July 23rd 2012

How to approach customers

We've recently found this article on our website and it still has relevance in 2019.

In 2007 I started freelance web designer and through my previous roles in Marketing and Sales I knew what I needed to do before I even started to approach clients. I hope this article will give you a better understanding on a more structured path for approaching new customers.

I decided to write this article after I found a post on www.webforumz.com (which no longer exists as a forum) from a member who was asking about a common problem when first starting out as a freelance web designer or starting your own company.

“How do I approach new customers?”  This in itself you may think is easy:  Just pick up the phone and sell your services!

Is it that simple?  Or is this a common mistake we all make when we first start?

Sales is Sales! It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in.  The principles are the same.  You’re selling a product or a service to potential client who shows interest in what you're trying to selling.

So where to begin with sales?

The process of selling is to build firstly a relationship to influence your potential client to liking you and  to buy into you and your company.

There are some key points to selling known as consultative selling, and it is a proven approach to gaining and retraining business:

  1. Knowing your products
  2. Research your markets
  3. Relationship building
  4. Closing
  5. Maintaining the relationship

The first thing you need to do is be sure you know your product inside out; and I mean inside out.  As a freelance web designer you need to know about what you can truly offer and what possible questions the client can throw at you. You must know you pricing structure, what you want to get and what you want to go down to.  It's critical to know all the features of your service and then you need to work out what is the benefit of the features. However you need to be careful not to lose the client with techno babble.

If you’re calling a client over the phone you have less than 30 seconds to grab them.  It sounds short but isn’t.  In that time you have to deliver a hard-hitting, to the point feature of what you’re selling, but not enough to kill your pitch.

You can use this same approach if you meet a potential client face to face, but here you don’t need to be so direct. You don’t want to over-sell yourself at this stage. Hold back the real key benefits and give some teasers.

Arrange an appointment

You then need to make sure you close the call by arranging a firm appointment. Don’t be afraid to tell them point blank that you’re free and close to their location on a certain date.

Once you have got the appointment make sure you fully research the company you’re going to visit. Find any press releases and see if there is anything you can use as an angle in your pitch. If they’re using a competitor look to see what they’re not doing and see if you can angle the pitch to show that you can do more than them.  But never criticise the competition as the person you're meeting may have a personal relationship or be offended by your comments.   Use open-ended questions to get as much information about the customer and what they want. This is called drilling. Always have some questions written down so you can check them off as you go.


  1. Ask them about their role within the organisation  - This will enable you to work out if the person you’re meeting is the decision maker and also empowers them and makes them feel important.
  2. Ask what three things their current provider is not offering  -  This will give you a clue of  what you’re up against. If you have done your research properly you will already have some prepared responses.
  3. Ask what three things they would like to have? – This will give you the three not so important things your customer wants.
  4. Ask them if there anything else they would like other than what you have mentioned – this is the question which will truly open the client up and you should be able to find out what they really want.  You need to listen to this part and note down as many keywords as possible.

Once you have your answers you use the responses to deliver your pitch by referring back to the answers they gave to your questions. You first start in the order you asked the questions.  At the end of the pitch do not be afraid to ask that all important question:  Can I have your business? As long as you have pitched yourself correctly you should get a yes.

Real life sales example

I have recently gained a lot of business through one client, and I used a similar process but I adapted my approach on how I contacted the client.

I had joined the only large gym in my town, and after a few weeks I noticed that there was a large amount of personal trainers working in the gym.  I had noticed one or two had websites and the others did not.

I thought to myself that this could be an untapped market and I thought this could be an ideal opportunity to get my business off the ground which then could lead into other markets. I asked myself  how would I get to approach my potential market? (Telephone them? Speak to them?) They're not the same as approaching a manufacturer.

I then realised I had to do a bit of thinking and change the normal approach I would use.   I thought approaching the personal trainers in the gym was not the perfect place to do this as this is their workplace. I then thought where do the people relax in the gym and where is it less busy?  The sauna!

I started to go to the sauna after my workouts.  After a few weeks I started chatting to a member  called Simon McNeilly and I started asking questions about personal trainers and if he knew who the good ones were. After a while I started to drop in the conversation that I was a web designer.  After a few weeks it turned out that Simon not only knew all the personal trainers but he was thinking of becoming one himself.  (RESEARCH, RELATIONSHIP BUILDING)

A month went by and then Simon approached me and said that he was interested in me building a website and would it be possible to go through the process.    After a meeting I delivered my pitch which included the features and benefits of what I could offer. This lead to Simon buying into me and asked me to build  www.smfitness.co.uk.

From this I decided to build the relationship by offering him additional services and I also offered to assist where I could to help him develop his business.  This in turn lead to him recommending me to five other personal trainers which have all turned into new clients.  (MAINTAINING THE RELATIONSHIP).  We are currently developing the site now and in return I am now being trained by Simon at the gym.

This is a simple example.  It shows you that if you research and develop a strategy to your pitch you could reap the rewards.

You have to realise that you have to get your pitch spot on as first impressions count. If I had approached a personal trainer while they were working I could-of given the wrong impression and possibly took longer to get a lead.  If I had rammed my services down my client’s throat I may not have been able to develop my business further.

Keep at it

It may take several go's to get your new clients but if you have a good approach and good research you can easily make contact with potential clients and win the business.

Don't think it’s difficult to do, as it isn’t.  It’s about finding the right approach and the right angle. It may take a few months but you will get there. 

Also remember it may take a day or a year to get a client on board and your customer may say no a few times, but don’t give up.  Just keep adapting your approach.  Also remember don't go for the big fish straight away as often the little ones are easier; to get and then they will build your brand and often give you additional leads.

Author: James Blackman - Cocoonfxmedia Ltd

Updated 7 November 2019.

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