Steps 7-12: Selling and Qualifying Clients in the Hollywood Model / by Matthew Cook

Over the past two weeks I started a run-through of selling and qualifying clients in the Hollywood Model on a step-by-step basis. This week I’ll wrap it up, but first, how about a recap?

In The Prequel I talked through some things that needed to be put on the table before digging into steps:

  1. The business model I work in is called the Hollywood Model.
  2. The process I’m outlining assumes sales are driven by reputation, referrals, and attraction.
  3. This process is designed for a two-man (or woman!) team.
  4. These steps are designed to qualify clients, not just sell them.
  5. A major goal in using these steps is to push potential clients that are a bad fit for you toward a “no”.
  6. I’ll be framing everything by how I work with Arbitrary

In Steps 1-6 I covered the first six steps (surprising, right?):

  1. The initial contact
  2. The handoff
  3. Producer contact
  4. Initial questions
  5. Initial call
  6. Project options & project net

Let’s get back to it, right in step.

Once we’ve figured out a few ways to approach the project and we’ve checked the viability of each to make money, we toss them into a [7] Bullet Email. We send the client an email with each of the two/three/four options fleshed out. Here’s the general content:

Hey Client (Jamie on cc),

As promised, we’ve put together a few options for you to look at which outline how we think Arbitrary could be a good fit for your team. Each of these proposes solutions for the needs we talked about. However, these aren’t final numbers or deliverables, rather it’s the first draft at a solution. We’d hate to end the conversation here based on price or anything we did or didn’t cover. Let’s be sure to set a time to chat this week. Let’s dig in!

Option A

  • Description
  • Team
  • Deliverables
  • Timeframe
  • Cost

Option Turtle*

  • Description
  • etc.

Option 

  • Description
  • etc.

That’s it for now! Again, we look forward to chatting through these and hearing your thoughts. What time works best for you this week? 

Cheers!

*If you’re confused about “option turtle” see last week

Usually after the bullet email, we wait. Some clients reply immediately, some take weeks. Following up is a delicate balance of pressure and cordiality, but the fact is that we lose more potential projects here than anywhere else, and that’s ok. If a client doesn’t fit with how you think about work or how much you are worth, it’s better to lose them here than have them fire you in a couple months and refuse to pay. 

If your client comes back with a positive response it’s time to [8] Contact Contractors. As mentioned last week, sometimes we do this earlier, or later, but now is the optimal time. We’ve given our potential client a set of approaches and they’re pretty happy with the overall idea of working with us even though we’ve said some hard things. This gives us solid basis to talk with our contractors, and if they’re interested and committed to the idea, we can talk about our potential team members with the client. 

Once we’re prepped to chat about our client’s reaction to the bullet email and we’ve contacted our project partners, it’s time for the [9] Full-Team Call. Jamie will make his debut here, and if we feel it’s appropriate we may add in a potential contractor or two (but usually not). On this call, the producer sets up the conversation, but takes a back seat when it comes to the meat of the interaction. For Arbitrary, this means the client usually comes prepared with thoughts for a single approach they like, a rough budget idea, and a potential start date. They feel like they lack a clear picture of what it’s like to interact with our expertise, but they understand how Arbitrary works. This is a perfect scenario. Jamie talks a lot–usually about projects similar to this one that we’ve done, why he’s excited about this potential client, what he thinks/feels about their competitors, and how excited he is to get underway when the client signs on. The main purpose for Arbitrary on this call is to create good feelings and remove barriers. The main purpose for the client is to verify that we’re reputable, and communicate their likes/dislikes in our options. 

The result of the full-team call is for us to go away and come back with a [10] Final Option. This is the easy part (usually). We make a few changes to cost, timeframe, or deliverables and send another email. We update our contractors, we double-check our schedules, and then wait for the client to say “yes”. Sometimes this takes another call or two, sometimes the client surprises us by saying “no”, but at this point we’re simply following up and making sure our client is equipped to make the decision. 

If the client gives the green light, we [11] Draw up the Statement of Work, and make sure everyone agrees. This usually takes a week or two to hash out complete terms.

After the SOW is agreed upon, we [12] Get Signatures and Payment, then start preparing for the kickoff where we lay the foundation for specific project interactions with the client. 

That’s it for selling and on-boarding! In wrapping up here, let’s run through a few weaknesses and strengths that I’ve observed and that I’m still playing with.

Weaknesses:

  • RFPs and Pitches. It’s really hard to create 70-page pitch documents and follow an RFP process with a two-person team. It takes copious amounts of time, the chances of winning are usually abnormally small, and the clients are usually abnormally difficult.
  • It’s High Effort. Selling projects takes time and discernment, and that means we’re not spending effort on other things. Neither Jamie nor I are truly, deeply passionate about sales; so this process can be taxing and we can get in over our heads before we realize it. We’re always talking about when the right time would be to bring on another person to help with sales. We aren’t at that point yet.
  • The Process is Centralized. This is a lot of information and tools to put into two guys’ heads. On top of the tools I’ve shared here, we craft emails, discuss potentials privately, draw up schedules for months in advance, create sales pipelines, maintain rolodexes, and find time to promote our work and write/speak. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes it can burn us out–especially when we lose a project we really wanted.
  • The Asshole Perception. When we make mistakes in this process, one of the most common side-effects is that our potential client thinks we’re total jerks who have an inflated sense of self-worth. Sometimes the line between “really valuable” and “totally full of it” is razor thin. We have to be perceptive, committed, and stable in front of our clients.

Strengths:

  • Removes the Budget Conversation. This process helps keep our clients mind on value, and turns budgets into a way for them to gauge the talent, involvement, and deliverables that they can afford. 
  • Preserves the Mystique. These steps keep us honest. We don’t over-commit our time or emotions, and we guard ourselves from doing free work. We also set up Jamie to look like a total wizard, and we build excitement and anticipation for a kickoff. 
  • Value Pricing and Small Teams. We avoid talking about our costs, and we build confidence in a small team of highly adaptive experts. This lets us work with friends and also point the client toward the work we think is best, not necessarily what they come looking for.
  • Flexibility and Lifestyle. This process allows us to approach many different kinds of work, rather than being pigeon-holed as a production partner or freelancer. It also allows us to adapt for personal life and plan crunch time. Nobody likes working weekends or missing vacation, and this process allows us to set client expectations for our availability and involvement. We know if we’re going to be busy, and we compensate for it. We plan for when we need time away, and we take it (most of the time).

I love talking about this stuff. As always, shoot an email over to mattecook(at)gmail.com if you’d like to chat more.

For more on how Jamie Kosoy and Arbitrary talk to to clients and run projects, you can harass Jamie on Twitter or find him in a classroom or at a conference in San Francisco.