I've had a LONG run of possible buyers who exhibited every buying signal, knew my rates then dropped out just before the deal closed. Is it something in the air? It's never been like this before.
That's sales! ahah!
I can't count the amount of times I have thought someone was a perfect fit to move forward to learn they are just tire kickers... and some that seemed to be a long shot that closed.
If it is not happening frequently then you can stack it up as a anomaly - however that never feels satisfying.
What you need to do is look at your sales pipeline and try to understand where things went wrong.
Now the best way to find this out is simply ask that lead...
Noone really likes to do this, but it works. If you know they have decided to go a different direction then reach out to them with a follow up email to wish them all the best, let them know that if anything changes you will still be there and most importantly use it as an opportunity to ask them why they decided not to move forward with you. Ask what you as a business can do in the future to remedy it!
Now if they have fallen off a cliff and you can not get a response you will have to look at your sales pipeline and try to identify similarities between these lost deals that you can improve. This is why it is super important to leverage a CRM.
Clearly state your rates on your website or rate card when you make first contact with the prospective client. Know that not everyone will book with you!
Offer a small initial project - a proposal, sample work, etc. for a reasonable fee. And then set regular milestones with payment due. You can also ask for a portion up front.
If your rate is something like $50/hour, and you expect to bill approximately 20 hours/week for the next 10 weeks -- for a total of around $10,000, asking for $1000 up front is perfectly reasonable.
A sample of work (for example, some initial concepts for a website redesign) for a couple hours work, billed at $99 paid up front after the initial consultation is a good example.
And then set a weekly (or bi-monthly) payment schedule, with acceptance. That way you are never more than a week (or two) behind -- and you stop work if they don't pay.
There may be questions about acceptance of existing work, but you can log a future work request and continue working and agree to address those issues going forward. It's good to put in a buffer of further support into the contract to cover these cases. So that if you end up with an extra month of work above what is expected, you have it in the contract already.
For my test automation services, I offer a free initial consultation and then a proof of concept smoke test with continuous delivery that will run for 30 days for $199. it provides a lot more than $199 value and since setup is mostly automated, doesn't take me too much effort up front. Once they see that I can deliver, we negotiate the larger scope deliverables. And even if we don't reach an agreement, they walk away with something of value, and I haven't lost too much time invested.
The absolute best thing you can do is get feedback from the people who are constantly bailing at the last minute. Without knowing why they are bailing you'll be basing any solutions to this problem on guesses - which is not likely to solve the problem.
There are so many reasons why this is happening, from poor prospecting to not listening/engaging in consultative selling.
Price is usually one of the last reasons people won't buy - especially if they already know the costs ahead of spending time speaking with you.
Find a way to get feedback. Ask directly, provide a feedback form, get mutual contacts to speak to them...just make sure you get their feedback.
Once you have a better idea of why you'll be able to adjust accordingly.
Well, this happens during certain periods with almost every sales person I guess. :) Here is what I'd do (and I do as well) -
1. Send them an email, politely wishing them best, and asking to chose the reason they didn't chose you; give them options like - a) price was super high b) wasn't happy with communication so and so forth. I get a reply almost always to such emails if the buyer is genuine.
Also, you may lately find that most of them were not looking to purchase at all, so don't bother much either.
2. Check the competitive rates, figure out what others are charging for the same work. Need I tell you the ways to do that? :)
3. Just general review your in-sales process (where you send agreements to sign, deal closing documents etc) or probably do a role playing putting yourself in customer's place, and ask you colleague to play you. It sounds interesting, and it works equally good.
At Agicent (my company - https://www.agicent.com), we sell app and web development services, and we always role play to figure out what "Category" of customer would search for which keywords, and then we divide those keywords according to role and work on them (for content, marketing, pitch etc).
Hope this helps.
As for weed them out that would come in the discovery phase before any proposal is submitted and as well having an established buyer persona. A big part is making sure you have true buyer persona established. However, I would submit a conceptual agreement before you submit a proposal and what this does, help align your value with their actual value needs. From there, when you send a proposal, it becomes a lot more personal. Remember, selling is helping you need to find the trigger points to customer pain and find way to align your value with that.
Call me so we can chat more!
Be sure to not provide a full proposal of Service Prior to initial payment. Why? Unwittingly detailed proposals often give a prospect the "how-to" implement your service, which they are free to share with a lower cost (and often less experienced) firm or execute your service themselves. A scenario that happened to a 90's tech client when they thought they'd landed a whale.
Instead, provide a summary of service which highlights what you will implement but without the detailed instructions.
Don't let non-starters derail you. In a perfect world prospects will detail why they didn't hire you, but often they won't.
Are they getting better service or lower price from your competitors? If yes, then it's time to work on improvements. If it's a no, then relax, nothing to worry, just igmore.
There are many ways to approach this.
1) Set high fees, so only successful, well informed folks inquire.
2) Never haggle. Period.
3) Charge for client vetting/onboarding + name your offer something spiffy... like...
4) Advanced Practice: Have no front facing Website, so only direct referrals even know you exist.
I run a high traffic, high speed, private WordPress hosting service.
Recently a buddy of mine suggested I monetize my onboarding + his suggestion was good.
Now I'm doing Website audits, which I use to do for free, for $497 + affiliates who mail/promote my service are paid 50%.
So, I pay $0 for unlimited leads (OPML - Other People's Mailing Lists) + $0 for lead technology like mailing + then make $150 for every new lead... so think about this...
Every new lead pays me $150 each, so my lead generation is now a profit center, rather than time drain.
Try some variation of this where you...
Roll up your common practices/questions/activities related to onboarding into a sale or fixed priced (one shot) offering.
During your discovery process, ask them about their budget for this project/campaign. If they don't know, there's a good chance they'll balk at your number since they haven't done any research up front.
Ultimately, their budget is more important to their decision than your rates, so encourage them to come up with at least a range for what they're willing to spend -- you may end up modifying your offering to meet that pricing.
Please contact me to discuss further.
People can be flaky with short attention spans. The followup process can be painful because you don't want to be a hardsell but a lot of times that deal won't close without you following up. Wait a week, check back if they're interested. Reach out again two weeks later. If they don't respond, move on to other prospects.
It could be totally independent of your fees since the problem you described doesn't mention them balking at what you charge or asking you for rate cuts or auditions. But your site should have a clear message and quality content with high engagement that shows you can be trusted-- case in point, I had a tougher time getting marketing and consulting work in games before I had a built up presence on Gamasutra then branched out to other sites in addition to my own blog.
It's sounding like an unsure buyer vs. fee-cheapskate issue here.
Could be your overall narrative is not that compelling OR
Your pricing or terms are too high with no flexibility perceived OR
You are not hitting enough people to build a pipeline OR
You are hitting the wrong target market.
Having said that, you have to gauge urgency in the first call. Depending on your market, you can gauge directly or indirectly.
Direct: You ask them for their timeline to start.
Indirect: Ask them if they have the budget and be super straight.
In either case, the first few points above must be handled - otherwise, they will never buy in the first place.
The most important thing is to determine who is the actual buyer(s). You need to reach them, and develop a relationship. A lot of times, the company initially reaches out with employees who are, at most, feasibility buyers (they can say no, but not yes). You want to spend as little time as possible with them—just enough time to convince them to arrange a meeting with the actual decision maker.
The reason is that the actual buyer is the one interested in the value of your product/service, and he/she isn't strictly focused on price. If you go through the sales process with non-buyers, they would then go to the buyer and accurately give the price, but they won't adequately convey your value.
So, you want to sell to the actual buyer, ask him questions to uncover the value he/she hopes to get from your product/service and, then, before submitted a proposal with price, reach a conceptual agreement over all the value they will receive and find out their range of budget.
Then, submit three options. Option 1 should be the lowest priced option, should be within their range and, ethically, it should solve the basic problem.
Then, your second and third options can offer more value, for higher fees.
I use a prequalification questionnaire that covers access to budget (can they afford me); timeline (are they exploring or ready to hire) and more. It is pretty thorough and over the years has allowed me to score prospects. I don't mind those in the exploration phase because you need people in all phases of the sales pipeline to keep a steady flow. However, I do need to know how to invest my time. Even with your best efforts you will not close every deal, so don't be discouraged!