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Making Your Sales Process Work: Insider Tips from Step 5 Creative

Two years ago, the digital agency Step 5 Creative was trying to meet a minimum of five projects a month.

Now, they’re creating over 400 sites a year and have more than 200 clients on a monthly retainer.

Co-founders Ryan Shannon and Adam Heffelfinger chatted with us about the sales process that helped them get so successful. Plus, all their best tips on everything from cold pitching prospective clients to standardizing lead follow up.

Take an inside look into how they grew their business - and the strategies they used along the way. Ryan and Adam cover:

Finding web design clients

Mastering the cold call

Following up on leads

Making your sales pitch

Standardizing your sales process

Finding web design clients

What is your strategy for finding clients?

Ryan: When we first got started, it was a lot of cold calling, cold emailing, knocking on doors and putting ourselves out there.

We had the phrase one hundred to one - you have to talk to one hundred people in one day, to get one person interested. And if you can get ten people interested, you can convert between two to five.

Adam: At first, we were just trying to do five to ten website projects a month. Every month we’d have to find those clients. Then the next month, we’d have to start over again - from scratch.

After a year, I told Ryan, "Listen, I can’t sell ten website projects a month and start over every month."

That’s when we had to rethink our business model.

Ryan: After four years of using that original sales model, we now do a lot of residual-based, so clients are paying for monthly services.

Adam: We also decided we should start offering monthly services on top of web design. In the last two years, we went from having zero people on any kind of monthly retainer, to now over two hundred people.

In the last two years, we went from having zero people on any kind of monthly retainer, to now over two hundred people.

How would you compile a list of potential leads to cold call or email?

Adam: We’d go to different directory listings and look at companies that had old or outdated websites.

We also targeted certain types of websites and people out there who weren’t working with us. Our two biggest advantages were that we could offer a personal touch, and our pricing would be better.

That would be the starting point of who would eventually be a client for us - and we went heavily after those people. We needed to send out two hundred emails a day to people with outdated websites to get a couple responses back.

Mastering the cold call

What is your secret to successfully making a cold sales pitch to prospects?

Ryan: We go in as a resource and try to uncover something simple, so we may say something like: "We noticed some of your site content is a little outdated," or "There’s something that would make a better call to action for your website." Start off with something simple like that.

Adam: Another tactic that we use is mobile websites.

There are so many websites that we took over that weren’t mobile friendly. All it takes is asking a potential client: "Did you know there are actually more mobile visits to websites than on desktops?"

So that’s an indirect way of saying their site’s outdated without being offensive.

Ryan: It’s really easy to find websites that we can help with. We never want to approach someone who has a website that looks like they spent $5,000 plus on it. But if it looks like their site hasn’t been touched in three to four years, usually we can help them out with it.

What do you need to be aware of when making a cold call?

Ryan: When cold calling, you need to understand you’re catching them off guard.

And people are afraid to say the word 'no.' When you ask them if they want to move forward, nine times out of ten, they’ll say yes. But you need to understand if they’re serious about this or if they’re just window-shopping.

At the beginning, we wasted a lot of time on this. We spent a lot of time working on leads that were dead pretty much from the start, but we thought they had a chance.

Now we’re better at asking the right questions. And now, whether we get a ‘no’ or a ‘yes,’ it’s a positive thing, because we clearly know whether we need to invest more time in following up or not.

What types of questions do you ask to understand if they’re serious?

Ryan: We tell them we’re a local business and that we’ve seen their website could use a few things that we can help with. We ask, "Can we be a resource?"

If they have time, we ask them:

  • When was the last time you updated your site?

  • Do you currently work with a web professional?

  • Is this something that’s been on your mind? Did I catch you off guard?

We try to figure out their mental state. From that point, we want to close the call with getting an appointment set up the next day.

If I say, "I’ll give you guys a couple days to look at it," then they’ll say, "Ok, great."

But if I say: "How about we meet tomorrow at 10:00 and go through everything I just sent you?" They may answer: "No, I can’t do that, but I can do 1:00.”

Then you have some sort of commitment level, and you can walk them through the finish line.

Step5 Creative web design agency

Following up on leads

Walk us through what you do once you get a lead.

Adam: We try to set up a phone call with them right away. Usually only fifteen to twenty minutes maximum.

During that first phone call, we’ll describe:

  • How we can help them out

  • What our process is

  • How the whole project will work

  • Timeframe

  • Pricing

If they want to move forward, that’s great. But typically they don’t on the first call.

At the end of the first phone call, we ask them, "Do you want to set up a phone call for two to three days from now to touch base again and see if it’s something you want to do, or if you have any questions?”

If they say yes, we’ll do a call or email, depending on what they prefer.

What’s your biggest tip for keeping track of your leads?

Adam: We always make sure to input every lead and track all sales. For instance, every time we have a phone call with someone, we put that person in the ‘Contacted’ column. We’ll include some notes about how the phone call went, and any specifics about what they’re looking for, features they need, and what we quoted them at.

What if a potential lead doesn’t answer?

Ryan: You always want to continuously follow up. Call, email right away. Say, "I just want to do my due diligence and get back to you right away."

Do you have rules about how often to reach out?

Ryan: There’s no secret recipe. Some people will get super annoyed when you call them the next day. Other people love it.

If you get them on the phone or they respond via email, we try to get something out of them.

Whether it’s "Yes, let’s talk right away," or "I don’t want to talk to you until next Tuesday at 1:00."

People might want to talk that day or not until next month. Or for another eight months.

And that’s the hardest part of sales. There’s this psychological game, because you don’t want to ruin it by pushing too hard. But you do want them to commit enough that you can walk them through and close.

Making your sales pitch

A prospective client wants to move forward with a project. What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when making a pitch?

Adam: We try to be really educational and the least ‘sales-y’ we could possibly be. I never had sales experience, so I learned all this stuff from Ryan. When we talk to someone who’s interested in a new website, we call them and share some thoughts we had on their website, why we can help them and that's it.

Leave it in their hands. Just try to be educational and a resource for them and don’t feel like you’re pushing anything onto them.

Ryan: You need to find out the goals of what they’re looking to do.

We always say the same thing: If you have the most beautiful website in the world with no traffic, it does you no good. And if you have a really horrible looking website with a lot of traffic, it still does you no good.

Always put yourself in the position of their business. What’s the overall goal of what your client is trying to accomplish?

The way you’re going to present to a contractor is a little bit different than to a doctor. The needs and goals of all them are completely different. And each contractor has their own different goals, so you can’t assume anything.

Just try to be educational and a resource for them and don’t feel like you’re pushing anything onto them.

How do you respond if a client objects to your pricing?

Ryan: When we just started out, and didn’t have a huge portfolio, we were more willing to take on a lower budget project if it seems like a really cool opportunity.

So maybe it should have costed $1,000, but we’d go down to $500, just so we can build our portfolio.

But today, we’re at the point where if you don’t have a certain budget to work with us, we won’t take you on. We have other clients and it’s not fair to put someone else in line without the proper budget.

That said, we’re never going to lose out on a deal for pennies or a hundred bucks. But at the end of the day, willingness to pay is an indication of how the relationship is going to go.

What we’ve found is those not willing to pay are generally not the best to work with unfortunately.

To do work at $250 for a project that should cost $1,000 — it’s not fair to your employees or to your agency. And it kind of discredits your work.

That said, we’re never going to lose out on a deal for pennies or a hundred bucks. But at the end of the day, willingness to pay is an indication of how the relationship is going to go.

Aside from your web design work, what monthly services do you offer?

Adam: SEO is the major one. We also do some social media and reviews management — those are probably the top three.

At what point do you introduce your extra services to clients?

Ryan: The first question we ask is: "Are you looking for a one-time project or are you looking for something that we can maintain with you on a monthly basis?"

You’ll get an answer right off the bat. That doesn’t mean if they say they’re looking for a one-time project that they’re not going to convert into monthly services, but you’re just trying to feel them out right now.

First we talk pricing about the project as a whole. From there, we use the website to build the relationship - it’s our credibility statement. Then we go right into the monthly service.

At that point, we have to have the process so smooth that they’re not waiting four weeks for their first marketing email.

Adam: When we go through the website project with them, there’s such a better trust and relationship with people we do the website for. You go through that with them. They feel part of the company.

What’s the key to successfully upselling a client?

Ryan: The website is our foundation. It’s how we show them we know what we’re doing and that we’re going to be a good fit. We use the website to build their trust and the relationship.

Generally speaking, if someone wants multiple projects done, I always like to say, ‘Let’s walk before we run. Let’s get the website started first. We’ll get it done in one week, start to finish.’

Once you get done with the website and they’re satisfied, they’re more at ease talking to you about other services. As opposed to when you’re just getting started, and they really don’t know me from Adam.

Once they know our quality of work, then we can tell them how a monthly service works.

The biggest thing we’ve learned is that the website project itself - whether it’s a website or a simple redesign - is all about building the relationship.

Making a sales pitch to a client

Standardizing your sales process

You’re an established agency with six people. Can one person really ‘do it all?’

Ryan: Yes! But you have to schedule.

If I know Tuesday to Thursday are the best times to prospect, I make sure not to schedule meetings 9:00-12:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I just prospect.

Because let’s be honest. An email comes through, you want to answer it and get to work, but before you know it, three hours have flown by and you didn’t prospect at all.

Adam: In terms of design, one thing we do is duplicate websites we’ve previously made. If a client likes a site we’ve built, we can easily duplicate it and personalize it with branding touches and new features. Once you have a good portfolio of nice websites, you can speed up the process.

What do you wish you would have known about sales when you started?

Ryan: (Laughs) How much time do you have?

The biggest thing is process. One thing we’re really proud of is really understanding how a process works. This goes for sales, design, retention - pretty much everything.

The biggest advice I give: Before you even start, figure out your services, what you’re going to be selling and how it all works.

We tried so many things with no process. But we lost clients because nothing was set in stone, and we were just flying by night.

Adam: I would add how important communicating and setting expectations is.

We’re a small agency but we do a lot of projects, so every project needs to go as smoothly as possible. One or two bad projects can bottle everything else up. The more you can communicate the web design process to potential leads and clients, the faster you build the trust factor.

Then when you’re working on website projects, people know what’s going to happen with the timeline, and the whole company runs so much smoother.

Also, building a business model for monthly and residual revenue and services.

When we first started out, we just wanted that first sale, and then another sale, and another sale.

Instead of searching every month for new websites, model out how to have clients for a longer term and offer those clients more services.

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