Effective Inquiry Responses
When an inquiry comes in, what are the best ways to evaluate it and then respond? As the discussion with the inquiring party goes back and forth, what are the questions to ask, the things to look for, and the strategies to yield the best results?
It is wise not to assume too much. Sometimes groups that you feel sure cannot afford you are surprisingly well funded, and if you assume otherwise and quote a fee pushing yourself lower than you’d normally want, you risk selling yourself short. Likewise, the opposite can also be true. A group you feel sure must be well funded may be, for whatever reason, just not willing or able to offer the fee you’d expect.
As early in the process as possible, take a few minutes to get a little understanding of who is inquiring and what they are inquiring about. Are they asking you to keynote, or be a primary meal speaker, or something else? Who were their main speakers for past events? What is the size and nature of their audience? Is the event they are inquiring with you about their primary annual meeting, or something else? And of course, how large and well staffed is the group? Are you dealing with a staff member, a volunteer, or a professional event organizer under contract with the group?
Inquirers will very often start out asking for your “standard” fee. For many reasons, it is seldom the best approach to just give them a number. You can truthfully say that you need to get a good understanding of what they would want from you before you can estimate how much of your time would be required, and that it is similarly the case that until you have looked at the potential travel options relative to what exactly they would want from you, the travel itself can turn out to be much more or less time consuming than you’d initially expect.
Make sure before your final quote that the inquirer has outlined clearly and specifically any and all extras (of any size) they will want from you. Key is getting clarity on how any extras may be scheduled. No matter how small it may seem, any activity that causes you to miss the last flight out that day adds significantly to what the engagement will require of you. Make sure you ask the timing as well as nature of any extras.
As a general practice, the best approach is to find out as much as you can before talking about any numbers, and then to start with a range, saying that with more information and after looking into the travel, you’ll be able to give them a quote.
Sometimes you will want to give an inquirer a range as a first or early step. This avoids spending time going back and forth only to discover that the inquirer is very far from the least you’d accept.
The range may not always be the same. If you know some of what you’d use to give a final quote before you give a range, you can if you think it would be advantageous give the inquirer a range that takes this information into account.
What this means is usually that you cut off the upper end of the range if you know it will be an easy trip, or cut off the lower end if you know that it will be a difficult trip.
You can also decide to give them a specific number quote very early in your interaction. You can say as a part of giving this quote that it assumes no extras that would significantly extend your time on site or that would involve additional preparation time. If you do this, it would be a good idea to state explicitly that if subsequent discussion adds additional activities to your scope of work, the initial quote would need to be revised.
As mentioned above, the specific details of travel options can sometimes make what appears to be a minor additional task from the point of view of the inquirer into something that would require additional travel days. To the extent possible, you’ll want to try to avoid being blind-sided by this result.
Don’t Stop Selling Before The Sale
Never talk past the sale. Never sell past the close. True as these maxims may be, it is also true that you shouldn’t stop selling before the sale is made. This usually means providing more focused evidence of stature, credibility, expertise and speaking excellence, evidence that you believe will reinforce your appeal to them.
The risk of continuing to talk after the sale is that you may point the inquirer at something that they feel reduces your attractiveness as their choice, and thus make them reconsider their inclination to select you.
Because it can be very difficult to tell for sure exactly when you have actually closed the sale (it will likely be before they tell you so directly), the best practice is to supply only the additional information that you are very confident will help.
As mentioned above, excellent selling materials that are even a little off target for the topic or audience they have in mind can sometimes do more harm than good. It can be a good idea to send with your preliminary range quote a request for them to explain just what they want their audience to get from your presentation.
If you feel you have a very good grasp of their topic interest and their audience, you can call their attention to particular videos, past speaking engagements, testimonials, references, or books that are focused directly on what interests them. Such information may also include in-depth bios, articles or book segments by or about you, transcripts of past speeches, PowerPoint presentations, or book reviews.
Less is more at this point, so only point to the very best, or if you don’t have anything that really fits, don’t point them to anything further.
Additional selling communication can go with your fully informed quote, or with another follow up communication shortly after that quote has been provided.
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