401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

5 Ways to Blow the Sale with the First Contact


I recently posted a freelance web development project on a web development job board. Most of the responses, unfortunately, were perfect examples – of what not to do.
Since a lot of sales these days start with “virtual” contact, it’s instructional to see how these guys blew it – and what you can do to make sure you do it right.

You don’t want to do these five things.

1) Don’t send an email filled with typos. Most of the messages were, unfortunately, filled with typos.

The customer’s reaction: I’m not just looking for someone to fix one site. I’m looking for someone who can be a potential long-term vendor, someone I can refer my clients to. If you don’t even pay attention to details when you’re trying to impress, no way am I going to trust you with my own sites or refer you to my clients.

Remember: Potential customers always decide that if there are mistakes in your selling messages, there will be mistakes in your work.

2) Don’t be a nuisance. Several candidates went beyond their initial response via email, and started using other channels to bug me – including Skype, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I was just starting to go through all the emails I’d gotten (in other words, I was at the beginning of my buying process), and these guys were pinging me every two seconds, trying to close the sale. Their own behavior – failing to follow instructions, exhibiting inappropriate behavior, and stepping over the line – automatically put them on the reject list.

The customer’s reaction: Back off! Just because you need to make a sale now doesn’t mean that I am ready to buy.

Remember: Give them space. They’ll think more kindly of you for it. Travel through the sales process at their speed, not yours. Besides, if you appear to be desperate, they will decide you are hurting because you don’t do good work.

3) Don’t fail to read the RFP. The job posting was clear and concise. I said what I wanted and what I expected from them (send me an email with link(s) to your work and be prepared to provide three references). Even those who included a link to my original job description (not really necessary) failed to read what I had written or follow the instructions.

The customer’s reaction: If you can’t follow instructions at this stage – when you’re trying to impress me – I will expect you won’t be able to follow instructions when it’s time to get the work done. You’re failing before you start.

Remember: At this stage of a customer’s buying process, you are hanging by the thinnest of threads. Any small infraction is going to cause the customer to reject you. There will be hundreds of other responses to chose from. Do exactly what is asked for.

4) Don’t provide more information than requested. I made it clear I was only interested in WordPress developers. But once a salesperson has a warm lead on the hook, it’s tempting to send even more information. It’s a waste of effort. I wasn’t really interested in the sites they had created using other methods.

The customer’s reaction: You have just un-sold me, by raising questions that I didn’t have until you exposed me to the additional info. For example, if you do more than WordPress development, does that mean that you are not as good at WordPress as you are other types of platforms?

Remember: One of the key characteristics of a solid salespeople is they know when to shut up. Give the customer exactly what they ask for, no more.

5) Don’t screw up my name. Personally, I don’t get offended if someone calls me “Kristen” or “Kirstin.” I just correct them and move on. But if you’re selling to someone, you’ll want to get their name right. And if they do give you their name, don’t start off your email with “Dear Managing Person.”

The customer’s reaction: Oops. Wrong name. Such a simple thing – and they screwed it up. I’m not about to trust this company with something complicated and important!

Remember: Before you hit the send button, stop. Look at your email one more time, and read it as if you’re the customer seeing it for the first time. One mistake in an email can lose the sale. Not making the effort to find that one mistake will mean your entire effort has gone to waste.

It’s pathetic how often salespeople screw up these bare-minimum basics. If manufacturing operations were run like these sales efforts, our toothbrushes would fall apart in our hands, our smart phones would barely light up, and our cars would consistently sputter and rattle.

If you want to sell more, run sales like a factory. Invest in ongoing training, constant quality control, time/task studies, and continuous improvement. If you are not doing these things, one of your salespeople has just sent out an email that would horrify you if you saw it. Do not expect them to get this right on their own.


  1. Excellent Post Kristin (did I get that right?).
    The nuisance one in particular, I find all too common and annoying, especially since, as a consultant, I’m often researching for a client and I can’t second-guess their decision timeline.

    May I add one more problem I’ve found common – which has two facets.

    1. Don’t compete on price until you have to. So many people are going in to be the cheapest, before they’ve sold you on the quality and service. That shows a lack of confidence in their product, or makes me think there is a competitor out there they are scared of.

    2. The other side of the coin is don’t be coy about prices, if you are selling. Often I visit a site, or receive an email and don’t know whether they are selling you a $10 solution or a $1,000 one. Nowhere is a price to be found – only the dreaded “give us your details and we’ll telephone you with a quote”.

    I want to know if I’m wasting my time talking to you. Some sample prices or guidelines will help me pigeon-hole you as high, medium or low.

    Salespeople will say that could lose the sale, but, these days, with time at a premium, if people won’t be open and honest with me, they won’t make the shortlist.

    Not knowing the sort of price likely to be involved blocks you from considering everything else. And if you ask me to solicit a sales call just to find out a basic like how much you charge, I’ll go elsewhere.

  2. Yes, you got my name right, thanks, Peter. :-)

    Very good points. I hadn’t even gotten to the price stage in this particular buying process, but if I had, you are so right – there are vendors in the “hundreds” and the “thousands” and the “tens of thousands.” It would be nice to know up front where people are in that spectrum. Perhaps we need some sort of services industry pricing range standard. Hmmm.

    Personally I tend to have a sliding scale. The very smallest companies get the smallest price, because I’m only dealing with one person (or just a couple), and the logistics of all the work is much less complicated. The larger the company, the more people have to be involved, the more “dependencies” are a part of each project, and the more one has to “sell” other “stakeholders” on doing the right thing. Not to mention managing the ongoing implementation, working in concert with the various (and sometimes numerous) individuals involved.

    That’s why I don’t mention prices on my site; it is one of the few questions they have left when they call me. However, I do promise that the first hour is free, and during that first hour I can tell them specifically what I would be charging.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment. Excellent points.


  3. I like to group my Twitter contacts into lists. One of the lists I have created is called “Resources”. In this list I place contacts who provide services I may need some day.

    I also do this with my my Linkedin contacts.

    So, before I post a project somewhere, where who knows who will reply. I mention the project to the resources that fit the project.

    If that doesn’t work, I try my general contacts / network.

    If that doesn’t work, then I will go to the general resources to post the project.

    As far as pricing, it’s important that you provide enough information to the vendors. Think of another profession, let’s say a carpenter. They can’t give you a quote for “a table”. They need to know if it’s a table for two or a conference room table. The type of wood, type of finish and the style matters because some of these they require more investment of time and money.

    I saw this form on a web design agency’s website. It attempts to collect information to request a quote. Not all the fields are useful for someone putting together a quote, but this will help you get an idea of what type of information is needed:


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