed, and we're like, "You didn't earn that sign."

But most of the time, they carried that through to the sale itself. So, they were often the best organized. It was really easy to see what was for sale. Prices were really clear. They had a really good system for collecting money. We weren't walking around going, "Hey, who do I give money to?" So, they had thought through the whole experience from soup to nuts. How do we get them there, and then how do we help them give us their money once we get there? It was beautiful. And those typically go along with the good signs.

So, you can see where I'm headed with this when it comes to consultants is, sadly, a lot of consultants often make bad signs for would-be clients. Right?

So, the problem is, it doesn't matter how fabulous it is what you have to offer. So, once they get to you, you could just knock their socks off so you could be fantastic. The experience you give them could just be wonderful, and they would be so happy that they hired you. It doesn't matter if they can't get to you. So, where I see a lot of consultants stop short is telling people who may want to be their clients or who may desperately want to be their clients, what to do to make that happen? They stop right short of it. But you never want to force your clients to figure out what am I supposed to do next to make this happen? Because some never will. It creates friction, it creates difficulty for them. And some might slog their way through it to try and figure it out. And a lot of them won't because they'll be like, "Well, this isn't a good experience."

And every experience you give a prospective client tells them what it's like to work with you. So, if you have a frustrating experience on the front end, they might think that's what it's going to be like to work with you. And they might stop short. Or they might not be able to figure it out. Or worse, they might fill out your little form and do whatever you tell them to do, but then they never hear back because there's never a real system to get them to the point where they can actually buy from you. So, what you want to do, and this is the main point I want to make of this, is you want your call to action. So, your call to action is essentially what you're telling your prospective client you want them to do next to progress towards buying from you, the buying your wonderful goodness that you can give them.

And you want it to be completely clear what that is, and you want it to be as easy as possible for them to do. And if you do that, they're more likely to actually take that step or take those steps. So, let me give some examples. So, what I see happens a lot is that if you can get into a discovery meeting, let's say, with a client, this is where you're on a call or you're in person and you're trying to get them to reveal what they might need and looking for an opportunity where you might be able to help them. And let's say you absolutely dazzled them, you have a good time, you have a great rapport, and everything is going well. And then it comes to the close of the meeting and what they hear from you is, "Well, let me know if you need any help." Which is very vague and very generic. And it puts the onus on them to try and figure out, "Oh, OK. Well, do I have a project or do I have a thing I need them to do?"

And they might just walk away really truly needing your help, but because they didn't think of something on the spot, they just chalk it up to, "Well, I had a really nice time at that meeting and I'll keep them in mind in case I have a project come up." And so essentially what that ends up doing is, the expression of you can lead a horse to water, which you can't make it drink. That doesn't even do that. That essentially says, "Well, there's water around here somewhere if you get thirsty." Instead of, "Here's exactly what you can do to potentially work together. Here's where I think I could be most helpful to you. And here's what we can do to try and make that happen." The clearer you are with them, the more likely you're going to end up being able to help them with something that is important to them.

And I don't mean shoving something down their throat and pushing for a sale and getting all salesy. I mean completing the conversation towards the next step that is really clear. So, if you heard things that you know that you could potentially be helpful with, then you can say, and this is the expression I often use, which is, "Look, I heard a couple of things that I think I could be helpful with. Would you be open to talking about that?" And then you have a conversation about it, and then you talk about the next step. If a proposal is the right next step, you say that. If, "Hey, let me actually put together what I think a scope might make sense, let me send that back to you," then that's the next step. Whatever the next step is, it's your job as the consultant, not their job as the would-be client, to figure it out and to actually say it.

Another example I see a lot is on websites. So, presumably, websites, it's not the main place that sales actually happen, but you can think of websites as a tool that can help enable sales. So, what will often happen is, if someone knows they're going to have a meeting with you or after their meeting, they might go to your website and they're just kicking the tires and they basically want to see who is this person and are they legit? Or they might dive in, and they might actually look at some things. But generally, they just want to take a quick look at it and get an impression. They might also go to your LinkedIn page or wherever else to do that. But websites are common if you have those.

Well, if they go after they've had a conversation with you or somebody referred you, and they've looked and they're like, "Yeah, this person seems cool, I think I do want to talk to them," you want it to be really easy for them to talk to you. And so what I see a lot is, on websites, it'll be, you have to scroll down to the bottom, which most people won't do. Most people will stay what's called “above the fold.” They won't scroll down. And they have to fill out a contact form. Maybe there's a little link in the top corner that says contact form. But they have to go all the way down to the bottom. They have to fill out a bunch of information, including why they want to talk to you. So, they're asked to give a lot before they get anything. And then they hit send, and they have no idea what's going to happen next.

And sometimes, consultants have systems where they get back to them immediately or they have an automated response and say, "We'll get back to you in 24 hours, business hours" or whatever. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. But it's not a really pleasurable good experience for the client. And if they're eager to have a conversation with you, then why put so many steps in between them being able to have that conversation with you as opposed to scheduling a call. And that appears at the top right, and that appears another place above the fold, and that appears in multiple places in the website if that's what you want them to do.

And now, all they have to do is click a button, and they click that button. It takes them to your scheduling system, and boom, they can get a schedule. It's easy, and you've made it clear. This is what the call to action is. The call to action for you, dear client, who would be overjoyed to work with me, is to click this and schedule a meeting. And you've made it now easy for them. The other example I'll give is, let's say you do a live event. So, it could be a presentation or you might do a LinkedIn live, which is a great way to connect with people. And let's say you give out tremendous value, which I always encourage folks to do. Don't go give a presentation or do a live event if you're not going to give people real value.

So, they just got really wonderful value from you. And presumably, you did it because you're trying to get clients or you're trying to do something. And I'll get to that in a moment. And then what? What's the thing you want them to do? Is it that you want them to schedule a time with you? Great. Then how do you make that easy? Is it that you want them to take some other next step? Great, in which case, make that easy? And what I see a lot of folks do is they just sort of end it, and people might go away and say, "Well, that was nice. I got a lot out of that." But there's no follow-up. In which case, now you've lost an opportunity to get in front of people who could potentially be your buyers because they really need your help.

So, you have to start first. The first step before you create your call to action is to be completely clear what you are trying to accomplish. Because you might be trying to accomplish different things. If you're trying to get people on discovery calls where you have an opportunity to mutually discover, if there's ways that make sense for you to work together, then that's what your call to action is. The call to action is to schedule a call. If you're trying to, let's say, build an email list because you're going to be doing some email marketing, and this is a way that you're going to nurture folks in your relationship, past clients, existing clients, other people in your market, and that's what you're trying to do, then them giving you their email presumably and they get something valuable in return for that, that's your call to action. That's it. But you have to be crystal clear.

If you're trying to get people to attend your live event, you have to be really clear, "I'm not trying to do a million things right now. I'm trying to get them to attend this live event. And this live event, I might know that it's part of an overall sales cycle, sales funnel that I've put together that they attend the live event, and then I want them to do this, and then I want them to do this." But for them, in that moment, you are completely clear, "This is the call to action. I want you to attend this live event. And it's not fussy and it's not hard to do." And boom, they can attend it and they can get that great value and experience why you'd be so valuable to have by their side.

So, if you know what you want them to do, then your call to action gets based on that. And you think about, "All right. If this is what I want them to do, what is the simplest way for them to be able to do that? How can I cut down the number of steps it takes and any other bits of friction that would prevent them from doing it or have them fall off and not actually finish whatever it is I want them to do?" And so, one of the key things is it's not five things. So, if I see a garage sale sign, I don't also want to see, "Oh, and you could get a manicure. Oh, and by the way, we do dog grooming." I don't want to see all that. I'm out for garage sales.

So, you want to have it be one thing that you're trying to get them to do. And it's not fill out a whole bunch of information, again, where you're asking them to give a lot before they get a lot, or to have this convoluted series of steps, like, "Fill this out and then I'll reach out to you. And then, oh, if I'm actually able to reach you, we'll go back and forth on scheduling. And if we're able to figure that out, then maybe we'll have a meeting." That's too much. And the more you have all of those steps, the less likely is that folks are going to be able to do it. So, really clear call to action.

If you want the next step to schedule a call with me, that's it. That's what the button says. That's what the link says. They click on it. They go to your calendar, and they're able to schedule. Boom. You now have a call on the books. You've accomplished what you knew you wanted to accomplish.

If it's to download something that's valuable to them, whether it's a tool or an industry report or something that they would care enough about that they would actually click on something, or they might share information. Let's say you're trying to build an email list. And so, one of the things that you do is you say, "I have this fabulous industry report that tells you these things. Click on this." You ask for their first name, you ask for their email, and that's it. Boom. And then they get it immediately without having to do any extra steps. Then you've accomplished what you decided you wanted to accomplish. And they didn't have to do much to make it happen.

Ultimately, the key is you don't want an unforced error. You don't want to lose potential clients just because they didn't know what to do. They didn't know what you wanted them to do, or it wasn't clear. Or involved too much effort on their part, or you asked for too much from them before they got anything in return. If you want people to buy from you, you make it clear and you make it easy for them to do so.

Now, once they get there, you still have to deliver the goods. You don't want to have the world's best garage sale sign, and then they get there and it's a bunch of used tube socks in a pile. You have to deliver the goods. You can tell I've been to that garage sale. We were very angry. We're like, "You didn't earn that sign."

So, you still have to earn it. You still have to make sure that they feel like that buying from you is one of the best decisions they've ever made. But in order to do that, you have to get them to buy. And that's really what this is about, is a call to action is the thing that tells them how to buy or what the next step is moving them towards purchasing from you. And since you are a consultant selling your consulting services, you've got to make it really simple and easy for you to do that. And so that's what I wanted to share today. And I couldn't resist because it's garage sales season. So, I've been seeing a lot of bad signs out there. I'm still searching for the perfect sign. We haven't seen it this season.

But it occurred to me that other consultants need to have those really good signs out there so that they are drawing the right buyers to them, and they're getting them to spend their money on the good things that they need from you and that are going to really help them accomplish what they care about and be able to make their lives easier. So, thank you so much for joining me on this episode.

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