I hope you liked last week’s conversation about the lessons I’ve learned that improve my proposal win percentage and let me be happy with the fee on the proposals I win. Gotta make the donuts and pay the bills, right?
On to this week. Related to preparing proposals, many of you asked me how I vet my prospects. I’m happy to share my process. You’ll probably be appalled. But my hope is that it will help you refine your process as well.
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So remember that dreaded call I mentioned last week … the one where the prospect asks: How much will it cost to value ABC Industries, Inc.? I’m lucky in that almost all of those calls come to me via email. Maybe it’s because people know I travel in the RV and figure emailing me is easier. Maybe it’s because I don’t answer my phone if I don’t recognize the number.
But hey, I prefer email inquiries because it gives me time to think about my response to that kind of question. So here’s what my return email looks like.
First things first
The key to the first interaction with my prospects is gaining some control over the situation. Most send that first email to me thinking they have the money so they have the power. I sometimes find this to be the case with first-time prospects who figure I should be begging them to get the work.
I normally don’t get second-time prospects emailing me. After the first time, they know I won’t be bullied and they don’t come around again. Or they like my process, and I’ve converted them to clients or referral sources who understand how I work.
So my reply email follows this structure …
I start with a greeting, making sure to address the prospect by name, and thank them for “reaching out to me” and that the inquiry is “very much appreciated.”
In the next line, I will tell the prospect that their project “sounds interesting,” but that I’m “selective” about the clients I take on … “so I have a few questions that will help us determine if we’re a good fit or if they might be served best by someone else.”
The third sentence explains that I’ve developed a process “tailored for this inquiry” and that it’s “designed to save both of us time and help me gather all of the information I need to put together my proposal as quickly as possible.” Implication: answer the questions!
I then move straight into my questions, which can depend on the information already provided in the initial inquiry.
- What kind of business is it? (I don’t value every kind of business)
- What is the purpose of valuation? (I don’t do valuations for every purpose)
- What is the standard of value? (if not self-evident from #2)
- What are the business revenues? (do I likely need to do the guideline public company method)
- What is the size of the interest? (what kind of discounts must I determine)
- What is the date of the valuation? (what resources will I need)
- What is the intended use/distribution of the report? (if not self-evident from #2)
- Can you send me a copy of the most recent year’s financial statement or tax return? (for a whole host of reasons)
- Does the business prepare projections? (or might I have to create my own)
- Have there been any subsequent events after the valuation date? (which might require me to run an alternative valuation scenario)
- How did you find me? (do I need to thank someone)
- Who is the decision maker on the project? (who has the power to say yes)
- Who is engaging me? (who is responsible for the fees)
- How do we measure success? (if not self-evident from #2)
- What’s your timeline? (due date of report, date of trial, can I meet that date)
- What is the budget allotted for the project? (puts the onus on the prospect to come up with a fee range first, or I say I have a minimum fee of $X)
As you can see, these questions help me determine if I’m qualified to do the project, define the scope of work required, establish a potential fee range, and develop options for different service levels.
I let the prospect know that a Calendly link on my email trailer will allow them to “painlessly schedule a call with me” in case any more ground needs to be covered. Otherwise, “I look forward to the responses and any needed follow up so that I can prepare the kind of proposal that ABC Industries is looking for and deserves.”
I end with a “thank you for contacting me” and that, “if the stars align,” I look forward to working with them.
But, but …
Yep, I know. My email puts the burden on the prospect to respond with information. But how else am I going to know what I’m getting into? All of my engagement regrets have come from scope surprises that arose after the proposal was accepted. Yours too, I imagine.
Are prospects going to weed me out with this initial email? Am I going to weed out prospects just as quickly? Of course, they are and I will … and we both want that to happen.
Last, but not least
I put a reminder in my calendar to contact the prospect if I have not heard from them in a week. If I don’t get any response, I let it drop.
The more you get into the business (e.g., transitioning from some-time to part-time to full-time), the more you’ll get inquiries for your BVFLS services. This is especially true if you specialize in a niche and you’re known for what you know (locally, regionally, etc.).
When that happens (if it hasn’t already happened), you’ll need a process for efficiently and effectively dealing with those inquiries. I hope my process helps.
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