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  • Diana Schneidman

How to talk with prospects so they want to hear you

I enjoy “Project Runway,” a reality show in which clothing designers compete weekly on a quirky design assignment. One designer wins the competition and another is sent home. As the sewing and selection processes proceed, the action is interrupted with brief clips of individual contestants giving their opinions on competitors’ work.

A line that I especially relish is when someone criticizes another person’s work. “We have a different aesthetic,” they may say, which is a tactful way of hating someone else’s product.

Even better is “I don’t understand his aesthetic.” In other words, the outfit under discussion is a real hot mess.

From TV to real life

Freelancers and consultants often try to bring on new clients by researching prospects’ online presence—perhaps website design or content as handy examples, telling them how bad it is, and then claiming they can correct these flaws.

I get this type of negative feedback—uninvited—quite often from people who have found my website and tell me they can increase my traffic.

Their feedback is vague and I delete it immediately. I sense they send the same thing to everyone. I have no reason to trust them.

An alternative is for them to give more detailed feedback about what is wrong. This has the benefit of individualization and being more personal, but it does not warm my heart.

I believe positive feedback is more compelling than negative. There are nice ways to give bad news that inspire prospects instead of depressing them or even angering them.

People want to work with people they have a positive relationship with. Or at least I do. You can’t shame me or insult me into hiring you.

Here are some ways to make your approach more positive and personal, in short, more winning:

The sandwich. Start with something positive and conclude with something positive. Make a suggestion for improvement sandwiched between the two positives. Like limburger cheese between slices of home-baked bread.

Look for a positive spin to the negative. For instance, “your copy has clearly identified product features. We could restructure your bullets a bit to lead with the benefit and follow with the corresponding feature that supports the benefit.”

Praise what they have and suggest expansion. “It’s a great start. You clearly have done a lot of work on this and have excellent concepts. Let’s flesh them out a bit with more photos and white space.

What if the work is already great and there’s nothing to improve upon without getting nitpicky?

Your first impulse may be not to approach them. Situation under control. They are doing just fine without you.

However, they may be the ideal prospect. They understand how hard it is to come up with something great. If they did the work themselves, they may welcome the opportunity to pay a creative partner to make their lives easier. Since they understand the value, they may be more likely to pay higher rates.

They may be wonderful to work with. Full of great ideas with an understanding of what works for their business.

And it simply is more fun to work with someone on your wavelength.

Nothing but a few minutes of time to risk in approaching them for an assignment. Why not give it a try?

Originally posted 10-20-15

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