If you’ve actually taken the time to specialize in your services, then at some point you’ll see your inquires dramatically increase.

I get between 5 and 10 a week, which includes prospects emailing me as well as referrals from other developers. These referrals are typically for work that I specialize in, that the other developer doesn’t offer.

These new contacts are on top of all the other regular stuff I do in a week like serving my current clients and new requests from existing clients.

For a long time I struggled to stay on top of this huge pile of emails.

Then I took some time to build out my standard prospect sales process.

Today I want to show you the basic flow of my initial email that all prospects get. My hope is that this will help you refine your process as well.

Section 1

I open with a greeting, making sure to address the prospect by name.

In my opening paragraph, I will usually tell the prospect that the project sounds interesting, but that I’m pretty picky about the clients I take on, so I have a few questions which help me figure out if we’re a good fit or if the prospect might be served best by someone else.

Section 2

Then I move straight into the questions.

I’ve crafted my questions to focus on some specific things.

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it instead of something else?
  • How do we measure success?
  • Who are the decision makers on the project?
  • What’s your timeline?
  • What is the budget allotted for the project?

These are not just random questions, but very specific things I need to know.

By asking these questions, you may learn that though the project is important, the prospect isn’t quite ready to get started.

For example, I had one prospect who wanted a bunch of custom stuff for Easy Digital Downloads and the Frontend Submisions extension to power an author marketplace.

What they didn’t tell me in their initial email was that they were still waiting on the EDD install. They also didn’t tell me that they were writing their own book which needed to be finished before they launched the site.

While getting the Frontend Submissions customizations going was important, it wasn’t as important as writing the book.

I realized the sales process was going to take much longer and maybe not even happen if they couldn’t get their book written. So I passed on the project until they had their book written or were actually ready to have the custom work done. It wouldn’t be an effective use of my time to walk through the full sales process with a prospect still in ‘random research’ mode.

Another key question is “Who are the decision makers?” It’s important that you know whether you’re talking to the employee doing research or the boss that’s coming to you with an emergent business issue?

If you’re not talking to the decision maker then you need to make sure that you get to talk to them very early in the process. Even if you’re compatible with the employee you may not be with the decision maker which means you’ve just wasted a bunch of sales time.

Section 3

Now that we have our initial prospect questions asked in the email it’s time to start telling the prospect you may not be able work with them. The next 5 lines only include one line that indicates I might be a good fit for a prospect.

The rest of it says we may not have matching time-frames, or matching budgets or maybe someone else is a better fit.

Can you guess why you spend so much time telling the prospect you may not be a good fit?

Outside of the obvious, that you may not be a good fit.

You spend time telling them you may not choose them, to draw them in to the purchasing process more. It’s called loss aversion.

They already feel like they might be losing you (yeah I know they haven’t even really started yet) and nobody likes loosing something they thought they would be getting.

That’s a big email

Does that sound like a lot of typing to do for every new contact?

Of course it does, but to keep my process efficient, I let TextExpander do the typing for me.

The TextExpander snippet has 5 ‘fill in’ areas for the client name and a few project details then I click send and I’m done.

Total initial interaction time is typically less than 60 seconds and the useful content I get back in responses from prospects increased by 5000000%. Or at least a lot.

But what if…

What if the prospect doesn’t answer the questions you sent?

Well that’s a post for tomorrow…

photo credit: huguesndelafleche cc

11 responses to “Components of your initial prospect email contact”

  1. Daniel Avatar

    Great post Curtis! I’ve been meaning to do this for myself for some time now. Do you think having a contact form with those questions on your website would be a good idea or do you recommend waiting after the initial contact via email to ask them? Wasn’t sure if maybe you’ve discussed this before or even tested it yourself.

    Thanks for your time,

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      To see what I do check out my process on my business site. I don’t ask the questions in detail but I do tell the client what type of discussions they can expect.

      Adding that page actually increased my leads and got me way better information on the leads in their initial email.

      1. Daniel Avatar

        Will do! Thanks Curtis!

  2. Mithun John Jacob Avatar

    Great Post curtis.

    But will this work when we are responding to a RFP ?

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I don’t respond to RFP’s because the success rate is so low it’s not worth it.

      99% of the time there is 1 ‘inside’ company that already know someone and the RFP is simply a way to get the required ‘other’ estimates on the project.

      1. Mithun John Jacob Avatar

        Thanks, but it’s because you are an established one and you get all the clients via referrals(I presume) and you can cherry-pick your clients.

        But if you are an agency/newbie freelancer it’s not wise to pursue that strategy.

        1. Curtis McHale Avatar
          Curtis McHale

          Nope still don’t bother with them unless you know you’re the inside company.

          Know how many I landed…0

          How many did I do…over 100.

          A way better thing to do with your time than responding to RFP’s is to market your business. Heck I meet beginning freelancer’s all the time then get work requests that are to small for me or not that interesting for my and I send them to…beginning freelancer’s I know.

          The best place I got work when I started was an established agency that I knew who changed over to product sales. They sent all the clients to me.

          So no RFP’s have never been profitable in my opinion and are a waste of your time. Spend it networking with others in your field, writing content that answers questions your clients have.

          Don’t waste it on RFP’s.

          1. Mithun John Jacob Avatar

            Everyone loves an endless stream of clients but only established ones are having that luxury. I understand that the established ones worked very hard to reach that position.

            I know lots of big agencies who get big clients from sites like eLance and they seems to be happy about it. They are also of the opinion that they won’t compete on price all the time and they are selective of their clients that they find in freelancer sites or when responding to RFPs. I’m not sure about the claims 🙂

            So what’s the best client acquisition strategy in your opinion which also fits the long term vision for a freelancer/an agency ?

          2. Curtis McHale Avatar
            Curtis McHale

            Really awesome companies getting lots of clients from eLance? I’ve never heard that before.

            You best long term strategy for getting clients is to specialize and get your content out there showing how awesome you are.

            You should read Book Yourself Solid. Lots of great stuff in there about finding your niche and marketing to it.

  3. Mithun John Jacob Avatar

    Curtis, will read Book Yourself Solid.

    Yes, we can build the reputation through content marketing, but we also need to be proactive on sales. Hope is not a strategy for an agency especially since salaries need to be paid every month, Right ?

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      You’re right hope is not a strategy but I don’t think that filling in RFP’s is a strategy either. It’s simply putting in more work to ‘hope’ that you might get a bit of work from someone.

      As I’ve said, most times in an RFP there is as ‘insider’ that already has the work and if you don’t know that it’s you…it’s not you.

      I will always default to do what you need to so that your bills are paid, but I think that you’re only really ever going to be able to get in to the maximum profitability for your business when client approach you as an expert and you’re not chasing RFP’s.

      If you have to fill out RFP’s just to stay afloat you’re not an expert or you’re too big. I’m growing slow so that I can keep being that expert and have myself and my agency hired as experts so I can stay out of the mostly waste of time RFP market.