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In Praise of the Minimum Engagement

Austin Church

by Austin Church


Feb 19, 2013


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What do you do with those clients who can't make up their mind about how to proceed? They know that they need what you have, and may even be convinced that you're the right person for the job. A minimum engagement can keep new client relationships from stalling out.

We've all been there. You meet to talk about one thing, and halfway through the conversation you realize that they need rebranding AND a new website AND search engine optimization AND a marketing plan. They can't decide where to start. Or their budget cannot accommodate all of those projects at once, and this shortfall has caused inertia. Or someone else whose opinion matters couldn't be at the meeting: "Let's wait until the marketing director gets back from vacation. She'll know where to start."

"Let's wait until…" has been the death of many a promising project (and potentially lucrative client relationship).

How do you politely yet firmly navigate such conversations into the safe harbor of a closed sale?

Let me make one thing clear: I'm not referring to the stimulus-response sales tactics that you see in infomercials. I would advise you to only give people what they really need, even if that means leaving money on the table. Only sell your help if they really need it.

But if someone is intent upon buying a BMW, why shouldn't you be the one to sell it to them, regardless of your opinions on luxury automobiles or that person's financial situation?

That being said, most sales situations involve prospects who don't know what they want, or if they know what they want, they often don't know what they need. For example, what Sally's Spit-N-Polish may really need is a comprehensive rebranding: a new name, logo, fonts, letterhead, marketing materials, website, credo, ethos, product packaging, copywriting, and strategic planning. But somebody's brother's cousin's uncle's ex-girlfriend said that the website wasn't a "firm, digital handshake," and now Sally is convinced that a WordPress backend is the magic wand that's going to make customers line up around the block.

How do you make the sale?

Use a minimum engagement to get over the initial hurdle.

If your start in business was anything like mine, you spent multiple marathon meetings helping prospects drill down to their true needs. You invested hours in creating together detailed proposals that outlined how to make all that stuff happen. Maybe you even did spec work. When the smoke cleared, you discovered that the prospect got gun-shy somewhere along the way.

Were you were trying to sell Veuve Clicquot Champagne to a Franzia drinker? Maybe, maybe not. But you've got to build trust before you can sell a premium product or bring about change.

If you're the messenger, the change agent, you're the first one who is asked to leave when people want to avoid having to change. If your prospect has his head buried in the sand, he'll have trouble looking beyond the prices in the proposal and seeing the value of the positive outcomes.

Minimum engagements cut out all the marathon meetings, exhaustive proposals, and education sessions. 

If they want to work with you, they have to spend a minimum amount of money. I implemented this minimum engagement in January 2012: 

5 hours @ $125/hour = $625.

If they couldn't afford that, I said adios. If they couldn't make up their minds on where to start, I said, "No problem. I'll go ahead and send you an invoice and a payment request via PayPal. After you sent the payment, we'll schedule a strategy session to develop a game plan."

Did you get that? With a minimum engagement, you get to charge for meetings and education sessions—no more giving time away and no more frustration with gun-shy prospects.

My minimum engagement enabled me to say with confidence, "This is how I start new client relationships," and to get a clear yes or clear no within 45 minutes.

  • What's the minimum amount of money you'll accept to begin working with a new client?
  • What's the fastest way to get paid—that is, to get the client on the hook?
  • How much time are you willing to put in before getting a clear yes or no?

You'll start closing more sales and earning more money if you have the guts to stick to a minimum engagement. Try it and let me know what happens.

Categories: Business, Complete Elephant | Tags: minimum engagement, indecisive clients


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