#072: How Should You Evaluate a New Prospect?

Just last week I received a call from a friend who owns a small marketing agency.

She had recently lost three solid opportunities—deals she should have won. She couldn’t figure out what went wrong. So she did what most of us do: assume it was her own fault.

Maybe she said the wrong thing. Or her pricing was way off. Or she didn’t have the experience the prospect wanted.

But I’ve lost enough deals to know the truth. She was basing her conclusions on the wrong assumption. More specifically, she was assuming that every opportunity has the same chance of success.

More than likely, it wasn’t something she did or didn’t do. It was simply that these opportunities weren’t really “winnable.”

In this episode, I’ll tell you what I shared with her … and how that shift in thinking made an immediate impact on her business.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Not Every Opportunity Is “Winnable”

My friend’s frustration was based on the wrong assumption—that every opportunity is “winnable.” In other words, that every opportunity has the same chance of success.

That’s NOT the case. Not every prospect and every opportunity is winnable. In fact, the real question is not so much “Why am I losing so many potential new clients?” Rather, it’s, “How can I ensure that I win most of the opportunities I go after?”

There are two ways to do that:

  1. Figure out a better way to pitch the deal.
  2. Pitch fewer deals (only those that have the highest probability of success).

Qualify Better and Faster

One of your most important skills you can develop as a freelancer is the ability to size up an opportunity as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you’ll make really bad decisions.

Here’s how I size up opportunities. I have a whole process for qualifying—this is not it. These are just the factors I’m evaluating when I come across an opportunity:

  1. Lead source
  2. Nature of the project (project type)
  3. Expectations (scope of work, creative direction, deadlines, timing)
  4. How they’re making decision (competition, people involved, etc.)
  5. Long-term client potential (additional work, impact on my reputation, etc.)
  6. Why they’re approaching me (or why they’re interested in me)
  7. Budget or apparent price sensitivity (price vs. value mindset)
  8. General attitude towards professionals like me

Your Best Three Clients Ever

Say you were to evaluate them in each of these areas. How would they score in each of the eight areas above?

Better yet, interview your best three clients. Ask them:

  • Why did you approach me?
  • Why did you pick me?
  • What have you liked best about working with me?
  • Why do you continue to work with me?
  • Where/how could I improve?

Also, think about your worth three clients over the past, say, two to five years. How do you think they’d honestly answer the questions above?

Isn’t Profiling Risky?

The time, attention and energy you give an opportunity should be proportionate with your chances of winning that opportunity. This means that your most important job when you come across something is to evaluate that opportunity for its level of quality. That way you can spend the appropriate amount of time, attention and energy on it.

That’s contrary to what most of us do. Most of us want to give the same amount to each opportunity. That’s a big mistake!

Sizing up the opportunity and allocating the appropriate amount of time, effort and energy at every stage of the “courting” process is how you go from a 30% closing rate to an 80% or better rate.

You’re NOT a quoting machine! You don’t get paid to chase work. And you don’t get paid a flat commission for every project you land. You get paid when you land profitable work!

Your most valuable nonrenewable resource is time. What if you had a screening approach that would separate the “winnable” work from the so-so and dangerous clients in an efficient way? And what if you felt a high degree of confidence in the reliability of this system?

What About You?

I’d like to hear from YOU. How can you apply these ideas to your own quoting process? What do you think you could apply right away?

Or, if you already have a similar screening process, what other key factors do you consider when evaluating an opportunity?

  • Julie Johnson

    Hi Ed!

    Interesting episode as I recently had a similar situation. Someone approached me out of the blue to do work for him. It wasn’t a referral and I had never heard of this person. I did my due diligence in vetting him as best as I could. After talking with him for a total of 2.5 hours (two separate occasions) and giving him two project outlines, I ended up walking away from this potential client/project.

    While it is important to ask the above questions in order to qualify the prospect, I think it is equally important to trust your instincts too. In my case, I had an “off” feeling from the beginning. The more I got the decision-making runaround, the more it solidify my feelings that he wasn’t the right client for me. In fact, anytime I disregarded my inner voice that something wasn’t quite right with a prospect, I always regretted it (took up too much of my time versus agreed upon cost, real pain in the neck, never satisfied, etc.).

    So, while it can be disheartening when a potential job doesn’t work out, it can also be a blessing in disguise. For every client you work to secure, you have to be just as adept at knowing which ones to pass up.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for sharing that, Julie! So true — when you walk away from those that don’t feel right on several counts, you make room for those that are a great fit.

      • Julie Johnson


  • Isabelle

    For me, the number 1 no-go when pursuing a client is… when they don’t have the required budget! Hence why that conversation needs to happen early in the process.

  • Marcus Tobin

    The important thing to remember in all this is the quality in data you purchased and who you
    purchased from. The number 1 key in evaluating future prospects is the quality score given by the data provider. This information will ensure the confidence in whether you purchase the lead or not. You also have to spend time researching these data companies and decide which one gives you the best quality scores for those leads. After reviewing such companies, I decided to go with LeadFerret.com because they have some of the best quality score metrics and a site to look into.