Guide - Convince clients to work with you

Master the art of the sales conversation.

Welcome to a once-a-month free edition of the Hatchet. We share weekly career advice for new managers working at fast-growing companies, directly to your email inbox.

Interested in receiving these stories too? Sign up here.

Convince clients to work with you

I started my first job in tech at twenty-one. By age twenty-six I was managing a tech conference with 20,000 attendees generating €3 million+ in annual revenue. There’s one skill in particular that helped me get there: being able to sell.

Whether you work in the sales department or not, chances are that at some point in your career you'll join a sales conversation. I'd like to prepare you for that moment.

The strategy I use is a combination of experience, intuition and books I've read. It's not meant to be a complete guide, but rather a solid starting point.

#1 - Preparing your psychological mindset

How are deals closed? It's definitely not just because of a smart-articulated question at the end of your sales-process to trick your client into signing on the dotted line.

You start closing a deal the moment you initiate first contact. Every email, meeting or phone call, however insignificant you might think it is, subconsciously contributes to the clients perception of you, the product you're selling and the company you represent. That’s why I like to think carefully about the person I want to be.

You're essentially starting a new relationship and in that relationship I want my significant other's perception of me to tick all of the following boxes:

  • I want them to see me as an expert in my field of work

  • I want them to see me as someone here to help, not to sell

  • I want them to consider me trustworthy

How I act in every part of the sales-process is rooted in this impression of me I want to bring across, because I've found that ultimately it's these values that will help convince a client to work with me.

Let's take Marketing Manager Lisa from Google as a hypothetical prospective client of the Hatchet to understand why these values matter. Lisa wants to advertise the Google search engine to a business audience of managers under 35.

As I convincingly try to tell her running an ad campaign with the Hatchet will be a solution to her problem, she's going to wonder:

  • Do you actually understand enough about my industry and business to know whether your product solves my problem (ie. are you an expert)

  • Are you just pitching me the highest price product in your catalogue, or are you thinking along with me about my specific needs (ie. are you here to help)

  • Can I trust you with my (marketing) budget? Are you going to deliver the results you promise? Are you honest about what is achievable? (ie. are you trustworthy)

I'll give you concrete examples of how I showcase these values in the next sections, but for now, understanding why they matter and being mindful of how you present yourself during your interactions with your client is half the battle.

#2 - Building up your product expertise

I come from the world of consultative selling, which is a fancy term for saying the products we sold were too complex to buy directly off of the shelf.

Consider buying a bike online. You could reach out to the sales manager of VanMoof to inquire about the product, but ultimately it's a straightforward product and the features are all listed on their website for you to review before buying. The simplicity of the product directly affects the scope of the role the sales person has to play.

That process changes as the complexity and the customisation possibilities of your products increase.

Let's take Lisa and the Hatchet as an example again.

Her request to advertise the Google search engine to a young business audience of under 35 is clear as day, but the available variations of solutions I can propose are virtually limitless. We could run ads above my existing posts, we could co-write new posts, she could write guest posts, we could do a webinar together, we could do a combination of all these things at once or we could come up with a schedule of when to run what kind of advertising.

Reality is, I can only consult Lisa on the best possible solution if I can demonstrate:

  • a deep understanding of my own portfolio of sales products (i.e. how they work, why they work and the nuances between the various products)

  • a deep understanding of the challenges she and her industry peers face (i.e. what problems is she running into that my product could solve)

Mediocre sales people will take their product knowledge from a predefined script or from copying what they hear other sales colleagues say. You can do better:

  1. Start by talking to the executing team. If you're selling sponsored posts for a media publication, ask the editorial staff for advice on what works and what doesn't. Selling software? Ask the development team. Selling a webinar? Ask the events team. You get the idea.

  2. Get insights directly from the delivery team. The project managers that handle client contact after a deal is signed usually own a wealth of information about the pain and satisfaction points current and previous clients have had with the product in the delivery phase.

  3. Lead your first deals from start to finish. Get involved with the delivery of the product and ask to shadow your co-workers in this part of the process. Your clients will value the commitment you have to seeing the deal through and you'll learn so much from experiencing the entire lifecycle of the deal.

  4. Interview 10 previous clients about their current challenges in relation to the domain you operate in. You'd be surprised how many people skip this part of the process, yet it's so valuable. You'll develop a deeper understanding of their needs and how your product could play a role in addressing those.

Clients aren't looking to talk to a salesperson, they're looking to talk to a subject matter expert. Make sure you become one.

#3 - Running a problem-led conversation

If you've seen the movie The Wolf of Wall Street you might remember that in two separate scenes Jordan Belfort takes out a pen from his pocket and asks a salesperson to ‘sell him this pen’. It’s a powerful question, because the answer you receive reveals which of the two most common types of sales techniques that person has learned to use: product-led selling or problem-led selling.

Product-led selling is the practice of highlighting features of a product and what makes them desirable. In the case of a pen you might argue that it has excellent grip, lasts longer than other pens and that the diamond version makes you look like a boss. 

People that don’t have any experience selling often choose this method. The flaw in using this technique to structure your conversation is that you demonstrate a lack of knowledge of what your customer feels is important. You’re just shooting off features in the hope that one of them will stick.

The Wolf doesn't do product-led selling, he does problem-led selling. He’ll first ask you (1) what you look for in a pen and (2) whether you have any problems with your current writing mechanism. He will then use that information so he can build the case for why this pen is the solution to solving all of your needs.

Problem-led selling is all about extracting as much information as possible through questioning your prospective buyer first. Only then will you have the proper background information to start talking about your product and make a sale.

The primary goal of a sales conversation should be for you to ask the necessary questions to reveal, at minimum, the answers to the following questions:

  • What problem/pain point is your client trying to solve? i.e. Lisa's challenge might be that organic growth of users for the Google search engine is too slow.

  • What is your clients’ (marketing/operational) goal? i.e. Lisa might have a personal annual target of attracting 10.000 new users based in Europe to the platform.

  • What's held your client back from reaching that target so far? i.e. Has she tried other platforms or competitors and why has that worked or not.

  • What would make our partnership successful from the clients perspective? i.e. Which KPI's will Lisa look at to determine whether the partnership is a success.

  • Does the client have a budget or a range in mind? i.e. Whether Lisa wants to spend €10K or €100K will have an impact on what you can propose.

It is not uncommon for me to go into a sales conversation with a pre-conceived idea of what product I might be able to sell, only to find out that they need something completely different based on the needs revealed during the meeting.

#4 - Matching solutions to client challenges

What I love most about running a problem-led conversation is that it offers you a natural way to transition from a clients’ pain points to talking about the solution you could offer that best fits that particular challenge. For example:

Lisa: Currently my biggest challenge is that I need more users from the Dutch, UK and Spanish markets. Those audiences have been harder for me to attract so far.

Wytze: That's interesting, because one of the ways we've been really successful reaching smaller markets is by hosting webinars where I interview several local influencers on what helped them progress in their career.

You can even mentally prepare most of these transitions ahead of time since you're likely to find that clients have a pool of similar challenges they face.

In my previous work at TNW we identified six challenges, specific to our company and business, that summarised 90% of all the conversations we had with clients:

  1. Client needs help innovating as a company.

  2. Client needs help selling their product.

  3. Client is looking to attract digital talent.

  4. Client wants to generate awareness for their brand.

  5. Client needs help growing their tech ecosystem.

  6. Client wants to be seen as a thought leader.

We managed to align our entire sales catalogue of more than 100 products with these six challenges, making it easier to identify what product to present as a viable solution when you're having your sales conversations. You should run through this exercise yourself to make it easier for yourself to transition from problem to solution.

An additional benefit is that connecting a clients’ challenge to a solution specifically designed to solve that particular problem is directly going to help you tackle two of those client worries I mentioned in chapter #1.

Do you actually understand enough about my industry and business to know whether your product solves my problem (ie. are you an expert)

Are you just pitching me the highest price product in your catalogue, or are you thinking along with me about my specific needs (ie. are you here to help)

#5 - It's not just what you say, but how you deliver it

Our brains don't just process actions and words; we also process the feelings and intentions of the person speaking them.

Subconsciously we're able to understand what other people are feeling, not because of what they say, but how they say it. That's why it's important not just to focus on what to say or do during a sales conversation, but also how you deliver it.

In his book “Never Split the Difference”, FBI-hostage negotiator Chris Voss explains this concept in the setting of a negotiation:

“Think of it as a kind of involuntary telepathy - each of us in every given moment is signalling to the world around us whether we are ready to play or fight, laugh or cry.

When we radiate warmth and acceptance, conversations just seem to flow. When we enter a room with a level of comfort and enthusiasm, we attract people toward us.”

The most powerful tool in delivery is your voice.

When I start a sales conversation I'll switch to using a positive/happy voice that allows me to sound like a spontaneous, easygoing and warm-hearted person.

Your first minutes at the coffee machine or during introductions are ideal for showcasing this voice. An entertaining anecdote or a light-hearted conversation about anything but work can help you convey this subtle message that says: “I'm relaxed.”

The key is to genuinely relax and smile regularly while you're talking. It'll help bring your counterpart in a positive frame of mind.

When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve instead of fight and resist.

#6 - My favourite structure for a sales conversation

In bullet points and order of sequence.

  • Use the first minutes for casual conversation

  • Start the conversation by recommending both sides do a short introduction of their company (e.g. the Hatchet helps clients connect to it's audience of young professionals interested in fast-tracking their career).

  • Always have multiple variations of this pitch (30 sec - 2 min - 5 min) prepared for yourself and start with yours so you can seamlessly proceed with asking questions after they are done with their introduction.

  • Run your problem-led conversation. Find out who they are, what challenges they need to solve and how they would define a successful partnership.

  • Suggest and elaborate on solutions that might address their challenges. It's still an explorative phase, but gauge their response to see if you're making sense.

  • Ask if they have a budget in mind and suggest to follow up with a proposal within a short timeframe as a next step.

  • Thank your prospective client and get to work!