Get The Right Clients Part 2: Selling The Initial Consult

In part one of this series on increasing your sales conversions we looked at two of the factors influencing sales: poorly targeted marketing and low rates. Fix these areas, and you’ll likely see an increase in phone calls and emails. You may find this a mixed blessing; it’s great to get the inquiries, but inquiries mean sales moments—something most trainers find uncomfortable. Many of our dog*tec clients ask for help improving their sales skills and comfort. Here’s some of what we teach them about selling on the phone or via email.

Start With A Perspective Shift
The phone or email screening process is not a job interview. Thinking about it that way makes for a challenging career: Who wants to go on multiple job interviews each week as part of their work? Instead, think about the initial contact between yourself and potential clients as a screening process in which you gather basic information about the case, get a feel for the client, and decide whether or not to offer your services.

And you have valuable services to offer. You aren’t attempting to foist a cheap product on people who don’t really need it. You have professional knowledge and a skill set that allows you to solve the problems dog guardians come to you with.

This is another central point in reframing the sales process: They came to you. You didn’t cold call and you aren’t inconveniencing them by offering your services. They called you because they hope you can help. And if you’ve targeted your marketing and rates to avoid the bargain hunters and those looking for free advice over the phone (see Part 1 of this series), they fully expect you to sell them training—it’s why they called.

So don’t be afraid to tell potential clients what you can do for them, how you can help. They want to know. And you can’t help people if you don’t sell to them. Free advice over the phone rarely results in changed dog or human behavior. They need your service.

Don’t Be Afraid To Lose The Client
You won’t be right for everyone who calls. That’s okay, and it doesn’t have to be a personal rejection. But if you’re too eager to get the client, or too worried that you won’t, you’ll be tempted to lower prices or make compromises about your services that you’ll regret, such as offering inconvenient appointment times or agreeing to travel farther than you’d like.

And once potential clients sense the lack of confidence you’ll see one of two results: You’ll lose the ones looking for the best possible dog trainer. They’ll read the lack of confidence as a lack of experience or expertise. And you’ll likely find it difficult to gain a professional footing with those who do hire you. These are the clients who will argue with your recommendations and demand discounts and other special accommodations.

So as you head into each phone or email inquiry exchange, replace thoughts of Will they want me? and Will they think I’m too expensive? with these questions: What are this person’s needs? How might I help? Am I interested in exploring this case?

Keep The Goal In Mind
Generally the purpose of the phone or email screen is to sell the initial consult. There will be some potential clients who hope to get free advice during this process. And if you’re like most trainers, you’ll be tempted to give it to them. Most of us come to training with an altruistic stance. A huge part of why we got into the field is our love of dogs. We want to help them and the people who care for them. But this is another place where the lack of sales confidence will become an Achilles heel. If you worry you won’t be hired, you may be more likely to give away your professional knowledge to make sure you can help the dog.

Unfortunately this practice tends to backfire on both the trainer and the dog. You don’t get the business and the dog doesn’t get help. If people feel they’ve got enough information to fix the problem on their own, they’re less likely to commit the time and money to a consult. And free advice sets them up for failure. The chance that they’ll get results with a bit of free advice is very low. People rarely follow through on free advice—particularly if it requires a skill set or knowledge they don’t have, or if it requires them to change their own behavior. And even if they try, how much can they get done with what they were able to learn from a short phone conversation?

I find that trainers often underestimate what they know and the skill sets they’ve built. Just think about how many hours you’ve put into reading, seminars, and hands-on practice. That can’t be conferred in a conversation, and it undermines our profession to suggest that it can. If you want to help, you have to sell. They need you, not just a bit of what you know.

Take Charge
Part of a successful sales call is setting the tone, being the professional. It’s about guiding the process toward a positive outcome. Imagine the discomfort of calling a professional—a lawyer or doctor, say—and being left to lead the conversation. You expect them to ask you questions, give you options, tell you how the process works. Dog trainers need to do the same thing.

Don’t mistake our point—We’re not advocating for a cold or clinical approach. We need to do our work with empathy and thoughtfulness. People are often frustrated, worried, or even scared when they reach out to a trainer. Good trainers acknowledge these emotions and work to alleviate them. What I am saying is that a confident approach to sales is part of doing so: Let them know you hear them and let them know you can help.

Talk Turkey And Make The Sale
Be confident with your recommendations. Don’t wait for the client to ask you for an appointment. Doing so extends the phone call—and the longer you’re on the phone, the less likely the sale. Remember again that potential clients are expecting you to sell them something. They’ve almost certainly been on your website, so they know that the first step is an initial consult, and what it costs. They still called. Some of them are probably getting fidgety, wondering when you’re going to suggest the consult. Offering the consult is the logical conclusion to the conversation, so don’t be shy about doing so.

Talking turkey—talking about money—is surely one of the most uncomfortable parts of this process. The trick is not to talk about it. Simply state your rate and move on. Whenever possible, state your rate before you’re asked—it will be more comfortable for you and the client, and it will help to express your confidence. Then simply move on; don’t leave silence after the number. This invites people to comment on it, when it really shouldn’t be up for discussion. Your rate is your rate, and your assumption should be that it’s completely reasonable. Because it is. If anything, if you’re like most R+ trainers, it’s probably lower than it could be. And regardless, you have something of tremendous value to offer—changing the lives of dogs and their people for the better. You certainly deserve to be paid for that.

Memorize Your Script
Preparing and memorizing some basic language to guide you through this process can help alleviate the anxiety and discomfort around selling—a bit of faking it until you make it, so to speak. Everyone’s script will be different, and it’s important to find your own voice and style.

Here’s a sample script for inspiration. It seeks to communicate sincere empathy while also bringing the conversation to the point of sale.

“It sounds like Barney’s barking has become a really frustrating situation. Barking is generally not one of the most endearing dog traits, I know. Fortunately it’s something that can often be successfully addressed through training, so I’m so glad you called. I’d be happy to help see what we can do get you a more quiet co-existence.

The first step is an initial consult, which costs $—. The initial consult gives us a chance to get to the bottom of what’s causing Barney’s barking, as there are actually several different types of barking issues. We’ll make a clear assessment of the situation and your goals, discuss potential outcomes, and then consider training plan options for getting you some relief.

I have availability to take on a new case next week and I’d be delighted to work with you and Barney. Would you like to schedule the initial consult and get started?”

Language like “the first step” and “consider training plan options” helps to set the understanding that there will be additional training recommended after the initial consult. This will be helpful at the initial consult when it’s time to sell the training package you feel provides your clients and their dogs the best chance of reaching their training goals.

We look at selling training packages at the initial consult in part three of this series.